Last visited March 2013
Lazing on a sunny afternoon - the perfect island for relaxation. Click to expand shot (may depend on your browser).
MOST OF THIS PAGE WAS WRITTEN AFTER MY DECEMBER '09 VISIT BUT I HAVE ADDED UPDATES FROM MY LATEST STAY IN MARCH '13.
Ko Bulon Lae is a small and attractive island about 30 minutes by fast boat out from mainland Pak Bara in the south Andaman. Its best-know neighbours are Ko Tarutao to the south and Ko Lipe to the south-west, although they are not exactly close.
Bulon was laid back when I visited in March 07 and again in early December 09, but reports say it gets pretty crowded at the peak of high season (Bulon has a loyal band of north Euro returnees - apparently they have the two main resorts booked out at peak way ahead).
UPDATE MARCH 2013 - In previous months Bulon Lae had been one of the most visited pages on my site, so maybe I should have thought twice about arriving un-booked. March isn't exactly peak season but I had to search around a fair bit in the beach area to find a vacancy. There seemed to be plenty of spaces over in the Panka village area.
There are no real roads, just a few tracks of which only the main route between the main beach area and the village is paved. We saw no motorised vehicles of any kind. I was surprised by the lack of motorcycles - once a track is paved this is usually the come-on for locals to get one. We saw only one dog. Lots of cats.
For the sake of clarity it is easiest to divide Bulon into two areas - THE BEACH AREA in the north-east, and the PANKA VILLAGE AREA over the hill to the west. Both areas have travellers’ accommodation, and The Beach Area also has a small village area but I think it's mainly resort workers' accommodation.
Originally I couldn't find a map showing all resorts so I added detail to Google Earth's image. Their point adder tends to spray the letters/labels around a bit, but they are as close as I could get them to their symbols.
RESORTS: A-BULONE B-PANSAND C-MARINA D-SCHOOL E-VIEWPOINT F-SULAIDA G-CHAOLAE H-PANKA I-JIAB J-BULON HILL K-JUNGLE HUT
Note the only paved section of track in 2009 was over the hill from just east of J-C to the village entry just west of F. But in 2013 it was sealed from J-C all the way to both Panka Yai and Panka Noi beaches
UPDATE - my March 2013 visit saw one new resort in the village area - SAWLEENA RESORT which is on the Mango Bay track just north (top) of JUNGLE HUT (K) - see 18 below.
If you go to GOOGLE EARTH its Bulon image is at a much finer resolution than most of the Thai islands. You can see individual bungalow roofs etc - 6 49 north - 99 32 east.
1-Bulone Resort (internet) 2-Bulonhill Resort 3-Marina Resort
5-Police 6-Pansand Resort (internet) 7-Coconut Bar 8-Viewpoint Resort 9-Rockbar 10-Panka Noi Pizza 11-Pin & Mouda's Restaurant 12-Sao's Chicken 13-Sue's Bakery 14-Suleida Resort 15-Garden Restaurant 16-Jiab's Resort 17-Naam's Shop 18-Sawleena Resort 19-Jungle Hut 20-Dara's Shop 21-Panka Bay Resort
THE BEACH AREA
I get the impression from this Google Earth image (beaches are pretty skinny) that it was taken at the peak of high tide OR after a period of pretty hefty storm erosion, which aint unusual for Bulon Lae.
(2009 shot) The beach area starts here on the eastern-most last few hundred meters of the north coast in front of BULONE RESORT and then turns 90 degrees not too far past the last tree to run along the eastern coast for maybe 500 meters past the camping area followed by what I call the village green (really the school oval) and then PANSAND RESORT.
Wet season storm wave attack has heavily eroded the beach in shot and also at the other end in front of Pansand. At highest tide there is not too much sand left (this shot was taken not long after high tide), although other tide levels see plenty to lounge on - as the opening shot shows (in front of Pansand's restaurant cabana mid-tide). However the middle spit-school oval beach area on and just past the turn of the beach has 400+ meters of good sand at all times. On the turn a nice spit of sand has developed and is slowly extending itself towards Tarutao from stuff eroded from the other sections.
There are 3 other smaller resorts in this beach area - SCHOOL BUNGALOWS, MARINA RESORT AND BULON HILL. The above is a nice shot to expand.
