Thursday, June 27, 2013

Readers' Trip Reports - Ko Rok

ACK's STAY IN APRIL 2013 starting about 55% down page

Beachblogger's Report on Ko Rok - visited late November 2014

My plan was to stay a couple of nights in the National Park camping area. But I'd heard that all the national park tents were taken by reconstruction workers refurbishing the bungalows and amenities blocks. So I made some enquiries. Opal Travel, one of the speedboat day-trip outfits who will also transfer people intending to stay overnight for a price greater than a day-trip (their argument is you take up a seat ON 2 DAYS and aldo do the snorkeling/meals the day-trippers do so you should pay more) assured me camping was possible. In typical Thai style they didn't go far enough - all the NP tents WERE taken by construction workers but if I had my OWN tent I could have stayed. So my 2 night visit turned into a day-trip. Still good value but not quite the same.

My day trip began with an 0830 boat pick up from the beach near my resort on Klong Dao. We proceeded down the west coast of Lanta, picking further guest up from various beaches over the next 30 minutes and then......

....headed for Ko Rok - Lanta in background. Ko Rok is almost 30km from Lanta's southern tip - the boat guy said this would take 40 minutes but it was more like 25. 

First stop was one of 3 snorkeling experiences - this one at South Point off Rok Nok (see Freedom Adventure's excellent map below).  We then moved across for another snorkel at Seastar Cove adjacent the main beach at Rok Noi before hitting the beach for lunch. Our third snorkel was at Clownfish Reef near the east coast of Rok Nok prior to departing the area. Note Opal Travel boasts its 3 snorkel stops beats the opposition's 2. Something for you to check when choosing a day trip.
I was impressed with the snorkeling. Thailand coral and fish, never first class by world standards have been doing it very tough in recent years - this November I snorkeled the used-to-be-good Similans (crap) and southern bay at Ko Kradan (okay, but not a patch on good snorkeling parts of the world) plus a number of very forgettable locations - Ko Rok was several steps up on Kradan with some good coral which actually had some colour, lotsa fish (even saw a sea-snake up close on the final snorkel at Clownfish Reef - these are highly toxic but apparently their mouths are so small they can't bite humans: I didn't put this to the test and kept a safe distance) and amazingly clear water. This is due to Rok's position a hell of a long way out to sea - it is nearly 40km from the nearest part of the mainland coast. I delighted in hauling myself down the boat's mooring buoy anchor rope and checking the scene from a 10m depth - I could see snorkelers on the surface clearly at least 30m away. The fish get used to you down there and tend to hang around.

It's a short hop from Seastar Cove to the beach landing area in front of the ranger station. The national park camping/bungalow area is behind the trees. The boat guys started to set up lunch while we explored the beach......

.....which is one sweet stretch of silica. Sand when dry white. This is the view from near the western end.....

....this from the east. These shots click-expand nicely

There is a more easterly beach across a short section of rocks. At lower tide levels it was easy to wade around. For all I know, there is a bush track behind the headland.

Lunch was set up in the national park picnic area behind the beach. We had the usual mild Thai chicken curry, boiled rice, chicken pieces, water/juice - unlimited amounts and yummy. The nearby national park station had snacks and small cans of beer (100b - a relaxation of the no booze NP policy in force in recent years)
At this stage we thought I'd be staying 2 nights - the boat guys told me I could wander over each of the remaining 2 luch-times and have a feed. I love this stuff and it makes up for the 2200b I paid vs the 1500b for the daytrip (discounted from the brochure's 1700) and would also gives some variety to the monotony of the National Park canteen which ACK complains about below. Note National Parks tends to change canteen contractors from time to time  - I have had great to crap meals at various places - so Ko Rok NP food when you visit may not be as bad as during ACK's last stay.

