There are many reasons to visit Thailand’s Andaman coast, and Hong Island is certainly one of them. Hong Island lies quite deep inside Ao Phang Nga bay, about one to one and half hours off the coast from Ao Nang and Krabi.
In this region in southwest Thailand, karst formations are as much of a highlight as white-sand beaches. You could happily spend weeks island-hopping in this area. When I was there with a friend, we didn’t have the time or the money to do so, so we decided to pick Ao Nang as our base to explore the region by taking a few day trips.
If you walk around Ao Nang or Krabi Town, you’ll find dozens of tour operators selling day tours to Hong Island (Koh Hong, koh meaning “island” in Thai), as well as some of the nearby islands: Bamboo Island, Poda Island, Chicken Island, Turtle Island and, last but not least, Phi Phi island.
Leaving Koh Phi Phi aside, most of the other islands we went to were well worth a visit, with some caveats. Firstly, yes, they are beautiful and you will like them. But don’t be fooled by aerial photos (the kind you’ll see in tour operators brochures), as you’ll obviously won’t be getting that view from your boat. Secondly, don’t believe for a second you’ll be alone on the beach. You won’t just be surrounded by the people you came with on the boat; that could actually be ok. The problem is there’ll be more than a dozen other boats arriving at the same beach in the same two-three hour time frame.
There are some ways around these issues, though, and I will give you some tips at the end of the post. In any case, even if you don’t manage to avoid the crowds, many of these islands are still worth visiting for the sheer beauty of their turquoise waters and rocky outcrops.
Although there are around a dozen islands in the Koh Hong archipelago, Hong Island is by far the biggest one. As such, it has a nice, good-sized beach, in addition to a few much smaller ones.
I found the main beach beautiful and pleasant, no doubt about it. It is enclosed by large limestone outcrops on its south side, and it’s a great place to swim, kayak, snorkel and relax. The problem is it’s too crowded. There’s a small bar and toilet facilities, so this is not a place where you’ll come to be alone. For this reason, I’ve chosen not to show you any photos of it.
I would almost not recommend you visit Hong Island, were it not for the stunning lagoon on its north side. This amazing place is only accessible from the sea when the tide is at least moderately high. The access is through a narrow passage between the limestone rocks that all but completely surround the lagoon. This is where the island takes its name from, as the high stone walls make the space look like a vast room or chamber (hong in Thai).
Although this, to me, is the main highlight of Hong Island, it was not nearly as crowded as the main beach when we got there. Our boatman explained to us beforehand that he wasn’t sure we could get into the lagoon because of the relatively low tide. So maybe most tour groups arrive there in the afternoon, after a few hours on the beach, and that’s why the lagoon was not crowed.
As far as I’m concerned, swimming in the lagoon’s shallow, emerald-green waters for about thirty minutes, more than made the trip for me. I’m just sorry I don’t have better-quality photos to show. I was quite afraid of using my gear with all that sand and seawater around, and decided to rely heavily on my iPhone, duly protected in a waterproof pouch.
Lunch was almost as pleasant. Our boat anchored at a small cove, and we ate on a tiny beach where there was only one other boat with two people. It was definitely quieter than the main beach and it made me realize there were better ways to explore these islands.
Tips for your visit to Hong Island and other islands in the area
- Most tour agents in Ao Nang or Krabi seemed to offer very similar day tours, stopping at several islands. They pick you up at your guesthouse/hotel between 8 and 9, and drop you back there between 3 and 4 in the afternoon.
- There may be some differences, but all tours include water or some drink, a cooked lunch and an afternoon snack (most likely fresh fruit), as well as a snorkel and mask.
- Usually you will have the choice between travelling by long-tail boat or speedboat. The latter are faster, but more expensive and, in my opinion, less enjoyable. In a speedboat you will be sitting either in the covered cabin, from where you don’t see much of the views, or on the prow or stern, where the sun hits quite hard. In contrast, on a long-tail boat you are sitting under the roof while enjoying the views unencumbered. Long-tail boats also take much fewer people (around 12) than a speed boat. So long-tail boats all day long for me!
- Advertised prices depend on the number of islands visited, and vary from around 900 baht (23 euros/25 US dollars, one adult, long-tail boat) to 1,200 baht (one adult, speedboat). As always, shop around and try to bargain a little, especially if it’s not peak season or you are booking for several people.
- There are also kayaking tours, as well as others more focused on snorkeling or scuba diving, so ask around.
- If you want to go to really lonely beaches (which I would recommend and intend to do the next time I visit the area), you have two choices. You can ask a tour agent to arrange a customized tour for you, which I’m sure many will happily do.
- Or you can hire your own private boat on the beach at the Ao Nang boat co-op, and arrange an itinerary with the boatman. Explain to him that you want to go to a quiet cove. With a private boat, you can also set out earlier and beat the crowds at some of the most popular spots (like Hong Island’s main beach). From the prices I saw, you could hire a private boat to Hong Island for up to 6 people for 2,800 baht. If you go with at least three other people, it’s actually cheaper than a tour, with the caveat that you’d need to take care of your food, drinks and snorkeling equipment. The boat co-op has at least two posts in Ao Nang, one on Ao Nang beach, and one near the south end of Nopparat Thara beach.