Actually Katia from Bulon Hill Bungalows told me this used to be a third row bungalow and I remember from my very first visit there were several rows along here.
The bay in the shot was popular for snorkelling. At high tide I swam out to the fringing reef which is where the water changes colour past the furthest person in shot - the coral and fishies were okay but nothing to write home to mum about.
Around the north east corner: in the far distance is the spit and closer the camera (partly hidden) the school oval section. For this 2009 shot I waited until high tide on a King Tide day (full moon). You can see the erosion taking place at left with undercut trees etc. This is the northern (non-bungalow) section of Pansand's beach area - at low tide there is a good 20 metre wide section of sand here.
In the far distance at the corner of the island behind those casuarina trees is the camping ground.
This is the same area a few hours later, not low tide but an hour above mid-tide. I was a bit unhappy about the previous shot, thought it didn't bring out the spit development very well.
Note our stay coincided with strong north-east winds, and so there are small wavelets hitting the beach. My previous visit saw very smooth conditions both Pansand and Bulone Resort sides.
I went back to much the same area in 2013 for a bottom of low tide shot which shows just how extensive the beach gets. Interestingly I thought there was no greater or less erosion near camera than in 2009, although the spit itself seemed a bit less extensive.
One of the nicest sections of this beach low tide is the final western end end - that's tezza's 2009 PANSAND RESORT Laolieng style #1 bungalow on the right close to beach.
The same area again proved my favourite in March 2013. Note only a small section of sand is left at full high tide - this is about half tide. No November strong winds so the water was smooth and delightful (very clear). The fringing reef is about the same distance off the beach as at Bulone Resort - coral and fishies a bit inferior.
Pansand Resort's 5 Loalieng bungalows are spread to left of camera with beach/ocean views getting progressively better - then there are 4 or 5 bigger Lide bungalows with better views again. The website shows only two beds in these bigger joints, but our Laolieng wasn't squeezy, so I reckon you could get some extra beds into the Lides. Certainly they had 4 chairs on the balconies.
At the very left of shot is the most distant from the restaurant of the Libong bungalows, so close to the sand it seems in danger of being undermined one king-tide/storm surge night (UPDATE - still looking much the same in 2013). There are about a dozen others spread along a path to the restaurant getting progressively more distant from the sea - but never more than 30m with great views across a nice lawn area.
Some distance in back of these seafront places are the second rowers both Lide and Libong in a nice garden setting, most elevated on the lower slopes of the hillside, giving tree filtered ocean views.
This beach had water up to the vegetation on our King Tide (technically called Spring Tide fer all you pedants - got nothing to do with the season) nights - the daytime high was a bit lower, something that happens frequently most places. At lowest Spring Tide (the lowest of the month) quite a lot of the reef was exposed here - much less further north.
Chez Tezza 2009 at Pansand.
Very comfortable small chalet with plenty of room. Usual flashpacker inclusions except no aircon or hot water. Serviced daily. Big softish king single matresses pushed together. Large bathroom with separate basin/mirror area. Plenty of storage. Electricity roughly 1745 to 0615. Nice balcony with beach/sea views. Clothes line at side - ground softish because of poor drainage. Quiet - few longtails at night (or even during day). Neat spacious grounds, paths well lit.
Internet at reception in the early evening.
This bungalow much better value than the ones we had at both Mountain Resort and Varin on Lipe at 1200 shoulder - 1500 high season 09/10, despite no aircon. But still expensive compared to many non-Andaman locations.
This is Pansand's separate restaurant cabana, shot from the bigger open-sided restaurant which also has snazzy views.
Food pretty nice here at what seemed to be typical budget prices plus maybe 10% and more than competitive with other Bulon places we ate at. Cheaper large Chang beers than elsewhere at 90baht - we noticed some island expats tended to gravitate here in the afternoon. Very nice inclusive breakfasts - part a la carte part buffet. Fantastic staff, best I've experienced in Thailand.
Pansand has a small store, internet and can book transport etc.
Beachfront bungalows at BULONE RESORT 2009- this is what the website calls Seaview and they certainly are, particularly at high tide. In my first visit in 07, they weren't beachfront, but second rowers (maybe third rowers according to Katia at Bulonhill resort). Storm erosion has undercut all the old outside-bathroom beachfront bungalows in this area (there is one left past the blue roofed restaurant in the background). I took this shot from approx the position of my old beachfront bungalow of the earlier trip - I reckon they have lost at least 4 metres of beachfront land.
