Ko Wairn; Ko Cheuak; Ko Maa – Thailand

เกาะแหวน เกาะเชือก เกาะม้า


All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

Ko Wairn; Ko Cheuak and Ko Maa are three intriguing-looking karst islets poking out of the sea in the Trang-islands area of South West Thailand.

You can’t land on these islets (it is forbidden – they are leased by private companies to harvest birds’ nests – a valuable delicacy in Chinese cuisine); they have vertical cliffs all around; and they are all 2km+ away from the nearest habitable islands.

So this is about as different as you can get from ‘off the beach snorkelling’. But you can take boat trips there to snorkel around the edges of the islets and admire the karst formations, so lets’s take a look.

Being located out in the open sea, the islands get underwater currents passing-by. These currents make a good habitat for sea-fans, whip-corals and other filter-feeders. These islets have some of the best sea-fans you will find in the area. Their remote locations might bring bigger fish or the occasional visit from schooling pelagic fish. Other than those attractions, most of the underwater terrain is plummeting rocks, which isn’t especially interesting for snorkelling. The condition of the hard-coral is only poor-to-middling.

Boat trips run from the surrounding Trang islands (Kradan, Muk, Ngai, Libong) plus from further-afield places like Ko Lanta and Pak Meng.

You can kayak from Ko Ngai to Ko Maa. Technically, you could kayak to all of them, but it is a long way and is not advisable.

Best-ish seascape:

Typical seascape:

All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

– – – –


The irregular spikyness of these islets is part of the intrigue. They look completely different, depending where you are viewing them from. Here they are from a variety of perspectives:

Viewed from the South East.
Ko Wairn is on the left (and flat pancake Ko Ngai in the distance behind it); Cheuak is centre-right and Ko Maa is the tiny dot off to the right.

Viewed from the South West (from the beach at Ko Kradan).
Ko Maa is the tiny dot on the left. Cheuak is actually a pair of islands and from this angle, you can see the sky between them. Wairn is closest and is on the right.

Viewed from the North West (from the beach at Ko Ngai).
Ko Maa is foreground left, then off in the distance is flat-looking Ko Muk. Cheuak is looking like a single island, centre-right. Wairn is a grey bump on the right.

From the North East (taken from a boat – there is no land-mass here).
Ko Maa is on the right; then – scanning left – you can make-out the Northern tip of Ko Kradan in the far-distance; before getting to the multiple mounds of Cheuak in the middle-distance; then the greyer hump of Wairn to the left. On the edge of the picture, at the far left side, you can just see Ko Muk rising up out of the sea.

All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions



If you are taking a boat trip to these islets from the bigger, inhabited islands, you won’t get much choice on exactly where you go. Hopefully, they will take you to the best spots, anyway.

If you have a choice (or if you are chartering your own day-trip longtail boat), do ask the captain to include Ko Wairn (specifically, its Northern coast). Most trips starting from other islands to the North don’t seem to include Ko Wairn on their itineraries, but the sea-fans on Wairn’s North coast are probably the highlight of all these islets.

Cheuak looks good from the surface, but is not as good underwater as the other two. The attractions are a small cave and some decent hard corals on the East side. These spots are well-known to boat captains and seem to be included on most itineraries.

Maa’s highlights are some decent corals on the mid-West side and a big Anemone garden in the North East. There are also some nice whip corals and a cave at the South end. Ko Maa is reachable by kayak from Ko Ngai.



I wanted to have a leisurely look around the islands, so I rented kayaks and paddled myself around all three. To get to Ko Wairn, it is a two hour slog from the nearest startpoint, Ko Muk (that’s two hours each way).

I don’t recommended kayaking in the open sea. Apart from everything else, it is amazing just how fierce the midday sun gets when there is no cover to escape it. Plus, it gets multiplied ten-times over by the reflected sunlight bouncing up off the sea.

Kayaking from Ngai to Maa is quite a short trip (half an hour, each way). Quite a lot of people do it and it won’t freak-out your kayak renter. But, apart from that one trip, I would suggest sticking with powered-boats to reach these islets. If you are going to use a kayak, first read my boy-scout guide to snorkelling from kayaks.



‘Ko’ or ‘Koh’ means ‘island’ in Thai. I won’t write it out every time. ‘Cheuak’ is the same thing as ‘Ko Cheuak’.


If you want to go direct to the section about a particular islet, then do a local search (edit>Find on this page) on one of these text strings:
B: Ko Cheuak
C: Ko Maa



A: Ko Wairn

Ko Wairn is the Southernmost of the three islets. You might also find it spelled Ko Waen (or เกาะแหวน).

