Once Thailand’s very own Alcatraz, paradisaical Koh Tarutao now has just enough ‘must-see’ spots to fit on the back of a cigarette paper. And that’s half the appeal.

It would be romantic to think of remote Koh Tarutao as a Wi-Fi-free Eden, a place that’s perfect for sea turtles and beach bums—but this jungle-clad island in the Andaman Sea was once Thailand’s Alcatraz.

As I cycle along in the morning sun on Tarutao’s only road—a narrow, 12-mile concrete path that winds through the hills and rainforest—out of nowhere, a crocodile saunters onto the trail just ahead of me. But wait; there are no crocodiles here! The convicts killed them all decades ago, right?

I do a double take on the two-meter-long creature. It is in fact a monitor lizard—but the size of a young saltwater croc. (We’ll get back to the crocs and cons soon.)