I read several blogs on Koh Mak before I ventured on my six-month trip through Southeast Asia, because I knew that was the one place I was going for sure.
Reason being was my good friend hooked me up with his cousin’s contact information and the lucky son of a bitch lives on the island for half the year with his beautiful Thai wife. So, I had an “in” before I even landed, and I figured that would be a good place to start. Why? Because I’m an idiot traveler, and I needed to be led by a kiddie leash as I forayed into the wilderness of Thailand.
Thing was, compared to the neighbouring islands of Koh Chang and Koh Kood, there isn’t much that bloggers have to say about it, and some of what they did have to say was negative or uninformative. For example:
“[Koh Mak] nice enough, and some may even describe it as pretty, but “nice enough” doesn’t quite cut it when you’re looking for a Thai island paradise, especially when there is a neighbouring island that ticks all the right boxes. [Koh Kood]” — Jonistraveling.com
“Sand flies bit my father, flew away with my little brother, and ate my grandma.” — Every whiny blogger that has ever written an article about Koh Mak.
Truth is: Koh Mak is paradise.
They have cerulean blue waters as far as the eye can see, you can walk half a frickin’ mile into the ocean without getting your hair wet, and the marine life (especially the coral) on the neighbouring tiny islands is off the charts. And the sand flies?
I got bit twice and I only noticed because I had a couple red marks on my legs. Big whoop. Grow up. Buy some bite cream for 50 baht at the local pharmacy and move on with your life in paradise.
But I digress.
I arrived by a two-hour ferry ride from Trat and was picked up by my new buddy, Rheal, from the pier. We zipped a few kilometers inland, I immediately rented a scooter and we drove down some beautiful winding roads past a couple Thai properties, just missing pulverizing their free-roaming chickens and ducks, and eventually arrived at my place on Maruey Beach.
For anyone planning on travelling to Koh Mak, I can’t recommend this place enough. It’s called Maruey Beach Resort, and for a whole 800 baht a night ($25 USD) you get a beautiful open-concept room with a nice big bathroom and anything else that you need. This was my view from my patio every morning, afternoon and evening:
And for another few bucks you can have one of the cottages right on the beach.
My first night was tranquil. All I could hear was the sound of crickets and the light waves slapping up against the beach as I sat down in my deck chair and worked at my novel. I slept like a baby after a full day of travel from Bangkok (7 hours in all), and when I woke up the next day I was refreshed and ready for whatever the day would throw at me.
I’m not going to do a day by day breakdown of my trip, because that would be like going over Selma and Patty Simpson vacation reels, and no one wants that shit. Instead, I’ll give you the highlights and the must-sees/dos.
1) Experience a Koh Mak Sunset
During my week on the island, I witnessed the stunning Koh Mak sunset twice. The other times I was probably busy fishing or getting into some trouble elsewhere in paradise, but it was something else to witness.
The best places to watch the sunset, according to the locals and the dozens of random folks I talked to, is either the pier at Cococape Resort (above), or, at the aptly named, Banana Sunset.
At Cococape you can grab a beer, mixed drink or a delicious fresh fruit smoothie, kick back on one of the many lounging chairs littered all over the dock and take in the breathtaking sky.
Banana Sunset is a little bit different. They have a deck that reaches close to the water, and you can sit down on comfy bean bags and eat some cheap, delicious Thai food as the sun sets. The best part about Banana is that they offer 2 for 1 drinks until the sun disappears beyond the horizon. This means you can get proper pissed before nightfall, and it’s the closest thing to happy hour that I’ve seen anywhere in Thailand so far.
2) Join the Trash Heroes Every Wednesday
Ew, gross, right? Picking up beach trash on vacation?
This has nothing to do with being an environmentalist or even giving two shits about the place you’re staying. Those are noble causes, but they’re simply the bi-products of the greatest reason to join the Trash Heroes on Wednesdays, especially for the solo-traveler.
You meet people.
You join locals and other tourists, become an active player in the community, and spend three hours making new friends, learning more about Koh Mak, and getting information that will be incredibly valuable on your stay.