The lady running the restaurant told me a big storm coupled with a full-moon king tide this past October (09) undermined the eastern third of the restaurant and they had to rebuild it. They have some nice small outside dining cabanas there which nearly went.
Out of frame to the right of shot is a small headland with the Family Seaview bungalows built just behind the rocks. These are relatively safe from erosion and have nice views similar to the second shot on this page.
Note you may find the beach in better condition if you visit later in high season - fine weather re-establishes beaches - I noticed a build up of at least 10cm of sand in the 4 days I was there. But the definite long-term trend is the reverse - there was already one set of concrete piers where a beachfront bungalow had gone when I first visited in 07, and my neighbouring bungalow has water under it at high tide.
Don't be turned off by the condition of the beach in the shot - once the tide started to drop there were some real nice patches of sand, and at high tide very sandy nice spit area is only 300m away. Bulone Resort's website has some shots of their beach at low tide which look to be fairly recent.
Bulone also has what they call Seaview Second Line bungalows - these are similar to the ones in shot but are mainly ranged around the perimeter of the spacious grounds - not too many have sea views.
I also stayed in one of these inland "seaviews" in 07 - it was a big, clean spacious job but I was a little disappointed in that it didn't have inclusions like towels and toilet paper (sure to be available now - competition is hot), the grounds were not all that tidy or well lit (very orderly now) and the price seemed way high (but I'm used to high Andaman prices these days). Last time I checked the websites, price-wise Bulone's bungalows were a bit cheaper than Pansand's but didn't include breakfast - light eaters would wind up roughly equal in total cost, heavy brekka fang-merchants like me end up ahead at Pansand.
I do think Pansand's grounds and restaurant are more attractive, the staff better and the area a bit better protected from the blustery north-easterlies which blew for part of our stay in 2009 (November and December can be very windy in the Andaman). Beaches are about equal, swimming/snorkelling a bit nicer at Bulone and the view/outlook at Bulone a bit better. Bulone had 24 hour electicity which Pansand lacked at least in 2009. Check your Trip Advisor etc for updates. There is a small store at both and p.c. internet is available. Katja from Bulonhill Resort told me Bulone's booking desk is more reliable than at Pansand - it certainly worked well for me. Overall I slightly favour Pansand but it is close. Others may think the opposite.
Bulone's 2009 restaurant in background had slightly dearer prices for food, and big Changs were 120. Lady Tezza was rapt in their huge cups of tea so we spent a fair bit of time there. Service is okay, but not brilliant like Pansand. Bulone's bigger Seaside Family bungalows are behind the rocks in back of camera.
(2013 shot) Whoa! Foreground is remains of old restaurant, center background the rebuilt job. Not as atmospheric as the old seafront place, but less likely to disappear one stormy night. The building to its left is the small store/internet/reception.
These are the nice bungalows of MARINA RESORT spaced up the lower hillside once the paved track starts to climb the hill from the beach area over to Panka Village.
Nearest beach at Bulone's old restaurant maybe 3 minutes away - spit area 10. Fan with bathroom, they get good user reviews on travelfish etc - going for 600 without brekka early Dec09. The attractive restaurant with lots of sitting mats etc is on the other side of the track and drew a good crowd from other resorts - has quirky and attentive service, but slow delivery of food the 2 times we ate there. Maybe popularity has got ahead of kitchen capacity.
UPDATE 2013 - I called in at Marina on arrival. The older lady in reception didn't even look up from her book as she waved me away with "NO HAVE!" when I asked about a vacancy. Cute business plan: doesn't seem to take into account visitors who will return to the island frequently, people who like to eat in various restaurants during their visit, let alone snippetty internet tattle-tales.
SCHOOL BUNGALOWS are located mid-way between Pansand and Bulone and are lined down the southern side of what I call the "village green" area which contains a soccer field, a basketball area, a police bungalow and the schoolhouse itself.
There were also a small store and a popular eats joint in 07, but there was no sign of these in later visits. 4 bungalow restaurants are within 5 minutes. A good section of the beach is less than 100m behind the last bungalow in shot.
