Ko Phra Thong: An Island Escape
Everyone has heard of the Similan Islands, Surin Islands, and James Bond Island, but when it comes to enchanting islands in the Andaman Sea, Phang-nga Province has more to offer than usual headline acts.
Ko Phra Thong is only an hour’s ride in a long-tail boat from Khura Buri. Here, the beauty lies in simplicity.
The island is currently embroiled in a water war between the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) and the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR).
The RID is felling trees and clearing land to improve and expand natural water retention on the island for consumption, agriculture, and tourism. The DMCR, on the other hand, has ordered an immediate halt to the project’s land–clearing operation, claiming that it is encroaching on mangrove forests. The dispute continues, and the drama unfolds. Before deciding what is right (or wrong) for Ko Phra Thong, you should probably learn about the island or visit it.
Rising from the coral
Ko Phra Thong is the largest island in Phang-nga, measuring 130 square kilometers. The island was formed by massive piles of coral deposited over millions of years, resulting in a relatively flat piece of land with a sandbar plain. A tropical savannah-type climate makes Ko Phra Thong even stranger, with endless grassland dotted with open canopy trees.
Beauty in its simplicity
The beauty of Ko Phra Thong lies in its undeveloped beaches and an endless brownish landscape reminiscent of the African savannah. The isolated beach, bamboo huts on stilts, and small fishing villages attract foreign visitors looking for peace and quiet, but these days, the spectacular scenery is also enticing an increasing number of young Thais.
You will find widespread dwarf paperbark trees with white trunks, papery barks and weeping thinner branches dotted over the endless brownish fields of coarse grass.
And despite being underdeveloped, there’s plenty to do in Ko Phra Thong from sunrise to sunset.
In fact, the best times to explore Ko Phra Thong’s tropical savannah landscape are at dawn and dusk. An islander, a full-time fisherman and part-time tour guide, offers rides on his small tractor–trailer along the dirt tracks for the best views of the landscape. Out there, the open tree canopies with weeping branches add a three- dimensional flair to the deep colours of the sky.
There are vast stretches of undeveloped beach on the island’s west coast so lounging on the beach or in a hammock will round out your tropical beach vacation.
This remote island is also a refuge for such wildlife as barking deer, gibbons, snakes, wild boars and pangolins. The islanders will tell you that finding barking deer is simple: just stop on a savannah forest trail for a bit and one will surely tip-toe across the grassland.
Ko Phra Thong is also an ideal place for birdwatching with 137 species of birds – both native and migratory – calling the islandhome. The white-bellied sea eagle and oriental pied hornbill – hard to spot elsewhere – are very common here.
The walking trails that crisscross the stunning landscape are well worth exploring – you’ll see rare species of wild orchids like the strongly-scented pigeon orchid (Dendrobium Cruentum).
All in all, Ko Phra Thong is the ideal place to unwind, but if you have the energy, diving in the clear waters around the island and beyond is a rewarding experience.
Ko Phra Thong is situated between two of Thailand’s best diving destinations, the Similan and Surin islands. Visitors and divers can roll back into the deep blue sea to explore beautiful reefs or get up close and personal with whale sharks – the world’s largest fish.
Ko Phra Thong can be reached by boat from Saphan Pla Pier or Mangrove Pier in Khura Buri, both of which are two–and–a half–hours north of Phuket International Airport. The last boat departs at 4.30pm.