As I wrote last week, Ko Muk, in southwest Thailand, is best known for the “Emerald Cave”. If you turned your imagination towards a hidden pirate’s lair, you’d struggle to come up with a better image. Hidden away on the west coast of the island, approachable only by boat, the cave has hidden treasure written all over it. It is to the cave we’re heading today—but first we need a boat.
Missed the earlier entries?
Every man and his dog on Ko Muk offers boat tours. There are fishing trips, snorkelling trips and island hoppers. Just about every option factors in a visit to the Emerald Cave. How is one to choose?
Jack Sparrow’s lair. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
Our resort offers such a trip, and for a very reasonable price. When I start asking about how many people and so on though, the answers become evasive. I decide to look elsewhere. Walking down through the village, I stop in at a few agents. Prices all revolve around the same mark. Often though, they’re just agents—putting bums on somebody else’s boat. I keep looking.
About halfway back to the main pier, there is a rustic beach bar. I look closely and realise it is actually a boat bar, or a bar built around something that was once a boat. There’s not a straight angle in the place, full of nooks and crannies, seating in strange little decks and up on high platforms. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of watching Waterworld, they could have filmed the entire movie here.
Forever a work in progress. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
The actual bar is staffed by an older French woman, who I think at first is Isa, a friend from years ago. It would be the perfect place to find her, but unfortunately she isn’t her. We chat for a spell, she’s been in the area for a long time, and we swap notes on how the islands have changed over the years. We’re definitely on the same page on many things and so I venture a question about getting a boat. Hell, this is a boat bar, they must have one.
“Come back tonight,” she says.
I return that evening and meet the captain. He’s one of those spindly half–pirate half Rasta Thai boatmen that dot the southern islands. Friendly and chatty, with excellent English, he gives me the spiel. It all sounds great. I ask after the price. He wants triple what the resort is after.
Cruisin… Photo: Stuart McDonald.
I explain I don’t want to charter the boat, I’m happy to share it with others as long as there are not too many people. He says the price isn’t for a charter—it is a shared boat. I say it seems very expensive given what other are charging.
“You get what you pay for,” he replies.
I decide to think about it, and say I’ll chat to the family and get back to him. “Ok,” he replies—he seems not interested in bargaining, and lets me walk off.
Back at the resort we discuss. I mean, all we’re doing is hiring a few spots on a boat—how could is possibly be worth triple? The guy seems nice enough and I love the pirate bay vibe of the bar, maybe, somehow it will be better. I’m both torn and intrigued.
Well this looks awful. Ko Ngai’s back beach. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
The proposed trip is an island hopper to a few islands, along with some karst cliffs—all for snorkelling. Then we finish at the Emerald Cave. The package is near identical to others I’ve been offered. It is just three times the price.
I decide to go with the pirate.
We show up the next morning and there are a half dozen others on the same trip—making for ten all up. The longtail is big, but a standard affair—and, for the money, it isn’t a great start. The captain though is true to form and the kids enjoy his “piratey” garb and manner—and he is great with them.
Watch out for sharks. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
We chug north, to our first stop, the back beach at Ko Ngai. It is ostensibly a national park, with a long reef drift. The boat drops us at one end and we all dive in, letting the current gently push us along the way. As with many of the reefs in the area, it isn’t in good condition, but the visibility is great and there are a tonne of fish.
It is about a half a kilometre drift and the guide does a good job pointing out interesting stuff along the way. Later we cruise into the beach, mostly undeveloped, for a simple snack. While Ko Ngai is far from my favourite island, the back beach is beautiful.
Later we visit two uninhabited rocks, first Ko Cheuk, then, later Ko Waen. Both are roughly midway between Ko Ngai and Ko Muk, but the calm waters of the morning are getting rougher with the midday wind. We snorkel into caverns and under large overhangs. With one exception, we’re the only boat on site. The kids love it, though by Ko Waen, the chop and stronger currents are taking some of the pleasure away for them.
I think we just found everyone. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
Then, we head west, around the top of Ko Kradan to the back beach. The kids roll their eyes—“we’ve been here before” they whine. When the captain says we have an hour here though, they see an upside and, leaving the beach behind we walk over the hill to Paradise Lost for french fries.
Leaving the back beach, we circle around the southern tip of the island. Everyone jumps in, but within ten minutes we’re all out again—jellyfish. “No problem” says the captain and we motor around to the main beach, to the reef drop–off for another drift. The kids stay in the boat—they’re tired, have snorkelled this already, and want to see the Emerald Cave.
Leaving the Emerald Cave behind. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
Finally we pull up at the Emerald Cave and work our way in. It is a collapsed sinkhole, with a fine crescent of white sand within. The swim through the tunnel to the sinkhole is perhaps thirty metres or so, in places pitch black. As we swim in, our hands and feet glance off the fish, then the light seeps in and we get the reveal.
I’ve seen photos of this tiny beach with at least eighty people standing on it, but today we’re the only ones. It is beautiful and we toss a ball around for a bit, falling into the chilly water. Too bad my phone battery is flat.
Sorry no pics of inside the cave, so here’s a sunset pic from Haad Farang instead. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
An hour later, we’re back at the bar, all say thank you and wander off. The bar is affiliated with a same–named resort and most of the other passengers are staying there. When I run into a couple of them later that evening, I ask them if they thought the trip was good value, as I’m unconvinced.
They say they thought it was great value. I’m baffled and ask them what they paid.
Less than half what we did.
Always bargain with a pirate.