Ang Thong National Marine Park is a pristine archipelago of 42 islands in the Gulf of Thailand. It features towering limestone mountains, thick jungle, white-sand beaches, waterfalls and hidden coves and lakes to explore. Within sight of Koh Samui, Ang Thong park is a protected area of more than 100 square kilometers of land and sea. It is home to a rich variety of exotic wildlife and sea creatures. Snorkeling, hiking, sea kayaking, diving, and simply relaxing are the main activities to enjoy at Ang Thong. Most Ang Thong visitors arrive on a join-in day trip or by boat charter from Koh Samui or Koh Pha Ngan.
Ang Thong Highlights and Features Ang Thong has some of the most unusual and spectacular scenery in all of Thailand. Its steep limestone cliffs, some rising as high as 400 metres, have been formed into wondrous shapes by centuries of erosion. This ‘Golden Basin’, as ‘Ang Thong’ translates into, features four distinct types of forest, all teeming with wildlife. Some of the creatures that live here are langurs (long-tailed monkeys), little herons, hair-nosed otters, pacific reef egrets, white-bellied sea eagles, sea turtles, iguanas and pythons. In the surrounding sea many colorful fish can be seen, offering some decent snorkeling and diving sights. With 42 islands to discover, a complete tour of Ang Thong would take weeks. Only a few islands are visited during day trips from Samui.
This island has a stunning beach and an inland saltwater lagoon called Emerald Lake (Thale Nai). A popular climb up pathways and a wooden staircase takes you to the peak of a nearby mountain where you get the full view of this glittering sea-green body of water. Koh Sam Sao (Tripod Island) features a coral reef, a large and dramatic rock arch and some great hiking grounds.
Ang Thong gained widespread renown when it appeared in the novel ‘The Beach’ by Alex Garland. It's the destination where backpackers in search of a secret island utopia set up camp. Inspired by this novel, Ang Thong was one of the prime destinations for backpackers in Thailand for many years until the subsequent movie starring Leonardo Di Caprio came out.There are few diving sites on the northern islands, more ideal for snorkelling. The average depth of the sea is around 10m with low visibility due to heavy sediment from the Tapi River on mainland. Diving on one of coral gardens may give opportunity to see marine species like green sea turtle, hawkbill sea turtle and yellow-spotted trevallies. Best time for diving is February to October with best visibility around March/April.
The national park is closed November and first three weeks of December.
Ko Wua Talap: It is the main island where the headquarters and basic facilities are located. The HQ is situated in Kha Bay at the northeast end of the island. There are two white beaches on the island, one at headquarters, the other at the opposite side of the island on west accessible by a 700m long walk through the forest. The HQ area has 5 bungalows, camping ground, visitor center, restaurant/shop and a ranger station. The white beach offers activities like swimming, snorkeling and canoeing/kayaking.
Wua Ta Lap Viewpoint: The spectacular panoramic viewpoint which is the main attraction of the park, accessible by a 500m long steep trail from the headquarters. The trail is not for faint-hearted, takes 25-30 minutes to walk, has rope for support and showing the way up. The viewpoint offers a great vista over all islands.
Bua Bok Cave: A cave consisting of stalagmite and stalactite formations, accessible by a 1km hiking from the headquarters. Inside the cave are stalagmite and stalactite with the shapes like blooming lotus. Beside them is a sidewalk, approximately 400 meters long, to the viewpoint on the hill. The tourists can see the line of Mu Ko Ang Thong islands on the light blue color of the sea, which is such a breathtaking view.
Ko Mae Ko: Meaning mother island, Ko Mae Ko is the island with emerald saltwater lake called Thale Nai, connected with sea though underwater caves. A trail that takes 20 minutes to walk leads from a nearby beach to a great viewpoint over the lake. The lake is surrounded with limestone cliffs. The island also has few white beaches.
Ko Sam Sao: Situated on the east side of Ko Mae Ko, this island has several beaches, great coral reef and a camping ground. It is the source of the beautiful coral and sea anemone, along its 1 kilometer length. There is a natural stone bridge extended to the sea. From Ko Samsao, the tourists can see a natural sculpture, looking like a stone castle, towering on the top of the mountain on Ko Mae Koh. The tourists can camp out on the island but have to prepare their own food and fresh water. Tents are available for rent from HQ at Ko Wua Ta Lap only. There are no shops or restaurant on the island. The water to the showers are collected in a water tank filled with rain-water, for most time there won't be any water.The white beach at the north end of the island has a smaller natural stone arch curving out to the sea.
