Koh Libong – Unexpected Island Idyll

Travelling in coastal Thailand during the rainy season is risky: it might bucket down for days, cities can flood, many businesses close shop, and if the sea whips up boat journeys can be dangerous. During the drier months (typically November-April) the Anantara Si Kao offers day trips to its private Beach Club on beautiful Koh Kradan. It rained every day we were at the Anantara, but it didn’t dampen our enjoyment of the hotel and its stunning location. Between the Kids’ Club and hotel-based activities like fish-feeding, our boys kept busy. And whenever the sun showed its face, we all rushed to the pool.

It was drizzling the next morning. But we decided to take our chances with weather and explore the coast south of Si Kao. My secret mission was cross into Satun, the only province in Thailand’s “Deep South” that I hadn’t yet visited. (The city of Satun is also the gateway to the Tarutao Islands, which are within eyesight of Malaysia’s Langkawi Island.)

 

In my best Thai, I asked “Boats from here go where?”

“Koh Libong,” he answered.

Koh Libong? Until I started doing research for the trip, I’d never heard of it. None of the Thais in my office even knew where it was. There were a smattering of resorts on the southwest of the island, but it seemed like most of them closed during the wet season. Over lunch at the restaurant (delicious crab rice) we resolved to return the next day and explore the island.

The next day, I couldn’t stop smiling. Adventure! Sitting on the bow of a longboat, motoring noisily towards Koh Libong with the sun on our faces, I couldn’t believe our good fortune. After crossing the 3-km channel, we paralleled a long, empty beach before turning into a mangrove-lined estuary. We unloaded at the tiniest of piers, where groups of women sat cracking shells and picking the meat from piles of swimmer crabs.

 

“Mister! Mister!” we heard a voice calling.

A jolly-looking Muslim man in his fifties approached. Our transport had arrived!

“Sawutdee krup!” I replied in Thai. “We’ve never been to Koh Libong before and want to go to a beach beautiful-beautiful. Is there one?”

He nodded and smiled. We piled into a little trailer hitched to his motorcycle and started off through the little town. It didn’t take long before we were driving through deep jungle with butterflies everywhere. The whole way, our friendly driver was asking us questions. When we explained that the boys were two sets of twins he nearly had a heart attack.

 

We arrived at the west coast of the island 20 minutes later, and walked the last 100 meters to the beach. As we stepped onto the sand, I looked over at Nori and we both smiled. My god, it was beautiful: a gently curving beach scattered with giant shells. Far off to the north, we could see Koh Mook and Koh Kradan, and to the west, the twin islands of Koh Rok Yai (Big) and Koh Rok Noi (Small). And we had the whole place to ourselves. I still get a chill when I think about it.

We spent three glorious hours on that beach: collected shells, jumped over the little waves, found a dead two-meter reticulated python and watched as a group of villagers disentangled the legs and claws of three species of crabs from their nets. There was no place to eat, but we had brought biscuits and Pringles and water so we were fine. A few hundred meters down the beach was the smart-looking Andalay Beach Resort, but it was closed for the off-season.

   

On the ride back to the pier, we asked the driver to make a small side trip. Just around the corner from Hat Yao was a hidden beach, inaccessible by road. Framed by karst outcrops, it was tempting to make a landing. But the captain pointed at the swelling waves and the steeply-sloped beach and crossed his arms in the international “no go” signal.

As we drove back to the Anantara, the boys dropped off to sleep one by one. It had been an amazing day. I’d tested my Thai and was pleased with how much I’d progressed. I was grateful for my wife’s adventurous spirit. And I was delighted to share the discovery of an incredible ‘unknown’ island with my boys.

Note: While backpackers are already doing this the slow way, I think within 5 years there will be regular ferry services that connect Koh Chang / Koh Mak / Koh Kood (Thailand) with Koh Kong / Koh Rong (Cambodia) and Phu Quoc (Vietnam).
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