Unlike the dramatic rock thrust forms of the nearby islands, Koh Kradan is greener and characterized by rounder hills, lower to the water. The west side beach runs the length of the island and the shallow area at the midsection creates a long expanse of brilliant turquoise drawing the eye out to the deeper blues and broken tooth silhouettes of the islands in the distance.
Kradan Island has a good amount of protected forest, a lot of green space, though not much of the rising karst you can see on many of its sister islands. A ten-minute hike from the east beach past Paradise Lost Resort (a simple but well-regarded collection of bungalows run by an eccentric American named Wally) takes you through some lovely forest to a sheltered rocky cove on the west side. The perfect place for the sunset.
We saw all sorts of critters, from soaring sea eagles and kingfishers to frogs, toads, colorful butterflies, and an insect that was easily mistaken for a wood chip – until legs emerged and it scuttled on a bit before you turned your head back. Funny thing, Nature.
Take a flashlight for the beach at night as hordes of hermit crabs crawl out from under the leafy areas and go wandering the sands. You’ll see their tracks have completely crisscrossed the beach as if hotel staff had raked it all night while drunk. The largest one we spotted was just outside the restrooms at camp. Big as my fist, no exaggeration.
The campground typically serves some simple and cheap Thai food in the pavilion (but the cook was gone for the week we were there). Bored? Watch the tiny geckos around the fluorescent lights there, like a short documentary on hunting and territorial battles among these tiny lizards making their little kissing sounds like a Burmese man calling a waitress.
Under the Waves
The snorkeling is good, solid “good.” And most have told us it is the best in Trang. Low tide brings the tops of the coral and rocks all too high for snorkeling over. The good area stretches from the national park all the way to the southern point of the island. Quite a swim if you tackle it all. (I did with fins.) Sizeable coral heads, almost entirely hard coral with good color and very abundant schools of tiny to mid-size reef fish. An anemone and Nemo could be found a couple times, a couple of lobsters here and there.
(I’d have loved to have provided photos here but I bought a brand new Canon S100…which jammed before we could even use it on this trip. And Canon’s warranty is complete shite so we are out an underwater camera until we can get back to the US to service it. More on that in a later blog post when the Canon service nightmare story is complete.)
During mid-day, boat tours come in from other islands, but generally don’t anchor right at the park camping area but in the next bay over. Avoid them. Anyone with the tiniest bit of eco-consciousness will cringe when the Thai descend upon coral heads like they were stepping stones. You will recognize the Thai daytrippers rising impossibly out of the waters with their bright orange flotation vests as they are horrible swimmers.
Moving north along the beach the bottom becomes sandy and quite shallow so that at one point a second strip of sand rises up 30 meters out in the water toward low tide. A few dogs wander in and out of the shade, and toward evening the mosquitoes are small but active. Anantara Si Kao Resort over on the mainland keeps a beach club here which is eerily vacant until a group and some staff come over for the day.
Camping on Koh Kradan
I don’t mind roughing it. I mean I camp a bit for some of my income (see Best in Tent Camping Wisconsin, and my next book: Camping Michigan). But I take issue when the discomforts are not just those of the hard ground, resident critters, and whimsical weather, but of human sloppiness. I’d prefer to answer nature’s call in nature rather than in a poorly maintained latrine.
As one might expect, not a lot of budget money gets out to all the national parks in Thailand, particularly those in faraway places with minimal traffic. Khao Yai does alright, but Kradan falls into the “atrocious” category. The rinse water for the squat toilets appeared to double as a frog breeding farm (and a resident frog guarded the door to the men’s restrooms each night, clinging to the rim of a terra cotta pot that once held water to rinse the beach off one’s feet before entry, but now housed the next generation in an inch of cloudy water). The sinks didn’t run water (so bring your hand gel) and the “showers” were large barrels of water and plastic bowls in oversize toilet stalls in another building. Without hooks or any manner of hanging your things above the personal Songkran festival of hygiene.
The park’s policy of burning its trash is a nuisance. Not only does it seem a bad idea from a green perspective, but the smell is awful, the smoke drifts slowly through all the tents and drying clothes depending on the wind, and afterward there is a lingering scent of death, perhaps rotting meat or unfortunate critters that had taken shelter in it all. It also doesn’t help that the young Thai staff, sweet as they may be, down a few beers at night and the men redistribute them off the edge of the central pavilion/restaurant patio.
National park fee for foreigners is 200 baht.
30 baht per person/per night with own tent
300 baht tent rental, per night
50 baht per day for a mask and snorkel rental
Dorm rooms for 500 baht (600 baht = private bath) per night. Fan only but electricity only runs 6pm-10pm anyway.
So camping can be quite cheap, but there’s a dark side to camping in Thailand…