Day trip to Koh Hei aka Coral Island

Published on 28 July 2023 at 02:10

From Phuket, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to taking a day trip to a tropical island.  After researching, we chose the one that was not too far away and offered great beachfront amenities - Coral Island.

Coral Island is the tourist’s name for Koh Hae (or Ko Hey) island in the Andaman Sea. This island has white sandy beaches and clear blue sea, and a backdrop of bright green lush jungle.  It takes around twenty minutes to get to the island from Rawai beach and you can arrive by speedboat or by Longtail boat.  We were keen to take our first trip on the legendary Longtail boat so took a taxi down to the Rawai beachfront, where there are around 100 boats all lined up along the beach just waiting for people just like us.  This was also our first opportunity to experience another Thailand tradition – bartering with the locals.   Coming from New Zealand this can be quite daunting to start with, but luckily, we have Linda fresh off the plane from South Africa and she is an old hand at these negotiations.  The result, the initial offer of 2000 Baht for the day eventually led to a deal of 1300 for the return trip for three of us (NZD $65.00), which is pretty good value for this time of year where visitor numbers are low.   

Travel Tip: Bartering is a way of life here for service industries.  It’s the economic law of supply and demand working in real time.  200 empty boats versus three tourists means the customer has a strong bargaining position, and most sites will confirm that vendors start the bidding at 50-60% above their lowest rate around rainy season.  If you approach it with a smile and a realistic idea of what is reasonable in the marketplace (as opposed to modern day slavery), it’s a fun game for all involved. 

We met our driver, Lam Lam, and boarded our private boat and set off to Coral Island.  The sea was slightly choppy, but the sun was shining, and the views were incredible.  There are a few beach options around the island, and we asked Lam Lam to take us to the one where it would be a good spot to swim and snorkel.  The beach he took us to is called Banana Beach which is on the northern tip of Koh Hey. We arrived at the bay of Banana Beach and Lam Lam explained he would be waiting on the island until we are ready to go back to Phuket.  It’s a tough part of the job for a Longtail skipper but he came prepared with a drybag of goodies to keep himself fed, watered, and entertained for the day.

There is an entrance fee at Banana Beach of Bhat 100 per person (NZD 5.00) which we were pleasantly surprised to find included the use of the facilities including flushing toilets, cold water showers, and the use of beach chairs for the day.  The money is obviously being put to good use as the facilities are pristine, including large, covered spaces to provide shade from the sun or shelter from the rains.  This turned out to be quite handy later.  There is even a gym on the beach that is made entirely of wood, from the bench-press to the barbells. 

There is a beach club for those who are looking for a bit of luxury, but we were happy to swim, snorkel and relax on the main beach area.  Coral Island is a marine reserve therefore a great place to snorkel. Tony and Linda had a great time exploring the bay and saw various marine life within metres of the shore, including hundreds of Kina (NZ) or spikey Sea Urchins.

Travel tip: Buy, pack, and wear some beach shoes.  Put function before fashion and protect your feet because it’s hard to holiday without either of them.  There are sharp things living in the water, and Tony made a point of picking up broken shards of bottles buried in the sand along some beautiful beaches during the week. Unfortunately, some tourists are d*cks. 

Lunch time rolled around, and with it came our first experience of the monsoon season with a very heavy downpour and strong winds.  Luckily, this lovely island retreat has an undercover beachfront restaurant where you can enjoy a meal and a cold beverage whilst watching Mother Nature do her thing.  We kicked off with a blue cocktail bucket.  Just because.  The food menu also had a good selection, and we were happy that the pricing was not bad considering the location, remoteness, and views.  Linda ate a fresh crab, who must have offended her when she was snorkeling earlier, and Tony and I had a delicious chicken stir-fry. 

Later in the afternoon the rain eventually stopped, and the wind died down, so we found Lam Lam and he confirmed that now was as good a time as any to run the gauntlet back to Rawai.  Tony looked at the sea and advised that we don the lifejackets that were available, and this turned out to be a good decision (which he credits to having learned during various lumpy fishing trips between Kawerau Island and Sandspit with his dad over the years. Cheers Gordie).  The waves that we surfed down on route to the island were now coming right for us on the return leg.  The first ten minutes were pure joy as the sea spray peppered our faces, followed by 30 minutes of terror for me as the boat felt increasingly smaller as the waves became bigger.  Tony even admitted that despite the smiles and laughter he was mentally running through a scenario where Lam Lam was washed off the back of the boat and he would need to take over the vessel.  Finally, we made it into the sheltered bay, gave Lam Lam a tip, and headed straight to the nearest pub for a cold Singa to calm the nerves.  Like all good sea stories, the waves got bigger with each beer.

Travel Tip: You only pay for your Longtail boat at the end of the day. Also, whilst tipping is not customary in Thailand, we’ve learned over the years we have holidayed in the islands that drivers are often on a low hourly rate that is a fraction of the amount paid for the excursion (sometimes only $2 per hour).  So, give the man a tip and make his day as good as yours.

Overall, it was a superb day, and Koh Hei is a place we’ll remember fondly as the first tropical island experience for the trip. 

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10 months ago

Wow what an amazing start to your time in Thailand. Great writing team!

10 months ago

What a great start to an epic adventure! Go team Douglas 😎

Cherie Douglas
10 months ago

Sounds like you are having an awesome time

10 months ago

Love following your adventures
Glad you are having the best time.
Miss you my dear friends xx

Doreen Jones
10 months ago

Awesome adventure. I have always wondered about the bartering thing, am I ripping them off or not. I can relate to Tony and planning what would happen if Lam Lam went overboard. Risk management will do that to you.......

9 months ago

Eish... Additional bonus, free surfing lessons. Happy to hear you made it 'Singh' after your harrowing trip. And hope Tony's foot healed up well. Keep on tripping! ;)