The ferry from Koh Lanta to Krabi, packed with tourists at this time of the year, slowed down near Koh Jum Island but did not pull in. A few awaiting traditional longtail boats approached the ferry and picked up a few passengers; I boarded mine which set off to reach the island shores. I had never visited Koh Jum before, usually preferring the better known and easier to reach destinations in the Krabi Sea. The approach to this unspoiled tropical hide-away was smooth. I was going to spend a night on the island accepting a generous invitation by Koh Jum Lodge.
Also known as Koh Pu, named after the 420 meter high mountain in the island’s rugged north that towers a long brown-sand beach fringed with casuarinas and palm trees, Koh Jum is situated halfway between Krabi and Koh Lanta, 25 km from Krabi Town. A large Muslim populated sub-district of Krabi, Koh Jum is home to 1,500 inhabitants in three tiny fishing villages. The population engages mostly in fishing, rubber cultivation and the local craft of cloth weaving. While the north is mountainous, the south comprises dense jungle, cashew nut trees, rubber plantations, casuarinas and nipa-palms. The string of beaches on the west coast has wooden bungalows sitting among the palms, each offering sunset views over the silhouettes of the Koh Phi Phi archipelago.
Koh Jum Lodge is located in the middle of Golden Pearl Beach. I met the owner and was later directed to my spacious Robinson Crusoe style bungalow with quality teak furnishings, barely a few meters from the beach and not far from a nice swimming pool. I settled down, chatted with a gardener, and explored the main complex. I was provided with a small map of the island and went off on a walking discovery trip.
The exploration would take me as far as Baan Koh Jum, in the south-east. I set off on the warm sand in a southerly direction, and only met very few people on the beach. The stretch of beach to reach the path that crosses the island side to side is about 2 km long, which doesn’t sound far until you are walking in the heat. I noticed resorts of nice bungalows and unpretentious but original bamboo huts, some built at the top of high trees. A while later I sat on a wooden chair under the thick, diverse vegetation that provided natural shade to the beach vicinities. I ordered a fruit shake from a beach bar while hens and ducks roamed freely on the sand and around the shaded area, and set about writing some notes. When I realized my feet had bothered a large family of angry red ants, I was quickly on my way again.
The crossing path starts nearby Joy Bungalows and cuts through dense forest with a thick undergrowth. I passed rubber tree farms, banana trees, papaya trees and coconut palms. The extreme silence was broken only by falling leaves, frogs burping and the occasional chirping of birds and cicadas. It had rained in the previous few days and the path was extremely muddy with roots protruding from the ground. Whenever I stopped walking, hungry mosquitoes attached to my skin and sucked my blood. The mud slowed the pace of my walk considerably and my flip flops frequently stuck to the ground. Not the right shoes to walk this path I admit, but I hadn’t expected this. My salvation came on wheels: fifteen minutes into my stroll a young fellow stopped his derelict and noisy old bike, which was missing various pieces of the chassis, to offer me a lift. The road we negotiated was even worse than the one I had covered so far. We crossed a sidecar bike full of provisions stuck in a muddy pond, with a father and a son laboriously trying to move it.
We finally reached our destination; I thanked my savior and entered the village on foot. Smiling dark-skinned kids greeted me in Thai; I walked past the school yard, where a football match was being played, and headed along the paved road to the center of town. Ban Koh Jum, a Buddhist enclave, was quiet; there were no cars, a few motorbikes, and some bicycles. People walked or sat under the porches of old Chinese wooden houses resting on their toothpick stilts. A few men played pool on a rather large snooker table; women in sarongs cleaned fish or prepared food while groups of children giggled nearby. The tranquility of people living life in its own unique style gave me a strange feeling of familiarity, of times past. I lingered a bit longer to get a taste of the local life; there was a small veggie market and some fruit stalls, some commodities shops and a couple of clothes shops that called themselves ‘boutiques’. Like it happens in many small places, a smile was exchanged with a smile. I ate a local dessert made of sugar, beans, jelly and ice in a stall while I listened to the tap of pestle on mortar as women pounded dried chili peppers into chili pastes, and I smelled the air, which was a mix of dust, scent of flowers and fish.
It was soon time to head back; I reached the intersection where started a paved road that cuts through the middle of the island giving access to the beach-side resorts. There, at a wooden bar called I met Khun Ae, an eco-friendly Koh Jum born chap who specializes in eco-tours, jungle trekking, snorkeling trips, kayak rentals and also take adventurous tourists for night walks in the jungle, “to better feel the nature and noises of the fauna”, he told me. It was getting dark and I had just started worrying about getting stuck in the jungle when another smiley guy on a bike offered me another ride. “Come with me”, he simply said, and off we went on a bumpy ride through shortcut after shortcut, ending up right at the beach, at his place, a beach bar, where I sipped the first beer of the day while I listened to the noise of longtail boats and watched the sun setting beyond Koh Phi Phi, feeling quite privileged.
I walked back to the resort and understood why they call it Koh Pu, the island of the crabs. Crabs are certainly big on the island judging from the huge holes that dotted the sand at that time of the day. A fisherman followed a crab in its hole by digging with his hands in the sand, arm full down, hoping to catch a meaty one but without luck, while his friend fished in the sea with a small rod. They smiled, these worry-free inhabitants of this quiet and yet undiscovered paradise. Tall palms swayed gently; what an idyllic setting.
Koh Jum is ideal both for young travelers who want to rest their bones after some hard backpacking and for families with kids looking for a tropical holiday in a place where children can run and swim in complete safety. Everything is as quiet as you would expect in an island that received regular electricity supply not long ago, and with only a single tarmac road. Nature is at your feet there, and if it’s serenity you’re after, you can’t go wrong. Growth is inevitable though, but Koh Jum’s hope is that there will be respect for the local people and environment, in this place of tropical bliss.
How to get there
During the dry, high season months of November to April, you can take a ferry from Krabi to Koh Lanta, or from Koh Lanta to Krabi, and either arrange a pick up with your pre-booked resort or jump on one of the longtail boats that will be there waiting for potential customers. For timetables of boats to Koh Jum, look at the maps section of the magazine. In low season you will have to make your way to Laem Kruat pier, 40 km south of Krabi Town, and take the local boat there.