Friday, March 7, 2008

KO MAK (MAAK, MAC)

Everyone wants a bungalow on stilts over the water. How about a budget-priced one in an otherwise nice midrange resort with cool pool etc? Cococape Resort on Ko Mak can do this.

Last visited February 2012

Ko Mak has certainly changed over the years. This is a shot I took on my first visit in 1998 - there is now a paved road along this track although the surrounds are still palm plantations. Most of the "welll-trafficked" roads are now paved - although there is never much traffic. In '98 all the roads were unsealed. There's a lot more accommodation even compared to my second visit in 2008, particularly in the mid-range but budget travellers still have the choice of several nice places.

Ko Mak often gets confused with Ko Muk over in the Andaman. Mak is a long way from Muk - it's in the eastern Gulf near Cambodia and south of big Ko Chang. The nearest regional mainland city is Trat (modified Google Earth image).

It is a small to medium sized island, hilly at each end and fairly flat in the middle, largely covered with coconut plantations and natural forest. The beaches are quite attractive without being mind-blowing. There is now a good range of accommodation, but overall this is a pretty relaxed island - there seemed to be few longtails, not that many motorcycles, hardly any other vehicles and fewer dogs than normal. If I had to compare it I’d say it is similar to Ko Jum and Ko Phayam. It is certainly a nice contrast to a lot of big Ko Chang, giving visitors to this area a nice diversion.

Map from KO MAK. com
A FULL SIZE LATER VERSION can be seen here BENEATH THE "ISLAND - ISLAND MAP" HEADING.

I simplified the above map on this Google Earth image. I haven't tried marking the beaches - they are better seen below.


THE BEACHES.

All the popular beaches and resorts are located in the western half of the island. Ao Tookata is the beach at Baan Ing Kho at bottom. Ao Khao north is at Island Hut and Ao Khao resorts top right. The now defunct Sunset Resort where I stayed in 2008 was beneath the y of Lazy Day top right (modified oblique Google Earth image). Labels may be more clear if you click to expand image.

South Coast Beaches.
Ao Kao is the main beach on the south coast. It is a long beach (2.7km) and this 300m section east of Maka Thanee's pier is the most popular part - besides Maka Thanee you have TK Hut, Baan Ko Muk, Monkey Island and several others. The beach here is not bad, a bit skinny sand wise at full tide. This section seems to be kept clean of flotsam and jetsam by the resorts. At lowest tide you need to wade out a fair distance to swim and there are periodic rocks.
If you click to expand the shot you will better see the pier in background - on its far side the beach continues another 500m or so (what I'd call
far western Ao Kao0 - similar in appearance to the above central western Ao Khao and with another 4 or 5 accommodation place.

Maka Thanee has grown greatly over the years. From memory it was the only place up this end of Ao Yao in 1998 - now it is the biggest and most developed. Actually a lot of the accommodation is in attractive garden villas behind the beach but the resort now has this hotel like block housing their deluxe rooms with a pool on the beach side.
Maka Thanee's pier which receives plenty of speedboats from Chang, Wai, Kut and the mainland is no longer the rickety thing of 2008. A new impressive reception block has been built at the beach end of the pier - has a nice restaurant/cafe if you are waiting for a boat.
Most of the neighbouring resorts here have also pushed upmarket - Monkey island is probably closest to budget but I noticed it too now has a small pool behind the beach.
A small business area has grown on the opposite side of the beach road here starting just out of shot - several restaurants, a clothing store, a general store with motorcycle and bike hire etc. Tour booking office far right of pix can organise speedboat tickets, accommodation on Mak and neighbouring offices, transport back to Bangkok etc.


This is the remaining part of Ao Kao, what you could call the central and eastern section - I've simply spun 180 degrees from the previous beach shot.
There are 2 or 3 resorts in the first 150m and then no accommodation until the furthest 25%. Until this last quarter is reached the beach tends to be largely non-existent at highest tide. Water conditions are much the same as in the Maka Thanee section.

The middle section of the shot above this has no bungalows and no-one to clean the beach of stuff blown onshore by the frequent dry season sea breezes - hence the above mess. Not only unsightly - such places are a haven for sand flies and this latest visit is the first time on Mak I've been bitten. Interestingly when I walked thru here in 2008 someone had cleared the beach and I had no problems. In 1998 it was messy but no sandflies - just as well for back then this section attracted a handful of nudies. I understand sand flies can be seasonal - the '98 visit was November, the later two were in February. btw I have found coconut oil is not a bad sandfly deterrent.

The beach is certainly cleaned at attractive budget Island Hut resort which is about 25% along the beach from its eastern end at Ao Kao Resort. I reckon next time I return on a backpacking basis this will be the place.

