Apr 07 2012
Ang Thong (Golden Bowl) National Marine Park is located north and west of Ko Samui, and is within sight of Samui on clear days. The park, which includes 42 islands and limestone massifs, was once a hide out for pirates but these days gets patrolled by the Thai navy.
The islands of the park are covered in beach forest, mangrove forest and limestone forest areas, and are home to an abundant bird life as well as Asian long-tailed monkeys, sea turtles, tortoises, lizards, pythons and wild pigs. A plethora of sea life is at home in crystal waters making for perfect snorkelling conditions. As well, you can explore caves and tunnels carved out of the limestone cliffs by erosion, creating strange rock formations that beckon one to investigate further. Bending low in your kayak as you just make it under a jagged rock overhang, through to a hidden lake, one can just imagine this being a perfect pirates’ refuge.
The easiest way to experience Ang Thong is via a tour operator, with several offering daytrips to the marine park. An average tour would collect you from your accommodation at around 07:30, and deliver you back around 17:00. Prices range from 1,200 baht per person to about 3,900 baht, and most include park fees of 200 baht as well as lunch and soft drinks.
Prices vary according to the luxury of the vessel transporting you to the park, which ranges from speed boats through to larger and slower converted fishing-type boats, to more luxurious motor-sailing boats. Each operator has their own itinerary and route, as well as a focus, with some specialising in kayaking, others in snorkelling or diving, and others still just on sightseeing and the adventure of the trip itself. Speed boats do the trip from Samui in about an hour, with the slower vessels taking around 1.5 hours. When it comes to sailing, this will depend on wind and whether the guests are more interested in the journey or the destination.
Most tours will include a relatively strenuous hike up a wooden path on Ko Mae (Mother Island) to an amazing view across to Thale Nai (Emerald Lake). Ang Thong, and in particular, this lake, was the inspiration for the book and movie ‘The Beach’ (though the film was actually shot here and various other locations in Thailand, including most controversially Ko Phi Phi).
Other tours include a long hike up paths with ropes and steps, leading to a look out on the main island of Ko Wua Talap (Sleeping Cow Island), which offers postcard perfect views across the whole park. This island houses the headquarters of the Marine Park. Pop in to their office set back from the beach for info on hiking and snorkelling trails.
Accommodation is available in the form of basic bungalows or tents for hire, and prices range from 500 baht to 1400 baht including bedding and a fan, no air-con. Bookings can be made 60 days in advance from the national park website or call +66 25 620 760 (from abroad) for reservations. Ang Thong is also home to a sea gypsy village on Ko Paluay, included on some tours.
When visiting Samui or Ko Pha Ngan, a trip to the marine park should be a priority on your to do list. Although the park can seem a bit crowded at times, good operators will know how to find that quiet stretch of beach, or a snorkelling patch that doesn’t require traffic officers to direct the endless flow of underwater explorers. Remember to pack enough water for the hikes, as well as good walking shoes and sunscreen. Those not up to a hike can relax on the beach.
Ang Thong is good to visit most of the year, except in November, in the peak of the Gulf of Thailand’s monsoon, when seas can be rough and visibility poor. When choosing an operator, read the itineraries on their websites, choosing the one that suits your requirements best. Please see a selection below:
* Speed boat tours to the park: www.tourskohsamui.com
* Focus on kayaking, with a large boat with capacity of 48 that carries kayaks to location: www.bluestars.info
* Luxury trips to Ang Thong on a 30m Turkish Gulet: www.boutiqueyachting.com
* Private yacht and catamaran trips: www.sailing-in-samui.com
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