On to the next Thai island, tiny Koh Ngai (pronounced and sometimes written as Koh Hai), which is Thai island number 3 of 7 on this particular trip and our 10th all-time. Another small island (roughly 4 km by 2 km) – you’d think this island hopping would be getting a bit monotonous but not really, as each of them have their own unique feel and interesting sights that set them apart.
Of course, they still boast all the many Thailand constants as well – friendly people, good value, excellent food and they’re always hot, freakin hot. I almost said “cheap beer” too but that gets a little more debatable each visit, especially on Koh Ngai where we paid as much as 140B ($C5.50) for a large can of Singha.
Incidentally, on the subject of beer prices, we seem to have passed a rather obscure watershed moment between our last visit to Thailand (2015) and this ambitious Thai island-hopping adventure.
Somewhere in there our priorities shifted from saving 10-20 baht per beer ($Cdn0.40-0.80) by sticking with Chang, the cheapest beer in the country, to adopting our new policy of happily ordering Singha instead, paying a tiny bit more but avoiding the dreaded “Chang-over” (as opposed to simply making jokes about it).
And before you say, hey, couldn’t you just drink less? Well, first of all, that’s really none of your concern. Second of all, there really aren’t THAT many other things to do on Koh Ngai. Third of all, it turns out that I’ve also reached another physical milestone, one that apparently means I can wake up thirsty and irritable with an aggravating headache the morning after drinking just 3 or 4 Changs.
Meanwhile, Singhas (and all Canadian beer, thankfully), don’t cause any problems (for now, anyway). All in all, it seems like a couple dollars well spent. Plus, Singha actually tastes better. Sure, Chang does have the cooler t-shirt but, if there’s one thing we’ve established here, it’s that I’m no longer 25 and beer t-shirts no longer have the unbreakable hold on me they once did*.
Okay, let’s get back to Koh Ngai! Small, peaceful, consisting of basically just one long beach (Koh Ngai Beach / Main Beach / Long Beach) lined with half a dozen or so small resorts and a couple standalone beach bars. Great scenery (limestone karsts), snorkelling (a bunch of fish), one hike (very specifically, one) and some seriously disturbing wildlife.
For a detailed look at where to stay on Koh Ngai, check out: The Best Resorts on Koh Ngai
We arrived at Koh Ngai by short speedboat journey from Koh Mook (not a single person vomited on me this time – success!) and spent the afternoon wandering up and down the beach checking out all the different resorts and restaurants along the way. Plus watching 4 separate boats of “4 Island Boat Trip” tourists commandeer a single section of beach for an hour or so and all leave within 5 minutes of each other – anyone ever hear the term “staggered times”?
Anyway, that wild afternoon then left us with the next 3 days to recover from our exertions in the pleasant environs of Thanya Beach Resort and its serious White Lotus vibes (the good kind). Travel blogging, eh?
* Not long after writing this I bought a new Singha t-shirt
Koh Ngai Facilities
Not many. There are little snack shop / convenience stores in a couple of the resorts (including Thanya Beach Resort) but no markets, no pharmacies and no ATM.
Koh Ngai Map
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Things to Do on Koh Ngai
Despite my meagre joke attempts, there are still plenty of reasons to visit Koh Ngai and once you get there you’ll find there are actually quite a few interesting things to do on Koh Ngai:
1. Relax on the Beach
Well, that feels a bit like a bait and switch, doesn’t it? No, I get it, lying around doing, you know, not much, doesn’t sound like much of a “thing to do on Koh Ngai”. But I daresay that once you’ve spent a couple completely aimless hours lying on a Koh Ngai Beach lounger in the shade of a beautiful palm tree with the calm, turquoise water glistening in front of you and picturesque Ko Maa and other limestone karsts in the distance you’ll probably change your opinion. Or be fast asleep, like me.
And even this simple activity can be varied if you feel the need to mix things up. For example, you can lie aimlessly by the pool instead. Or, perhaps, on the balcony of your room. Sometimes in the hottest part of the day, being in an air-conditioned room lying on the bed is nice. Or the lawn, maybe try the lawn!
2. Get Out on the Water
Most of the resorts have kayaks and/or paddleboards for rent (or sometimes free for guests) and one of the best things to do on Koh Ngai is to head out on an early morning paddle when the water is super calm and the colours at their best.
3. Head Out Snorkelling
Like on most of the Trang Islands (the colloquial name for the islands in Trang province), there is fantastic coral and superb snorkelling around Koh Ngai. And on Koh Ngai the reef starts quite close to shore which means a relatively short swim (at high tide) or walk (at low tide) to reach it.