People are always asking for a bungalow right on the sand - this is one place you can do it. Front rowers 400baht, others 300 in 2012, all with bathrooms. Nice sea-view restaurant with prices a bit lower than the average budget beach bungalow joint.

Beach at Island Hut. Attractive lower-midrange Ao Kao resort is at the small headland at the end of the beach. (last 2 images KO MAK com)

Lazy Day beach - this is immediately east of Ao Kao resort (behind small rock outcrop far background). Many think of this as a continuation of Ao Koa beach but I'm classing it as a separate beach.
This is probably the most used, swum area on Mak on account the old time Lazy Days (Dayz) backpacker resort was here. Old time Mak visitors will probably weep at the change behind the beach ...
... Lazy Dayz was a Mak budget institution until they rebuilt - now it is decidedly midrange - check the new accomm and restaurant below.


In 2008 I noticed there were still about half a dozen trad style huts on the hill which the guy told me were going for 500. But when I returned in 2012 these had disappeared. (above image KO MAK com)

The other south coast beach worth checking is Ao Tookata - over one km further west of the busy part of Ao Kao. More sand at high tide than the better parts of Ao Kao - maybe a few more rocks.
The really attractive thing about this beach is it now has 3 backpacker standard places (only one when I called by in 2008) - Marvey Beach, Baan Leam Tookata and the original Baan Ing Kao. These joints are run by brothers - probably the original landowners.

I thought the original, Baan Ing Kao was most attractive with nice tree-shaded bungalows on the slope behind the beach. A good beachfront restaurant is out of pic to right of frame. Joint has a nice little beach bar, also to right. Bungalow prices pretty good high season 2012 at 350-450. This joint has the disadvantage in that it is furthest from the arrivals road. If you want a beachfront bungalow, the others can do it. tel 087-0539553 - baaningkao.com

The North Coast Beaches.

Ao Pra from the viewpoint above Cococape Resort with maybe the western-most 20% obscured by those coconut palms and the northern most 20% also out of frame top left. This is one long beach at 2+km. Some maps label the distant km or so north of Ko Mak Resort's pier as Ao Soun Yai.
In 1998 A0 Pra/Suan Yai had the original Ko Mak Resort* (you can maybe see the boat at the pier at top left (this pic is a 2008 one - doesn't expand) and a small handful of budget places towards camera. Now all the accommodation along here is midrange by Thai price standards (although I got a less expensive bungalow at Coco Cape - see below).

This beach is kinda like Ao Kao - also suffers the low tide blues - worse towards its western end, maybe not so many rocks about, seemed to have few problems with flotsam and jetsam (the most common easterly sea breezes are off the shore here so junk gets blown the other way - note my 1998 visit saw real strong north-easterlies which are common for early dry season which tended to blow stuff onto the beach, and make things pretty blustery on the sand - maybe head to the south coast if you are coming in November-December).
* Ko Mak Resort is still going strong having extended and renewed facilities over the years. The pier there gets speedboats from Ko Chang, Ko Wai, Ko Kood and the mainland piers of Leam Ngop and Laem Sok plus the Bang Bao slow boat from Ko Chang.

Ao Lom is the western most north coast beach. The far headland where Cococape Resort is located separates it from long Ao Pra which can be seen far left background. This longish beach (1km) suffers the low tide blues as seen but if you want seclusion the one budget accommodation joint here would do the trick. Problem is I didn't note its name in passing (duh) and no Ko Mak website seems to have it. Access is easiest off the road into Ao Tookata which passes close to this beach although a track suitable for motorcycles and bicycles comes along the back of the beach from Cococape Resort.

Offshore Beaches


Ko Kham is a short distance off the north-west coast of Mak (but further than this - I shot it with a telephoto. Actual distance is 1400m from the camera). This place has a genuine white sand beach and probably the best coral close to Mak. In the past it had a great backpacker resort, but things have changed .......

... and these very upmarket condo style places were under construction (Feb2012 - looked like they could be finished by the start of next high season in November/Dec). I'm not sure if this is a very upmarket hotel or a pool-villa type development for rich dudes.

Ko Kham has a nice little beach club area - blinding white sand, very clear water, okay snorkelling, showers etc. Costs 100baht but my entry ticket from Cococape resort also entitled me to a free soft drink or water.
Cococape charges 100 extra for two way transfer - you specify the times.
When I arrived there were 2 big speedboats from Ko Chang and a whole bunch of Russian daytrippers. As I say elsewhere on this blog, Russian daytrippers are good value - lotsa lovely ladies in micro-bikinies and g-strings plus beefy blokes with big bellies hanging over tiny budgie-smugglers (Speedos).

