Feb 25 2012
Thailand’s largest protected island, majestic Ko Tarutao of the Andaman Sea, spans some 150 square kilometres and has long been feared as a wild place where dangerous animals, treacherous ghosts, uncompromising pirates and escaped prisoners roam the thick and mountainous jungle. It’s no surprise, then, that the Malay word “tarutao” is translated as ancient, mystical or primitive.
Ko Tarutao was finally deemed tame enough in the 1970s for the Thai government to officially protect it as part of a national marine park and build simple lodgings and campsites for what has now become a steady trickle of travellers each year. The vast majority of the island, however, remains as rugged and remote as it was centuries ago.
A paradise for nature lovers, Tarutao and its surrounding sea is a haven for whales, sea turtles, mouse deer, monkeys, and endless species of birds and insects.
Perhaps equally impressive is Tarutao’s flora — the old-growth jungle is so thick in places that if trails are not maintained every few days they become difficult to follow.
The island also boasts a number of small waterfalls, many of which end at tranquil natural swimming pools of crystal clear water that flows direct from the mountain tops.
There are also a few good viewpoints and loads of hiking and biking opportunities on Tarutao, but be forewarned that pedalling even short distances on a mountain bike is a serious test of endurance. The island’s few narrow roads wind up and down endless stretches of steep hills, but those who conquer are often rewarded with spectacular views.
With all that Tarutao’s interior has to offer it’s easy to overlook the island’s beaches, but its squeaky white sands and relatively clear blue waters rival even the best of Ko Lipe’s beaches. Unlike on Lipe, however, finding some solitude on one of Tarutao’s vast stretches of sand is never difficult.
After a long, satisfying day of hiking, wildlife gazing, biking, swimming, snorkelling, or just beach bumming, the national park’s only restaurant will be happy to fill your belly in time to catch one of Tarutao’s vibrant sunsets.
Ko Tarutao is reached by daily speedboats from Pakbara pier, but only during the dry months, from November 15 to May 15. The national park recently began closing down completely during rainy season, supposedly due to a lack of visitors. Or, perhaps, Ko Tarutao is deserted for five months each year out of an ancient sense of respect for the animals, pirates, and ghosts that terrified and captivated imaginations of old?
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