Thai is a tonal language and Wairn should be pronounced with a rising tone. Wairn means ‘ring’, (as in ‘circular’, not as in ‘telephone/doorbell’).

Here’s that zoomed-out map again.

I kayaked up from Ko Muk. Here is Ko Wairn, on the approach from the South East.


Wairn is a swift-nest franchise. Swift birds use their saliva to make nests for their young. In Asia, Swift nests are collected and turned into swift-nest soup – a great (and expensive) delicacy in Chinese cuisine. Staff live in a bamboo hut, perched on the rocks on the North East side of Wairn, and go around the islet by boat, clambering up precarious vertical cliffs to ‘harvest’ the nests for the company that leases the island. Because the nests sell for big-bucks, it is wise to make your presence known to the guys working there and to show them that you are not there to steal their bounty. Swift-nest workers have a reputation for being suspicious and defensive. There are stories of interlopers being shot at. When I stopped-by to announce my innocent intentions, the guys here at Wairn were really sweet and even invited me up to their hut for lunch.


Having introduced ourselves to the staff, let’s start our snorkel in the North East (at ‘w1’ on the map), then head clockwise around the islet.


The far North East corner (at w1 on the map) was unspectacular, with just some anemones getting blown around in the current:


Heading South towards w2, standards picked up a lot, with a procession of decent Sea-Fans (also known as Gorgonians):

plus an unusual skin of blue coral on the surface of a rock:

the occasional Anemone:

And some whip coral:


Approaching area w2, where the birds nest farmers’ shack is:

..there is an underwater shelf 5 metres deep, which means you get some shallow-reef features and fauna.

Groupers big and small:

Silver Biddies and Longfin Pike enjoying some sandy shallows:

And some small silverfish out in the blue:

Maybe glassfish.

There are some spots of decent hard coral around here:

I also found a funky Barrel Sponge:


Continuing South, there was some uncommon cup coral:

Followed by some more Sea-Fans:


Halfway down the East coast now, here are some black-spot Snapper cruising past a Barrel Sponge:

Some fun Whip-corals:

And the pretty, but painful, stinging Hydroid:

On a shelf, about seven metres down, was a mix of hard corals:

..then deeper down, a steeper wall with a few more:

Occasionally, there were also spots of decent corals at shallower depths:

And small reef fish, like these 3-Spot Dascyllus, hanging out in an unusual Anemone:


One fun thing about kayaking at karst islands is being able to duck under the overhang where the seawater has worn away the base of the island; and looking up to see stalactites hanging down over your head. There are several stalactites in the South East corner of Wairn. Here’s the view looking back up the East coast:

And the view looking East towards Muk.

And here’s one looking in towards some fresh stalactites growing on the rock:

Do you see the family of black and silver Sea Kraits (snakes) in the bottom right? I have only ever seen them in the water – never on land before.

Just before leaving the East side, I came across this friendly Cuttlefish:


On turning the corner at w3 onto Wairn’s South coast, most of the interesting features disappeared and there was just a vertical wall with not much life on it:

Most of the South coast was like this, and there wasn’t much point in taking pictures. Being in the shade from the sunlight didn’t help either.

But you could always look up at the towering rock above you:

Or find a little cave and stalactites at sea level:


Turning right a bit at the little rocks at w4, the underwater scenery continued much the same.


At w5, just before the big blob of rock that sticks out the West side of Wairn, there is an intriguing-looking bay cutting into the body of the rock. But there was a line of buoys stretched across the mouth of the bay, indicating that you’re not supposed to go in there. Not wanting to upset my birdnest farming friends, I stayed out.

btw, that’s Ko Cheuak sticking out the left side of the cliff.


Plodding along the shady South / South West coasts, I was getting bored with the dull vertical wall, when suddenly, at the corner at w6, I saw the bright white of this Scleronephthya species Soft Coral:

And then some more colourful variations:

And then some more:

And then some more:


There are also a few decent sea-fans down there:

Unfortunately, this is all fairly deep down (about 8 metres). But if you can dive down that far – this corner is definitely worth a look.


Rounding the corner at w6 and heading on to the North side, I found some more Scleronephthya species:

with Duskytailed Cardinalfish and Demoiselles orbiting.

