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Ko Tarutao

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The Malay word "tarutao" means old, mysterious and primitive, and today Ko Tarutao retains these qualities even though it's been bisected by a long path of blazing white concrete.

Due to its rugged terrain, Ko Tarutao was once where Thailand kept many of its convicted criminals, and more than 3,000 were imprisoned here in the 1930s and '40s. Common prisoners were held at Talo Wow on the island's east coast, but important political prisoners -- including a son of Rama VII who was considered a threat to the King -- were interned at Talo Udang at the island's far southern tip.

During World War ll the prisoners were largely forgotten, and some 700 perished from malaria and starvation. Those who survived became feared pirates who looted merchant ships in the Straits of Malacca, adding to the island's notorious history. It's still possible to explore the ruins, which have been largely reclaimed by jungle.

Thanks to its reputation as a place of pirates, criminals, deadly beasts and treacherous spirits, Tarutao avoided being settled until it was officially protected as a national park in 1974, explaining its impressive, untouched old growth forests. Indeed, it's this pristine natural setting that keep a trickle of visitors coming to the island each year.

Perhaps more than anywhere in Thailand, Ko Tarutao is a haven for wildlife. Sea turtles, whales, monitor lizards, crab-eating macaques, mouse deer, and countless species of birds all call the island and its surrounding waters home. It's not the optimal place for snorkelling since the water is murky compared to other Andaman islands, but for most, the clean and expansive whitesand beaches, diverse wildlife, waterfalls, caves, hiking and views more than compensate.

Ko Tarutao is a relatively large island of 150 square kilometres, and aside from the concrete road the terrain is rugged and mountainous with several peaks stretching more than 500 metres high; it's no wonder the TV show Survivor Thailand was filmed here. The clearly marked brown and yellow signs at Ao Pante give the impression that the entire park has similar easy to follow signs. Be warned though, signs throughout the rest of the island are erratic. Some are posted only in Thai and in many places they're non-existent. Trails are marked with red paint and a few arrows, but these are not all that well maintained and the markings can be ominous at times. If you're inexperienced with the outdoors, ask at the information centre for a park ranger to lend you some help exploring.

Upon arriving visitors are dropped off at Ao Pante Malaka pier where the 200 baht national park entrance fee is collected. A small shop near the pier sells drinks, snack food and toiletries, and is open 08:00-17:00. At the Visitor's Centre rangers speak good English and can show you photos of accommodation and sights around the island, as well as rent out mountain bikes and kayaks, or arrange longtail boats, shuttles and guides.

Ko Tarutao is a very quiet place; people come here to get away from the noise and bustle of busier islands and the mainland, so do your best to be respectful. Electricity is turned on only from 17:00 to 22:30, and the restaurant shuts down at the incredibly early hour of 19:00 to discourage visitors from drinking into the night. Also, beware of the brazen monkeys! They regularly raid tents in search of food and have been known to steal meals on occasion.

There are no medical facilities or banks on Tarutao. The park office cannot accept travellers cheques, credit cards, nor foreign currencies, and there is no ATM, so make sure you have enough baht before you leave the mainland. The park is open only from November 15 to May 15 each year, and visiting during the off-season is prohibited.

Text and/or map last updated on 4th January, 2012.

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My Favorite Island in Thailand
By Blaynerb, 27 March 2014
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By webbo68, 07 January 2013
2.0  stars

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