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Monday, April 3, 2017

The world’s best hidden beaches? Thailand's Trang archipelago

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While popular Thai destinations such as Koh Samui and Phuket stagger under the weight of development, these southern islands retain a sleepy, tropical charm.
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 Haad Farang (Haad Sai Yao), Koh Muk
Framed by jungle-draped limestone karsts, this small but striking bay has serene waters free of riptides, making it safe for families to splash around in the sun. As its nickname implies – farang is Thai for foreigner – you’ll find a large concentration of backpackers here. Still, with only a few sun-loungers and a couple of ramshackle food stops, it’s a far cry from the chaos of Chaweng beach on Koh Samui or Kamala on Phuket. Most of the bungalows, restaurants and Koh Muk’s near-nonexistent nocturnal scene are tucked out of sight in the adjacent woods.
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Rent a sea kayak (100 baht) and paddle around the corner to Tham Morakot (the Emerald Cave), a winding stalactite-lined cavern that opens up to a sheltered cove walled by dense foliage and frequented by bands of monkeys. It is awe-inspiring, but to fully appreciate it, be sure to pack a torch to avoid slamming into cavern walls and other kayaks.
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To avoid congestion, make the trip in the late afternoon, after the longtail boats (from £14) carting other travellers disperse.
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Perched up on one of the limestone outcroppings, the aptly named Ko Yao Viewpoint Restaurant is the best place for sundowners. Skip the saccharine cocktails in favour of an icy Chang beer and bask in the last rays of the day.
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In the evening, watch the sun melt into the waters of the Andaman, while perched up on one of the limestone outcroppings.
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Ao Kham, Koh Muk
On the eastern side of the island, about 30 minutes walk or a speedy £1 tuktuk ride from Haad Farang, Ao Kham is both longer and more peaceful than its westward-facing counterpart. 
Luxury bungalows line the edge of the sand, but are set back far enough so as not to intrude on the panorama. In lieu of the clamour of hawkers, you’ll mostly find couples wading through the glass-clear water. Early in the morning, the speckled tracks of hermit and sandcrabs outnumber human footprints.
Early in the morning, the speckled tracks of hermit and sandcrabs outnumber human footprints Sivalai Beach Resort has an extended menu of standard Thai and western dishes and is popular for evening meals. However, prices are high and the quality tends towards the mediocre. A bit further inland, Boon Chu (+66 82 268 3073) has a more local feel and affordable prices, though service is often slow. Meanwhile, Koh Mook De Tara Beach Resort has some of the more authentic dishes on the island. Though the waterfront bar’s claim of the “best margarita in the world” may sound dubious, plates such as massaman curry – with slow-braised, bone-in chicken in a rich sauce with crimson coconut oil – are excellent.
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Sunset Beach, Koh Kradan
In recent years Koh Kradan has become the most popular of the Trang beaches. With sands the colour of Carrara marble and azure waters, it’s easy to see why. Cashew trees lend their distinctive fragrance to the air, and at low tide the ripples of the Andaman Sea recede to reveal wide sandbars so bathers can stroll far out into the sea. Even if this island no longer quite qualifies as untouched, the majority of the land is protected by Hat Chao Mai national park, keeping development to a minimum. Bucket bars, beach parties, and other tourist trappings are conspicuously absent, as are convenience stores and ATMs. Most visitors stay and sun on Kradan Beach, a skinny, 2km palm-fringed strip. For a more secluded spot, ride a longtail boat for roughly half a kilometre to this cove on the western coast. The beach’s popular nickname says it all: go at the end of the day to watch the sky flare into magenta, scarlet and saffron.
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 Haad Man Sai, Koh Rok Nai & Koh Rok Nok
Ringed by a sprawling coral reef submerged just a few metres below the water’s surface, Koh Rok Nai and its twin Koh Rok Nok lure eager snorkellers from Koh Kradan, Koh Ngai, and Koh Muk. Technically, both are part of Krabi Province, but the spectacular scenery more than merits the more than two-hour longtail boat ride from the Trang islands.
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Mu Ko Lanta national park has shielded Koh Rok from greedy hoteliers, meaning monitor lizards still outnumber humans and an unruly tangle of jungle occupies most of the land. The majority of the boats moor at Haad Koh Rok, an expanse of crushed-coral sand that looks as if it has been plucked from the pages of a glossy magazine. If even a few fellow travellers are too many, walk to neighbouring Haad Man Sai, an equally lovely beach hidden from view by a few boulders. Note that a number of tours shut down during the rainy season between May and October.
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Mu Ko Lanta national park has shielded Koh Rok from greedy hoteliers, meaning monitor lizards still outnumber humans.
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Haad Lang Kao, Koh Libong
The largest Trang island may lack the picturesque, powder sands of some of its more fashionable neighbours, but it more than makes up for it with untamed swathes of mangrove and a low-key vibe seldom found on more frequented shores. Aside from a few fishing villages that house Koh Libong’s 6,000-plus Thai-Muslim residents, there’s little here to intrude on the sublime stillness. Many visitors come here with hopes of spotting one of the dugongs that nibble on the abundant sea grasses just offshore, though sightings of the shy creatures are rare. Haad Lang Kao, a golden strip of coast covered with coarse sand and pebbles, may house all of the island’s resorts, but it still feels relatively remote. The resorts diligently remove driftwood and garbage that washes ashore, keeping these sands in better condition than some others.
Ao Kuan Tong, Koh Ngai
One of the busier islands in the area, Koh Ngai (also known as Koh Hai), officially belongs to Krabi Province, but is so easily accessible from Koh Muk and Koh Kradan that most travellers include it in their Trang island-hopping itinerary. A string of mid-range resorts and low-key restaurants and cafes dominate the main beach, giving it a bit more bustle than Koh Muk. Still, the warm, crystalline waters and white sands are very inviting.
Ban Koh Beach, Koh Sukorn
Also known as Koh Muu, or “pig island,” this speck in the Andaman Sea makes sleepy Koh Muk seem positively action-packed by comparison. Unlike Koh Kradan or Koh Ngai, where much of the local population is involved with the modest tourism trade, most of the roughly 3,000 Thai-Muslims that inhabit these shores work in fishing or farming. A bike ride along the island’s single 17km road passes undulating rice paddies and groves of rubber and coconut trees. Three out of four of the small resorts are clustered on Haad Lo Yai, the island’s main beach, leaving just a handful of bungalows over on somnolent Ban Koh Beach. Avoid the rainier months of the year between May and October.
A bike ride along the island’s single road passes undulating rice paddies, as well as groves of rubber and coconut trees.
Lao Liang Phi Beach, Koh Lao Liang
Ambitious climbers flock to the cliffs jutting up from the sandy shores of Koh Lao Liang Nong and Koh Lao Liang Phi. Though there are fewer routes, the vertiginous rock faces and sweeping views of sapphire seas easily equal anything on perpetually packed Koh Phi-Phi. Sea caves riddle the limestone formations and while the underwater reef cannot quite match Koh Rok’s, it still more than merits a snorkel. Of the two islands, the larger Koh Lao Liang Phi has the bigger beach and tends to be overlooked by touring longtail boats in favour of its sibling.
Koh Phetra
Virtually devoid of any of the major hallmarks of civilisation, this is the forgotten island of your dreams. Few roads and even fewer inhabitants mar this slip of land covered with towering limestone cliffs. Unlike the majority of the other 30 protected islands in Mu Ko Phetra national park, Koh Phetra boasts a sand beach lapped by gentle turquoise waves.
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Source - mmtimes.com
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