There was also a small cave with stalactites:

But starting at w7 and continuing along most of the North coast, up to w1, is the best-bit of Ko Wairn (and probably of all three little islets) – a load of lovely Sea-Fans:

and Scleronephthya softcorals:


Fishies like softcorals as much as you do, so you’ll find shoals of Demoiselles and Fusiliers hanging around them:

Fortunately, all the above are in shallow waters (3-5 metres), so try and get yourself here for a look, if you can.

The fans continue on down to deeper-depths on a steep wall. The dive shops in Muk, Kradan and Ngai often bring their divers here.


You know when you get back to the North East corner at w1, as the fans fade out and the shallow seabed turns to crap:

At least there were some passing Double Spotted Queenfish zipping by, to make things more interesting:



That’s about it for Ko Wairn, let’s head North to Ko Cheuak.

Of the inhabited big islands nearby, Cheuak is much closer to Ngai than it is to Muk, so Ngai would be the most sensible start-point for a trip to Cheuak. However, kayak rentals are charged by-the-hour on Ngai and I could get a cheaper, ‘whole-day’ rate on Muk, so I slogged it all the way up from Wairn to save some money. Wairn to Cheuak took an hour and a half in the baking sun. I don’t recommend doing it.



B: Ko Cheuak

Ko Cheuak is the middle one out of the three islets.

Pronounced “choo-ak” (with a falling tone), Cheuak (เชือก) means ‘rope’.

I think that Cheuak is a swift-nest franchise. There are some likely-looking caves and a workers’ hut in the North West corner (with a sign saying you’re not allowed onto the island) but I didn’t see any staff there. Cheuak gets more more day-trip boats than Wairn does, so it is probably less important to announce your arrival than it was at Wairn.

Here is Ko Cheuak, arriving from the South West corner:

Cheuak is actually made up of two islands. As you come up the West coast, you can see the gap between them.

All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

The dividing line between Krabi province and Trang province runs between these two islands. If you are in the Northern half, you are in Krabi province. If you are in the Southern half – it is Trang.

Let’s go over to Krabi for half an hour, starting in the North West Corner of Cheuak, then head South and swim counter clockwise around both islands.

All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

Here’s that zoomed-out map again.


You don’t see many Sharks around these parts, but when I jumped out of my kayak, I landed right on top of one! I scared the wits out of him. Here he is, sprinting away in terror:

Btw, the shark species found in Thailand are not harmful. Scared about sharks? read this.

As you can see, the water here was murky, murky, murky.

Big-eye Trevally like a bit of murk to shield them from their foes:


Heading South down the West side of Cheuak, the damaged corals and the murky visibility made for an uninspiring trip:

The Staghorn species of coral in the Andaman Sea have all suffered badly, possibly from the ‘El Nino’ temperature warming event in 1997. Most of this species is dead throughout the Andaman sea, and there is no exception here:

(I have seen some regrowth at Ko Kradan Area B).

Here, the hardier Porties species is mostly holding on:

But, generally, the condition of the hard corals at Cheuak is mixed:

There’s no particular reason to visit this West side of the Northern island, unless you want to try and get lucky with a pelagic fish.


Continuing South, past the gap between the islands:

The seabed is middling:

Many of the ‘4-island’ boat trips don’t even put you in the water at Cheuak, instead sailing around the island, letting you take-in the sights above the waves. Which is a good idea, as they are pretty nice:

Underwater on the Western half of the South island, most of the sights were like this bit of wall:

Although occasionally, it livened up a bit:


The only picture I took on the South coast of the South island was this Chocolate Grouper, sitting on some Black Coral (Tubastraea micrantha)


Coming around the South East Corner and heading up the East coast of the Southern island, things start getting better:

There is a medium-sized cave – popular with the day-trip boats:

And some healthy corals:

But the Staghorn is still dead:


Continuing North, you start to get line-of-sight on distant Ko Maa:

A few interesting underwater beasties here were:

A Moray Eel:


And Virgate Rabbitfish:


Just South of the gap between the islands seems to be a popular area with longtail captains taking out daytrippers. I assume that before the Staghorn coral died, this was a ‘highlight’ area and there was some underwater nature-trail here:


Hardier corals are still present in this area, in decent condition:

Continuing North, past the gap between the two islands:

The coral condition is poor-to-middling:


Continuing North, the cliffs look great:

And underwater, there are a few interesting patches of coral:

A few stalactites:

Heading up towards the North East corner, here is a Chocolate Grouper hanging out:

Those little pink stems dotted around will be Beautiful Orange and Yellow Cup Corals (like this one on Wairn) when they decide to come out.

