Monday, April 11, 2011

Ko Phra Thong

Visited March 2011 - last updated January 2013.
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  Most of Ko Phra Thong's west coast is similar to this section near Golden Buddha Beach Resort.

Ko Phra Thong is one of the least developed islands in Thailand from both the domestic and tourist point of view. When I visited in March 11 there was one high end beach villa place, two budget bungalow joints with another soon to open, and a village homestay operation. Domestic activity seemed mainly confined to a couple of fishing villages. I only saw one small agricultural operation. This is the place to go for those wanting to get right away from it all.

Phra Thong is a reasonable size at around 100 sq miles and is mainly sand deposits in the west and extensive mangroves in the east. Similar Ko Kho Khao is directly south and the mountainous and rainforested national park island of Ko Ra is just north. These can best be thought of as the northern Phang Nga province islands, although they are a hell of a long way from Phang Nga town - modified Google Earth image.

Mainland base for Phra Thong is Kuraburi on the coastal highway, better known as the base for the Surin islands. Most boat transport to Phra Thong leaves from the mangrove pier shown, although some also depart Kuraburi pier further north.

Area map from Andaman Island Hopping shows regional roads but not those on Phra Thong itself. More detail will come from expanding the image (click) and an even bigger image by clicking the link. Interestingly, Takua Pa is called Talaat Khao on this map.

More detail of Ko Phra Thong. Ban Phra Tong in the north east is known locally as Ta Pae Yoi.
There is a small village at the southern pier called Thung Dap.

The west coast of Phra Thong is 95% a lengthy beach similar to the opening shot. About 70% from the south end the beach is broken by a small attractive sandy bay - the tourist accommodation (apart from Lions' Village homestay) is clustered both sides of this bay.
There are only three villages. The biggest and main entry point to the island is what the tourist webpages call Baan Phra Thong (local name is Ta Pae Yoi). Baan Lions in the north was rebuilt post tsunami by the Lions Club international with help from the Swiss government. There is a small village at the southern pier called Thung Dap.
Roads are narrow concrete tracks just wide enough for a 4 wheeled vehicle (although I saw only one, connected with a road maintenance gang) - yellow on the image. Plus narrow unpaved tracks, often sandy - white on image.
That red line at bottom shows scale - 5km long.

This is an oblique Google Earth image from the north of the small bay area and its immediate surroundings I modified it to show location of the resorts and the island's dive centre. High end Golden Buddha at top - budget resorts below. The Beach Bar mentioned later is roughly where the O of NO NAME (correct name Phra Thong Bay Bungalows) is on the image.
Oblique shots tend to bring out high areas - so you can see how flat Phra Tong is.
Those ridge/swale lines actually indicate small parallel dunes, mostly covered in savanna type scrub. Each line indicates where the coastline was some time in the very distant past.



THE BEACHES.


North Beach.

This is the view north from where the path from the budget bungalows hits the beach. It's about 4km to the north west corner of the island which you can see if you expand the image (click). Those mountains belong to Ko Ra, the next island north.

This beach is okay only - a fair bit of flotsam and jetsam on the beach when I visited, tends to get shallow left of camera low tide. Much nicer beach areas a short walk behind the camera.

But not immediately behind:
Swinging 180 degrees shows this view - nice enough but not oh wow. Far right is part of one of two small offshore islets off this section of beach. I'm told snorkelling and diving is okay around these and people hire kayaks from BLUE GURU DIVE to check them out. The top section of this beach before the small headland to the next bay (about 60% across shot) gets lots of exposed not so yellow-white sand at low tide. Knob 75% right is Hornbill Hill from where the shot top of page was taken. Hornbill is actually at the SOUTH (far) end of the next bay to this (see below), maybe 20 minutes walk from camera. Nice walk.

Next Bay

A flat track across the small headland shows this - the southern end of the bay which interupts the east coast beach.

This has got to be the prime beachfront on the island, nice sand, deep water low tide in this southern section (and in the central part, most of which is out of shot and not in the next one). Come back in the future and there will be a flash resort. Maybe not too soon - Ko Kho Khao immediately south has 20 km of mainly undeveloped attractive beach. And much easier transfers from the mainland. Plus rumours of an upcoming airport on the site of the WW2 Japanese landing strip.

This is the northern end of the bay - the sand continues right up to Hornbill Hill at right. Heaps of water at high tide as in this shot, but I noticed low tide exposed lots of sand (not dirty) against most of the beach in pic. Golden Buddha Resort is behind the right half of the trees in shot - associated Blue Guru Diving has a beach location about 65% across shot.