After lunch I carted my luggage across to the national park counter (right of center) to learn there was no accommodation available. ACK in his report down-page says the head-ranger is one of the best and I must say he seemed to go the extra yard - even checking if there was some room in the bungalows under reconstruction. You may be thinking I should have bought my own tent but the fact is 95% of Thai NP campers use the NP tents which I have found okay in the past, plus I travel carry-on to Thailand and good ol' Jetstar's 7kg and size limits preclude bringing my own tent. So I carted my stuff back to the picnic area.

After lunch we had about 50 minutes beach time - normally longer but the boat guys were worried about the quickly dropping tide. That's Rok Nok in background - apparently an easy swim at the narrowest gap far background. Even easier at lowest tide when you can wade part of the way.

I spent part of the beach time checking out the accommodation. The tent area looked pretty nice - more shaded and with much wider spacing between tents than at 5 sites I know in the Similans, Surins and Ko Adang.

There seemed to be abt a dozen bungalows - all under extensive refurbishment. Timing of this work is a bit of a question - why not do this late wet season rather than Nov into early Dec when the park is well and truly open? But people who know how Thai National Parks operate will not be perplexed. This is one slack operation.

With the water quickly shallowing beneath our boat we left the beach, did the final good-value snorkel adjacent Rok Nok and then headed home. Along the way we spotted a pod of dolphins, tagged along for a while until we got too close and spooked them. Fruit and drinks were handed out. We did the reverse drop-off at the various beaches along Lanta - I arrived at my beach (the second most northern) at 1530.

Trip route - I have not included the return leg

One problem - on return to Lanta I had nowhere to stay. No worries - efficient Apple at Apple Travel (inland side of the main road abt half way along the Klong Dao strip) refunded the difference between the day trip and what I'd paid, went next door to Sweet Mansion and got me a quiet (up the back away from the road) aircon big modern room for 600, considerably less than a similar (except FAN) noisy room at my previous beachside joint Ocean View (my room there was in a similar small hotel-like block 200m from the beach, adjacent the main road). Once unpacked, I walked across the road and 300m down a lane to the beach, where I watched the sunset in company with an elcheapo bottle of Thai Rum I'd bought from a 7/11 for the island stay. Sweet - but I'd prefer to be doing the same out on Ko Rok.

SUM UP - some of you are thinking I was conned: the speedboat company just wanted my bum on the seat. Possibly.
But the fact is I didn't consider the exercise a write-off. The Ko Rok excursion was the best of 3 day-trips involving snorkeling I did that Nov/Dec Andaman visit. The other two were Similans out of Phuket and the 4 islands Trang tour out of Lanta (Note newcomers may enjoy the last one as much - it has the best thing you can do in the Andaman IMHO - the gob-smacking Emerald Cave visit. My problem is I've been into the cave at least 6 times (yet it still gives me a buzz). This 4 islands trip also had reasonably good snorkeling (for Thailand) at south Ko Kradan and Kradan's eastern beach is pretty sweet.

A remaining problem is I had another day to burn in the Lanta area. I was over Lanta after an 11 night multi-location visit (plus I have done Lanta 4 times in previous years) so next morning I went and jumped onto the ferry for nearby Ko Jum.

ACK below says the main beach on Rok is pretty serene when the day trippers leave. Wasn't bad when the day trippers were there either.

ACK's Report on Ko Rok - last visited April 2013

Image Kohrokthialand)

Two islands - the northern, Ko Rok Nai has the National Park HQ and camping area on the southern of the front beaches. Nai is around 2km long (image - modifies Google Earth)

