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Are pristine tropical islands over-rated?

Unspoilt, pristine tropical islands are wonderful; everyone’s dream – we’d all love to be on one! Well, they certainly sound like paradise but maybe that’s perhaps only true in small doses and maybe the idea is better than the reality? We reckon the novelty may wear off pretty quickly so would you, in all honesty, want to be in paradise long-term?

The beautiful island of Koh Rok during a snorkeling trip
Coral reef around Koh Rok

Unspoilt Koh Rok Island in Thailand’s Trang Province – fantastic for a day trip but you wouldn’t want to live there!!! Well, being really pedantic if it was really unspoilt you wouldn’t be there or it wouldn’t be unspoilt anymore. You’d throw your cigarette butts on the beach, piss on the plants, damage the coral with sun cream, harm the fragile ecosystem with DEET and other powerful insecticides and there wouldn’t be any convenient buoys for the boatman who took you there to tie up to. But ok – a nice unspoilt island in the Andaman Sea or Gulf of Thailand – crystal clear turquoise waters, teeming with myriad colourful fish weaving their way amongst myriad incredible corals; footprint-free, virgin beach, not a soul in sight except for the lone sea-eagle riding the updraughts along the jungle-clad limestone cliffs.

Ok for a couple of hours but then it would be: – ‘ah sugar, run out of sun-block – anyone got a spare tube?’ “Is there a café around here I could murder a cold beer?”, “My phone battery’s running out – anyone bring a solar charger?”, “Thanks for the charger but I can’t get a signal out here and Bolton Wanderers are in the semis tonight”.

Thailand, KB Resort, Koh Chang
Koh Chang

All Southeast Asian islands were pristine paradises before tourists went there – (well except for Koh Tao which was a prison) – but why didn’t people go there before….well, before people went there? Because there was nothing to do there! Nothing to eat, unless you’re Survivorman, nowhere to stay, no telly, no internet connection, nowhere to plug in your; cellphone, digital camera, e-reader, I-pod whatever; no toilets, no showers, no banana pancakes and certainly NO cold beer! Look at the novel/movie The Beach! What did they do – found a paradisical island then spent all their time arguing over washing-up rotas, playing Gameboy, (presumably with a big supply of batteries), fishing for dangerous and/or endangered aquatic creatures and arguing over who was in charge!

Ok – it sounds good on tour itineraries – visit one of the pristine tropical islands…. but what we actually mean is relatively undeveloped or just not too spoilt! That’s to say Koh Mak as opposed to Koh Phi Phi! The real ‘unspoilt’ ones are great for a couple of hours’ stop on a boat trip. Don’t touch the coral, don’t leave litter, grab a couple of selfies to make the mates at home jealous, leave it as we found it then get back to the resort in time for happy hour!

Another problem is that ironically the fewer tourists there are on a beach the more litter there is. Much of the inevitable refuse found washed up on Southeast Asian beaches is just that – washed up – i.e. from coastal villages or off-shore fishing boats. (Take a look at it – tourists don’t throw bottles of washing up liquid or shampoo on a beach.) Where there are resorts staff tend to take care of the beach and collect garbage so, as we said, the more developed it is, the cleaner it will be.

Koh Jum sunset
Koh Jum, Krabi sunset

Paradise really requires a few cold ones, some magic-fingered Thai lady doing massages under the coconut palm, a great restaurant doing a bit of barbequed seafood or coconut curry, somewhere to charge your digital camera up and hi-speed internet so you can check mum’s feeding the cats ok! Totally unspoilt pristine tropical islands – boring! Totally spoilt – nah! Just a ittle bit spoilt – yes please!!!

Koh Rok, (top photo), is one of the potential snorkelling destinations on our Jungles and Islands tour whilst Koh Laoliang, (photo below), is one of a range of possible islands on our Reefs and Rainforest marine park boat tour. These are pretty much unspoilt islands and we’ll take you there for a couple of hours or so.

Thailand, Trang, Andaman Coast

Also not bad is the only slightly spoilt, (they’ve built one resort on it), Koh Thalu seen below and visited on the rainy season version of our Reefs and Rainforests trip.

Pristine Tropicval islands
Thailand, Koh Thalu kayaks

Fortunately, Thailand is blessed with a large number of islands -many of them still uninhabited – and if one is a bit too developed for your taste then there is always, (well for now), another one on the horizon.