Better known for its role as a home to a Utopian Beach society in Alex Garland’s, famous novel, “The Beach”, Ang Thong National Marine Park consists of an archipelago of about 42 small islands. It combines hidden lagoons, sheer limestone cliffs, dense vegetation and white-sand beaches that provide a postcard-perfect vista everywhere you look. Established in 1980; Ang Thong national park covers more than 80 percent of this archipelago. Thanks to its status as a park, development within the islands have been minimal, and only a few licensed tour operators are allowed inside.
While Hollywood producers chose Koh Phi Phi as the actual filming location of the movie version of “The Beach”, Ang Thong was already firmly entrenched in the imagination of many would-be backpackers as an appealing holiday escape. Of the 42 islands that officially make up the park, only one, Koh Paluay, is inhabited, and this is by a sea gypsy community that still maintains a traditional fishing lifestyle that also serves as an additional draw to tourists coming to Thailand. The uninhabited islands range in size from mere rocks in the deep blue sea to little paradise-like islets with coconut trees and white beaches. Being in any part of the marine park leaves you with the experience of being an explorer, discovering the hidden parts of the world.
Highlights & Features
Most islands that make up Ang Thong are huddled close to each other, and this makes for a breathtaking visual panorama when boating around the park. Most have descriptive names based on their distinguishing features such as “Three Pillars Island” and “Sleeping Cow Island.” Its headquarters are located on Ko Wua Talap Island that also doubles up as an information center for tourists, a restaurant, tourist bungalows and a famous high viewpoint from where you can get a panoramic view of the entire place. There are two beaches on Ko Wua Talap, both located on opposing ends of the island, and it is easy to get there from the tourist information center in around 30 minutes via a jungle trail. A small rope runs the length of the path to ensure that you don’t get lost.
It’s hard to cover all the islands when you are on a tight schedule, but the tourists are most likely to visit Mother Island (Koh Mae) which has an inland saltwater lake called Thale Nai (Emerald Lake). Tripod Island (Koh Sam Sao) features a large, dramatic rock arch, a coral reef, and some spectacular hiking grounds.
The islands are characterized by some of the most spectacular scenery in Thailand. There are steep limestone cliffs some as high as 4000 meters and formed into strange and eye-catching shapes by years of erosion. There are numerous white sandy beaches, caves and hidden lagoons waiting to be explored. And the abundant marine life in the coral gardens invites for some snorkeling.
There are three distinct forest types in Ang Thong, all inhabited with a range of wildlife. These are the beach forest, a dry evergreen wood forest, and the limestone forest. You will find the dry evergreen vegetation on the bigger islands such as Paluay, Wua Talap, and Sam Sao. The limestone thickets are found in the Limestone Mountains where the soil layer is thin resulting in smaller plants while the beach forests occur in stretches along the length of the beach.
There aren’t many large animals to be found on these islands, but tourists can spot up to 16 species of mammals such as Crab-Eating Monkeys, Langurs, Otters, Silver-Haired Bats, Hogs, Whales, and Dolphins. However, they are very rich in bird life, and there are up to 54 different species on the islands, according to the park’s tourist information center. These include Brahminy Kites, Little Herons, Common Sandpipers, Common Hill Myna, Drongo and Oriental Pied Hornbills. The park also features 14 species of reptiles that include Iguanas, snakes, Lizards, Green Turtles, Cobras, Pythons and Hawksbill Turtles among others.
Getting There & Around
As Ang Thong is a protected park, only licensed tour boats are allowed to enter, and the bookings can be made from Koh Tao, Koh Pha Ngan or Koh Samui. Speed boat charters are popular as they offer a safe and time-saving solution for tourists on a tight schedule. However, most tours are planned to stop at a few locations and often combine a day of sightseeing, hiking, kayaking and lounging on the sunny beaches. Some of the hike trails may be quite challenging and require a reasonable level of fitness so ensure that you check with your tour operator on the difficulty level; before setting out.
The ideal time to get the best experience from a trip around Ang Thong is from March to October as the sea is calmer during this period. The Rangers sometimes close the park due to poor weather in the months from November to January.