Samui Wining & Dining
All Day Parking
When Alex Garland wrote ‘The Beach’ he was talking about
one of the many to be found in Samui’s neighbouring Ang Thong National Marine Park.


All Day ParkingThere’s a scene in the Leonardo DiCaprio film ‘The Beach’ which is iconic to Thailand. DiCaprio’s character, Richard, has finally found the mystical paradise ‘perfect’ beach rumoured among the backpackers of the Khao San Road in Bangkok to be somewhere near Samui. And as he stands on the pristine white sand under the hot tropical sun, looking at the clear turquoise water and the untouched jungle, he lets out a whoop of joy – “It’s paradise – Eden!”


The inspiration for Alex Garland’s book ‘The Beach’ was the Ang Thong National Marine Park, an archipelago of 42 idyllic islands just a couple of hours’ boat ride from Samui. The marine park has been a popular day trip from Samui even before the film, with thousands of people every year going to see what might be one of the most beautiful spots on the planet.


‘Ang Thong’ means ‘Golden Bowl’, and the Ang Thong archipelago covers over a hundred square kilometres of the Gulf of Thailand, north-west of Samui. Parts are merely rocks rising out of the sea, covered in moss and greenery. Some are limestone cliffs jutting straight out of the ocean. Others are full-sized islands with the characteristic white sandy beaches Alex Garland wrote about. And all are surrounded by exotic marine life, making this a snorkelling and diving spot popular with visitors from all over the world.


Ang Thong became a national marine park in 1980, with the park headquarters still based on Koh Wua Talap (Island of the Sleeping Cow), the biggest in the group and where it’s possible to stay overnight. Koh Mae (Mother Island) is also a popular spot, with the Emerald Lagoon in the middle of the island surrounded by lakeside cliffs. It’s a bit of a hike to get there, with over a hundred very steep narrow steps, but the view makes it worthwhile. There’s also Koh Wao and Koh Tungku, known for their big shoals of fish as well as wildlife such as langur monkeys, lizards, pythons and over 50 recorded species of birds. The islands have caves, coral, cliffs, jungle and forest, and you could spend weeks exploring it all.


Most visitors there take a one-day boat trip from either Bo Phut or Nathon, on either a sailing boat or a speedboat, with the sailing boat taking around two hours and the speedboat just one. It seems to be up to personal preference which one people pick – the speedboat is obviously quicker, but some people find it too bumpy because it goes so fast, and others prefer the slower boats as they’re bigger and there’s usually a bathroom on board. It probably depends on what type of sailor you are, but the waters are generally smooth and most companies dole out seasickness tablets before boarding from Samui.


There’re plenty of companies offering the Ang Thong trip from Koh Samui, but there’s not much difference between them, so the choice isn’t too overwhelming. Most trips can be booked online and a deposit paid via Paypal, or just go into any tour company or travel agent. Your hotel will also likely be able to organise something directly as it’s one of the most popular trips from the island. Expect to pay around 800 baht deposit and a maximum of 2,000 baht in total for the full day trip on a speedboat – obviously prices vary but this is a good rule of thumb figure to keep in mind.


The company you go with will very likely offer return transfers to and from the pier, picking you up at your hotel at around 7:00 am and dropping you back off around 4:30 pm. There’ll be a bit of waiting around on the pier whilst everyone else in the group arrives but a light breakfast is normally provided with toast, coffee and those all-important seasickness tablets if necessary. Then it’s onto the boat and off to the Marine Park.


Most companies, especially the speedboat ones, offer snorkelling and kayaking as part of the day as well, stopping off about 45 minutes from Samui in the morning for an hour or so of swimming and snorkelling. If you’ve never snorkelled before this can be a good place to start, as there are plenty of other people about and plenty of staff on hand to show you the ropes. You won’t find the area as deserted as it was in The Beach though, as the popularity of the marine park nowadays means you’ll always be sharing your first sights of it with a few dozen other people. But you’ll probably forget about them once you see your first fish.


After the snorkelling, there’ll be a bit more sailing; probably going to Koh Wua Talap or Koh Mae. There’s a viewpoint at Koh Wua Talap, about 500 metres up the mountain, and whilst it’s a climb only for the fit, it gives probably the best view of the whole park from any of the islands. Then it’s off in the boat again to land on another island for a traditional Thai lunch. Some companies make a point of sailing round to one of the quieter fishermen’s villages for lunch, so if you’d like something a bit more off the beaten track ask your tour operator about these options.


After lunch it’s off to one of the other islands, where you can launch a kayak from the beach or just lounge around and sunbathe. Most companies will spend between 90 minutes and two hours on this part of the trip, so if you do go kayaking you’ll have plenty of time to get far enough out to really feel the solitude and magnitude of this part of the world.


You can also do this by hiring your own boat from Samui with a few friends. And whilst you’ll still run into other tour groups, hiring your own boat lets you go at your own pace and decide how long you want to stay at each spot, whilst experienced crew members will time your arrival at islands and restaurants to avoid other groups. Whatever trip you pick – private or group, speedboat or sailing boat – a trip to the Ang Thong National Marine Park is probably one of the top ‘must-do’ items on a holiday to Samui.


Lisa Cunningham


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