KOH KRADAN, THAILAND
Aerial picture of Koh Kradan, taken from the South East. (image credit)
IN BRIEF :
Koh Kradan (เกาะกระดาน) is a small island about 10km off the South West coast of Thailand, near the town Trang.
Kradan is one of the best spots in Thailand for off-the-beach snorkelling. Towards the Southeastern corner, there is a drop-off that runs for about 1km. Here you can find some cool moonscape coral formations and multitudes of friendly fish.
Up top, there are stunning beaches and rugged forest scenery. There are a handful of mid-range, small-scale tourist resorts on the East coast.
Accommodation is more expensive than on other islands nearby. Tents are available for low-budget types.
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Koh Kradan is probably my favourite island for off-the-beach snorkelling in Thailand. It’s all about the seascapes and lots of fish.
The best stuff is in the South East corner, about 50m offshore, around a drop-off that runs in a long strip from almost the southernmost cape (A) up to the National Marine Park accommodation (C). The stuff along the main beach (D to F) is OK, too.
For the better, Southern, stretch (A-C) the best place to enter the water is by the restaurant of Ao Niang resort. Ao Niang resort is the only accommodation on this beach – most of the other resorts are 15-ish minutes walk further North. If you are staying at one of the other resorts and want to walk down the beach to Ao Niang, there are a couple of small rocky headlands to negotiate (just south of Area C) .
At low tide, you can walk around these; otherwise you will have to do a short swim around them. Alternatively, there is a narrow walking track that goes from the Southwest corner of Paradise Lost Resort round to the back of Ao Niang Resort, but it’s a pretty long diversion and is closed-off during the wet season.
An advantage of getting in the water by Ao Niang’s restaurant is that there is a channel through the coral there.
It’s easy to walk or swim along this. At low water, access can be difficult at other locations.
Outside Ao Niang resort, the coral starts at about ankle depth and slowly gets deeper until it is about a metre deep when you are 50 metres offshore. At that point (B) there is a drop-off that goes down to a sandy bottom at about 8 metres depth.
When you reach the drop-off, you can find decent snorkelling at 2-3m depth by turning right or left. If you turn right (South, towards A) there is good snorkelling for about 200 metres, or if you go left, it is good for about 800 metres. The best coral on Koh Kradan is the first 100 metres after you turn left (North, towards C). Here are some pictures from that area.
In area A, there are five or six Gorgonian (fan) corals.
I have also seen squid in this area.
Note that about half the coral in Kradan is dead. I don’t know what caused it, but almost all of the staghorn species coral within a 20km radius looks like it suffered some major trauma around the turn of the century. There are piles of it at the bottom of the drop-off on Kradan. Note the background to this photo of a moon wrasse.
Most of the other species of coral are OK.
I’m happy to say that during my last few visits, I’ve noticed that more and more of the staghorn coral at the bottom of the dropoff is growing back. It’s quite deep (about 7m), but it’s there. (The shallower staghorn coral is still dead). Here’s the new stuff:
Koh Kradan seems to have more fish than the neighbouring Trang islands. Maybe it is due to the distance from the mainland or maybe the lack of a fishing community here. There are large of shoals of small, colourful reef fish swimming around the south-eastern reef, and they seem to be indifferent to humans being nearby. Apart from the Sergeant major damselfish, that is. They are certainly not indifferent. They get fed by the day trippers who visit this sweet spot of reef. The Sergeant majors know that snorkellers means food. If you don’t give them any, they will peck away at your back and arms instead.
It’s not dangerous, but will freak you out the first time it happens. Wear a T-shirt and swish your hand around to get them out of your face, or they’ll bite your lips.
Around these parts, you always see shoals of the scavengers club – big packs of grey parrotfish plus the occasional Moon wrasse and Java rabbitfish going round pecking at stones & sand for scraps of food. If you’re having a bad time with seeing other kinds of fish, you can always rely on seeing a load of these.
If you have enough tide to cover the shallows closer to Ao Niang beach, you can find some juvenile reef fish getting ready for the big, bad world plus some sand/ rubble dwellers like these Blennies and Gobies:
Back out at the drop-off, as you move North, away from Ao Niang, the reef starts to get a bit more variable – most of it is quite good, but there are some duff spots, too.
As you round the headland, you will see the frames of unfinished concrete huts from the National Park accommodation on the left. There is some cool dramatic drop-offs outside the National Park HQ, then the seabed turns into sandy bottom as you leave the Park headquarters area . In the dry season, you will also see lots of daytrippers over on speedboats from the beachless resorts on the mainland. Most dayboats and ferries land around this beach or on the strip a few hundred metres to the North, as there is no reef here to damage their hulls. Yes, I said there is no reef there. Starting at around the Amari Resort and continuing up to Kradan Beach resort, there is only just plain sand and the occasional sea-star. If you are on a day-trip snorkelling boat from Lanta or Pak Meng and they stop at Kradan for a picnic lunch on the beach, I’d suggest ditching the lunch break and walking ten minutes South (left as you approach from the sea) down to Ao Niang for a snork. Make sure they don’t drive off without you, tho’.