Blue Guru Diving's beachfront dive shop. Although associated with Golden Buddha Resort, this outfit can also arrange accommodation at one of the cheaper options such as Mr Chuoi's or the Lion's Village homestay. It can also do this for non divers. As a matter of fact Blue Guru's website KO PHRA THONG is probably the best all round website on the island and is not confined to diving activities. Besides being such a laid back location, this outfit has the advantage of closest dive operation to the world class Surin islands and Richelieu Rock. I wandered past here one afternoon, the boat was gone and a sign said: GONE TO EXPLORE NEW LOCATIONS.

South Beach

This is a very simlar shot to the one top of page, snapped from the same viewpoint on Hornbill Hill. The beachhouses of Golden Buddha Resort are behind the trees for about the first 500m, and the beach itself stretches approx 10km down to the south-west corner of the island. As far as I could tell there is nothing apart from a few fishermens' huts behind the trees along this stretch.

Hornbill Hill, which must be the highest point on all Phra Thong, is actually part of Golden Buddha Resort. They have built a short steep walkway up to this viewpoint with rope assists. There is a small picnic shelter up top. To right of image is a small section of rocks in the water I thought would be worth a snorkel, but visibility was very poor. A turtle conservation scheme guy told me it was pretty clear the day before - it had rained hard during the night and a creek empties into the bay just to the north of this headland.
When I took this shot there was a group of 5 westerners staring intently at the water. I thought maybe they were into some sort of Buddhist meditation but it turned out they were volunteers for the conservation scheme doing a turtle count. These people were staying at Lions Village homestay and motorcycling/bicycling out the 7km or so to do 4 hour spotting shifts.

Golden Buddha Resort is a pretty interesting operation. It consists of 25 privately owned beach houses in a very large garden compound (often 50m or more between houses) which the resort leases out to holidayers. These are not cheap and don't have aircon. There is no pool. But each is different, and are built to a high standard. And definitely have exclusivity and serenity of location when compared to say the similar Railay Beach Club.


OTHER ACCOMMODATION


Mr Chuoi's
When I was doing research on accommodation the only budget beach place on the island I could find was run by Mr Chuoi (say Chewy). You can book his joint thru Blue Guru Diving's website, but I got super-helpful Am of TOM AND AM TOUR in Kuraburi who arranged my Surins transfers to ring him, book a bungalow and arrange the cheapest possible transport. The latter was important because I really couldn't afford the 1000+ each way my research had suggested.

Chez tezza - Mr Chuoi has a dozen of these Moken-style bungalows strung away from the beach track on the northern side opposite his restaurant. Each must be 25 m apart so it is quite a haul to the restaurant if you are in #12. But super quiet. Prices 500b and 300b in March '11.

I went for a 500 one. Very spacious - there was a king size bed and room for another double if needed. Clean, in good condition, bed-pillow-net okay, some simple furniture, big bathroom with western toilet flushed by bucket, good shower and bidet. No basin or toilet paper but towel supplied. No electricity (Mr Chuoi supplies a very good battery powered lamp) and no door lock but provision to fit your own. The main differences in the 300 bungalows appeared to be the fact they were older and did not have the simple interior/front veranda furniture.

Mr Chuoi's restaurant is located adjacent the beach track about 250m from the beach itself.

Divers from Blue Guru told me this place has the best inexpensive food on the island. Besides the divers, the restaurant also attracted guests from Golden Buddha, Lions' Village homestay and some locals from the main village. I'm no gourmet but I certainly couldn't complain about taste, quantity or service. Prices were pretty good, maybe 10-20% higher than average budget bungalow restaurants.
ph 084-8559886, 087-8984636

Mr Chuoi is a bit of a character, cheerful and obliging. I took this from his motorcycle-side car on the way from the pier.

Phratong Nature Beach Resort.
This is a new place open less than a year when I visited, but already having had one name change from Phratong Seaview. Perhaps because being immediately on the ocean side of Mr Chuoi's it's still 150m from the sea which is hidden by casuarina trees and scrub - so no seaview. Nevertheless it is run by a lovely guy and his family, and the bungalows are definitely a step up from Mr Chuoi's. One diver staying there said the food was excellent too.

Rather attractive restaurant. About 10 bungalows, smaller than Mr Chuoi's but not squeezy and with electricity and hot water (the latter so rare in any budget bungalow) for 600. I think Mr Chuoi has some good competition here. www.phratongnaturebeach.com ph +66 884515531

No Name (actually Phra Thong Bay Bungalows)

This brand new joint was just short of opening when I called by in March '11. Pretty nice position alongside this little lagoon behind the beach. The restaurant is maybe 50m closer the beach and is genuine sea-view.

I call it No Name because when I talked to the owner he said he hadn't decided yet. Bungalows will be 800b and are maybe a step up again from Nature Beach although I didn't ask about hot water. I haven't any contact info but maybe Blue Guru Diving's website may get some when the place is operating. (UPDATE JAN 13 - just found out this place is called Phra Thong Bay Bungalows. Google will find the website).

