Saturday, April 21, 2007

Some info on Ko Sukorn

Nice sunsets are not too unusual on Sukorn (image Sukorn Beach Bungalows - Juhong Craemer)

Ko Sukorn is a small/medium sized island close to the coast about 40km south of Trang. It has a sleepy personality with nice rural and coastal scenery, a few villages with friendly locals and about half a dozen bungalow resorts. The beaches are nice, the ones on the west coast having great sunsets and outlooks to some rugged islands further west and to the north. However you white sand seekers will be disappointed, the sand here is more a light grey/brown. No problems to me, except is does get a bit hotter around peak sun.

ISLAND MAP
REGIONAL MAP

I stayed at SUKORN BEACH BUNGALOWS about two thirds the way up the west coast in mid-March. This is really a mid-range place with some very nice bungalows beachfront and spaced through pretty attractive garden-like grounds, but they do have some less expensive flashpacker priced rooms in a single story motel like block up the back. Mine was 750 baht which included 2 free breakfasts per day - the breakfasts would cost 100+ each in a normal bungalow restaurant, which equals a without-breakfast of 550max, pretty fair for what was a good room. I do a detailed report of the room later.
Apparantly discounts up to 50% are offered in wet season - the Dutch owner was disarmingly frank when I asked him abt wet season - he said they have lots of nice days but when they get a blow they have to wind down the translucent shutters at the front of the restaurant, the sea does get rough for a time and because visitor numbers are down, you can’t always get what appeals to you on the menu.

Speaking of which, the big beachfont indoor-outdoor restaurant was a nice place to spend time - quite a lot of plants were scattered around but by luck or good planning they did not impede the views of the beach and islands. Food was pretty good and prices very reasonable - mid range people must love paying only 10% more than the average budget bungalow restaurant, and less than quite a few. My big Chang standard - 75baht. Some bungalow places I paid 100. Most Thai dishes were 75-85 + rice at 20, pretty good value.

The area at the back of the beach has similar luck or skill in tree placement - lots of shade but still great beach/island views from the many beach chairs and lie-lows scattered about. Rugged Ko Laoliang and Ko Takiang are directly west, Ko Petra south of thse, with big Ko Libong and Hat Chao Mai up to the north. Pretty sweet spot to watch, with the company of a Chang or some Mehkong, the sun sink into the ocean around 6pm.
The resort has free kayaks, pay internet, hire motorcycles and bicycles and runs trips out to Laoliang and other islands, where there definitely are the classic white sand beaches and very good coral.
I didn’t bother about snorkeling out from SBB's beach, but there is a headland about 200m south and another 500m north with some rocks extending out a fair way into the water, so no doubt there would be a bit of coral and definitely fish here. However the island is pretty close to an extensive river estuary, and so water is not the crystal clear stuff you get further out to sea.

A ThornTree post shortly before I left set up a lively debate, complaining about bossy staff and a regimented holiday camp atmosphere plus an intolerance to kids, so I paid more than usual attention here - but the staff were great with a cast of seemingly dozens waiting on tables, cleaning rooms (cleaned+linen changed daily) and working on the grounds, lots of smiles etc. True, the head-girl had a rather serious demeanor, but that was just her nature - she was very efficient. There were a few families with kids who seemed to be having a good time, and I didn’t feel organized or regimented - fact is the atmosphere is the opposite: this is one of those places where it is real nice laying around between meals under the trees doing nothing apart from the odd swim out to the pontoon, a walk up the beach, fang in the kayak or maybe grab a Cannondale or Honda step-thru for a bit of leisurely island exploring.

