PHUKET: It is perhaps a little known fact that residents of Phuket, the island renowned for its sandy beaches and crystal clear water, are always on the lookout for a holiday getaway somewhere else. The reasons? Increasingly crowded beaches and expensive hotels that offer little value for money.
So when a friend told us about a tent-hotel on an isolated beach on a small island off the east coast of Phuket, we decided to give it a try.
A 30-minute, blustery long-tail boat ride from Ao Po took us to Naka Yai Island. It may sound like a cliché, but the empty beach and the sight of a few basic tents tucked only yards away from the sea, made it feel like we were in for a kind of Robinson Crusoe-style adventure.
The canvas tents, each measuring 3×3 meters, are cool and airy thanks to the mosquito-net openings. Two single mattresses occupy each side of the room, with a space left in the middle serving as a night table of sorts. And that’s it. You hang your clothes on the two chairs in front of the tent and there’s a bucket of water to wash your sandy feet before entering the tent.
The bathrooms, situated behind the tents and far enough away for privacy, are a similar affair and take the shape of small sheds equipped with Asian-style dip-and-splash facilities.
We spent the afternoon exploring the beach and swam in the warm and sheltered sea, which is perfect for families with young children. Late afternoon we went exploring and crossed a verdant path to the other side of the island, where a contrasting landscape awaited us: a rocky and windy shore with a ghostly glimpse of the limestone karsts of Pang Nga Bay behind.
Having admired the sunset with a few pre-dinner drinks (we made a note to bring some wine with us next time as the establishment only serves beer), we proceeded to a long table decked out in simple but carefully chosen dinnerware and illuminated with oil lamps and lit candles.
The food itself was a revelation: fresh local crabs and grilled prawns with Thai lemon sauce, lightly steamed whole fish, a mixed salad of fresh leaves and seeds laced with real vinaigrette (a rare commodity among Thai establishments), served with fried rice and sautéed pumpkin pieces. At night when the generator goes off at 9pm, oil lamps illuminated the path back to the tents.
Naka Camp Resort, which opened only two months ago, is managed by husband and wife team Nopporn and Ubolwan Muangnoi, who told us, “Everything here is low-tech – no electricity nor running water. We try to be as green as possible by managing and reusing our resources.
“Guests are encouraged to help by using less water, preserving torchlight batteries and taking back their recyclable garbage.”
The morning stroll to the right of the beach revealed a small Muslim village housing thirty families. There’s a tiny and modest mosque and a quaint little school. People here used to fish for a living but increasingly give that up to work in tourism – operating ferry boats or staffing in nearby hotels.
A stay at Naka Camp will cost 850 baht per person per night. This includes breakfast and a seafood dinner. But hurry. This is a promotional rate and will inevitably go up soon.
A man from the village told us of a plush resort situated just round the corner, which is disconnected from this beach by a wooded promontory. It costs, he said, around 18,000 baht a night. This is just so that you know you have a choice.
Naka Camp Resort can be contacted at: facebook.com/NakaCamp or by phone on: 084 656 7337, 089 473 0230.
— Nanthapa Pengkasem