Ko Hin Dub: possesses the longest spectacular beach in the national park. The surrounding of the island is very remarkable with the line of piled-up stones that look like a thin stone plate.
Talay Nai: or the lagoon inside the mountain, is on Ko Mae Koh. It is a geological phenomenon caused by the subsidence of limestone basin. Talay Nai is an oval-shaped sea, 250 meters wide, 350 meters long, and 7 meters deep. The area covers 30 rai. The tourists have to take a motorboat from the National Park Office for about 15 minutes and walk further to the view point for 400 meters. Then, they will see the wonderful scenery of the emerald lagoon as well as the open sea surrounded by mountains and trees.
Ko Tai Plao and Ko Wua Kantang are located further northwards from Ko Mae Koh. It is one of the viewpoints with the most gorgeous coral reefs.
Ecology & Wildlife
The islands covers 18km² of the park, major ones Ko Phaluai, Ko Wua Ta Lap, Ko Mae Ko, Ko Sam Sao, Ko Hin Dap, Ko Nai Phut and Ko Phai Luak. Highest peak is located on Ko Phaluai at 396m above the sea level. Islands concists mainly of rugged and steep limestone hills, sinkholes, caves and inland marine lakes. There is one nomadic village at Ko Wua Ta Lap and one other at Ko Phaluai, other islands are uninhabited.
The sea around Mu Ko Ang Thong is about 10 m. in deep. Since the archipelago is located near the mainland, it receives sedimentaicontamination from the Tapee river. Sunlight cannot thoroughly penetrate the waters, which is a limiting factor in the control of photosynthetic life such as, corals and other underwater plants. However any other marine creatures are adapted to this environment, and they still live forage, shelter and breed here.
On land, the park supports several types of forest and wildlife such as, dry evergreen forest covers the large islands of Ko Wua talap, Ko Paluai, and Ko Saamsao. The forests consist mainly of dry evergreen forest on bigger islands, also limestone forest and minor planted mangrove forest around the beaches and bays. Among the plants, Ang Thong Lady's Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum Ang Thong) is an endemic species found only in Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park.
An important plant in the park, Ang Thong Lady’s Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum x Ang Thong), is an endemic species found only in Mu Ko Ang Thong. Limestone Mountain Forest consist of flora found in limestone crevices with little or no soil. They are often small, dry tolerant, and slow – growing species such as Dracaena loureira, Malayun Spurge Tree Euphorbia antiquarum, and Morinda tinctoria. Of Mangrove Forest there is very little, some can be seen on the muddy beach in the inner sea and some in the bays to the east of Ko Paluai. They have all been planted.
Beach Forest, spares forest growing along the beaches and foothills near the shore. There is little of this type left. In general the wildlife found consists of smaller animals, of which researchers have discovered 16 species of mammals, more than 50 species of birds, 14 species of reptiles, and 5 species of amphibians. An interesting one to look out for is the Dusky Langur, which comes down to the park’s HQ allowing visitors to observe closely.
The amount of animal species are limited, 16 mammal, around 50 bird, 14 reptile and 5 amphibian species. Some of mammal species on the islands are dusky leaf monkey, long-tailed macaque, leopard cat, fishing cat, wild boar and smooth-coated otter. Few of bird species are collared kingfisher, white-bellied sea eagle, brahminy kite, black baza, oriental pied hornbill, eurasian woodcock, pacific reef heron and common hill myna.
Getting There & Around
As a national park, only government-approved tour boats may enter Ang Thong. These day trips may be booked on Koh Samui, Koh Phangan or Koh Tao. Sailing liveaboard cruise trips and speedboat charters may also be organised. Most tours stop at a few different locations. They combine a day of hiking, sightseeing, kayaking and lounging on the beaches. Some of the hikes require a good level of fitness, so be sure to check with your guide about the degree of difficulty before setting off! Ang Thong is 28 kilometres from Samui and 32 kilometres from Pha Ngan.The best time to visit Ang Thong Marine National Park is March to October when the seas are calmer. The park is sometimes closed due to inclement weather in the months of November through January.
Source: www.kosamui.com, www.angthongmarinepark.com