Legends you hear in passing without knowing anything about seem to be some of the most fruitful discoveries when you track them down yourself. While travelling through Isan in 2011, I was told of an island near the Andaman coast of Thailand. The speaker of this legend told me of an island without cars, intermittent electricity, and a relative remoteness that I had never seen with the possible exception of Culebra. It took me a while to track this place down, since I couldn’t remember the name, only that he said it was shaped like a Kangaroo.
Koh Phayam was the name of this island and on an unexpected holiday in August, it’s where I was off to, tracking down my first legend of a deserted island.
The ferry to the island leaves from the town of Ranong, which is supposed to be a pleasant place in its own right. However, I would recommend a hat for the trip, as my head got roasted in the several-hour ride atop the boat. The ferry also passes by the even-more-deserted island of (small) Koh Chang.
Stepping off in the only town on the island, it was immediately different from what I had seen on Koh Phangan, and actually a lot more akin to Culebra. Although, it was much smaller. Only a few restaurants, one or two convenience stores and an Internet café made up the town. Most of the guesthouses were on the other side of the island near the larger beaches. However, this town was the place to rent a motorbike, the only real kind of transit on the island, for my stay.
Being middle of the low season, most of the guesthouses on the island were closed down, giving the island a truly deserted feeling. Of the few open, I settled into Bamboo Bungalows for 200 baht/US$6. Still, while wandering up and down the abandoned beach of Ao Yai (‘Big Bay’) it was fun seeing the empty places and knowing you had it almost entirely to yourself.
The best part was just being on the empty beach, particularly at dusk and watching the sunset over the Indian Ocean. The fishing boats far on the Myanmar horizon take on silhouettes with the speed and shape of snails crawling over the sea.
One other bonus of Koh Phayam is that its biggest industry is cashew farming. While you can find cashews at most convenience stores in Thailand, they’re usually sealed, salted and stale tasting. These grown locally were fresh and tasted amazing. And, compared to the price you buy packaged cashews for retail in Thailand, it was a great deal. Unfortunately, ants thought the same thing and eventually made their way into the first bag I had bought.
Getting away from the path between Ao Yai and the main town provided plenty of varying sites, but it was also the beginning of the wet season, and many of the lesser-used roads were reduced to impassable muddy pools.
One very interesting spot, though, was Wat Koh Phayam, the main Buddhist temple of the island. Consisting of a hillside temple that still looked very under construction, it also was home to a pier stretching out into the ocean a good distance. At the end was an octagonal pink and white building looking more like a honeymoon bungalow than a part of the temple. Not open when I stopped by, but still a cool sight to be seen.
The only downside to the island was the price of food. Islands in general charge more for food since the shipping fee needs to be covered. However, with most of the island closed down and a only few places open, they knew it. And they made use of that fact. Meals often ended up costing me 3-4x what they might have in Bangkok.
Still after a few days of the deserted island dream, I needed to return to the chaos of Bangkok. As always seemed to be the case, work beckoned.