Tarutao’s western road shoots down to the beaches of Ao Molae and Ao Son, where a trail cuts inland to a clear mountain stream feeding serene Lu Du Waterfall. This is our suggested day trip for first-time visitors looking to sample the island’s jungle and beaches.
Setting out from Ao Phante on a rented Trek mountain bike, it wasn’t long before we had to get off and huff it up a steep hill culminating at a switchback turn beside a spirit house—this is a good place to stop for a view into Tarutao’s interior mountains. After whizzing downhill on the narrow concrete lane, we followed a sign pointing right towards Ao Molae and Ao Son.
Arriving at Ao Molae, a troupe of macaques took little notice of our presence. This one-kilometre beach hosts a string of bungalows and a restaurant at the foot of a dramatic cliff, making it a good place to re-up on drinking water. From here the road continues south through five kilometres of rolling terrain that’s a breeze compared to those earlier hills.
Along the way we spied an arm-size lizard sunbathing by the road. Dragonflies buzzed by as butterflies fluttered around wildflowers. A little further up the road, a wild boar squealed while fleeing into the forest as we approached. A stream appeared to our left, leading us straight to the remote national park station at the far northern end of Ao Son.
Stretching for at least four kilometres, Ao Son was named after the pine-like trees that join umbrella trees to frame the inland mountains. Though it’s only a narrow strip at high tide, a swathe of sand as wide as a football pitch emerges when the tide goes out. The sea flowed ashore like crystal sheets reflecting the white of the afternoon sun.
A spirit shrine surprised us somewhere near the centre of the beach as we tried to figure out if distant shapes were logs, dogs, lizards or people. As it turned out, we had the entire beach to ourselves save the tidal garbage, crabs and a sea eagle soaring high above. It was like walking on a moon.
Heading back past the park station, we found the trailhead to Lu Du Waterfall marked by a sign a few hundred metres back from the beach. The trail follows a rocky stream and includes several places where you have to hop from rock to rock or balance across fallen tree trunks to cross. With helpful arrows appearing at key points, it was more clearly marked than on our previous visit.
Along the three-kilometre hike we marvelled at towering dipterocarp trees accentuated by long reaching palms, shiny mushrooms and delicate pink leaves growing from tangles of vines. Water gushed around boulders as vertical slabs of shale huddled over the stream.
With water splashing over a modest slope of stone, Lu Du would be disappointing if it weren’t for a deep pool of clear water rimmed by logs and boulders that are ideal for a lounge. Even in the thick of hot season, the mountain water was cool and refreshing.
After chatting up a couple of Swedes who were spending the day at Lu Du, we scrambled further up the stream and found a string of other scenic spots where you’re unlikely to see another human. There’s nothing like sitting back on the smooth stones, watching fish and listening to birdsong with feet dipped in the flowing water.
Afterwards we wheeled up to Ao Molae for a drink and snack before ascending back towards Ao Phante. Do save some energy and water for the return trip, which is tougher than the way down here.
If you’re not up for the bike ride, pop into the visitor centre at Ao Phante to book a private ride to Ao Son by pick-up truck taxi. This will run you 600 baht for a three-hour round trip, and we suggest reserving a day ahead of time. Otherwise you might consider staying at Ao Molae and renting a bike there. Expect a full-day excursion if biking from Ao Phante—and bring plenty of water.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 20th April, 2017.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.