Lions' Village Homestay

The village built post-tsunami by Lion's Club International.

Locals run a homestay here. The turtle conservation volunteers were using it during my stay, as were Tyler and Aimee - students of Blue Guru. They told me their room was comfortable, the people lovely and food options good - although they were real fans of the grub at Mr Chuoi's.
Note the living areas are elevated to give some protection if another disaster occurs. Blue Guru Diving's website has more info.
About one third of the new houses are empty. Apparently the take up was less than expected - some people stayed on the mainland and others moved to the main village where the local head teacher has a nice new very solid looking 3 storey building - the highest structure on the island. He refuses to staff the brand new smaller school at Lions' Village.
There is a small inlet a short distance from the village which acts as a harbour for village longtails. The longish North Beach is not too far away with several marked walking tracks to access off the main road.


AROUND THE ISLAND

I hired one of Mr Chuoi's motorbikes and checked the island out. At least I checked all the paved roads which I found are nearly 100% confined to the north half of the island.

Cut down 80s Honda a real bitzer. Mr Chuoi calls it his FORMULA ONE. Front brakes only, 4 speed shift with auto clutch, ignition wired permanently on, just kick it over - to stop engine there are 2 wires with ends exposed; touch them together and the engine dies. There was a newer better bike but it was almost out of gas. Formula One was so light it went like a rocket and used virtually no gas. All the locals giggled and pointed when I rode by.

Landscape in shot is typical of more western parts of the island. There are more trees in eastern areas. Virtually no agriculture in the northern part of the island as far as I could see - one small farm seemed to be growing fruit. However my public ferry back to the mainland had a fair few bags full of nuts going to wholesalers in Kuraburi.
Road is typical of the paved tracks - picture is shot mid-island and this road turned into a sandy track about 500m behind bike. I'm no motorcyling expert so I gave that a miss. When I was turning around some locals went by on a trailer towed by a small tractor - ideal for the soft sandy conditions. I later noticed Formula One had knobbly tyres, just the thing for soft sand. Mr Chuoi who is a bit of a bike enthusiast probably uses it as his sand track fanger.

This is the main village. It's a pleasant enough place, spread along the shore in the island's north east with a few shops and restaurants. Fishing seems the main activity. Houses must have been rebuilt since the tsunami yet there seemed to be no attempt to elevate them. But the people do have that nice new concrete 3 storey school for refuge. I guess they are relying on the siren system on the tsunami alert towers working properly. Or that there will be no repeat.

The beach bar - Horizon Bar and Restuarant. This is only 50m south of where the track from Mr Chuoi's and the other budget bungalows hits the beach.

The bar tends to attract a good crowd around sunset (which at this time of year was behind islands in background) - that's dive student Tyler from Canada (here studying for an exam) and his wife Aimee, plus French dive-instructor Marion. We were later joined by other dive students and Todd, an Aussie-Kiwi who runs a charter catamaran doing daytrips mainly for Golden Buddha holidayers. In background are some guests from Golden Buddha.

Junior guest from Golden Buddha knows all about relaxing island holidays.

The beach bar is run by a young affable local P.Nu. Beer prices are pretty reasonable, a bit cheaper than Mr Chuoi's. This guy can put on a good feed too - on my last night about 8 of us had a banquet-style meal with excellent bbq fish and a fair few other plates for 180 each. Some older villagers took a nearby table for a meal (must be good - this is a fair haul from the village) - Mr Chuoi wandered down later and had a beer with them.


GETTING THERE


Blue Guru's website talks of chartering a longtail which costs 1700 to Golden Buddha and 1400 to Lions' Village. Mr Chuoi later told me a longtail charter to the main village would cost 1000 from the mangrove "pier". This is fine if there are other passengers to split the fare but too much for me alone. I wanted to get out there pretty late in the afternoon, so Mr Chuoi suggested to Am at Kuraburi who was doing the talking for me that I take the banana boat which he would organise to pick me up at the southern "pier" for 400.

The southern pier aint no pier at all - just a small mangrove inlet where you step off the bank into your transport. That's the banana boat being poled in to pick me up. This baby is just big enough for one passenger - has a small longtail motor but is real hotrod - banking thru narrow mangrove corners at 60kmh like one of those Florida swamp racers and fanging across open bay at 80! Ride a bit hard on the bum in the small chop out there. Took about 15 minutes to reach island. Mr Chuoi waiting at main village pier to take me to resort at no extra cost.

I'm glad I got Am to organise this - I would have difficulty in explaining which pier I wanted to a motorcyle taxi guy and getting a good price. Am called one over and negotiated 70 baht (people told me they paid up to 200 to get to the main Kuraburi pier for the Surins which is a bit closer to town - although the booking agencies in town will take you for free in a pickup as part of their Surins transport package).
The taxi guy dropped me at a house near the pier where lovely local ladies made me a cup of coffee. The banana boat guy arrived in a pickup after 10 minutes, jawed with the ladies for 5 and then took me down to the inlet about 3 minutes walk away. None of these people had a word of English, which matches my Thai language skill. But as usual, things worked well.

