Jungle-clad Koh Kood is a last frontier in Thai tourism. The country's fourth largest island, it doesn't yet have an ATM. Even more extraordinary in this land of a million mini-marts, there is not one 7-Eleven store. Well, not so far.
Thai experts no doubt are frantically working to rectify the situation. Meantime, Koh Kood, tucked way in the far south-eastern corner of the Gulf of Thailand, does have good resorts, great diving and plenty to do for visitors who don't want to do too much.
"There's no success like excess," quipped Oscar Wilde. Koh Kood has jungles, beaches, serenity and even luxury in excess. And so far, tourism there is a success. I want to see if it will last. At about 25km long by 12km wide, much of this hilly, densely forested island is Royal Thai Navy reserve - a possible defence against being carpet-bombed by developers.
I fly in on an eight-passenger Cessna Caravan direct from Bangkok, an easy 330km hop. We float over the scattered wreath of islands of the Koh Chang Archipelago and land neatly on a tiny island which has a runway mowed right across its jungle, rather like a reverse Mohawk.
Koh Kood's Six Senses Soneva Kiri resort doesn't do anything by halves. The classic speedboat transfer from private airstrip, the electric golf buggy that's mine for the duration of my stay and a hill villa which, at 448sqm area, is almost the size of a hill village. Those are the basics.
Then comes your Mr (or Mrs) Friday, a butler who's on call whenever you need anything - for instance, my room is equipped with an iPod loaded with 18,000 songs, but I don't know how to work it. Do I call Jason, my faithful Mr Friday for instructions? Well, no. I miss out on 18,000 tunes but instead I hear birdsong and cricket trills. Suits me.
Soneva Kiri's architecture is an adventure in sun-bleached woodwork, where pavilions, decks overlooking heaven or at least its shores, soaring roofs and walkways climb organically up a hillside to form the main public structures. In the midst of all that is food to the power of truly wicked. Breakfast's excesses are arrayed in a cooled, circular glass vault which hosts cheeses and cold cuts, condiments, teas galore, bakery goodies and numberless morsels.
Further confounding choices await you at dinner in the form of some 5000 bottles of cellared wine. (Teetotallers don't know how easy they have it.) But the absolute gobstopper (literally) is the Chocolate Room where the whole pantheon of dusky, cocoa-born devils - mousses, truffles, cookies, drinks and bite-sized chocs of all permutations - tempt you to just say "yes" every time.
I flee to the yoga pavilion where the lovely Khun Areeya cures me for an hour. Temporarily detoxed and de-choxed, I follow up with a fine spa massage, and then make it to the private beach.
Mr Friday later conducts me on an extensive driving tour of Koh Kood and its bays, beaches and villages. Come evening, I dine on delicious stir-fried bass and red curry prawns (and much more) at the over-lagoon restaurant, Benz, so named after its much-treasured Thai chef, Khun Benz. (Her father, it is said, had the first Merc in his town and named his daughter after it - as you do. So, why Benz and not Mercedes?)
Reefs and smaller isles surround Koh Kood, the second largest island in the Koh Chang group. Long-time resident and divemaster, Mike Misic of Paradise Divers, drives me and my friend Ree to his boat. Along with two Dutch girls who are learning to dive, we chug easily down the west coast to Analay Reef where the bottom is sandy and the water gin-clear and only 10m deep. Overboard we go, Ree and I snorkelling and the others, plus their instructor, with scuba tanks. It's a couple of hours of liquid delight, with fishes flitting through fan corals.
Further off are more challenging dive sites like the rock pinnacles of Koh Chang and corals of Koh Maak and Koh Rang National Park.
We head back to shore and hop on a motorbike to the river at Khlong Chao where Ree has a sea kayak. We paddle - well, mostly I do - up river for half an hour, along a pristine, mangrove-walled moat that opens to tumbled rocks and a waterfall. Nam Tok Khlong Chao falls in a beautiful three-tiered cascade to a large pond that after wet season is excellent for swimming.
We ride on to Ao Salad, an inlet where octopus boats, creaking walkways, geraniums, lobster pots, nets, drying squid and all the vital detritus of a fishing village are evidence of lives not yet dominated by tourism.
Even so, the village name, Ao Salad, which means Pirate Bay - for this is where pirates long ago took shelter - has inspired a string of resort names elsewhere on the island: the Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Tinkerbell resorts.
Jack Sparrow is nowhere to be seen and you wouldn't even call it a cafe, but we sit on the old pier of Ao Salad, drinking beer and woofing down fresh crab and grilled squid. As they say in the ad cliches, priceless.
This aromatic island, of casuarina shores, woodsmoke, fireflies and mangroves, has about 40 guesthouses, small hotels and a few luxury resorts, all well spread out, mostly along the west coast's white sandy beaches. The 2000 permanent residents traditionally work in fishing, rubber and coconut plantations, and increasingly in tourism.
The newest luxury resort here is Cham's House on the south-west coast. My octagonally-shaped Ocean View Villa looks out (as the name promises) on to a gulf beach where the original Man Friday - Robinson Crusoe-style - would feel right at home. Clear waters, crisp waves. No condos lining the shore. No jetskis, go-gos or bar bogans.
Cham's charms include 16 rooms and 32 villas, plus a beachfront restaurant where I loll, book at one hand, laptop at the other (yes, even this jungle shore is a colony of the wi-fi world - for which I am grateful), dreaming out to sea.
There's a massage table and masseuse working beneath a shade tree on the lawn. Behind me, uphill, is a pool, elsewhere a spa. I could have gone for a pool villa or one with a jacuzzi, but, for me, the ocean does all that.
This is a place for romantics, singles or families; in fact anybody who craves a tropical shore without a karaoke bar next door. Cham's House is indeed, as it modestly says "a home for the soul".
Humid, forested, undeveloped, bit-hard-to-get-to Koh Kood is a bounteous place. My mission was, I recall, to see if its fortunate excesses might also spell its doom.
Not yet. The sands haven't been hived off to beach umbrella bosses, the waters to the jetski mafia and transport to taxi extortionists - problems that plague Thailand's other big resorts. If you're after a Phuket-Pattaya-style neon experience with bells and wolf-whistles, this is not the place for you.
Unlike its large neighbour, Koh Chang, whose once-beautiful west coast is being mercilessly mined for mass tourism, Koh Kood still has a chance to get it right - as long as Thais care.
·John Borthwick travelled courtesy of Bangkok Airways, Cham's House and Six Senses Resorts.
·Bangkok Airways has daily flights between Bangkok and Trat. See bangkokair.com. The one-hour flight is followed by a 50km drive to Trat pier and a further one-hour boat trip to Koh Kood, from where Cham's House will collect you. Six Senses Soneva Kiri guests can enjoy a private flight from Bangkok direct to the resort.·For Cham's House, go to chamshouse.com. for Six Senses Soneva Kiri, email: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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