Up at land level, point C is the start of the long, single beach that runs past all the resorts on Kradan.
There’s always a lot of change at Kradan, but in 2014, the resorts on this main beach go (from South to North) :
• National Park
• Amari Resort (only used for lunchtime daytrippers, there’s no overnighting)
• a long, white wooden split-rail fence. This has a gate with a track that leads to Paradise Lost Resort (10 minutes walk) and Sunset beach on the west coast (15 minutes)
• Kradan Beach resort
• Seven Seas resort
• Reef Resort
• Kalume Resort
• Coral Garden restaurant and resort
• Kradan Island resort
• Kradan Paradise resort
Throughout the ~2km run of these resorts, there is beautiful, white powder-sand beach and gorgeous azure blue waters. Most of the idyllic photographs you’ll see on google images are taken on this stretch. But the snorkelling along this main beach is patchy.
The reef starts-up again near the blue grocery store that is part of Kradan Beach resort. The drop off is far, far out from the beach. The reef top is variable here. At some points it is 60% good, live coral, but on average, about 60% is dead. The best spot here is the just before the drop-off at the North-end of Kradan Beach Resort. Here are some pics from there:
The spot outside Kalume is quite good, too. There is also a small patch of flat sand there.
Sting rays like flat, sandy bottom. There’s not so much of that around Kradan – it’s all reef or rock. I found these fellas on the small patch of sand near Kalume:
Access to the water here (D to E) is OK except at low tide, when you will be stepping over broken-up stones and coral fragments.
There is a narrow walking track that leads to the middle one of the three west coast beaches. The track starts just North of the telecommunications tower at Kradan Island Resort. The track is a bit overgrown and is steep at a few points. If you’re after an easy walk and a beautiful sunset beach, then it’s better to choose the southernmost one, with the track near to Paradise Lost Resort.
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The main beach appears to end at some mangroves just after Kradan Paradise Resort (around point E), but actually, you’re only about half way along the island. At low-ish water you can walk around the back of the mangroves and there’s about another 2km of beach, albeit a lot more rugged and unkempt than the resort-y stretch. I saw one map which labelled this one as ‘Ao Pai’. This area is National Park protectorate, so should remain untouched in the future.
There is a track here that leads to the third (northernmost) west coast beach. It’s pretty difficult to find the start of the track –look for scraps of plastic bags tied to the tree branches on the left. There are climb-ropes to get through the 60 degree slopes at the beginning (and end) of the track. This one is only for the fit and adventurous. Actually, the northernmost beach on the West side isn’t that great. It looks similar to the second one.
Back on the East side, Wally’s map indicated that there was a big bulge of reef out to the Northeast corner (and satellite pictures show it as being shallow here), so I had a good trawl around this area (G to F). There is a wide expanse of sandy bottom here; followed be a fairly-good edge to the reef top; then a crummy drop-off). Often the drop-off is better than the reef-top, but not here. Here are some shots from the area:
Around the West side of the northern point, it all starts getting rocky. There are a few algae feeders around, but, apart from the three small beaches, the whole of the west coast is craggy rocks above and below the waterline.
The untouched forest sitting atop the imposing craggy rocks is a beautiful, naturalistic sight, but underwater, there’s not too much of interest to snorkellers around the West side. Here’s a Sea Eagle, taking in the view:
I have swum the West side several times now. There is always a significant current, running parallel to the coast, sometimes northerly, sometimes, southerly. It’s nice when the current is going the same direction as you, but it is tedious and quite hard-work swimming against it. Even without current, the West coast is a bloody long swim (about 4 hours).
If you have shoes on, you can almost rock-hop most of G to J in a few hours. I say almost, because there are a few spots where you just can’t get across that plummeting ravine without jumping into the sea and swimming round (and being prepared to climb up the barnacled rocks to get out of the water at the other side).
It’s probably best to go by kayak if you want to look at the West coast. There are a few resorts that will rent you one, try Kradan Beach Resort and Kalume Resort. They can adopt a ‘resort-customers-only’ policy at busy times.
Around the Northern tip, and swimming South on the West side of the island, you soon get to the big northernmost of the three West coast beaches. This is guaranteed to be empty, has decent sand, but like most west-coast beaches in the Andaman sea, above the tideline it is covered in washed up-plastic debris. Handy for picking up a different pair of flip-flops or a squid fisherman’s lightbulb. Snorkelling here is unremarkable.
