My first Thai island holiday was surprisingly not to any of the tourist magnets. It was to a relatively obscure island on the western Thai shoreline called Ko Sukon. And it all began when my seafood-obsessed Thai friend and colleague said:
“We can organise another holiday together – in Thailand. Can choose an island with many seafood.”
Weerachai said it during our free time in one of the meetings where my regionally-dispersed team gets to meet in person. We were reminiscing a trip his family and I previously made in Perak, Malaysia, when we went whitewater rafting and street art photo shooting.
“But which one?” I mused. Weerachai smiled an enigmatic smile, as the wheels in his brain turned over his plan.
“I know the right one, and I will choose the best time. After the rainy weather is over, but just before tourists come. We will have the island to ourselves.” He grinned knowingly, confident of his local insider knowledge. “And it will – must – have seafood. Lots of good Thai seafood. You will see.”
This was the first hint of just how seafood-oriented our Ko Sukon holiday would be.
Without further ado, we took a census of colleagues who wanted in, and picked a suitable long weekend. Weerachai was then left to make the arrangements.
Soon after, he informed us that we had the option of going one of two Trang province islands (or both) depending on how we feel. So on the same trip we went to Ko Sukon, and then Ko Laoliang.
- Ko Sukon: An Off-the-Beaten-Path Thai Island
- The Mission for the Best Thai Seafood Ever
- Sustainable seafood
- Carbon offset information to Ko Sukon, Thailand
Ko Sukon: An Off-the-Beaten-Path Thai Island
Ko Sukon is a rural island in the Trang province, in the south-western part of Thailand. Not as famous as its fellows such as Ko Lipe or Ko Phi Phi, it is a ‘local’ island. Not really structured for receiving tourists, Ko Sukon has zero touristy things, souvenir shops, etc. There are no bars and no ‘nightlife’.
However (or maybe consequently?), there is the charming idyllic village life, and a simple enjoyment of its rural innocence. The community is Muslim, which is typical in this part of Thailand, and the island still feels like the local community is dominant over the tourism.
Weerachai told us that Ko Sukon mostly receives domestic tourists. This also meant that transfers to the island are not as easily laid out for non-Thai speakers. So we were happy to place ourselves in the capable hands of our colleague.
Travelling to Ko Sukon
All of us flew to Hatyai for the first rendezvous. Hatyai itself is a highly popular tourist destination in the region, so this is easy and unremarkable. Well, except for this sign in the immigration area prohibiting hippies entry into the Kingdom! I was thoroughly amused by the list of ‘hippy characteristics’!
I think from my observation that day of other travellers in the queue, it’s safe to say this law is not rigorously enforced! Many technically seem to have escaped deportation!
It’s a baffling sign, really. I wonder what had happened once upon a time to make this law necessary?
Anyway, back to the journey. Ko Sukon isn’t the easiest island to get to. The most practical route still requires a road transfer from Hatyai to a jetty in the Trang province (quite a long drive – I fell asleep), and then a boat transfer to the island.
In Hatyai, we met up with an old friend of Weerachai’s who was going to act as our guide and organiser throughout the trip. Once the journey we began, we tuned out until we eventually reached the island.
Arriving in Ko Sukon
On arrival, we piled into several waiting tuktuks, luggage and all, and zipped on to Yataa Resort.
It’s a pretty nice resort, in that sort of unpretentious, easygoing ‘local target demographic’ style. If you’re Southeast Asian yourself, you’ll know what I mean. We were housed in chalets that open out to the beach.
The beach is spacious and reasonably long, albeit not powder fine. It’s a great beach for children. The breakers are gentle and the sand lovely to play with. There were lots of shells and hermit crabs creeping along. A reasonably healthy beach.
There isn’t a particularly nice reef or seagrass or other shore habitats to explore, but you can still see quite a bit of fish if you go snorkelling, especially early morning when they’re out feeding.
The Mission for the Best Thai Seafood Ever
Yataa resort has a restaurant. (By the way, I don’t know their recipe for the breakfast rice porridge but it was the best rice porridge I’ve ever had then, and since!)
However, simply ordering seafood from the restaurant was not what my friend had in mind. No.
He was going to get his seafood personally, from all over the island. Weerachai was a man on a mission. So, the next morning all of us – two families and two single ladies – piled into tuktuks again to begin the seafood treasure hunt.
