Thailand before mass tourism: On Koh Kood and Phayam, get up close to nature and have almost your own white-sand beaches

Thailand before mass tourism: On Koh Kood and Phayam, get up close to nature and have almost your own white-sand beaches

Crossing a river bridge, we turned inland, past a buffalo grazing next to an abandoned red bus from the 1980s, and I stopped at the end of a dirt road.

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“Hotel,” the driver said, pointing to a muddy path leading to a crumbling bridge.

I followed the path to a wooden two-story house surrounded by jungle and overlooking a muddy lake. It is aptly named Forestel.

After checking in and renting a scooter, I was quickly galloping down empty roads in the tropical sun.

A 500-year-old ‘Makayuk’ tree wrapped with a golden ribbon on Koh Kood.Photo: Thomas Byrd

Many islanders reportedly have Khmer ancestry and fled there more than a century ago. The Rough Guide to Thailand. Most people earn their living from fishing and farming.

Despite some upscale resorts, much of Thailand’s fourth-largest island is used to grow rubber and coconuts, or remains rainforest, cut off from the modern world by its location.

I spent an afternoon swimming and hiking between Khlong Chao Waterfall and Huang Nam Khiao Waterfall, the latter deep in the forest marked by a golden ribbon wrapped around a 500-year-old ‘Makayuk’ tree.

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The view of Huang Nam Qiao Waterfall.Photo: Thomas Byrd

Along the southwest coast, I broke into vacationers who more or less have some magnificent beaches. The southernmost point is Ao Phrao, a white bay with a backdrop of dense palm trees, accessed by a dirt road that my motorcycle can barely handle.

Most of the bungalows and bars on Koh Kood are located halfway along the west coast of the island, around the mouth of the Klong Chao River.

As the sun dipped into the horizon as I sipped a cocktail at the Peter Pan Resort bar, I kayaked along the mangrove-lined estuary. Sitting among their crafts, they form black silhouettes against the purple skyline, a scene so magical that the resort’s invocation of Neverland makes sense.

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Sunset on Koh Kood.Photo: Thomas Byrd
The next time I gaze at the estuary flanked by mangroves, I’m in the 900-kilometer (560-mile) drive of Ranong, a rain-soaked city a stone’s throw from India’s southern tip. Myanmar. At dawn, the insects sang to the sunrise with the enthusiasm of a church congregation.

The estuary is muddy and shallow, but the Andaman tide fills it like a bathtub with sea water. When the water is deep enough, the first ferry of the day comes into view and the speedboat is quickly filled with islanders, temporary cargo and a handful of visitors to Phayam.

Like Koh Kood, Phayam has avoided the worst excesses of mass tourism.

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View of Phayam Island from the pier of the Buddhist temple.Photo: Thomas Byrd

The crossing itself justified the sleepless nights I spent on the bus from Bangkok’s southern bus terminal when we passed a pod of dolphins, causing the flight attendant to point and yell “in pralom, in bloom! “

It’s not just the wonders of the deep that draw people to Payan. A cartoon welcome sign shows that the native hornbill has become synonymous with the island.

Here they are, around the bungalow I booked at the Phayam Garden View resort, located in the geographic center of the island.

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View of Garden View Resort in Payan, Phayam.Photo: Thomas Byrd

Like Forestel, Garden View is also surrounded by woodland, with pairs of hornbills flying around in the forest. Their beautifully colored beaks contrast sharply with their raspy guttural voices, and their barking echoes through the tree canopy like a dog barking.

“Don’t worry, they’re not as noisy as the wild birds that come here at night,” says a Swiss backpacker who lives in a bungalow next door. “Also watch out for macaques. Monkeys sometimes jump on roofs.”

I took an open-air shower in the bathroom next to the bungalow before heading to Back to December, a restaurant run by the same Thai couple who run Garden View. The owner told me that all dishes are made with vegetables grown in the back garden.

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The welcome sign for Phayam features the iconic hornbill.Photo: Thomas Byrd

Refreshed and refreshed after my curry, I hired another scooter and set off to explore the island. The interior is filled with flowers, butterflies and birds. It didn’t take long for me to get lost, but since all island roads lead to the beach, it was just a matter of choosing a path.

The north-west coast fans out to Ao Kao Wai or Buffalo Horn Bay – so named because of the trumpet-shaped halves of the beach.

I found a “pirate ship” made entirely of driftwood on the northern “horn”.It looks like pirates of the caribbean Captain Jack Sparrow anchored his spare ship here for safety.

It bears the sign ‘Hippie Bar’ and the owner of the bar with pigtails and red eyes sits inside from the marijuana they’ve been smoking. The most advice I get is, “Dude, come over for a beer later.”
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The hole beneath the Hin Talu rock arch resembles a map of Australia.Photo: Thomas Byrd

I scrolled south along southern “Cape Buffalo”, known as Hin Talu, an unusual geological formation that looks like a rock-carved map of Australia to the selfie stick crowd Very attractive. Since it’s too shallow to swim, I sat on the sand and watched a man take pictures of his partner, who posed as a fashion model.

The southwestern edge of the island is Ao Yai, or Long Beach, which is also reminiscent of something Australia – a long stretch of fine white sand lapped by rolling waves where new surfers are trying to glide .

Overhead, white-bellied sea eagles circle in search of prey. The wind carried the scents of the sea and the forest. I fought my way through the waves, enjoying moments of solitude until the heat of the day sent me looking for a place to rest.

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Workers walk on the beach of Phayam Island.Photo: Thomas Byrd
At Rasta Baby Bar, a reggae-themed bamboo beach shack, I order a drink Singha beer From a chatty young Thai waitress.

“A few years ago (Phayan) didn’t even have electricity; everything was powered by generators,” she told me. “(Even now), everyone is so relaxed. It’s like when I was growing up, the old Thais were still talking.”

Handing me a drink, she added: “You know, I think this is the last island in Thailand.”

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