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Finding solitude on Koh Talu

The secret Thai island that hasn't made it to guidebooks yet

Clownfish swim among the tentacles of an anemone. Photo: Neelima Vallangi
Clownfish swim among the tentacles of an anemone. Photo: Neelima Vallangi

Ensconced in a life jacket and stuck inside a lifebuoy, I was being towed like deadweight in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand. But this was no tragedy; I was only being shepherded around so I could enjoy the pleasures of snorkelling despite being a non-swimmer. Pleasures such as watching an orange clownfish sneak inside its home in a blue anemone or watching shoals of small fish scatter when our giant shadows blocked the light. I was on a boat to the little whale-shaped island of Koh Talu, off the coast of Bang Saphan in central Thailand, when we made a brief stop en route to snorkel at a lively, shallow reef.

It is not exactly easy to use offbeat and Thailand in one sentence given how popular the South-East Asian country is as a holiday destination. But last year, I found myself enjoying a rather nice vacation on the privately owned island of Koh Talu. Quiet and uncrowded, away from the noise and ruckus of partygoers and drunken revellers, Koh Talu attracts the rather mellow nature-loving, solitude-seeking tourist. Spread over 1.6 sq. km, the island is about 11km from the mainland. About 65% of it is covered in primary forest; the rest is split between coconut plantations and resort area.

Its name translates to the island with a hole, referring to a cliff with an eye-like opening, where we made a customary stop before moving towards the island pier. A patchwork of variegated blues shimmered in the water as I got off the boat to enter the Koh Talu Island Resort, the island’s only hotel. Its villas and cottages are built along the white sand beaches at two large bays on the island’s western coast. Since the monsoon is the off season, there were barely a dozen other travellers disembarking along with me. The entire island and its powdery beaches were ours for the next two days.

Snorkelling in the shallow reefs of Koh Talu island. Photo: Neelima Vallangi

Tired and hungry after the morning’s snorkelling, I sat down for a late lunch at the open dining area by the shore. Private boats crisscrossed the water in the distance, ferrying day-trippers from one site to the next in search of coral and marine life. Even before I could thank my stars for the joy of solitude on such a pretty island, the sky rumbled and ominous storm clouds unleashed torrential rain. The boats disappeared, as did the horizon, lost in the downpour. Armed with an umbrella, I strolled down the wooden walkway to the pier to relish the drama of the monsoon sky.

Before I knew it, it was time for dinner. The concept of time truly loses all significance on an island.

Later that night, we were supposed to go looking for hawksbill sea turtle nesting sites but the rain had squashed that plan as well as any possibility of a spectacular sunset. But I was happy to learn Koh Talu is one of the first conservation sites in the Gulf of Thailand to have started working on coral reef development and hawksbill sea turtle preservation. In fact, the island was developed as a tourist destination to support conservation and provide work opportunities to the local community.

Next morning, I woke up to a delicate sunrise with pastel hues that was oddly calming. One of the resident cats sneaked up on me while I sat on the lonely pier and we both watched fish swim in the quiet before the island woke up.

Apart from diving and snorkelling in the thriving reefs around the island, kayaking and squid fishing are some of the other activities guests can indulge in. I contemplated those activities, but with paradise at my disposal, I did not feel the need for other diversions. I chose to plonk myself on one of the many strategically placed swings by the beach and let my worries melt away, one oscillation at a time.

I only interrupted my reverie in the afternoon for a hike to the island’s highest point, for a sweeping view of the craggy coastline. It had started raining again, and we walked through soaking forest. The moment we reached the top, the sky cleared, turning a stunning blue that reflected in the sea. Only a tiny boat with fishermen cut across the glass-like still water.

I left the island the next morning, glad to have visited Koh Talu before news about this little paradise got out.

Trip planner

Go: Fly to Bangkok, drive towards Hua Hin, and further ahead to Bang Saphan. Find Banmapraw Resort, from where ferries and speedboats leave for Koh Talu.

Stay: The Koh Talu Island Resort, a no-frills eco-resort offering private villas and chalets (; prices from Rs15,000 per couple for two days, one night, including stay, meals, boat transfer and island activities.

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