Good map from Freedom Adventures

My wife and myself had scheduled a week+ for Kok Rok roughly over the Songkran holiday. This was cut short due to a meetup of a number of my wife's friends in Trang. Our time on the island was therefore cut down to five nights/seven days in the island.
Staying on Rok Nai island is not for everyone. It's all camping. It is though an amazing island if you give it time. It has the best sunrise AND sunsets. Lots of weather! Bright blue skies and puffy swirling white clouds.  It is a largish island that can be walked tip to tip. It also has a hill to climb giving amazing views if you are bored of swimming or just need to dry out. 
The water is usually as clear as Surins. There is a small bit of coral and if you are not too critical, it's enough to content oneself with. Few sharks, turtle, loads of stingray. The daytrippers are unmerciful with the park and the toilets but leave these days before 2pm. If you are lucky you can still be the sole camper on the island from time to time. My favorite ranger is there. As in past years, I chose to get there and back by speedboat. A number of operators do not wish to take campers during this period of time (Songkran), so your readers should have their game plan in place. During the rest of the season, they should not have much of an issue although prices vary wildly. Many small groups, especially Thai are taking longtails off the mainland outside Trang.
It costs far more to get to Rok than to the Surins or Similans. But onnce I am there the ranger doesn't charge me park fees, only 80b and its per night. Not like Surin, 500 for five nts or any part thereof (technically). Wife pays same, 80b.

A lot of westerners come down from Ko Lanta. The Trang district piers are on the coast to right of Ko Ngai , Ko Muk (unlabled) and Koh Kradan. Map from Kohrokthailand

You can always expect weather on Koh Rok so your readers should come prepared. This trip was the worst ever in that we had only one nice day, a few marginal days and a few pretty crappy days. Its not so much the rains that can come and go, but when you get big winds it makes snorkeling impossible. Rok can be very windy.

The worst of it all this visit though was the visibility. There was so much plankton in the water that it wasn't even worth venturing out. Over the course of the trip, the visibility did get better, but in no way was reminiscent of the lovely clear waters I know so well. The hard coral is barely hanging on, the soft doing a bit better. The waters were quite murky but judging by my trip in February, the coral is not appreciably better from the year before. There is more damage from tourists and boats though. Koh Rok is not a wonderland nor oasis, it is an ecosystem barely holding it's own although there are some positive signs. A few very shy resident turtles and black tips. Lots of stingray and please be careful of rays and Frogfish in the shallows.

Rok island is inundated by daytrippers from Lanta, but at night it is one of the most peaceful places on the planet. The island is one of the prettiest in the Andaman and one of the few in which often feature beautiful blue skies and white billowing clouds. The island is quite long and can be walked end to end as well as a steep path up a large hill and over to the over side.

All images Kohrokthailand

With ambition, swimmers can swim to the beach of Rok Nok as well as snorkeling to half to three quarters of the way south on that island.
Image Kohrokthailand

If your readers choose to visit, they need to know there are no bungalows and no beds. The park rents tents and pads; I believe b300, 500 per night with thin yoga pads about b40.
Image Kohrokthailand

The quality and taste of the food is not consistent. Beggars can't be choosers 60km off the mainland but squid every meal will chase a person off the island before boredom does. The upside is unlike Surin and Similan islands the food is reasonably priced.
As mentioned in priormissives, your readers would do well by having a gas stove to heat coffee in the morning. Only Nescafe is available at the resty and that is B30 per cup. Opens not a minute before 8am. Do not think they will be so happy giving out free hot water to skint bastards either. Stove would also help save a bit of money if you could do with a few meals of noodles and the like. We have in the past brought in breakfast and lunch and taken dinner in the canteen. Not really saving money - but eating squid once a day as opposed to twice a day is tolerable over the course of ten++ days. Many carry in their own water, up to you. Unlike the Surins, water is not free in the canteen on Rok.
After many years the head ranger has taken enough shine to me to invite me to visit any time - even off season. So I am pretty pleased about that. 


  1. Good job with the post!
    The pictures are all so amazing.
    Villas of Sanur

  2. Thank you nice article.
    your next trip…Phuket is the best choice for you!!
    I love here Surin Beach Hotel This hotel is very nice clean and the people are friendly. VERY nice hotel with helpful staff.
    And I really love white sand, crystal clear waters at Surin Beach too.
    Thank again.