Beyond the bright lights of Phuket and the sandy shores of Krabi, Koh Mook—Pearl Island—is an oft-forgotten jewel of southern Thailand. Here’s how to spend a lazy few days on this idyllic yet underrated isle. Story and photographs by IAN LLORD NEUBAUER
Published on Aug 24, 2018
The best way to explore Koh Mook’s hidden Emerald Cave is by kayak.
The tiny island’s most frequented attraction is Emerald Cave, a tropical lagoon concealed inside a towering limestone amphitheater that’s almost too beautiful to be true. High season sees it crammed with day trippers who longtail it in from Koh Lanta and beyond, but to get beyond the crowds, hire a kayak from Mong’s Bar (Farang Beach; +66 8 0717-1517; kayaks from Bt100 per hour) and paddle north along the rocky coastline for 20 minutes to the mouth of a sea cave, where a 50-meterlong subterranean river empties into the lagoon. Kayaking around the entire island takes about three hours and is a brilliant way to tour the untouched beaches and coves and rugged beauty of Koh Mook’s mountainous northwest. Farang Beach is the best strip of sand on the island—a limestone massif to the north shelters the bay’s emerald waters, and resorts, restaurants and bars are all in wandering distance.
Southern Thai food is famously fiery, and heavily influenced by the Muslim-populated regions near the Malaysian border. Seafood takes center stage on the island, and fresh crab should be the order of the day. Curries here are rich and flavorful—seek out an authentic massaman or turmeric-infused yellow curry. For a modern take on a classic, try the green curry chicken pizza at Sa Biang (mains from Bt200), a Mediterranean-style restaurant at Mook Lamai Resort. Just up the road is the family-run Hilltop Restaurant (fb.com/hilltoprestaurantsong; mains from Bt200), loved for its honey-roasted chicken and steamed duck, but rapped for its slow service. De Tara (mains from Bt100; drinks from Bt140) is a simple little al-fresco resort and restaurant that kisses secluded Au Wua Nawn Beach.
Massaman curry from De Tara.
Come sunset, climb the steep higgledypiggledy staircase to Ko Yao Viewpoint, and sip colorful cocktails on the wooden deck that overlooks the Andaman. For rustic island tipples, head to the southern end of Farang Beach, plant yourself on a daybed or foldout chair in front of Mong’s Bar (drinks from Bt50) and order your sundowners. Alternatively, Ting Tong Bar (Farang Beach; drinks from Bt70) is a little livelier, with a DJ and fire show, though it is only open every second or third night.
Sivilai Beach Resort sits on a palm-fringed cape.
Perched on a sandy spit 500 meters east of the Fisherman’s Village, Sivalai Beach Resort (doubles from Bt9,500) was relaunched last year following the refurbishment of all 60 bungalows. Think polished hardwood floors, teak and bamboo furnishings and gleaming hotel-style bathrooms. Halfway between Farang Beach and the fisherman’s village is Mook Lamai Resort and Spa (doubles from Bt4,800). This whitewashed boutique resort cut straight out of the hi-so suburbs of Phuket has eight little villas and three elegant suites fronted by a slick, floodlit pool. But the newest and most charming place to stay is Nature Hill (doubles from Bt2,000), on a forested hillside a short stroll from Farang Beach. There are six welldesigned air-conditioned bungalows with folding French glass doors, large balconies and exteriors made from locally salvaged wood.
Thai-style bungalows at Siwilai.
There’s no airport on Koh Mook, which is perhaps why the island still remains so untouched, so be prepared for a journey. From Trang Airport, take a 50-minute drive by minibus to Kuan Thung Khu pier, where a 15-minute ferry ride or 30-minute longtail boat ride can connect you to Koh Mook. During high season, November to April, there are daily hour-long ferries from Koh Lanta, or three-hour ferries from Phuket.