After a few hundred metres, you get to the middle West coast beach, I saw this labelled on one map as ‘Ewu beach’. This beach is similar to the Northern one, perhaps a little better. Here’s a picture of this one, taken from point I:
It is only a couple of hundred metres to the main (southernmost) West coast beach, J. This is a beautiful beach, particularly at low tides (at high tide, the beach gets very small). This one seems to be generally called ‘Sunset beach’, although I have seen one map that calls the bay it is in ‘Chorgkom bay’ (อ่าวช่องคม?)
People often walk to this beach to take-in the sunset. It’s an easy 15 minute walk from the gap in the white fence on the East side, near Amari Resort and Paradise Lost resort. You might find a few yachties anchored around sunset beach, but mostly it’s reasonably quiet. There are no resorts here. You do still get some West-coast plastic garbage washed up at the back of the beach.
Getting in and out of the water, there are small rocks in the shallows, but access to the water is possible through some quite wide gaps between them. It can be tricky when there’s surf stirring up the sand and obscuring the rocks.
The southwestern stretch is another long schlep round rocky coastline, with no particularly interesting features underwater. Fauna-wise – I’ve had some interesting trips round here and some dull ones. Best sightings were a Nudibranch hiding in a Vase Coral:
And some friendly cuttlefish:
Wooo hooo. And I was always suspicious of claims that they were here :)
There is a small cave about 300m short of the Southern cape. It is a bit scary going in, but can be fun when there are big schools of fish gathered in the doorway. I just caught these juvenile Sweepers as they were leaving:
There are some steep cliffs in this section – it is (almost) possible to rock-hop J to A, but you’ll have to go in for a dip a couple of times.
Soon, (well not that soon, actually) you are back round the southern headland to return to point A/B near Ao Niang resort.
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Here are a few more random pics taken at Koh Kradan:
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There are no roads and no vehicles on the island.
Dry season is ostensibly 1 November to 1 May, although the seasons everywhere have been getting more unpredictable lately, so who can say, really?
You can get there from Trang town. It is a 1 hour minibus ride from the northern minibus station in Trang to Kuantungu pier (70B) then about 40 minutes by longtail boat. There’s not much English spoken at the pier and there doesn’t seem to be a timetable or a list price for the boats, so be prepared for some confusion. It works out just as cheap (and much easier) to buy a minibus-boat combination ticket from the travel agents in Trang town (450B), where you will be guided through the various connections.
Koh Kradan is also a stop-off on the big Tigerline ferry that island-hops down from Phuket to Langkawi in Malaysia.
The PetPailin ferry from Koh Lanta goes to Koh Kradan.
Koh Kradan is also a stop-off on “4-island” snorkelling day-trips from Koh Lanta and Pak Meng. You can jump off half-way and stay on Kradan if that suits you. Daytrips from Koh Lanta are about 1000B, from Pak Meng/Trang, about 800B.
These transport options only exist in the dry season. In the wet season, you will have to charter your own longtail. If you have decided on your resort in advance, they will be able to arrange this for you, otherwise get the minibus to Kuantungu pier and start negotiating. Expect to pay around 1000+B each way on a private charter.
You can also charter private longtail boats from Pak Meng (30km Northwest of Trang); Hat Yau/Ko Libong (30km Southwest of Trang); and Koh Mook (also out of Kuantungu pier, but there is a regular scheduled service Kuantungu-Mook, so this cuts down the distance on a private charter boat by only having to charter the Mook-Kradan section).
Other than the staff at the resorts, nobody lives on Koh Kradan. There is no village and no locals. This means that the food is more expensive, as you can only eat in the resorts. Your cheapest fried noodle dish starts at 90B in Kradan, compared with 35B in Trang or at the villages in nearby Koh Mook or Koh Libong. Weekending locals bring their own food and drinks with them.
Sleeps: (indicative prices, 2013; ascending)
– National Park BYO tent – 20B
– “dorm” (=doorless barn) at Paradise Lost – 250B
– rental tents at National Park/ Ao Niang ~300B;
– small fan hut: Ao Niang, Kradan Island Resort, Kalume – 700-ish
– bigger fan huts: Ao Niang, Kradan Island Resort, Kalume, Paradise Lost – 1100-ish
– AC: Kradan Beach Resort, Paradise Lost – 1500-ish
– Luxury: Kradan Beach Resort, Coral Garden Resort, Reef Resort – 4000 to 5000B
– Super luxury: Seven Seas Resort – 5000 to 12000B
Alternative maps: 1
Originally Written: May 2012 . . . . . . Last updated: Apr2014