Fan with bathroom at 350 in early Dec09. This place is popular - fully occupied in March 07 and 13 but with several vacancies early Dec 09 which was more shoulder.
A lot of people miss BULONHILL because it is tucked up a narrow lane to the right alongside the southern exit to Bulone Resort.
Most of the bungalows range up the hill adjacent to Marina's restaurant. There is a variety of fan with bathroom bungalows here from 350 to 700 (2009) and the German girl who owns it with her Thai husband said they are thinking of renting out their very nice house come high season too. Funky looking 2 level restaurant is on the lower slope. These people were busy finishing a new bungalow early Dec09 and planned to open in a few weeks.
UPDATE - I ended up at Bulonhill in March 2013. It was fairly heavily booked and I had to take a 1000baht bungalow first night and a 400 after that.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at Bulonhill. Katia (Katja) gave me the most detailed and informative introductory bungalow and island briefing I've had in dozens of different bungalow visits and was a general mine of information. Her island map was far more informative than those I've been given previous trips at Bulone Resort and Pansand.
The atmospheric restaurant had prices maybe 20-40% higher than the average at budget bungalows - about the same this visit as at Pansand and a bit lower than Bulone Resort. I avoided Marina's restaurant this trip because I was still sulking about being burned by the old lady. Bulonhill's servings were big and the food very nice.
THE CAMPING AREA
This is in the casuarina tree area behind the sand spit on the corner of the beach area. Beach camping is popular with young Thais and on my March 07 trip about a dozen tents were pitched over one weekend. But in 2009, 2 days of which coincided with the King's Birthday Holiday Weekend I was surprised to see no campers. It may have something to do with nearest Bulone Resort hard-arse act of closing its closest-to-beach outside-bathroom on the first weekend I mention above. However if you are a camper, Thai law makes it possible to camp on ANY beach - and I'd be offering Bulone or one of the other resorts a small sum to use their bathrooms. If you used their restaurant they may not want a payment for the bathroom.
Frequent visitors may have noticed an older brown as a berry western dude in a g-string sunning on the spit or hanging in his artfully decorated day shelter near the camping area. This is Thomas from the south of France who has spent the coldest 6 months of his home area's year on Bulon for quite some time. Apparently he has an inexpensive bungalow over in the village.
PANKA BAY VILLAGE AREA
This is on the central north coast and stretches between 2 bays Panka Noi and Panka Yai. There are 6 bungalow resorts in this area (7 in 2013) with a pretty impressive capacity - maybe 100 units - although it looked like only 5% were in use in early Dec09 - maybe double in 2013. This would be the place to look when the island is heavily booked at peak peak.
It takes 10 minutes not too tough walk of the paved track over the hill from its start near Marina Resort to the start of the village. The first place you come to after the communication towers at the top of the hill is a rather funky art shop which also doubles as a bar. Further down near the entrance of VIEWPOINT RESORT is a medium size shop and info place. One of the first places in the village proper is a small bakery - the lady (Sue) who owns this usually does a goodies run over to the beach area with a lot of nice stuff for sale each afternoon. There are a number of other places to eat in the village away from the bungalow restaurants, mainly good value joints for locals and visitors.
VIEW POINT RESORT is the first accommodation you reach soon after the descent into the village starts and is one of the nicer places to stay on the that side.
Built on a steep, heavily landscaped hillside sloping from the main track down to Panka Noi Bay, most bungalows have some sort of view. There is quite a range of bungalows here and they showed me a real nice attached bathroom job for 300 back in 07, considerably less than the beachside places were asking.
UPDATE 2013- a girl on my departing boat told me she had a good bungalow a fair way up from the beach here for 500baht.
View Point has a pleasant beachfront restaurant in front of the section of sand in the background. Swimming is okay in the top half of the tide but you can see at full low tide there is a lot of rock and coral exposed. A leisurely stroll to the nicest beach area between Bulone Resort and Pansand would take 15 minutes max.
The other village bay, Panka Yai is similar - a sandy strip but rocky at low tide.
SULEIDA RESORT is immediately past View Point on the main track down to the village - but on the inland side (View Point now has a handful of bungalows on this side too). Very neat looking travellers' type bungalows.
This is Panka Yai beach at high tide in front of PANKA BAY RESORT, a pretty nice looking place had quite a few bungalows very similar in appearance to Chez Tezza at Pansand pictured higher on this page.
