There are two ways to get to the fanciest resort on Koh Mook. First way: you take a private speedboat right to the beach. Second way: you walk through or around the local primary school. I feel this captures the character of Koh Mook quite nicely – part paradise island, part regular Thai community. Here endeth the sermon.

Koh Mook is a little splotch of an island just off the coast of Trang, southern Thailand. We were visiting as a year end treat to round off the much-maligned year 2020 (or 2563 here in Thailand) with a bright flourish.

I’m always a little wary of Thai islands, not for any sensible reason but because many are often hyped as paradise on earth and turn out to be endless rows of concrete resorts crammed against the least rocky beach – they pave paradise and put up a farking lot. More to the point, I sometimes find that some Thai islands are overly, if not entirely, built for tourism and feel a bit like a theme park as a result.

Koh Mook is resolutely not this. Mook is a working, bubbly, slightly ramshackle and very un-pisted island that happens to have some tourism. I’m surprised it doesn’t have more tourism – even by pandemic standards it was quiet – but I’m not complaining.

Koh Mook is accessed from a rather picturesque little pier just south of Pak Meng beach. It’s around an hour from the equally wholesome little airport at Trang, or just under two hours from Krabi, which was where we came from. There are a few speedboats and a ferry, but it’s 100% more fun to get one of the local longtail boats because you can sit and look cool with your hair flowing in the breeze.

After shooting out of the mangroves, Koh Mook is only a 15 minute thundering ride away, either to the long concrete pier or, in our case, to the quite dreamy Sivalai Beach.

Koh Mook Sivalai Beach Resort

Sivalai Beach licks out like a tongue of flame, or more accurately a tongue of sand, off the east of Koh Mook. It’s unusual in that the beach wraps around three sides, so you can enjoy facing north, south or east on the same stretch of sand. And speaking of sand – you haven’t seen the like. The sand on Sivalai and on Koh Mook in general is powdery to the point of disbelief. It’s so fine it squeaks underfoot as you strut up and down. Apparently it’s called Sivalai Beach from the Thai word for ‘civilised’, which is the English word in a Thai accent. Wheels within wheels.

Sivalai is also home to the aforementioned fanciest resort on Koh Mook, the lovely Sivalai Beach Resort. Sivalai Beach Resort is a cluster of tidy little villas all within spitting distance of the sand on both sides. Prices range and are at the higher end of the spectrum – expect between 2000 – 4000 baht (with breakfast) per night. I think this is well worthwhile, as the setting is particularly special and the villas are nicely kept with sunny private terraces if the four steps to the beach are just too far.

Staff are also super friendly and welcoming, especially a guy called Soon whose main job seemed to be hurtling round the resort in a golf buggy shouting enthusiastic greetings at everyone. He performed his role admirably. The general food is good albeit with patchy service, while the breakfast sits right in the middle of bang average. You can’t have everything!

One thing I adored about Sivalai Beach was the range of wildlife and especially birds that call the place home. A family of hornbills ruled the roost at dusk, while kites and eagles floated around the afternoon sun looking for prey.

Mooching around Koh Mook 8
A trio of hornbills at Sivalai beach

You can book Koh Mook Sivalai Beach Resort via Agoda at this link, and if you do we’ll get a small commission, while you won’t pay a penny more. Come, we’ll beat the system together.

Out and about on Koh Mook

Taking a walk into the small village shows some of the real fabric of the island. Traipsing through the school grounds (or around when it’s open), normally with a 20-a-side game of football happening next to you, you’ll hit Koh Mook’s main hub of stuff, including a minimart which doubles as a tour centre which also runs a guesthouse and which may do taxis. People are resourceful.

A few restaurants litter the strip offering up mainly Thai fayre. In 2020 many of these are closed temporarily so food pickings are somewhat slim. We found decent food at City Center Restaurant on the main drag, and at Mook Lamai’s restaurant about a 10 min walk away. Also on the main strip is a new place called My Place Gastro Bar run by a cheery Italian guy and Thai lady. Good pizzas await for those craving something different.

It’s nice just to wander around Koh Mook’s relatively few roads – all of which are car-free but well-stocked with motorbikes ridden by (way too) young and old alike. Stop in at the quiet coffee and tea shop Miss Island, and wander further down the coast road where they’re still knocking out little donuts and treats from just 5 baht at a stall outside Sugars.

koh mook village

It’s quite nice to be in a place where daily life just happens around you as a tourist rather than you as a tourist being the centre of daily life.

