Over the past four decades, one of the most exotic destinations in the world turned into the most visited country in Asia, thanks to its stable political atmosphere and the development of its capital as a crossroads of international air transport.
Gushed about in guidebooks and beloved by the backpacker set, every day, thousands of travelers flock to Thailand’s sandy beaches, towering limestones cliffs, jungles and temples. With more than 30 million visitors a year, Thailand is no longer the region’s most adventurous destination, and the damaging effects of tourism are almost everywhere.
As one would expect, after many trips, I slowly grew tired of navigating Thailand’s countless resorts and souvenir stands among the constant crush of other tourists. Yet I never gave up on the idea of discovering a pristine island or a remote jungle where I could still chase that feeling of being in Thailand of the last century. Being the stubborn and curious person that I am, my Thai dream paradise eventually comes true.
I take a flight to Bangkok, and from there, I travel two hundred miles east, on the Cambodian border. I land on the small island of Koh Kood, home to a rainforest, coconut plantations, sleepy fishing villages and fewer than 2,000 people.
In a country where almost all destinations are reachable via direct flights, Koh Kood’s great advantage is its relative remoteness. There are no landlines, little internet access and few cars. Electricity is minimal – homes and hotels rely on generators or solar power. All is slow, warm tranquillity.
Koh Kood is Thailand’s fourth-largest but least populated island. I hear from locals it’s what Samui and Phuket were like when tourism was just beginning in the 70s. It’s breathtaking. There are a couple of waterfalls – Klong Chao, in the center of the west coast, is the most famous one. There are also long beaches with powdery white sand, featuring mountainous landscape covered by a large thick jungle.
I stay at Soneva Kiri, considered by many one of the most exclusive beachfront escapes in the country. The resort can be reached by a short 70-minute flight on the Soneva’s private plane direct from Suvarnabhumi Airport, or by domestic flight from Bangkok to Trat, followed by a boat ride to Koh Kood.Soneva Kiri, wedged between the jungle and the ocean, features just 36 villas made out of sustainably sourced wood and recycled materials, which gives a Robinson Crusoe feel to the whole place. What I like the most about Soneva, however, is the emphasis on decompressing from all aspects of modern life. Shoes, for example, are immediately left behind from the moment you step out of the plane.
I’ll hold Koh Kood up as evidence for my theory that the harder a place is to reach, the better it is. Unlike some of the most obvious Thai’s destinations, such as Koh Phi Phi, Krabi or Phuket, Koh Kood still has the fishing-village charm that drew people to Thailand in the first place. It’s for nature lovers, rather than those who need a wide choice of shops, bars and restaurants. Remote islands often lack ATMs; Wi-Fi is nonfunctional or nonexistent. It’s a small price to pay for a trip off the well-trodden grid, and it’s absolutely worth it.
Nanda Haensel traveled to Koh Kood from April 29th to May 2nd, 2017, and stayed at Soneva Kiri resort (www.soneva.com/soneva-kiri). She flew with Thai Airways from Singapore to Bangkok, and from there she took Soneva’s private plane to Koh Kood.