I’ll never forget the first time we approached Koh Prathong & Koh Ra. It had a been a long journey, setting off around sunrise from the coastal village on the Andaman sea which I called home. After a car journey to a small port, we piled our rucksacks and work equipment onto a longtail boat and headed into the horizon. The signal on our phones became weaker and weaker the further out we sailed. I felt a sense of calm and relief of being away from the world for a while.

We boated by houses on stilts and waved to those inside, The Moken People; a community who lived and breathed the ocean. Looking around, we were the only boat in sight, with views of mangrove forest for miles in the distance.

The tide was high so as we neared the shore, we jumped into the water and waded into land waist-high in water, with our bags held high above our heads. We were greeted by big smiles from several local ladies and screams of delight from the young children running around. These were some of the small local community who we would stay with during our four days of work here.

Following our hosts up a dirt road, we came to the village of Ban Lions, rows of mostly empty identical houses on stilts which were built by a charity after the entire island was washed away with the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. A mattress on the floor, a mosquito net and a bucket shower along with a big bowl of delicious Thai food would be our little luxuries at the end of the long days we were about to embark on.

We were there for the wildlife. These are two relatively unknown islands with near zero tourists, unheard of in Thailand. This is also where animals of all kinds thrived.
Koh Rong, with its mountainous jungle, was home to Hornbills and monkeys. The sister island next door, Koh Prathong could not be more opposite with it’s flat Savannah landscape, where samba deer and wild boar frolicked. Seeing the dense biodiversity, it was hard to imagine that these islands held fragile ecosystems.

We began our early morning trek into Koh Ra jungle. Our guide was a local with a machete, who knew the island like the back of his hand and without him, we would surely have been lost amidst the trees where no paths exist.

We had been told that the world’s most trafficked animal lived here, the pangolin. Villagers had seen them swim between the islands and we were determined to find evidence of this elusive and captivating species.

After hours of trekking over the island, we erupted through the trees and onto a beach, which encompassed everything that is a paradise; the bright blue ocean, soft white sand, palm trees, bird song and not a single soul to be seen.
It was here that we took our snorkel equipment and waded out to the breath-taking pink reefs to survey fish, sea turtle and coral populations.

The walk back to the boat was through a mangrove forest. Climbing over this tropical coastal vegetation, we couldn’t help but be in awe of this incredible ecosystem, which provided home and protection to so many species as well as protects the coast, like a natural sea wall, for the villagers who call this island home. Never have I experienced such a small area with such a variety of nature, it was as if you were walking being different worlds.

Time on Koh Prathong meant we were less sheltered than in the jungle of Koh Ra, and here we boarded a rusty old tractor and cart to drive through the flat terrain in the beating sun. At night we walked through the grasslands to study the populations of reptiles that be found inhabiting the area.

Our evenings were spent enjoying a meal together with the local community. They were told that electricity was being brought to the islands but electricity would mean more people and tourists and they were worried about their simple livelihoods being taken away. Some families were more positive, turning their little houses into homestays, a perfect ecotourism retreat to welcome visitors to explore their island home.

Before bed each night, we would take out the laptop and have a look at what we caught on our camera traps that month. Holding our breath as we flicked through each captured image, we would squeal with delight when a deer, monkey or wild pig filled the screen. But we were silent with a shock when we finally saw what we had been searching for. A shy and scaly creature, harmless yet worth so much to poachers, a pangolin.

On the final morning, we loaded up our longboat and waved goodbye to our local friends. As the islands became tiny specs in the horizon, no one spoke. I’m sure we were all thinking the same thing. How lucky we were to experience this whole new world, this tiny slice of paradise.

  • Caroline Fitzgerald
  • : Born in Ireland and raised in Saudi Arabia, I have always loved travel, being outdoors and experiencing new cultures. I have worked in remote areas on conservation, wildlife and animal welfare projects and I have been fascinated by nature from a young age. My favourite places are those that are off the beaten track, contributing to eco-tourism and where I can interact with locals and experience different ways of life! I love reading stories of travels and adventures that others have had and I love writing and taking photos in the hope that I can maybe inspire others too.
  • : https://www.linkedin.com/in/caroline-fitzgerald-903641a8/
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  • : This is the first time this story has been published.