There is nice coral and thousands of small fish to see all along Koh Ngai Beach but the best area, in my opinion, is near the rocks at the very south end of the beach just before the pier.
There is also terrific snorkelling just off Paradise Beach. This lovely, sheltered beach is a great choice if there is a bit of wind or some waves on Main Beach.
4. Have a Beach Pub Crawl
Well, I’ve already discussed our beer preferences in great detail so, thankfully, that’s already well covered. But if you like to enjoy a casual beer, or cocktail, or fruit smoothie, it really doesn’t matter what, Koh Ngai is the perfect place to simply wander along checking out each new bar/resort along the way.
Thanya Resort is the first place heading north from the pier and they have a small shop where you can self-cater and find a nice spot on the beach (priced somewhere between bargain mainland grocery store prices and inflated remote island beach bar prices).
From there, you can make your way north hitting as many as 7 or 8 bars as you go, although in the interests of moderation you may want to prioritize and skip a few. Or double up, it’s your holiday, I’m not here to judge.
Kaimuk Thong and Koh Hai Seafood seem to get the bulk of the day trip boats so if you’re looking for a festive atmosphere, head that way between 11 am and 1 pm. If you prefer fewer boisterous arguments, intricate photo shoots and adult chicken fights, then plan your pub crawl outside those times.
5. Hike to Paradise Beach
The only other place you can walk on Koh Ngai besides up and down the beach is on this surprisingly steep jungle trail that starts in behind Thanya Resort. This thin, jungle trail can get muddy when it rains and certain parts are steep enough that they’ve added some ropes to help you up (and down).
The 30-minute hike to Koh Ngai Paradise Beach is certainly good exercise, although most of the time you’re in the trees and won’t see much of interest. The benefit of that, though, is shade, glorious shade. Along the way you’ll pass a side trail to Ao Muang Beach but when we visited it was completely overgrown and didn’t look at all passable without a good machete (something that didn’t make the cut in our little daypack, unfortunately).
When you reach the resort itself (which was still closed when we visited but probably opening soon) there is a nice restaurant, pool, playground and beautiful, little crescent beach in a picturesque, sheltered bay.
Also, if hiking’s not your thing, or maybe just not your thing when it is 30C and humid in the tropics, you could also kayak to Paradise Beach from Koh Ngai Beach or even hire a private longtail boat.
6. Check Out the Koh Ngai Viewpoints
Beyond Paradise Beach is the Koh Ngai section of Mu Koh Lanta National Park. Here you can continue your hike past some nice coastal scenery and a ranger station to check out tiny Nui Beach and rocky Coconut Beach (a bit covered in trash due to the different currents on this side, plus, obviously, lots of coconuts).
A few minutes past the beaches are a pair of decent viewpoints at the top of a high point in the corner of the island. The views aren’t quite as open as you’d like but they are still nice and it will only take about 15 minutes to reach them from Paradise Beach, although the last part is once again quite steep with ropes to help with the climb.
7. Watch for Wildlife
We were completely unprepared for the variety and off-putting oddness of the various animals frequenting Thanya Resort. Other than the banded sea snake that Laynni saw while snorkelling (that she “didn’t like the look of”), our most memorable Koh Ngai wildlife encounter was definitely the enormous monitor lizard that occasionally walked past our hut and crossed the bridge like it was just casually heading to the neighbourhood pub as part of a sponsored joke gig (“So, this giant lizard crosses a bridge… yada yada yada …that’s not curry!”)
Easily over 2 metres long from his stubby, square jaw and menacing maw to the tip of his massive, sinuous tail, and that doesn’t even include the intensely disconcerting forked tongue that could easily add another foot or so when he was creepily lapping up ants with it (or them, I guess, don’t forget the “forked” part, I certainly can’t).
Although we never got around to weighing him, he looked very heavy, like a bag of sand with legs, and walked like it, too, ponderously bringing a back leg forward and front leg back at the same time, contorting his body till they met in the middle before slowly bending back the other way, giving the other two legs their brief shot at glory.
Also, before you ask, I have no idea if it was actually a “him”. It just seems like anything that lumbering, unattractive and determined to use its tongue in all the most unappealing ways possible would just have to be male.
Of course, after that it seemed almost anticlimactic to have a hawk land on a branch just above our head on the beach and proceed to chew on some shell-thing he found in the sea before faking an attack on a nearby sleeping dog (screwing with his long-time nemesis, was my theory) before suddenly getting attacked itself in mid-air by a different, random hawk. All while I was supposed to just be “relaxing on the beach”.