Beach bar had the usual selection of drinks and snacks. I think they can do simple meals.

The Russians left after an hour or so - place very quiet with fewer than a dozen visitors from Mak. Some of the best snorkelling in the Mak area to left and behind those rocks in background - okay coral and fish. There is a nice sand spit to right of camera - at full low tide it goes out about 150m towards Ko Mak.

Ko Rayang Nok is a similar distance to the south-west of Mak. The closest I've been is on the passing speedboat to Ko Kut, but the beach sure looks nice, similar to Kham's and like Kham you can day-visit for a small charge. There is also a resort there - looks to be flashpacker/lower midrange in standard from the website.


OTHER AREAS ON MAK.

THE SOUTH-EAST PENINSULA

The south east peninsula starts at the eastern end of Lazy Day beach. The peninsula itself has no beaches - it's a case of swimming off the rocks. I've checked the snorkelling here - nothing to get excited about.
About midway along the western side of the peninsula is Pano Bungalow with a hell of a lot of nice looking bungalows built along the hilly side of the peninsula. These would have fabulous views up the island towards Ao Kao beach and killer sunsets. The joint looked lower-midrange to me, but KOH MAK com suggests pricing is more flashpacker. The place seemed largely deserted of tourists when I went past.
A side track heads back towards Ao Nid pier on the eastern side of the peninsula - there were a couple of accommodation places high up here with views back towards the sunrise, but only Ao Bong resort seemed to be operating.
Baan Ao Nid is one of the two villages on the island. It consists of a small cluster of houses, some businesses including restaurants and small stores plus the pier itself. This has one speedboat service plus the slow boat back to the mainland operating. Close to the pier is Ball Cafe with coffee, yummy snacks, internet, trip booking and motorcycle/bicycle hire. Mr Ball is a very helpful guy and runs the rather excellent komak.com.

Note there is a small cluster of businesses around the intersection of the road north from Ao Nid and the main southern east-west road. These include a health centre, gas station, a couple of minimarts and several restaurants.
A similar set-up is found a little further west around the turn-off into Island Hut.


THE FAR EAST
I got lazy and didn’t check the eastern third of the island (not even after 3 trips to Mak). Hell, it’s HOT pedalling like a madman in the mid-day sun!
There are only 3 resorts in this big eastern section and they sure look laid back on KO MAK com.
The other Ko Mak village, Ban Laem Son is in the far north-east of the island. But once again with a population of 124 it doesn't sound particularly big.


PLACES I'VE STAYED.


CocoCape Resort - Feb 2012
It's always nice to find an inexpensive room or bungalow in a pretty flash resort. Particularly when it is built over the ocean like our Baan Fa Sai bunglow - the one with the stuff on the balcony. At 1350 (high season, not peak) in such a nice place with good facilities and including free pier transports and okay breakfasts not bad value at all.
The 2 bungalows to the right are also Ban Fasais - the bigger one at left is the fancier Baan Chom Lurn with aircon, TV etc. There is an even fancier over water Suite Boat 100m to the right near the pier.
Cococape has a host of other types of bungalows, rooms and suites.

A bit more info on our bungalow: old time backpackers would have a deja vu moment here (except for the over-water position and hot shower) - basically a bamboo thatch box just big enough for a king sized bed (hard mattress, nice pillow, good net) and 2 people's gear. Big bi-fold doors give indoor/outdoor effect, open out to view below. Good lights, quiet fan. Unexpectedly spacious polished wood dressing room with basin and flush toilet - separate tiled bathroom with hot water. Serviced daily.

View from our overwater balcony. Hammock a sweet place with a bottle of rum late afternoon. That's Ao Pra beach in background. Cococape is not on the beach but has easy access to both Ao Pra (east) and Ao Lum (west). Although swimming off the resort's pier or in the rather nice pool meant I didn't bother with the beaches.

Mind you, your bungalow isn't always over water. Super low bi-monthly tide (get these around Full Moon and no moon: aqua-nerds will know these are the times for the month's highest tides too) saw the water recede a fair bit. Real nice for a bit of fossicking in pools to left of exposed sand spit.

Sweet pool a nice place to spend time. White rim on far side is flat making this a horizon pool - section between circular parts has water cascading down a steep embankment into a smaller pool - ideal place for 9 year olds and tezza to do the slippery dip thing. Pool bar just out of shot to left. Nice sunbathing terrace in area of camera. Covered area at right had massage lady working most times.

