Scanning the shorelines of Koh Kood as our ferry approached, I was delighted by what I saw: the coastline around Ao Salad Bay was almost pristine, with gentle hills covered entirely in jungle.
Around the wooden pier ahead of us were bunched just a few dozen houses and fishermen’s huts on stilts. Poking out from behind this tiny village was a shimmering golden Buddha statue, seemingly gazing out to sea.
“You know what? I already love this island”, I declared confidently to my fellow travelers. Sure, we hadn’t even set foot on the island yet, but seeing a Thai island without the usual rampant development already made me think it would become a new favorite of mine. And it did seem like love at first sight.
Knowing what it’s like in Krabi or on the Gulf Islands, I’d expect any Thai island to greet me with a cacophony of bars, souvenir shops, and travel agencies. But on Koh Kood (also known as Koh Kut), things are quite different.
As we disembarked, a few men were unloading supplies from a cargo vessel. Fishermen were pouring shrimp onto screens to dry them in the sun. It felt like a friendly and unhurried place.
A songthaew then took us from the docks to the south, driving through unbroken jungles and mangroves for a good 20 minutes. We finally stopped at a road crossing, where there were just a couple of shops, restaurants, and guesthouses. I quickly checked into my room, then walked to the nearest beach… and it was easily among the prettiest beaches I have seen in Thailand.
So far, so good.
Uh, so what’s wrong?
It was only after a while that I realized Koh Kood isn’t quite the island I thought it was.
Before I continue, I’m a little worried I’ll be accused of snobbery here. ‘Ooooh Mr. Travel Blogger, you went to the nicest island in Thailand, but it wasn’t good enough for you?’.
No, not at all. I think Koh Kood is objectively a beautiful island: the waters are as clear as crystal and the beaches are spotlessly clean. Even in the midst of the January high season, it didn’t feel crowded whatsoever. And while it may not have any nightlife I absolutely wasn’t looking for any, so on paper I would have considered this the perfect island.
It just turned out that Koh Kood is designed in a way that I find enormously irritating. The thing is: it’s built mainly around resorts. While I do prefer guesthouses I don’t necessarily mind resorts, but I do greatly dislike it when an island has completely configured itself around them.
For instance, all the resorts on Koh Kood make walking the beaches really annoying. At Khlong Chao beach only one part is public, while the rest is exclusive to the Tinkerbell Resort, the High Season, and the Peter Pan Resort. You’re meant to stay in your designated area, and that’s not something I like at all.
There are no paths to the other beaches, so if you want to go for a walk along the coast you’ll be forced to squeeze through various other private resorts. Their concrete cottages, trimmed hedges, and bland manicured lawns make you feel more like you’re in a recreational park than a tropical island. Occasionally a ‘NO TRESPASSING’ sign reminds you that you’re not meant to be here, and that everyone is meant to stay in their own little tourist enclave.
There isn’t any public transportation on Koh Kood other than some overpriced chartered taxis. This isn’t impossible to work around, but it is a little bothersome. The only way I could meet some friends staying at another bay was to drop 350 Baht on a 10-minute ride, which is a little crazy by Thai standards.
All these things made me feel less excited about the island as time wore on. As the tropical waters sparkled brilliantly in the sun, I did start to wish the island had a bit more sparkle itself. Many parts of it feel strangely inorganic and sterile; nothing feels particularly connected. Restaurants and cafés are mostly in isolated locations on long empty roads, waiting for any customers to emerge from their resorts. (The village where the ferry drops you off is too far removed to serve as a hub.)
Koh Kood was thoroughly lacking one crucial thing: atmosphere.
Koh Kood as a backpacker
Oh dear. That all sounds a bit negative, doesn’t it?
Well, I want to be balanced here, because after a while Koh Kood did grow on me a little more. I had to accept that this is a Holiday Resort Island, but when I did I found that you can still be an independent traveler on Koh Kood and carve out your own little experience.
For instance, away from the resorts and just a little bit inland, there are a few pockets of smaller budget-friendly guesthouses. These all have a nice and welcoming atmosphere. Maybe not the sort of funky bohemian surfer atmosphere of other Asian islands, if that’s what you’re into, but certainly with much more soul than the beach-side resorts.
I liked the Mata Guest House [Booking, Agoda], which has some lovely wooden bungalows in the forest. Since the owners live on the property, it gives it a bit of a homestay feel. Other travelers recommended the nearby Cozy House [website]. It’s a simple but – yes – very cozy place about 15 minutes from the beach.
If you’re the explorer type, you can also find a few nice things to check out on the island. Since there isn’t any public transportation it’s a good idea to rent a motorbike, which typically costs around 300 Baht per day.
At midday, the Klong Chao waterfall was dominated by Russian package tourists. But around sunset, there was barely anyone there, and I loved it. The waters are cool and excellent for a swim. They are also excellent if you enjoy some attention; if you stay still for just a moment lots of little fish will give you a free pedicure.
Siam Beach (a.k.a. Bang Bao Beach), towards the southern end of the island, literally made me say “wow”. It has a gorgeous little bay. If you’re wondering where to stay on the island, I would highly recommend this beach if there’s accommodation within your budget, as it’s even prettier than Khlong Chao beach.
I must also say that the snorkeling and scuba diving around the island is terrific. After some highly disappointing dives a few days earlier in Cambodia, I had a fantastic time seeing all the underwater wonders here. I mainly went for some dives around Koh Rang, a small protected island off Koh Kood, and found there a wondrous witches’ cauldron of batfish, wrasses, barracuda, and parrotfish. I ended one dive with schools of hundreds of bright yellow fusiliers swirling all around me.
Clearly, this island isn’t all bad…
Is Koh Kood worth it?
I suppose I fell in love with Koh Kood, then fell out of love, but then mostly warmed up to it again until I settled somewhere in the middle. I do in fact recommend Koh Kood (a.k.a. Koh Kut) if you’re looking for a lazy tropical holiday. It’s also a fantastic place to be based if you’re a family or a couple wanting to get away from the madness elsewhere in Thailand.
There’s something to be said for an island being kept relatively unspoiled, even though that does mean segmenting it into private resorts. If development had been allowed to run rampant here like almost anywhere else in Thailand, I’m sure I’d have written a very different story here. Those who say Koh Kood is beautiful are not wrong.
I’ve read that Koh Kood once used to be 100% focused on package tourism, which changed in recent years. Now the Lonely Planet lists it as one of the top spots in Thailand. That doesn’t seem undeserved to me, even though I had imagined it a little differently when our ferry first approached the island.
Speaking more generally, I highly recommend the Koh Chang archipelago at large, which seems to me much more relaxed than Thailand’s other two major island groups. If you’re heading this way, don’t miss the lovely town of Trat, where you can enjoy super cheap local prices and a total lack of mass tourism.