The wall near the North East Corner is uninspiring:


Just around the North East corner, there are some shapely rocks gathered:


And as you emerge from around those rocks, you can see big-old Ko Ngai on the left and isolated Ko Maa off to the North.


On the North side of Cheuak, the corals are rather uninspiring:

If you were leaving Cheuak, heading North towards Maa, this would be the sight you leave behind:

…but I continued round to the West side, back towards where I started.

Ko Cheuak isn’t all that far from Ko Ngai, and here on the North West corner, you can see the sacred pinnacle at Area E in my article on Ko Ngai.

Hmm, that Sun is getting low. I wonder if I’ll get back to Ko Muk before it gets dark.



Underwater, things in North West Cheuak weren’t very interesting.

Up on the surface, I guess that this is the hut and (?main) nest-caves of Cheuak’s Swift-nest collectors:

The message is very clear:

(You’re not allowed on the island)


Here’s an interesting-looking cave on the North West Corner:


Soon, we are back to where we started. So that’s all for Cheuak.



c: Ko Maa

Ko Maa is the Northernmost of the three islets. It is quite close to Ko Ngai and is the only one that you can reasonably reach by kayak (about 30 minutes each way).

Here’s that zoomed-out map again.

Ko Maa sees quite a lot of day-trip boats. The boats from Pak Meng (on the mainland) spend most of their underwater-time here.

I think that Maa is a swift-nest franchise. There is a workers’ hut in the North West. It looks like the (main) caves are all concentrated in the area near their hut, so I don’t know if the staff are interested in the rest of the island. They didn’t seem to have any problem with me passing by in a kayak. Maa sees a lot of day-trip boats, so I guess they are used to tourists.

Maa (ม้า) is pronounced with a high tone and means ‘horse’. It can also mean ‘bench’. I’m not sure which one of them the island is named after – it doesn’t really look like either.

Ko Maa – coming at it from Ko Ngai in the West:

You can see that there are some largish day-trip boats there. These big ones come from Lanta or Pak Meng and sometimes have kayaks aboard. If you take a daytrip boat out of Ngai/Muk/Kradan it will be on a small, longtail boat.

I have written this starting in the North West Corner of Ko Maa and going around the island counter-clockwise. In reality, there was some South-to-North current going on, so I started in the South (twice) and drifted up the East and West coasts in separate trips, but lets keep it simple – a start in the North West, then a counter-clockwise circumnavigation.

All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

Coralwise, the North West Corner was fairly dull, but there were big packs of schooling fish there:

Usually, big schools of fish this size/colour are Fusiliers. But these ones aren’t. They look a bit like Ox-Eye Scad (which are also big on schooling). I’m not certain whether they are, but let’s go with that for now.

A little further South, another popular schooler is the Two Spot Snapper.

Maybe slaloming between the gates of the Whip Corals.


Heading South, towards the big boats, the coral was unimpressive:

I couldn’t understand why the boats would stop here. But if the corals are ever not up-to-par, then day-trip operators can always fall back on the old fish-feeding trick:

Feeding bread to fish is bad for the ecosystem. The most aggressive species of fish get all the food.

The plentiful food-supply means that they can afford to breed more, making larger numbers of their own species.

When the tourist season is over and the free food supply dries-up, there is not enough food to feed this big family of aggressors. To survive, they have to start eating the young of other, less aggressive, fish species.

Eventually, the imbalance in numbers causes other species to die out, and you are left with a distorted local-ecosystem which has only two-or-three species of fish.

Please don’t feed the fish.

More: 1 2

I think that in 2017, the Thai government clamped-down on trip operators doing it. Hopefully, the ban will stick.


Continuing South to the mid-way point of the West coast, the coral improved a lot:

I’m not sure what species this groovy green stuff is. This same texture occurs in Pachyseris speciosa, but I don’t think that is what this is. But it’s purrdy.

And there’s quite a lot of it:

It makes a nice background for this Blue Spine Unicornfish to have a stretch over:


Continuing South:

there were lots of Mushroom corals:

and an island Barrel Sponge:


Further South still, the corals in deeper waters (6m) were a bit patchy:

but there were some nice branching corals in the shallows:


As we get towards the currenty South West corner, Whip-corals make a return:


On the South West corner, there were quite a few filter-feeders, including Fans and Whips:


Passing along the South side of Ko Maa, you come across a medium-sized cave. You can see it left-of-centre in this picture taken from Cheuak:


Here we are inside the cave, looking out:

The current-loving whip-corals lining the mouth of the cave must get a good feed from the waves going in and out:

Outside of the cave, there was some decent Porites coral:

And a nice diversion of some Red and Black Anemonefish hiding in a Bulb Anemone:

I also had a school of about 40 Moorish Idols pass by, but didn’t get a picture.


