Just back from a solo trip to Thailand, AFAR Ambassador Rachel Rudwall shares her tips for authentic island hopping.
The beaches of southern Thailand can bring to mind images of full moon parties with free-flowing Chang beer and throngs of tourists. But beyond the popular islands of Ko Chang, Ko Tao, and Ko Phi Phi (the latter made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach), I discovered a breath of fresh air: hidden trails and undisturbed parks with ample room for adventuresome travelers.
Just one hour from Bangkok by plane, Ko Samui makes a convenient entry point. The island offers accommodations at every price tag and still feels strikingly untouched once you venture beyond the commercial drag in Chaweng.
From the pagoda, head north on the temple access road until you hit route 4170, a two-lane thoroughfare with a shoulder wide enough for safe riding. Ride a little over a mile past groves that process over 10,000 coconuts weekly and brake for a refreshing coconut water. Pedal left onto route 4173 for another 2.8 miles, following signs for Na Muang Waterfalls—and congratulate yourself with a dip once you reach the lower falls.
Note: While you’ll notice some travelers renting motorbikes on Samui, I say, avoid the temptation. A slower set of wheels is typically safer and allows you to explore the less-trafficked paths along the coast.
I set my sights on Mu Kong Any Thong National Park, about an hour’s boat ride from Ko Samui. The marine national park encompasses an area of nearly 40 miles and 42 islands, and you might start as I did at Ko Mae Ko (or Mother Island), famous for its saltwater lagoon.
Continue on to Wua Talap, an island offering birds-eye views of the national park from a series of overlooks that begin just above the beach and continue up a third of a mile. Then head back down to sea level for a well-deserved lunch at the open-air café. Pro tip: wear athletic shoes. The trails are maintained, but rocky enough that sandals prove uncomfortable at best, and dangerous at worst.