The public longtail on the return trip.

On return Mr Chuoi told me I could get right back to town for 300 total if I was prepared to leave the resort at 7am. Suited me - I wanted to make Khao Sok with a fair bit of daylight left. I ended up on this public longtail which left the main village at around 0730 with about half a dozen women and kids and a load of bagged nuts. We went back to the same southern mangrove "pier" where a songthaew was waiting to take us into town. Along the way it picked up more passengers and nuts, went to a wholesaler in Kuraburi who weighed the nuts and payed out, and then dropped me off at the bus station.
Now like a dummy I didn't ask what time this boat returned to the island. Maybe there is no set time. I didn't see anything about this boat in my research prior the trip.
UPDATE - Chris who runs Blue Guru emailed me that this boat's timing depends on high tide. I assume that is high tide at the mainland mangrove "pier" - the town pier on the island would not have this problem. Now high tide comes roughly an hour later each day so no strict timetable can be given. Because the boat has to get in and out it is probably timed to arrive an hour or two before peak tide and leave the same gap after. Chris told me it got too hard to co-ordinate this plus transport from town with incoming people which is why his website now only quotes the 1400/1700 job. He also told me he hopes Baan Lions will organise a direct cheap public boat from the mainland sometime soon.

Public longtail begins to move into mainland mangrove inlets from the open bay.


KURABURI

Kuraburi is the mainland base town for the Surins and islands like Ko Phra Thong and Ko Raya - it's about an hour by bus north of Takua Pa and 2 hours south of Ranong. Distance between the two white arrows is 750m.

The town is a strung along the main highway with a main street shopping area about one half the length of Khao Lak's main centre. It's a pretty quiet place with good variety of stores, a couple of 711s, one bank with ATM, several trip booking places and a few places to stay. There is a night food market runs just right of the L for TOM AND AM TRAVEL.

Accommodation.
If heading from south to north, one option would be to ride thru the shopping street on the main road and as soon as you reach the bridge at the far end check the two bungalow places on the inland side (the further of the two you have to go down a 200m track from the road). I stayed in the further one last month, forget its name - it's associated with Tom and Am Travel who have a shopfront left side heading north in the middle of town opposite the road into the bus station, and also a desk at the bus station. It had basic rooms with bathroom for 300 asked - I got 250. Very quiet.
A guy tenting next to me in the Surins stayed at the joint the other side of the bridge - said real nice bungalow for 400 odd including basic breakfast.
If you get out at the bus station the first of these places is little more than 5 minutes walk.

There are some other places back behind businesses in the central town - I remember a sign showing bungalows in back near Barracuda Dive's shop. Barracuda also has a desk at the bus station. BTW there is a mum and pop trip booking agent on left side of the lane leading down from the bus station - seemed to have good contacts but poor English.

If you want flashpacker-lower midrange accommodation look for the signs alongside the main road about 8-10km south of town in twisty hilly jungle country for Kuraburi Green View Resort. If on a bus, ask the conductor/driver to stop the bus when there. They are very reliable.

I also copied this info when doing research for my trip - I don't know who the poster was:
In Kura Bury there is a very good place to stay my husband and I have stayed there several times Boon Piya resort,
179-180 M1 T Kura is on the main road in Kura Buri tel 01-7525457 . It is very simple but very clean with you own shower and loo , little bungalows and the owner Panich who runs it is a very nice man . It is used to be about 800 bath the night and there is a nice place next door for breakfast in the morning.
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If you see mistakes or have extra information, please fire them in below. If you have questions, please ask them on THE FORUM which I check most days. I only visit individual island pages occasionally.
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IF YOU VISIT THE PHRATONG YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN NEARBY LOCATIONS LIKE KO KHO KHAO, PHAYAM, LITTLE KO CHANG, KHAO LAK, KHAO SOK, PHUKET AND THE SURINS - PAGES ON EACH CAN BE ACCESSED THRU THE INDEX

2 comments:

Myles at Golden Buddha Beach said...

Hi Tezza, Thanks for this its a really thorough article on Koh Phra Thong. I actually work for Golden Buddha Beach and have been there helping run the place for the last couple of seasons. Your acticle is very accurate and in particular some of the maps are very well done. I think you are the first to do this. If you have any questions or want to discuss anything further please contact me.

Myles

Bliss said...

Hi Tezza, I just wanted to say thanks for another fantastic article. I live in Nakhon Si Thammarat and pop out to various places in Thailand a lot, and I always use your site.
This was super helpful in helping me plan my upcoming adventure to Koh Phra Thong.
Cheers,
Bliss