Koh Prathong. An unique Khao Lak get away that features flora and landscapes not found anywhere else in Thailand.
Koh Prathong forms the middle link of a chain of three large islands that lie in the Andaman Sea close to the Phang Nga Province coastline. South of Koh Prathong is Koh Kho Khao and to the north Koh Ra. Of the three islands, Koh Prathong is by far the most interesting. Koh Prathong’s topography differs dramatically from that of it’s neighbours with the land rising to an average elevation of just five metres above sea level. At Koh Prathong you will find unique flora and landscapes not found anywhere else in Thailand.
Koh Prathong is the ninth largest island in Thailand. It lies at 9.08ºN 98.28ºE approximately 50km north from Khao Lak (straight line distance) in Kura Buri District. It covers and area of 88km² and measures 15km from north to south and is 9km at its widest points west to east.
In English Koh Prathong means Golden Buddha Island. A golden Buddha image was once situated on Koh Pohta, one of two small islets found at the north west of the island. Koh Prathong residents will recount the legend that the golden Buddha was stolen by foreign treasure hunters or pirates somewhere roughly between 100 and 300 years ago. The name still has a certain resonance on present day Koh Prathong as the island has kilometres and kilometres of undeveloped, unspoilt golden beaches.
Travelling much further back in time, Koh Prathong’s proximity to Koh Kho Khao’s Thung Tuk archaeological site and Takua Pa on the mainland places Koh Prathong very close to a former major global trade route. The waterways around the islands once saw trade flowing in from across the Indian Ocean to link up with East Asian goods portaged through the Khao Sok Mountains from Surat Thani on the east coast of Thailand.
All along the west coast of the Kra Isthmus, tin mining played a huge role shaping the region’s former wealth. There is evidence of tin mining on Koh Prathong and a few of the local residents still mine for tin the old fashioned way with a pan and sluice box.
Despite the trade and tin mining boom there is a timeless aura of being left out of the passage of history on Koh Prathong. The island has such a sleepy, untouched feel to it. When I first visited Koh Prathong, the first person I saw was asleep, followed by two village elders who seemed content to spend the day lounging in the shade offering friendly greeting to visitors. There were very few residents about, as if it’s always siesta Koh Prathong.
Ta Pae Yoi is the largest village on Koh Prathong, situated on the north-east coast and the closest point to Kura Buri on the mainland. The majority of the island’s population live here, with some living in Thung Dap in the South or scattered at a few settlements around the island. Koh Prathong’s population of approximately 200 people is comprised mainly of Thais. Some Moken have also settled on Koh Prathong which forms part of a seasonal Moken migration route that includes the Surin Islands and St Matthew’s Island in Myanmar.
Ta Pae Yoi is a small fishing village that resembles Moken villages found in Myanmar. The buildings are of a different construction but many stand on stilts over the sea in Moken fashion. On the main pier there is a turtle sanctuary. Hatchling turtles are brought here from Phuket to mature a year before being released into the Andaman Sea, giving them a much stronger chance of survival into adulthood.
The sea around Ta Pae Yoi has vast areas of sea grass beds underwater, once teeming with life. Harvesting sea cucumbers and collecting conch shells had a marked effect on this underwater ecosystem. It is a protected area and with the help and enforcement from local residents there has been a marked improvement in the sea grass beds and species found there.
There are a handful of shops further back from the sea and some interesting buildings made from local raw materials which are available to rent as a homestay for visitors. Ta Pae Yoi also has a school and government health centre.
The Geography of Koh Prathong
One of the first interesting facts learnt when arriving on Koh Prathong is that the entire island has no original soil. All the flora of the island has grown entirely on sand.
The geography of Koh Prathong is very unique resulting in diverse fauna and flora with some species being endemic to the island. Travelling from East to West, Koh Prathong has four distinctive geographical zones that have a dramatic effect on the scenery and tree and plant types.
The east side of Koh Prathong is protected by mangrove forests, one of the world’s most important and diverse ecosystems. Much of the east facing coastline of Koh Prathong is inaccessible by boat apart from at the north-east and south-east points of the island.
Lush mangrove forests dominate the inland waterways all along this area of the Andaman Sea coastline and are of huge importance to the region’s ecosystem. Mangrove forest are breeding grounds for many types of fish and home to numerous species of birds.
Heading onto land and westwards there is a zone of fairly dense jungle know as swamp jungle or Bpra Phu in Thai. The plants and trees here are much similar to the types found at the edges of the dense rainforests of the mainland. The zone is a lush green, especially during the low season months from May to October.
There is one type of orchid endemic to Koh Prathong, known locally as Don Malee found in this area. This orchid is a rare myrmecophyte; a plant that has a symbiotic relationship with ants. Don Malee provides special hanging pods for its ants to reside in called domatia. Residents like to display these and other rare orchids in their gardens or hanging in the shade outside their houses. Other types of orchid can be found all over Koh Prathong, the island has three orchid farms as well.
The third zone heading west is by far the most interesting. The hot, low lying interior areas of the island have formed unique scenery not found anywhere else in Thailand.
Travelling through this area you completely forget the dense green jungles and you would be forgiven for thinking you had miraculously travelled to Africa. The area bears such an uncanny resemblance to the Savannah’s of Africa and is fascinating to see.
Here the bizarre looking Melaleuca trees (paper-bark trees) thrive and dominate the savannah zone. Called Don Samet in Thai, these tree are constantly shedding their bark which gives their trunks a tattered, paper-like appearance.
The bark can be harvested sustainably and is often used by the local populations for constructing traditional dwellings. After treating, the bark is waterproof and can last for several years.