Turning the corner at the South East and heading up the East coast of Maa, there was an interesting mix of coral species on a drop-off:

Like everywhere else, the Staghorn coral is dead:

Again, the Whip-corals steal the show:

And provide a home for some Splitbanded Cardinalfish and Whitestreak Monocle Breams


Continuing North, we have the expected mix of healthy bulk corals and dead Staghorn:


A couple of fish worth noting are this Powder Blue Tang:

And this passing crew of Herring Scad


Continuing North, the sights above the waves are often better than those below:


A big draw for the day-trip boats is this Anemone garden on the North East corner:

I think that those Cardinalfish are Capricorn (Apogon capricornis) and
Duskytailed (Archaia macroptera).

Here are some landmark rocks, which might hint at the location of the Anemone garden, (but you’re better off just following the boats).


Many moons previous, I had come to Maa on a day-trip out of Pak Meng. Somewhere close to the Anemone garden near the North East corner, I had tried diving down deep to see what I would find. What I found was quite a lot of nice Sea-Fans:

And a funky barrel sponge:

I tried to find them again on my kayak trip, but I couldn’t (and the meter on my pay-by-the-hour kayak was ticking over!). If you are looking for them, they were 8-10 metres deep and I think that they were near these stalactites:

Good luck finding them!


Continuing North, approaching the North East corner, there were spots of decent coral:

and some fun schooling fishies:


Turning the corner and heading West along the North Coast, the underwater world was mostly dead Staghorn:


Towards the North West corner and the Swift-nesters territory:

Corals were mostly unimpressive:

With an occasional healthy highlight:


Quite a way out from the island (about 80m) is another Anemone garden.

This was another place I originally discovered via the earlier boat trip out of Pak Meng. I was somewhat surprised to be able to find exactly the same spot on my kayak trip, years later – right down to this exact sprig of Black Coral:



That’s about it for Ko Maa. Back at our startpoint in the North West of the island, the schoolers are still partying it up:




There is no accommodation on Ko Wairn, Ko Cheuak or Ko Maa . You can get longtail boat daytrips to them from nearby tourist islands like Ko Ngai, Ko Muk and Ko Kradan. Or, from further-away places like Ko Libong or mainland ports Pak Meng and Hat Yao. The going price is about 3000B per day for the whole longtail boat (prices valid @ 2015 from, say, Ko Muk, but are probably higher from more distant start points).

There are also big-boat “four island” daytrips from Pak Meng and Ko Lanta, which stop-off at two of our islets, along with a stop at the Emerald Cave/Taam Morakot on Ko Muk and lunch on the beach at Ko Kradan. These trips cost about 1200B per person.

You can rent kayaks on Ko Ngai for 150B an hour. It takes 30 minutes to paddle from East coast Ko Ngai to Ko Maa (about 1.5km). It is about the same distance again from Ko Maa to Ko Cheuak.

On Ko Muk – luxurious, widebeam kayak (complete with cupholders!) rentals cost around 250B per hour at the fancy resorts. I haggled a price of 500B for the whole day for a plain one from the little kiosk at the South end of Charlie/Farang Beach, or ask at Mairws kitchen.

It is probably not wise to try to kayak to Wairn/Cheuak/Maa from Ko Muk. Ko Wairn is 6km away – about 2 hours – from Muk. 2 Hours paddling in the hot sun is no fun. And your rental company would freak-out if they knew you were going that far.


Dry season is November to April.

You can get to Ko Ngai, Ko Muk, Ko Kradan and Ko Libong from the town Trang.


Sea-Fans (aka Gorgonians) are the biggest attraction on these islets. Other places where you can find Sea-Fans around the Trang Islands are:
Ko Kradan – off the beach in Areas B & A (There are only a few there).
Ko Muk – lots, but it needs a boat/kayak trip to Sabaay Bay (Area J) or to the North West corner (Area S, T).
Ko Ngai – off the beach south of Ko Ngai resort (Area D) (only a few there); or at Area E (but this is a bit dangerous due to boat traffic).

For general off-the-beach snorkelling, Ko Kradan is your best bet, followed by Ko Ngai.


Originally written May 2015             Last updated Nov 2017


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s