You need to walk for about 5 minutes through the village to reach Panka Yai - a little before you hit the beach you will pass through another bungalow outfit CHAOLAE RESORT (2013 - now calling itself Chao Lae Homestay) which looked more budget backpacker in style.
The other beach on the island is at Mango Bay.
This is on the south coast and is a not too distant but difficult rock-hop around the headland from Pansand, but is easier to reach on a path from Panka Village - take any turn heading left as you walk thru the village towards Panka Yai and you will hit the track (in 2013 I found the main track was very well signposted from village central). It takes maybe 10 minutes thru a rubber plantation to reach the beach.
The main activity here is a small bunch of fishermen's huts where the track hits the beach. There is a funky looking beach bar out of frame to left of camera which looked to have been closed for some time (but may be waiting for peak season) - and a place with a few bungalows higher to this looking over the bay thru the jungle which had a some long-term type travellers hanging around in 07, seemed to now be locals' accommodation.
About half way along the track to Mango Bay is JUNGLE HUT with 2 rows of traditional backpacker style bungalows.
This neat looking place looked brand new in 07 but was closed in March - I was dismayed that maybe it had gone broke. But locals assured me that it has been operating when things get busier and sure enough it was a going concern in my later visits. That garden in 2013 was starting to look like a real jungle. Has an attractive open restaurant adjacent the track. You would be looking at 5 minutes to the beach at Mango Bay which is okay but not earth shaking, maybe 15 to 20 to the spit area.
Back where the track from Mango Bay hits the outskirts of the village we talked to a nice local lady in 2009 who had 3 brand new bungalows in a spacious area. No guests as yet, but looking forward to high season. Asking 350 - tel 085 0772769 - JIAB BUNGALOW. Not a bad little shop here too.
From the Mainland - the nearest pier is at Pak Bara. Most websites show one speedboat service (about 30 minutes) each way (400 per passenger Dec09 - but I paid 350 in 2013 thru Bulone Resort's trip desk although Pansand's website is showing 450. The speedboat meets island longtails in a sheltered cove near the Bat Cave - the longtails charge 50 baht to the beach.
A girl on the island told me she arrived at Pak Bara too late for the speedboat and chartered a longtail for 350 baht - 2013.This seems remarkably reasonable seeing Phi Phi longtails want 200baht for a single person charter from Ton Sai to Long Beach - less than a quarter the distance.
The old slow ferryfrom Pak Bara to Bulon Lae no longer runs.
See my Ko Lipe page on details of getting to and from Pak Bara from elsewhere on the mainnland. btw the busy business area adjacent the new pier and passenger terminal has a big range of services including ATMs which cannot be found on Bulon Lae (or Lipe - although surely that is just a matter of time).
From Ko Lipe - 600 per passenger Dec09 (same 2013) - maybe 45 minutes if the sea isn't rough.
From Ko Lanta-Ngai-Muk - both PBS and Bundhaya are running speedboats to/from Lipe which call in at Bulon.
The above is the situation in 2013 but Andaman island transport arrangements are always fluid so check Google before your trip. Bulone Resort and Pansand websites tend to keep up to date.
BE CAREFUL ON SPEEDBOATS!
It's a good idea to waterproof baggage (I have a big 50+ liter thin plastic bin liner bag I chuck everything into and then stuff into my travel bag) - our boat Lipe to Bulon Lae in early Dec 2009 hit such choppy seas that everything including me, crouched behind the elevated driver's chair for cover, got soaking wet. If you are susceptible to seasickness take some motion sickness tablets and look at the horizon.
DO NOT sit out the front particularly if you are susceptible to back injury (a girl on our return journey to Langkawi that month hurt her back on a vicious bump hit at speed in lighter chop and had to be wheelchaired off to hospital on arrival).
Leaving Bulone for Lipe.
Rachael has a Trip Report of her Dec 09 visit to Bulon Lae here which
might help people thinking of visiting. There are later reports from straydog and John Bassett too.
If you want to do a Trip Report on Bulon or any other location please send text and and/or any pix with captions to
email@example.com. In this way we can keep readers more up to date than my visits every 2 years or so.
If you visit Bulon Lae you might also be interested in nearby:
If you see mistakes or have extra info, please post below.
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.