Admittedly, I didn’t sign up for Trash Heroes, but I was hanging out on the beach when I saw them in their bright yellow t-shirts, and spent an hour helping and meeting new people. It leveled-up my trip immediately, and I recommend this three-hour commitment to anyone and everyone who visit the island.
3) Fishing for Squid
You’re not going to hear this tip elsewhere, but rent a rod from the pier at Cococape , pick a spot on the dock and fish away!
I caught one, second cast! And the fucking alien was huge! As I pulled it in, you could see ink blots all over the water as it ejected its goo, and then when I brought it on deck, it gave one last act of rebellion and splurged with a gwwwwiiiick! sound all over the chairs and deck and made everyone’s day.
The fellas at the pier bar offered to slice and dice it up for us, and my friends and I, plus a few more, ate fresh sashimi on the spot as the sun set in the sky. It was the exclamation point for me on what was a wonderful day to that point, and you must give this a try. It’s cheap, you don’t have to spend an entire day doing it, and you might just get lucky enough to eat sashimi and make some new buds.
You can’t go to Koh Mak without snorkeling or diving.
There are a number of outfitters that you can sign up with, and they all come highly recommended by just about everyone. But if you’re on a budget, rent a kayak and snorkeling gear at Cococape (400 baht all in), grab a buddy to split the cost, and head to one of the many islands that you see in the distance.
From Cococape you can visit Ko Kham and check out the beautiful beach there, and the snorkeling is supposed to be superb. You can also kayak 20 minutes to Ko Phi to the northwest of Cococape (where I went), and there you will find mind-blowing coral reefs just off the rocky beach, parrot fish, the odd barracuda, and a hundred other types of fish that I couldn’t begin to name. It’s fucking stunning.
And if you don’t want to rent a kayak, there is a small shipwreck just north of the dock, marked by a yellow buoy. If the day is clear and the water is calm, you’ll see everything just a few meters down. I was lucky enough to have a professional diver give me free-diving lessons at no cost.
And that’s one of the beauties of Koh Mak — people give, give and then give again, and they ask nothing in return. Just do your best to give back, and the island will remain the bastion of “fuck yeah” that it currently is.
5) Visit the Kingdom of Somchai’s Affection
More on this spectacle in my Medium article here.
6) For Breakfast, go to Sweet Cake
The breakfast is cheap and delicious (100 baht all in), the coffee is the best I’ve had on the island (it can be tough to find a good cup), and the staff there are beautiful people. Before you leave, make sure to grab a cake, muffin or whatever other delicious pastry they have on sale. It rivals any German bakery I’ve been to back home, and your day will be at least 20% better because of it. Because that’s another thing that’s hard to find on the islands: to-go snacks that you’re actually excited about.
Other Pro Tips for Koh Mak
- The island has no ATM, but if you’re looking to withdraw baht, just go to the Information Centre right across from the pharmacy (buy your essentials here! . . . very fair priced) and for a 5% charge you can withdraw any amount that you need.
- Renting a scooter for 250 baht/day (8 USD) is highly recommended. It’s actually a good place to learn how to ride, as most people on the road don’t speed and are respectful and you can slowly work your way into a comfort zone. If you’re staying where I stayed on Maruey Beach, you must rent a scooter. Don’t worry, it’s a fun ride.
- Budget 300–500 baht a day for food (10 USD). The higher number is if you buy fruity shakes and beers. (Who doesn’t like a cold one in paradise?)
- Buy all your booze from one of the many convenience stores, not the restaurants. It’s anywhere from 35–40 baht for a beer in the stores, and usually 70–80 in most restaurants. This adds up really quick if you like your hops.
- Visit the island November — May. Monsoon season shuts the island down.
- Grab a couple frisbees and play some disc golf on their course just down the road from the pharmacy. A group gets together every day at 5PM. Bring a beer and make some friends. Disc golf is huge in Thailand.
Koh Mak was the perfect starting point for me and my six-month adventure in SE Asia, and it comes with my highest recommendation. I didn’t hear a single bad thing about any of the resorts, bungalows or hostels that are tucked away in forested corners, straddling beaches and overlooking the rocky cliffs all over Koh Mak, so pick your price and know that you’re going to have an amazing stay no matter what.
Go now! Book your stay!