Which I did the day after arrival. SBR’s 150baht/day bikes are pretty good except their seat posts are way too short, meaning keen cyclists find their knees up near their chins, resulting in no power or speed. Nevertheless, I did a cicumnav. of the whole island in 5 hours, including 1h+ at the viewpoint and a half hour each in the main village fer some lunch, and at attractive Sukorn Cabana bungalows fer a drink or three, plus a bit of backtracking on the cross island roads. Very little traffic - the only 4 wheeled vehicles I saw belonged to the road building outfit. I often rode for 10-15 minutes without passing traffic or people.
The government is spending big money on Sukorn, so that a good concrete road virtually circling the whole island should be finished at the time of writing - virtually because it does jink inland to zig zag thru the rubber plantations in the nw corner and is more central in the south-east half to avoid the mangroves. It is a lot more complete than those maps show. The southern half of the island is flat and elsewhere there are really no killer slopes for cyclists except perhaps a short stretch where the new road wraps around the north end of the island.
Apart from the rubber plantations, there are some very laid back rural areas (cash cropping, water buffalo lazing in ponds), quite a lot of forested hills in the northern half, some nice deserted beach areas, the usual fishing related sights and some good places to cop a view of the surrounding region



Sukorn is one of the best islands to check the rural culture of Thai islands unaffected by tourism (image Sukorn Beach Bungalows - Juhong Craemer)

The VIEWPOINT is accessed by climbing a moderately steep track for maybe 20 minutes off one of the central cross roads. You get good views up here by shifting positions (no place had a 360degree outlook), except directly south where I hoped to scope out my next destination, Ko Bulon Lae, plus Ko Taratao. Just as good, the new road around the northern tip of the island climbs quite high and has great views east back to the mainland, north to Libong etc and west to Laoliang etc. But once again, not south. I did get to spot Bulon Lae from the pier in the small ban at the southern tip of the island, but it was too hazy to see Taratao.

The villages are pretty laid back. The main one, SIAMMI, where the big arrival pier is, is a reasonable size and has a number of non-touristy restaurants and shops. It showed none of the garbage or rubbish that so many Andaman fishing-orientated dans show. The locals are very friendly.

I checked out most of the other bungalow places on my ride. The one which looked most appealing to me was SUKORN CABANA , on its own little bay. This had very nice looking sizable traditional style bungalows, many built up a steep slope behind the beachfront restaurant, which promised great views. The beachfront restaurant was pleasant, prices seemed good and the staff were very friendly. Their bungalows were 800 in March including breakfast, less 15% for extended stays. Cabana is just around the headland from Sukorn Beach Bungalow’s beach, but because it is accessed from a separate road which zig-zags thru the rubber plantations, it has a feeling of seclusion.
Sukorn Cabana's nice little beach (image Sukorn Cabana)

Back on the southern side of that headland and about 400m north of Sukorn Beach Bungalows are adjacent SUKORN ISLAND RESORT and SUKORN ANDAMAN RESORT. These looked similar in style to Beach Bungalows, but seemed pretty deserted in March. I have read positive reports about Island Resort.

Now if you want a really secluded place, TRANG ISLAND RESORT is all by itself on a beach up near the north-west corner of the island. It looked pretty nice, but not as attractive as Cabana, and seemed to have few or no guests when I went by on two occasions.

