Koh Mak is a lovely island that challenges so many of our views of Thailand. In a country that’s an enigmatic mix of elegance and hedonism Koh Mak is a piece of Thailand that has not lost its treasured Thai values. The simplicity of the Buddhist way of life and the clean tastes of Thai Cuisine contrast so vividly with the Full Moon parties of Phuket and Koh Samui that the country is more often known for.
To understand Koh Mak you need to start with a little history. Originally a coconut plantation established and run by a Chinese official in the late 19th century the plantation fell into Thai ownership and was farmed as a coconut plantation, with some rubber trees, by one family. Today much of the land is still owned and worked by descendants of that same family. Perhaps having a present and future so firmly rooted in its past keeps Koh Mak the haven that it is.
Our haven is a small island by Thai standards and this is, perhaps, also responsible for the continued tranquillity found on Koh Mak. A mere 10km x 5km the island is home to some 800 local Thai people and its 27km coastline hosts a mere 600 tourist beds. The coastline is predominantly mangrove swamps leading into shallow warm waters however a journey around the island reveals the hidden treasures of Koh Mak. Four stunningly beautiful beaches curve gracefully around with soft golden sand being gently kissed by warm tropical seas. So beautiful are these beaches that they were named in Britain’s Sunday Times’ 10 most beautiful beaches list in 2006.
Koh Mak has only three seasons defining its climate and they are as varied as the four seasons found in less temperate climes. Between the months of March and May the island is in the throes of its hot season. Clear blue skies with very little rain and even less wind mean high temperatures and an abundance of slowing down to deal with the heat. Moving from June to October the south west monsoon blows. Temperatures remain warm and the winds of the south west monsoon bring some relief from higher temperatures but with intermittent rain showers that can be sudden and dramatic yet rarely last longer than an hour. The final change in climate on Koh Mak comes between November and February, locally known as the cool season, when the north east monsoon blows slightly cooler air with very little rain if any at all.
Life in Koh Mak
Some 600 local people make Koh Mak their home and their lifestyle is simple in nature. The island has its own Buddhist temple and this gives an idea of how life is here. Virtually a crime free area the local community is served with its own school and health centre. One of the major tropical health issues, malaria, is virtually unknown. Koh Mak has been malaria free for fifteen years.
Environmental issues are critical to the future well being of the Koh Mak. Driving down the dependence upon diesel for generating electricity by encouraging solar energy will make the island more self sufficient. Koh Mak is also responding to environmental issues by ensuring that rubbish, in particular plastic is disposed of correctly. Remote beaches can often still remain littered with flotsam from the sea but locally created rubbish is recycled effectively.
The landscape has been shaped by its past. Until recently coconut and rubber were the only ways for locals to make a living and some 70% of Koh Mak is given over to their cultivation. The remaining space is mangrove swamp and this is where the islands rich flora and fauna really abound. It is good to note that despite the 21st century being only 38km away the mangroves are assured of a future.
The pace of change on Koh Mak is affected by its location at the heart of the newly created Koh Chang National Marine Park. Covering some 650km2 and home to an archipelago of 52 islands the park is bound by strict regulations concerning fishing and environmental issues. This will have a sobering impact on any change on the island as regulation is very tight and will ensure Koh Mak keeps is air of peace and tranquillity for generations to come.