Stunning white beaches, soft lapping water and a peaceful atmosphere are memories you will take away from Koh Mak (Maak) after your visit. It’s one of the ‘undiscovered’ islands of Thailand, just big enough for visitors to feel comfortable but a little off the beaten track so that it’s not overrun by commercial tourism. In a sense this is what the other islands used to be like, and Koh Mak retains the true character of Thai islands.
This lovely small island is an escape that is a well kept secret, which only the privileged get to visit. Situated in a plumb position between the two main beaches, Koh Maak Suites is perfect for the independent traveller, families or those expecting luxury without the tourist crowds.
The tropical Thai island of Koh Mak is located in South-eastern Thailand within view of the more popular Koh Chang, and there are good land, air and ferry connections to get you here without much fuss. Lush groves of coconut, elevated hill views in the interior and plenty of turquoise water make this a picturesque destination. So much so that filmmakers have used it, and the Sunday Times in the UK mentioned the island in a list of top 10 beaches.
Koh Mak island is 16km2, and host to only 30 resorts, with two main beaches within walking distance of each other. Koh Maak Suites is located right between the two, conveniently, boasting some of the best seaviews on the island yet only a few minutes walk to either of the white sands. The limited number of trendy suites and other more traditional villas sit among gorgeous tropical vegetation of our sprawling garden.
At the heart of the resort is a pool, the beaches is only a few minutes stroll away along a palm-shaded path, and the atmosphere is down-to-earth. Yummy food is served at meal times, there are games and activities for the kids at this small family-orientated resort and it has several multi-room villas that are perfect for family get-togethers. The friendly staff here are able to arrange activities, travel and transfers.
The island itself is part of a marine national park with excellent snorkelling and dive sites, as well as other activities such as kayaking, windsurfing and of course walking or cycling around the islands. Noticeably absent are noisy bars, nightlife, McDonalds or traffic. There are enough small convenience stores and sundowner restaurants for your comfort.
If you dream of a holiday on tropical islands in Southeast Asia but are wary of the tourist crush, then Koh Mak is a good choice. It has fortunately escaped over-development, occupies a particularly lush part of the coast and enjoys plenty of sunny weather year-round. Transfer time from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport is not much different from other popular islands.
History of Koh Mak
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. Rubber trees were also planted as they provided an extra source of income. Most of the inhabitants worked in agriculture but some also turned to fishing Even today you can still see the abundance of coconut trees and rubber plantations.
The first traces of tourism started in 1974 when the first bungalows for tourists where built. Since Koh Mak was at that time very undeveloped and communication was difficult, the development had to be put to a stop for some time. In 1987 bungalows and resorts where build around some beach areas so that tourists could be properly served. Today Koh Mak still largely belongs to the same family and has three diving schools, three fishing villages, 25 resorts and lots of coconut and rubber trees. For an article that covers Koh Mak’s history more in depth click here.
What to see and do
The island is fairly small and you can explore it on foot or rented bike within a morning. There are local communities with temples, and pagodas and Buddha statues, along with a school and coconut groves to discover. Of course you can also seek out hidden beaches that you might have all to yourself, or elevated viewpoints.
Diving and snorkelling are highly recommended and there are three dive operators on the island but you can also snorkel right off the beaches and rocky bits with rented or purchased goggles, and spot colourful shoals and some coral.
Kayaking is another rewarding activity, since the island is full of interesting coastal features and has a few smaller neighbours for you to paddle over to. It’s also possible to arrange a day of sailing with boats that come over from Koh Chang.
A few other options include: laying on the beach relaxing, of course, or even taking a Thai food cooking class for a few hours in the afternoon. Many of the resorts also have massage on offer, sometimes right in view of the beach.
- There are diving and snorkeling trips that can be booked daily. If you book in advance through the website you will get a 5% discount.
- You can swim in the sea or at the pool in the resort.
- Kayaks can be rented to explore the beaches and the nearby islands.
- Rent a mountain bike for 150 Bath per day to explore the island.
- Motorbikes can be rented starting at 300 Bath per day.
- Dive into the Thai cuisine by following a Thai cooking class
- Go on an island tour where you will be able to explore all the interesting places.
- Explore the surrounding island by booking an island hopping tour.
- The sailing school on Koh Chang might pick you up on Koh Mak if you organize in advance
Food and Restaurants
The food on the island is affordable and delicious. There are plenty of restaurants but we can make a few recommendations. First of all there is Koh Mak Sea Food. This is a restaurant on the near the pier. In fact, the restaurant itself is situated on the water. The seafood is as fresh as it gets. The fish is caught and cooked the same day and sometimes your food will still be alive and kicking before you made your choice. Last time we wanted to eat a crab and they took it out of the water and then cooked it.
Another recommendation we can make is Koh Mak Island Restaurant. Situated on one of the highest hills on the island the view you get while eating is simple amazing. The food is simply delicious and very affordable. This restaurant is located on the domain of Good Time Resort so you won’t have to walk far to enjoy a good meal. If you want to explore other restaurants there are over 10 resort which have their own restaurant and 15 more independent restaurants or food stands on the island.
Hospitality & Life On The Island
There are some 30 resorts on Koh Maak of varying quality, many of them down market. Some have beachfront locations but only a few have coveted position between two beaches. Island Suites in the Good Times Resorts sit on a low hill with excellent views and a spacious garden for its comfortable villas and is a mere three minute stroll to either white beach (Haad Khao) or big beach (Haad Soun Yai).
Aside from the beachfront restaurants of each resort that you can choose from, there are many independent eateries in the tourist centre, along with convenience stores but NO ATM or banks, so bring cash.
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. The local community is served with its own school and health center. 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 tranquility for generations to come.
The quickest and most comfortable way to reach Koh Mak is to fly into Trat airport and transfer to Laem Ngop in time for one of four speedboat departures between 10:00 and 16:00, which whisk you to the island in 45 minutes.
There are also several direct buses to the pier daily from Bangkok’s Ekkamai Bus station or Suvarnabhumi airport (5 hour trip), and several more to Trat City. You can also get a private mini van, taxi, or rented car for a slightly quicker journey on HWY3.
Be sure not to confuse the ferry pier with another that is used for getting to Koh Chang. Of course, you can also spend time first on Koh Chang and catch a twice-daily speedboat from that island to Koh Mak.
Koh Mak enjoys agreeable weather year-round, but the best of it is during the high season between November and March when the heat is mild, and it seldom rains. Thailand is at its hottest in March, April and May when the rainy season is yet to arrive, frequently topping 40C, but the island seldom experiences that due to sea breezes. The rains come from June until October but it remains balmy with plenty of sunshine in-between heavy showers. The humidity can get to you, but the cloud cover is welcome to cool things down. You can get discount rates during this time.
For a 7 day weather forecast click here.
This is the larger and busier island among this archipelago near the Cambodian border, and among the most lush in Thailand. It’s dominated by a central spine of sharp hills with most the resorts on the West facing side. White Sands Beach is the main strip of resorts, complete with a nightlife and red lights, but caters to everything you might fancy. This includes elephant riding, tours in Russian, several impressive waterfalls, and some pretty mangrove scenery.
While the beachfront resorts are more expensive here, it does have a more sophisticated feel to it and a number of different beaches to suit all budgets and tastes. Ultimately it’s just the same as many other resort islands like Samui, Phuket and Krabi, and maybe what you wish to avoid when choosing Koh Mak.