Then there was one of the several dogs that lived at the resort. The one with – how do I put this? – eyebrows. Best we could tell they were natural (he certainly seemed a bit self-conscious when I tried to tug at them). Now, I don’t know much about dogs, really, and perhaps dogs with human eyebrows are totally common and altogether unsurprising. Or maybe they’re not. I mean, give it a cigar and it’s an exact canine reincarnation of Groucho Marx.
8. Go for a Massage
Most of the resorts have certified massage therapists on staff if you’re looking to take your relaxation to yet another level. Along with the physical benefits of a professional massage, their tables are all located right along the beach so you can enjoy the beach views and ambience at the same time.
Koh Ngai Excursions
There are also a number of day trips you can take from Koh Ngai:
Emerald Cave (Koh Mook)
This unique adventure has you swimming through an 80-metre cave to eventually emerge in a small, circular clearing with a lagoon, tiny beach and just a hint of jungle. The cliffs all around you reach way up to the top of the hill, only allowing sun in the middle of the day.
It is a very busy place but you are somewhat limited when it comes to missing the crowds because you can’t go at low tide (no water inside) or high tide (the water reaches the roof of the cave) so. And there is only sun on the lagoon in the middle of the day, so if that’s important to you it will shorten your window even farther.
But it is a fantastic experience, even if you end up following a chain of Chinese tourists through the cave (tied together and literally dragged by the guide), then listening to several of them vomit profusely into bushes upon arrival.
Koh Mook (Koh Muk)
If you have a hankering for a little bit of village life, trips to Koh Mook only take about 15 minutes by longtail or speedboat. You can visit beautiful Sivalai Beach and Charlie Beach, visit the shops and restaurants or simply wander around soaking up the local island vibes.
Koh Kradan has a lot in common with Koh Ngai – it is essentially just one beach with 5 resorts spread out along it (then 2 more farther inland). The beach is gorgeous (although it is a bit small at high tide) and there is fantastic snorkelling along the reef about 200 metres offshore.
Most day trips also stop in at Hat Chao Mai National Marine Park, which is a large park that actually incorporates some mainland sites and 7 different islands but, I have to say, the Koh Kradan section is a bit underwhelming. It is a decent place for a picnic, though, and the snorkelling is even better over there (and closer to shore).
Koh Ngai Fishing Tours
There is outstanding fishing all around these islands and every hotel can arrange a private or group fishing excursion tailored to your goals and timeline.
Koh Rok Snorkelling
Most of the Emerald Cave boats make a couple of snorkelling stops as well, or you can join a specific snorkelling trip to the amazing reef near Koh Rok.
Koh Ngai Scuba Diving
There are a few dive shops working out of the resorts along the beach on Koh Ngai. They will do some local dives or you can even take a diving course (we saw people learning to dive right in the pool at Thanya Resort).
The best dives in the area are a bit farther away – Hin Daeng (Red Rock) and Hin Muang (Purple Rock), a couple hours by boat from Koh Kradan. Koh Ha (Five Islands) is also a good diving area much closer to Koh Lanta.
Where to Stay: Koh Ngai Hotels
There are only around 10 resorts on Koh Ngai, almost all of which are found in a row on Koh Ngai Beach. Much like Koh Kradan, the prices on Koh Ngai are a bit higher than you might be used to if you’ve been visiting some of the popular islands where there is more competition. Nonetheless, several of them are very nice, offering views, air-conditioning and swimming pools.
For a more detailed look at where to stay on Koh Ngai, check out: The Best Resorts on Koh Ngai
We stayed at Thanya Beach Resort and have nothing but good things to say. They were extremely friendly and helpful, always insisting they do everything for us, even calling for updates on the speedboats, and unlike many places in the area, they don’t charge a fee to pay with credit card.
There is a small shop where you can buy water, beer, snacks, etc. and a dive shop on site. The resort is quite large and there is a noticeable difference between the different sets of bungalows. We stayed in one of the ones up the hill and had amazing views from our deck (and a neighbourly monitor lizard, of course).
Meanwhile, the bungalows down by the swimming pool are more convenient for the beach and restaurant. You can’t really go wrong either way, though.
The other contender for best place to stay on Koh Ngai is CoCo Cottage Resort. Nice bungalows, a lovely pool and a quiet location down at the far northern end of Koh Ngai Beach.
The cheapest place to stay on Koh Ngai is Koh Ngai Camping, where you can book large, permanent tents with mattresses and shared bathrooms on the beach for less than 1,000 baht/night, including breakfast. The restaurant is also one of the better value ones on the island.
Where to Eat: Koh Ngai Restaurants
Basically all the restaurants are part of resorts along the beach. While there are quite a few choices, the menus and quality are all fairly similar so it won’t feel so varied but you will still get some really good food.
We had many excellent meals at Thanya Resort and can also recommend Koh Hai Seafood as on overall choice and Chom View for great value.
