Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ang Thong Marine National Park อุทยานแห่งชาติหมู่เกาะอ่างทอง

The 40-some jagged jungle islands of Ang Thong Marine National Park stretch across the cerulean sea like a shattered emerald necklace each piece a virgin realm featuring sheer limestone cliffs, hidden lagoons and perfect peach-coloured sands. These dream-inducing islets inspired Alex Garland’s cult classic The Beach about dope-dabbling backpackers. February, March and April are the best months to visit this ethereal preserve of greens and blues; crashing monsoon waves means that the park is almost always closed during November and December.


Every tour stops at the park’s head office on Ko Wua Talap, the largest island in the archipelago. The island’s viewpoint might just be the most stunning vista in all of Thailand. From the top, visitors will have sweeping views of the jagged islands nearby as they burst through the placid turquoise water in easily anthropomorphised formations. The trek to the lookout is an arduous 450m trail that takes roughly an hour to complete. Hikers should wear sturdy shoes and walk slowly on the sharp outcrops of limestone. A second trail leads to Tham Bua Bok, a cavern with lotus-shaped stalagmites and stalactites.

The Emerald Sea (also called the Inner Sea) on Ko Mae Ko is another popular destination. This large lake in the middle of the island spans an impressive 250m by 350m and has an ethereal minty tint. You can look but you can’t touch; the lagoon is strictly off-limits to the unclean human body. A second dramatic viewpoint can be found at the top of a series of staircases nearby.

The naturally occurring stone arches on Ko Samsao and Ko Tai Plao are visible during seasonal tides and weather conditions. Because the sea is quite shallow around the island chain, reaching a maximum depth of 10m, extensive coral reefs have not developed, except in a few protected pockets on the southwest and northeast sides. There’s a shallow coral reef near Ko Tai Plao and Ko Samsao that has decent but not excellent snorkelling. There are also several novice dives for exploring shallow caves and colourful coral gardens and spotting banded sea snakes and turtles. Soft powder beaches line Ko Tai Plao, Ko Wuakantang and Ko Hintap.


The best way to experience Ang Thong is through one of many guided tours departing from Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan. The tours usually include lunch, snorkelling equipment, hotel transfers and (with fingers crossed) a knowledgeable guide. If you’re staying in luxury accommodation, there’s a good chance that your resort has a private boat for group tours. Some midrange and budget also have their own boats, and if not, they can easily set you up with a general tour operator. Dive centres on Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan offer scuba trips to the park, although Ang Thong doesn’t offer the world-class diving that can be found around Ko Tao.

Getting There & Around

The best way to reach the park is to catch a private day-tour from Ko Samui or Ko Pha- Ngan (located 28km and 32km away, respectively). The islands sit between Samui and the main pier at Don Sak; however, there are no ferries that stop off along the way. The park officially has an admission fee (adult/child 400/200B), although it should be included in the price of every tour. Private boat charters are also another possibility, although high gas prices will make the trip quite expensive.