The last section of CocoCape's looong pier. Another nice place to spend time - sunbathing lounges and even a small bar in background. And although the tide is near dead low here, at higher levels this is a nice place to swim or snorkel with crystal clear water and some okay coral and fish (maybe the best I've seen on mainland Mak). Hell, Lady Tezza had fun fish-spotting from the pier.
Info board on pier said best snorkelling is 200m out in direction of Ko Kham (background left) but I found water gradually deepened and 150m out I could see the bottom no more. I kept going hoping to spot a shallower reef, but nada.


CocoCape has a big variety of accommodation. Some very modern resort type rooms, traditional Thai type cabanas arranged around a big lagoon, stilt-bungalows like the one left background and quite a few old hulks (foreground) on the hillside or around the lagoon - some had been converted into accommodation, others like the one in foreground untouched. Every type of accommodation seemed to have views - many elevated.

CocoCape's restaurant area is interesting - it is a short distance back from the shore with nice views plus an extra absolute waterside seating area (the opening shot top of page was shot from this terrace). Style is more traditional Thai flashpacker than ultra modern western style resort. Prices were maybe 20% higher than typical budget places, food pretty good, service fine.
There is a real good budget restaurant about 7 minutes walk away - 3 minutes up the steepish exit road, turn left and after a short distance, turn right - walk half way down the hill. This place had a handful of expat-type people dining each night, always a good sign and a good general store where you grabbed your dinner drinks from the frig.
Another 4 minutes gets you to another 3 restaurants on the main southern beach road near Maka Thani pier.

Bottom-budget at CocoCape are these Baan Talay outside bathroom backpacker style rooms. 900 baht high season 2012 including breakast for a place on piers over the water. Surrounding mangroves a bit funky. Bathroom block behind camera looked pretty clean.


Sunset Resort - February 2008
Sunset was on the south-east peninsula not too far from Pano Resort. It promised sitting platforms over the sea at the end of its pier which I'm a sucker for so I headed that way. Wasn't disappointed with that or the place in general - it was the sorta joint which attracts those long time travellers, kinda like Lazy Dayz did in the old days. I think that type of people hang around at Ing Khao these days.
Unfortunately Sunset closed down recently after the death of the owner - I got a message saying his widow is running a place next to Monkey Island resort up near Maka Thani pier on Ao Kao.
Chez tezza at Sunset Resort. Most of the bungalows look north to the sea, some east over Ao Kao beach.

Ao Khao Resort - November 1998

This place had some inexpensive outside bathroom bunglows back then and free transport from the Leam Ngop (mainland) slow boat which was the only way to access Mak at that time.
Very nice position at the better eastern end of Ao Kao beach - the only other joint around was Lazy Dayz next door where I spent considerable time because its nice food was mabye 20% cheaper than Ao Khao's excellent stuff.

Ao Kao Resort's restaurant is in a panoramic position on a small headland at the east end of Ao Kao beach with Lazy Day beach a similar distance behind. Bungalows are inland from the restaurant and beach. Bungalows upgraded, now firmly in the midrange - cheapest was 2500 when I called in in Feb 2012 but the website is now showing a 1500 price in mid-March: maybe that was taken in February - this place is very popular with Euros.
Restaurant prices now a good 50% over typical budget bungalows prices - but one cheaper even than the latter, Island Hut, is only 300m behind camera.



GETTING TO MAK

Basically there are speedboats and a slowboat from two piers on the mainland - Leam Ngop and Leam Sok, plus a big range of speedboats running from Ko Chang, Ko Wai and Ko Kood. There is also the Bang Bao slow boat from Ko Chang via Ko Wai. There is now a largish fast catamaran running from the mainland - details are on the Coco Cape Resort website from memory.

The various boats arrive at any of the 3 main piers on Mak - Ko Mak Resort's on the northern beach, Maka Thani's on the southern beach and Ao Nid pier in the village to the east - depending on the company. Transport is waiting to take you to your resort - many non- basic resorts have a free shuttle if they know you are coming in.

Times etc are best left to Resort and general Mak websites, most of which do a good job of keeping up to date with any changes.
KO MAK com has an excellent Getting There section (click ISLAND tag - then HOW TO GET THERE sub-tag). This covers ferries and speedboats from the mainland and Kut. Plus buses, vans, taxis, from Bangkok (including airport) to Trat and direct to Leam Ngop pier.
And flights into Trat..
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If you are visiting Mak, perhaps you will be interested in nearby:

KO WAI

KO KUT

KO CHANG

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If you see mistakes or have extra info, please post below. If you have questions, please put them on the Forum, accessed via the Index - I don't get to check each island page each day but I try to check the Forum when not travelling.

3 comments:

Bruce Kendall - said...

You missed the best of Koh Mak- the long lonely 1km beach, it’s great for getting an all over tan.

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Özer Utku said...

I admire the natural beauty.