More Thai Islands Near Koh Kradan
Tiny Koh Kradan has just 7 places to stay on the whole island (only 6 of which are official and 5 of which are found along the main beach). In many ways it is very similar to Koh Ngai. Somewhat pricey resorts all found along a single beach, just with different views and snorkelling spots.
Meanwhile, Koh Ngai manages to make little Koh Mook seem like a huge metropolis. I mean, Koh Mook has actual streets, for starters (small, narrow ones, but still), plus a few shops and dozens of places to stay (as opposed to just 7). Its most unique features, though, are stunning Emerald Cave and Charlie Beach, a beautiful stretch of flat sand bookended by picturesque hills.
Check out: The Best Koh Mook Hotels and Resorts
Although Koh Lanta is still relatively tranquil in the scheme of popular tropical islands, compared with Koh Kradan it is practically New York. However, it is still plenty beautiful and as with most larger Thai islands it is still possible to get away from the crowds, you just have to search a little bit harder.
Koh Jum, just north of Koh Lanta, is bigger than Koh Ngai and has some interesting little villages. There are also a lot of beaches and not a whole lot else going on. A great place to relax, as you might guess.
Check out: 8 Outstanding Koh Jum Hotels
The Koh Phi Phi Islands, meanwhile, are anything but tranquil, as the Koh Phi Phi Don high season party scene rivals Phuket for the wildest on this side of Thailand. However, even if late night raves aren’t your thing, Koh Phi Phi Don is still very beautiful, with its unique geology and incredibly photogenic beaches.
And even though you can’t stay on uninhabited Koh Phi Phi Leh, famous for its starring role in The Beach, it is as beautiful as they come and well worth the trip on its own.
Untouristy Koh Yao Noi has somehow avoided being overrun despite sitting right between Krabi and Phuket. Probably because its beaches aren’t comparable but it still has a lot of fascinating things to see and do, all without the crowds.
How to Get to Koh Ngai
Most people come to Koh Ngai by longtail boat from Kuang Tung Ku Pier on the mainland. To get from Bangkok to Koh Ngai, you can fly to Trang and get combined bus (1 hr) and boat (1 hr) transfers to Koh Ngai (700B per person in a shared transfer or around 2,000B for up to 8 people). You can book these privately through one of the Koh Ngai hotels or check 12Go Asia for options.
Between the islands, there several daily speedboats that stop in Koh Ngai along the route between Koh Lanta and Koh Lipe. Bundhaya and Satun Pakbara are the cheapest on the short routes (300B to Koh Kradan / 350-400B to Koh Mook), while Tigerline offers slightly faster service and different times. Interestingly, it is more expensive on the short routes (750B Koh Kradan / Koh Mook) but about the same to Koh Lanta (950B as opposed to 900B).
In general, these speedboat trips are reasonably comfortable, although some people can find the rough waves to be hell on their stomach. Hence the young boy who suddenly vomited all down my leg about halfway between Koh Kradan and Koh Mook.
When you arrive at Koh Ngai some of the boats can pull right up in front of your resort and others will transfer you to a longtail boat at the Koh Ngai dock and they will take you right to the beach in front of your Koh Ngai resort. It might also depend on what stage the tide is at when you arrive.
How to Get Around Koh Ngai
Walking, basically. Up the beach. Down the beach. Repeat. Then there is the path behind Thanya Resort that leads to Paradise Beach (30 min) and a pair of viewpoints in Koh Lanta National Park (15 minutes farther). And that’s basically it.
Your other options are paddleboard (good for cruising up and down the beach) and kayak (the best choice for getting to Paradise Beach).
It is also possible to hire a private longtail to take a tour around the island, possibly stopping off to snorkel on Paradise Beach.
When to Go: Koh Ngai Weather
As a tropical island, the temperature in Koh Ngai doesn’t change much throughout the year, although it does get a bit hotter from Feb-Apr (32C/24C high/low) compared to the rest of the year (29/25).
Rainy season lasts from May to October, with November being a transition month when you can get a bit of anything. There is very little rain from December to April but you may see a bit more wind at that time.
Reasons to Visit Koh Ngai
Another basic but beautiful Thai island, the main reasons to visit Koh Ngai are to simply relax and enjoy the amazing scenery and weather. There aren’t a ton of things to do but the beach is great and, as usual, there is outstanding snorkelling and kayaking.
Bottom line, don’t come to Koh Ngai looking for nightlife, variety in restaurants or a bunch of different beaches to check out. But if you enjoy lounging on a gorgeous, shaded beach with memorable views and clear, warm water, then Koh Ngai is the perfect choice.
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