Sleepy little Ranong seems to attract more poor men trying their luck in the fisheries industry than it does tourists. So much the better for those who are in on its secret: Ranong, in fact, has most of what the other southern provinces offer - but it's all under wraps.
Koh Phayarm is a prime example. The name can be roughly translated as "hard to reach island".
"Unlike other islands," resort owner Uncle Piak says at the wheel of his speedboat, "Koh Phayarm isn't to be taken for granted. A lot of weekenders want to visit but never make it. You need a strong will to reach this one."
In fact I've missed it twice in the last year because of storms, and now it looked like Cyclone Nargis was going to hand me a third failure.
Thirty-five kilometres off the Ranong coast, Phayarm Island is home to fishermen and cashew growers, but too far out for most. Only in the past five years have younger, sturdier travellers started braving the bouncing ride from Pak Nam Ranong in search of country's last idyllic strips of beach.
We set out not knowing that Nargis was lurking. It was raining at the pier and the air was thick with the stink of fish and diesel. Here and there the big fishing boats were unloading their deep-sea catch.
Nine of us were bumping along on floor of a wave-hammered speedboat. Every once in a while Piak would slow down to study the dark clouds, and several times we even stopped at deserted islands when the wind hit too hard.
"Twenty years back, my speedboat was capsized somewhere here in a storm," Piak said with a glee to suggest this cyclone was a joke. "Two American tourists and I drifted in the dark for hours before fishermen pulled us out of the sea."
After an hour in the rough, we reached Koh Phayarm safe and sound, just as the sun burned a big hole in the clouds to illuminate a lovely beach.
Koh Phayarm stretches out north to south with a pair of crescent bays, Ao Khao Kwai and Ao Yai, on its west. We made our way to Ao Mook in the south, where Piak's small cottages curve in a line along a deserted beach.
Phayarm is like Koh Samui was 30 years back, when the word "resort" was out of question. It may be nature's last stand against the developer.
"Sleepy" and "lazy" are words that jump to mind. You string up a hammock between coconut trees or pitch your tent in the sand. To pass time you can head out in the speedboat to fish, or negotiate the spiny foliage in search of some hidden nudist beach - only to find more driftwood.
"You know what?" I said to Piak's wife. "This island reminds me of old Samet, with its cheap bungalows and empty beaches.
"When we were in college, with more time than money, my friends and I pitched our tents, got out the guitars and watched the seabirds fly into the sunset."
That was 20 years ago, of course. Honestly, I don't think you can do that anywhere these days - except on Koh Phayarm.
The sand isn't the white powder of travel brochures, but there are so many vast, empty stretches of gold that Phayarm is definitely in contention as the best place for beach naps.
From my bungalow, a small path snakes along the coast past coconut plantations to a hill with a fine lookout. The hour's walk is accompanied by birdsong and refreshing wafts of ocean breeze.
Beyond Ao Mae Mai - the Bay of Widows - are two more coves. The bigger one, Ao Hin Khao, the Bay of White Stone, stretches out the shoreline path to places beg to be explored.
At the Bay of Widows, passenger boats anchor and travellers can grab a motorcycle taxi to Ao Khao Kwai on the western coast. This is a large cove, becoming popular among Scandinavian backpackers, where you'll find barbecues, beers and beach ball.
In late afternoon I again braved the prickly bushes to find that hidden beach - not to stalk naked sunbathers but to find the ultimate spot to hang a hammock.
With a sea of time on my hands, I stretched out suspended beneath leafy almond trees. A carefree dog scudded after ghost crabs, a Navy ship kept its eyes on Burma, and I drifted off to sleep in the soporific salt air and the sweet scent of pine.