GETTING TO THE ISLAND.
Most people come from Trang, and Sukorn Beach Bungalows can organise deluxe transport from the airport or their main street office.
The good news for budget travelers is that this is one of those places that has cheap public transport onto the island. I caught a sonthaew that goes up Trang’s main street between the railway station and the clock tower at around 11am. This definitely will stop outside the markets if you want a waiting spot, but if you ask at Sukorn Beach Bungalow’s Trang Office or maybe Wundebar Restaurant-Travel, both in the main street near the corner of the road paralled to the railway station, they will be able to get the songthaew to stop there. From Trang it takes about 30 minutes to go down to Pallian (40baht), where a big long tail-taxi leaves for Sukorn around mid-day (40baht). This takes maybe 45 minutes - the first 20 or so thru some pretty scenic mangroves. I took my usual position on the bow, which paid off, once up to speed the rollers came down to shield passengers in the “cabin’” from the odd bit of spray. On arrival at the pier there will be motorcycle guys to take you across to the west coast resorts for 60baht - a bit over 10 minutes. (most distant Trang Island Resort may cost a bit more)
Now I’m not sure how many public boats do this trip daily - I’m guessing the mid-day one and a late arvo one. Note my 3 year old LP says the public boats leave at 10am and 2pm.
Interestingly, on my early morning DEPARTURE from Sukorn, Beach Bungalows organized a motorcycle side-car outfit to take me and a couple of Brits across to the pier for 50B each, where we piled into a very crowded 0730 long tail which took us to a DIFFERENT PIER - the much closer Ban Ta Sae (Ta Sai/Tasai) at the sea end of the mangroves, for the same 40B. We climbed into a songthaew which took off for Trang. I bailed out at Ban Na where the side road hits the highway for 30 baht, because I wanted to pick up a bus heading south to La Ngu for Pak Bara, but I assume the fare into Trang is the same 40B.
BTW, if you are doing the same as me, you will have time to go into Trang to pick up the Satun govt bus which stops at La Ngu. I waited around for nearly an hour by the roadside and when the bus arrived I sat next to a nice American girl who was on the long tail and songthaew from Ta Sae.
Now I know you can do the outward trip TO Sukorn thru Ta Sae - LP says you get a minibus from Rassada Rd south east of Trang central (and just north of the bus station for Satun buses which is separate to the main bus station) to Yan Ta Khoa, which is on the highway only abt 15km south, where you change to a songthaew for Ban Ta Sae. From there you can charter a long tail across to Sukorn. LP does not mention any public boats from Ta Sae, but surely the one I caught goes back? Maybe not, maybe it then goes upriver to Pallian for the mid-day trip out. Or maybe it’s a tidal thing? Who knows - well your intended bungalow if you email them, or one of the many booking agents in Trang. All those outfits opposite the railway station can book you into any Sukorn bungalow.
BTW, there are minibuses from the same Rassada Rd depot to Pallian. Note a lot of the short-medium distance public transport around Trang is by minibus rather than songthaew - my experience to Pak Meng and Hat Chao Mai suggests they run roughly hourly.

FROM THE SOUTH - it may be best to ask the bus or minibus driver to let you out at the Pallian turnoff (the main road does a right angle turn here and is well sign-posted both before and there). This junction is a bit over an hour from the time the Satun-Trang govt buses leave La Ngu and a bit under an hour by travelers’ minibus from Pak Bara. Trang is still around 30-40% further on. Fom the junction, you may be able to pick up a minibus or songthaew down to Pallian reasonably quickly, and will definitely get one some time.


BUDGET ROOMS AT SUKORN BEACH BUNGALOWS - these are big rooms with heaps of space for more than 2 people and their gear. Tiled floor, concrete walls. Two beds almost three-quarter double sized (do they call these king-singles?) with firm comfy mattresses and flattish, slightly hard pillows. Good fan, lots of mirrors, plenty of storage including a small wardrobe. Good insect screens. Room spotless - cleaned/new towels/linen/comp water daily. Good lights for reading inside and on verandah. Latter tiled, clothes drying rack, two seats and a small table, outlook thru partially finished new bungalow place (been like that for 3 years according to SBB owner) to beach and islands.
Bathroom is big, tiled, had a basin, western toilet, good water pressure except for shower which trickled. I did the Thai hand-dish out of the water bucket thing, which is fabulous, but hell, it uses lots of water! (We currently have a drought running here in SE Australia). From memory, this cheapest room didn’t have hot water - I never use it in Thailand (or in Australia’s summer) so I don’t take much notice.



Ko Sukorn from the north. The nearest half of the island is hilly and mostly unsettled. The highest viewpoint "mountain" can be seen in the distance. Sukorn Beach Bungalows is located on the most distant beach visible on the right. Sukorn Cabana's little bay is just this side. The main village is on the opposite coast near its eastern most extension. The flat southern half of the island is seen stretching away at top (image Sukorn Cabana)

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A reliable Trang travel agent for booking and transport into all Trang and Satun area islands - good on transfers/accommodation to/for Lanta and further north too - KK Travel in the parallel street directly opposite the railway station tel 075-211198, 223664, 081-8945955
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If you visit Sukorn you may also be interested in neary KO LAOLIANG

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If you have any questions, please ask them in THE FORUM rather than below. I don't get a chance to check all threads daily, but unless I'm travelling I'll try to monitor THE FORUM regularly.