Feb 25 2012

Photo essay: Majestic Ko Tarutao

Published by at 8:45 am under Andaman Sea islands


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.

A mystical aura seems to surround Ko Tarutao

A mystical aura seems to surround Ko Tarutao.

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.

Unless you want to play "Survivor Thailand", don't get lost out here.

Unless you want to play Survivor Thailand, don't get lost out here.

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.

While not exactly rare, Tarutao's common monkeys are always a joy to watch.

While not exactly rare, Tarutao's common monkeys are always a joy to watch.

And don’t think the only wildlife you’ll see will be in the forest:

About the size of my palm, this uninvited guest insisted on sharing my room.

About the size of my palm, this uninvited guest insisted on sharing my room.

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.

Skyscrapers -- the natural kind.

Skyscrapers -- the natural kind.

 

Enter the fungi forest.

Enter the fungi forest.

 

"I keep thinking these vines are pythons."

A vine or a python?

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.

Now that is a refreshing site after a long, hot hike.

Now that is a refreshing site after a long, hot hike.

 

King of the jungle's watery throne.

King of the jungle's watery throne.

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.

This view, from Toe Boo cliff near the visitor centre, is actually easy to reach.

This view, from Toe Boo cliff near the visitor centre, is actually easy to reach.

 

A spirit house watches over one of the road's sharp, twisting turns.

A spirit house watches over one of the road's sharp, twisting turns.

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.

Yes, I suppose that will be enough space for me.

Yes, I suppose that will be enough space for me.

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.

The perfect end to the perfect day.

The perfect end to the perfect day.

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?

See you next year...

See you next year...

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