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Cooling down on Koh Jum

Roman brought his long tail boat to land on the edge of the shore. He placed our bags on land and waved goodbye, as we were left standing alone. All that disrupted the never-ending tree-lined beach were the occasional grouping of wooden bungalows, sitting homogenously in the jungle canopy. Some on the beach and some set back further into the lush greenery of jungle terrain.

Hot and grumpy my flustered partner asked, “Where do we go?”. We walked towards the beach restaurant and past the Joy Bungalows sign swinging in the breeze. We were greeted by Pipit the manager of Joy Bungalows and taken directly to our hut. The location could not have been better, set back a metre from the beach the view from our veranda was only that of sand, sea and coconut trees; the perfect place to watch Koh Jum’s famous sunsets.

Placed twenty-five kilometres from Krabi on the mainland of Southern Thailand and two hours away by boat from both Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta, the small island of Koh Jum is a hideaway from the over development that much of Thailand has faced in recent decades. Southern Thailand’s most popular destinations Phuket, Koh Lanta and Railay, are all over crowded, bringing with them Western style development and high prices. Koh Jum in comparison is like a land where time stood still. A peaceful place where solitude can be found on desolate beaches; where the pace of life is slow, and where the local people welcome you as honoured guests.

Koh Jum can only be reached by ferry from Krabi Town for six months of the year. For the other six months the island’s tourist trade shuts down and the islanders continue rubber cultivation and fishing. This does seem to add to the good relationship the island has with its tourists. When chatting to the locals in the village, it feels like talking to the residents of the English seaside resorts of long ago, where the locals look forward to tourists coming: their income improves and generally things liven up, but then at the end of the season they can said goodbye and have their island back to themselves.

Koh Jum is not the island paradise you imagine in your dreams. The beaches are rugged; coconut trees sit in harmony amongst casuarina trees and screw palms. The sea, although a perfect translucent turquoise in the morning, develops a more muggy appearance as the afternoon tide comes in.

The island is really two smaller entities with separate names, Koh Jum and Koh Poh. The former is where much of the tourist activity happens and includes the busiest beaches; as well as Ban Koh Jum, a working Thai village which provides a number of services to visiting tourists. The latter named after the island’s only mountain is also where many of the island’s inhabitants live. The inland contains a number of rubber plantations and a mass of jungle areas where troops of monkeys, an assortment of butterflies and gigantic lizards can be seen.

The food in Koh Jum is one of the true highlights of this undiscovered hideaway. Incredibly fresh seafood and seasonable vegetables in generous quantities, the quality and range of dishes are exceptionally good. It is possible to eat well at many of the bungalow resorts and Ban Koh Jum has two fantastic seafood restaurants. Koh Jum Seafood, probably the most expensive restaurant in Ban Koh Jum, but with a prime spot on the waters edge, served an unusual range of dishes. Highlights included the barbecued crab.

No concrete hotels, no loud bars with flashing lights, also means no proper roads. Getting from one side of the island to the other is best done by motorbike. There is one main road which links the two sides of the island together. Other than this, there are only rocky mud tracks and a treacherous hill side path taking you up to the more remote resorts. Dying to explore further than navel gazing in a hammock, we hired a bike and set off to investigate.

Once we managed to get the bike off an incredibly rocky track and onto the road, we took off at the terrifying speed of twenty miles per hour. Enjoying the wind on our faces, which eased the slight discomfort of seventy-degree heat. With no cars on the road we only passed other bikes, most going much faster than we were.

We drove past the homes and businesses of local people, sitting outside, eating and talking, many of the local children stopping to wave hello. We reached the furthest point possible along the main road, where the Ko Pu mountain engulfs the landscape and the road sweeps down following the shoreline, arriving almost at the sea. Rocks jutted out from the water, like a scene from Robinson Crusoe.

All was going well until we were waved over by a passing local and we realised the bike had a puncture. He kindly directed us to the nearby garage. There was a queue to be seen by the solitary mechanic, so we were sent to sit with his family under a sun-shade where a few smile based exchanges were made. As my partner pointed out, the city bikes used by everybody on the island were not made for the rocky paths and roads, so punctures must have been a regular occurrence. We waited as the mechanic took his time, oiled and checked the bike over. Nervous about the bill we were about to receive. How much would a trip to the garage cost in Thailand anyway? For Western tourists with no grasp of the language, a lot.

I watched the pearls of sweat collect on my boyfriend’s brow, anxious we were desperate to pay what we owed and leave. Finally the mechanic wheeled the bike over so we could inspect the new tyre. When he presented us with our bill, we took a double take not sure if what we’d heard was true; one hundred and fifty baht (£3.00) for replacing and changing the tyre and oiling the bike. We thanked him profusely and tipped him generously. This really summed up the Koh Jum experience. The local people going out of their way to make tourists feel welcome and cared for; everyone friendly and accommodating. Although they must be aware of the opportunities that tourism presents, there isn’t a sense that they want to take advantage, but to be able to continue with their slow pace of island life.

Development is coming though and in the last couple of years the main road has been built and widened and the island has had an electricity mains for the first time. Some of the bungalow resorts were hit by the Tsunami in 2008 and have been rebuilt. Joy Bungalows was the first accommodation servicing tourists when it opened in 1990, but since then a slow trickle effect has seen a number of bungalow places and small resorts opening across the island. I heard more than one person describe Koh Jum as their ‘spiritual home’. In most circumstances I would deplore this statement, but I was starting to think I could probably make it mine. Sat in the Joy Bungalows bar on our last night, as the Ska band from Krabi Town started to play and the party was in full swing, I looked over and caught the eye of Roman who smiled back. He told me he thought his island was one of the nicest places on earth and I told him I agreed.

Getting there
Internal flights from Bangkok to Krabi with Thai Airways & Air Asia
Internal flights from Kuala Lumpur to Krabi with Air Asia

A ferry service from Krabi town to Koh Lanta stopping at Koh Jum, operates between mid October and April, twice daily at 11.00am and 12.15 pm

A private service of taxi from Krabi airport and a water taxi to Koh Jum can be arranged from Joy Bungalows and other resorts.

This website is an excellent resource and provides contact information for all accommodation on the island.

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