The bark also protects the tree from fires.
The fourth and final zone on Koh Prathong is very typical to the coastline of Khao Lak. There the savannah gives way to sandy beaches and the turquoise blue waters of the Andaman Sea.
Evergreen Casuarinas trees sway in the ocean breeze, shading the beach line and coconut palms complete the idyllic scenery. This sparser coastal forest is known as Don Son in Thai.
There are large granite boulders at the points of several long bays and at the north west of Koh Prathong there are two small islands a few 100 metres from the shoreline, Koh Pring and Koh Pohta. Koh Pohta was once the home to the Golden Buddha. These two small islands are fringed with coral reefs, sea fans and an abundance of sea life.
Transportation on Koh Prathong
Like many unique things on Koh Prathong, transportation around the island is also very special. There are few roads on Koh Prathong. Two single lane concrete roads connect the island from east to west, one in the north of the island, one in the south. There are more small concrete roads and dusty tracks that connect various parts of the island.
To get about (apart from the few motorbikes and pick-up trucks that have found their way to the island) the local form of transport is by the curious and noisy Tak Tak Car. The vehicle is built locally on a very simple chassis and powered by basic diesel engine, the same as you would find on the traditional Thai long tail boat. Drive comes from the long belt that connects the engine to the rear wheels. To accelerate, the belt is tightened by hand to provide more grip on the drive train. To stop, the belt is loosened and the car trundles to a stop without brakes.
The Tak Tak Car gets it name from the considerable noise the engine makes. It might look and sound like an old bone shaker of a tractor, but it’s smooth riding on the simple roads is ideal for the dusty, sandy parts of the Savannah interior.
Wildlife on Koh Prathong
While the entire island is surrounded by unusually abundant marine life, Koh Prathong’s west coast offers coral reefs, small islands, and the opportunity to see it all up close. Snorkeling and scuba diving excursions here will not disappoint. Prathong is a good way to see Khao Lak underwater without the hassle of going all the way out to the Similans. Even beginners can see dozens of species of reef fish, lobsters, corals and delicate sea fans.
There is a huge diversity of wildlife on Koh Prathong both on the island and in the surrounding waters. Some of the larger animals include the Sambar Deer, Red Muntjak, Wild Boar, Sunda Pangolin, Leopard Cat and the Fishing Cat. The Fishing Cat is a nocturnal hunter and now listed as endangered as it becomes increasingly rare in Thailand. Primates include the Crab-eating Macaque and the Pig-tailed Macaque.
Travelling across the island it is common to see numerous reptiles sunning themselves on the concrete road. They dart for cover at the noisy approach of a Tak Tak Cars. Three different types of turtle are known to lay eggs on the beaches of Koh Prathong during nesting season November to March. A turtle sanctuary in Ta Pae Yoi helps raise other hatchlings to juvenile age.
Bird watchers take note; around 105 different species of bird can be found on Koh Prathong, including the Grey-headed fish eagle plus other birds of prey, hornbills, parrots, egrets, woodpeckers, owls and kingfishers. The island is listed as an Important Bird Area by Bird Life International. Following Koh Prathong’s tradition of being home to unique wildlife, the island is the only place in Thailand with a small population of the vulnerable Lesser Adjutant Stork.
Lesser Adjutant Stork, Leptoptilos javanicus
The Lesser adjutant stork is large bird, standing just over one metre tall and weighing up to five kilograms. Typical of the stork family, it is a wading bird with an upright stance. The lesser adjutant stork has a large beak that makes a clacking sound as it eats and a bare head and neck. It truly is an impressive bird and can be found in the south of Koh Prathong.
The 2004 Tsunami severely affected the Lesser adjutant’s habitat, resulting in this impressive bird’s extinction on Koh Prathong. Prior to the Tsunami, the stork used to lay it’s eggs in one certain type of tree that offered protection from scavengers. These trees were wiped out by the Tsunami. Unable to find safer alternatives, the bird’s eggs were consumed by other birds namely the Red Hawk.
In 2013, the Chonburi Zoo reintroduced 20 Lesser adjutant storks on Koh Prathong and set up a monitoring station to help ensure the survival of the species.
Tin Mining on Koh Prathong
Like many locations along the vast Khao Lak coastline, tin is found in abundance on Koh Prathong. You can clearly see the tin mixed with the sand. A closer inspection of the beaches reveal much darker patches of sand here and there. These darker areas contain elements of tin which is easily scraped off.
Here and there on Koh Prathong, one sees rough areas rather like bunkers on a rough, patchy golf course. Here the islanders have dug up tin-rich sand.
Using a method similar to placer gold mining, the tin is separated from sand by hand with pans and sluices. This ancient technique is still practiced by some of the local residents.
A dark metallic, tin rich sludge is produced which has a value of 200THB per kilo.
Where to Stay on Koh Prathong
Accommodation on Koh Prathong is limited and quite basic. This lends to the charm of this untouched island. There are currently five options, all on or near the beach at the northern end of the Island.
How to Get to Koh Prathong
Koh Prathong is only accessible by boat. The best starting point on the mainland is at Kura Buri. You can catch a traditional Thai long tail boat to Ta Pae Yoi on Koh Prathong for around 1,500 THB. Pay slightly more if you want dropping off on the west coast of the island. If you are planning to stay at any of the resorts on Koh Prathong they can arrange transport for you once you arrive on the island.
One company from Khao Lak offers day trips to Koh Prathong. Departure is from Ban Nam Kem and includes a full day’s program visiting the most interesting places on Koh Prathong.
Feel free to contact Khao Lak Wired or click here if you require more information about these trips or general advice getting to the island.