Village scenes on Ko Sukon
I saw the village life of Ko Sukon while on this foodie expedition. The life on Ko Sukon is still quite slow-paced. The villagers farm rice and fish for seafood, and keep some livestock and chickens as well. They tap rubber as a cash crop.
In fact, for a Malaysian, the look and feel of this island feels bizarrely just like home – except our rural parts that look like this are fast disappearing.
In the different parts of the island, the villagers fish for different things, depending on the kind of shoreline there. What you do, is show up when the fishermen would typically come back from harvesting/gathering/fishing, and have a look at the take.
Shopping for fresh Thai seafood
We visited about 3-4 different parts of the island for our seafood. As they were just brought in, the seafood was all very fresh. Very little seemed to be packed or frozen or stockpiled or sent away.
As far as I can tell, the fishermen seemed to fish for what the islanders would eat – or the islanders eat what the take may be. They don’t seem to fish for excess. I did see a small fish farm at the restaurant where we had lunch, though.
As would be the case with nature, there are good fishing days and then there are poor ones. When we were shopping, the shellfish take, aside from some crabs, wasn’t that great. Weerachai bought all of the crabs and we moved on.
We bought whatever seafood we fancied from the different places – if they had any. There was even some kind of weird lobstery thing that we bought from the house of a fisherman.
After a while, it dawned on us that Weerachai was shopping while hungry, when he seemed to be shopping for imaginary armies. By the time we got to the fish market, we staged an intervention to keep the seafood purchases within reason!
When we were done shopping, Weerachai took us to a seaside restaurant and asked them to cook it all up for us. I thought that was pretty cool, that there are restaurants here that are ok with just providing the cooking service for ingredients you bring in yourself.
The end of the Thai seafood obsession
Looking back, I guess our Ko Sukon trip was essentially a foodie trip. I don’t usually do a foodie trip, but I enjoyed this one. Probably because it involved a sort of treasure hunt style of gathering the different seafood.
And there’s not a lot of places where such a trip can be done better than in Thailand. Thai seafood is undeniably incredible, especially when prepared fresh.
And then there were the variety of sauces that Weerachai’s wife concocted while we were waiting for the food, to eat unripe mango with! It was inexplicably delicious! I mean, I would have said that fruit shouldn’t be ruined by savoury sauces. Even in my own country, I’m not a fan of rojak buah. But then I tried it, and I take it all back. The Thai sauces weirdly really works! I will never again dispute whatever culinary advice Modd gives.
With Weerachai’s seafood obsession fulfilled for the time being, we looked onward to the next part of the trip: glamping on Ko Laoliang!
It’s not easy to find a true blue Southeast Asian who isn’t into seafood. Have a look at the map and see what kind of landscape this region is composed of. Much of it is an archipelago. It stands to reason that much of the regional diet necessarily comes from the sea.
You might say the region is rather dependent on it.
That said, in modern times, industrialisation of fisheries have led to severe declines in fish stocks around the world. I knew this from my earlier training as a marine conservationist, but it is hard to really get a feel for local severity and context, even though there have been some attempts to help consumers to make sustainable seafood decisions.
That is, until I watched Sylvia Earle’s prize winning TED talk, which I highly recommend watching to the end. It was convincing enough that I decided I would no longer eat wild-caught fish unless I know it was caught via a relatively low impact fishery.
Food sustainability in Ko Sukon vs the city
Ko Sukon is fairly self-sustaining in terms of food. Their livestock is free range, and feeds on the foliage on the island. Rice is farmed for their staple food and they grow vegetables on the side. They fish what is available, and simply don’t have the seafood when it’s not.
The islanders are not vegetarian, but this way of life is sustainable. In fact, going completely vegetarian while maintaining nutrition may require importation of substitutes which would render the community less self-reliant and sustainable.
In these kinds of locations I observe one thing in common, for how they have managed to keep within the limits of their habitat: the people don’t have the mindset that they have to have what they want, when they want it. The lack of craving is the main reason why their lifestyles can be sustainable.
It is we in the city that need the ‘slow food’ movement, the ‘local food’ movement, the sustainable labelling, the ‘reduce meat’ movement. We should be humble when we talk about biodiversity and food supply.
Carbon offset information to Ko Sukon, Thailand
Visiting Ko Sukon, assuming return flights from Kuala Lumpur to Hatyai, produces carbon emissions of approximately 593 lbs CO2e. It costs about $3 to offset this.
Looking for a Thai island with an authentic, slow pace of life? Why not Ko Sukon?