Aside from the odd honk and wave from a passing bike or curious stare from a younger kid, we wandered round Koh Mook without people taking any notice. Contrast that with a Phuket, Samui and Krabi where every walk down the street is a chorus of invitations to eat here, drink there, massage everywhere. The most attention we got was from the local dogs who were very keen to make friends and fall asleep on our shoes during lunch.

Into the Jungle

The keenest dog we found was on a slightly more adventurous jaunt into the middle of the island. Following the (only) road going north-west out of the village leads to the main jungle trail – walk out past Good Luck restaurant and Rinna resort. There’s some rough signposting pointing to the Koh Mook viewpoint and jungle trail. The route will take you past Koh Mook Nurse House hotel if you need a Google-friendly marker.

Now, being young(ish), fit(ish), sporty(ish) types we decided to run the jungle track to the view point which is only a couple of kilometres. What we didn’t know is that those kilometres are disconcertingly vertical and roughly equivalent to running up a wall.

We met the keenest dog on Koh Mook at the entrance to the trail, and she spent the entirety of the trip up and down under our feet, occasionally turning to judge our lack of puff as she bounded effortlessly up the steep inclines.

Be sure to follow the largest track – it has a couple of confusing sharp turns, one of which led us into a rubber plantation.

What starts as a gentle upward gradient quickly kicks up to a rutted path so steep it has a rope to help you up and down.

koh mook koh muk jungle trail
Much steeper than it looks. Dog will follow you all the way.

In places you will have to really clamber up this track. It’s definitely a walking route rather than a running one, and even then still a bit strenuous. Unless you are a dog.

The top viewpoint is worth it though. There are lovely views down to the east and west of the island and a few benches to sit, catch your breath, have a small weep, discuss how likely the dog is to trip you and kill you on the way down. In normal times there’s a cafe up here but in 2020 and 2021 it’s very much closed.

koh mook viewpoint koh muk
is massive

We had a tentative look at the trail the other side, but it looked patchy in the extreme and so we tiptoed back down the same way, eventually losing the dog after she found a more interesting patch of leaves. Fickle. You can apparently walk to Ao Sabai if you follow the trail, but come prepared.

Koh Mook Emerald Cave

Having seen plenty of island variety on land, there was just time for a trip out to Koh Mook’s most famous attraction: the Emerald Cave.

We booked a tour at the PK minimart and it cost 1200 baht for the whole boat, picking up from Sivalai Beach. There’s also a 200 baht national park fee per person, possibly less for Thai people.

The best bet is to leave early and beat anyone else there. We left at 7.30am and were at the cave by 8 after a pleasantly cool trip around the southern half of Koh Mook. On the way you’ll pass fishermen on their way out to tend to nets, people fishing for shellfish on the rocks, and Farang/Charlie beach which sits on the southwest corner of the island and is excellent for sunset. You can also seemingly rent kayaks from this beach to paddle out to the cave. I’m not sure about accomodation and food on this side of the island right now.

With a boat, you’ll also have a guide who will lead you through the cave, which appears out of nowhere and would be easy to miss!

At this point, you’ll don a lifejacket and gracefully bob your way through the cave itself – an 80m stretch that is in parts glorious emerald green as the water reflects on the walls, and part pitch black. There are a few side passages in the cave so with a guide you’ll be sure not to make an error. That said, it’s an easy enough swim.

What awaits on the other side is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Stepping out of the cave into a lagoon straight out of Jurassic Park, an amphitheatre of cliffs rear up all around you, dense with trees and plants climbing from the sandy floor. Kudos to whichever mad bastard discovered the place.

The photos I took do it no justice whatsoever, so you should go and look for yourselves.

As it was only us, we had the whole place to ourselves which made it pretty magic. It may be less magic with hordes of others, so really do pick your timing.

The trip also threw in some snorkeling and a stop off at Ao Sabai, a secluded little beach just up the coast.

Ao Sabai is currently a very visible victim of plastic pollution, with thousands of pieces littering the shore line which must have washed up from somewhere. People sometimes gloss over these things to make it sound like a particular place is perfect, I don’t know why. Here’s the reality of a beautiful place that is being utterly strangled by endless waste.

ao sabai koh mook plastic pollution
Not so pretty

This obviously isn’t exclusive to Koh Mook, Thailand or Asia – it’s a global thing, but this was one of the more stark instances I’ve seen. If you’re on Ao Sabai, take a couple of bottles away with you.

On that slightly sobering note we headed back to Sivalai on a bright and clear morning for a final day of hard relaxation and mooching around.

If you hadn’t guessed already, we really liked Koh Mook. The scenery, the vibe, the people were all great, and it’s a doddle to get to from Bangkok. It’s somewhere we will definitely come back to, and it should be on your Thailand list.

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