Koh Phi Phi may be the filming location of the Leonardo Di Caprio classic, but the true location of Alex Garland’s 1996 novel ‘The Beach’ is Ang Thong National Marine Park, an archipelago of 42 islands in the Gulf of Thailand.
Ang Thong’s limestone islands cover 18km² of the marine park and are densely packed with luscious flora and fauna, covering hills, sinkholes, caves and inland marine lakes. They are largely uninhabited with the exception of Ko Wua Ta Lap (which also has a restaurant, visitor centre and some overnight accommodation) and Ko Phaluai.
Despite the area’s appearance of peace and serenity, it is inevitable that you will be joined by a number of other tourists should you decide to visit the marine park. 200,000 people visit the marine park every year and most do so as a day trip from the nearby islands of either Koh Samui or Koh Phangan. It is possible to book both large group excursions and smaller group trips, but bare in mind that the latter will be extremely pricey!
We booked a group excursion with Samui Island Tour, with a departure from Koh Samui. The tour group offer two Ang Thong packages – either kayaking, sightseeing and snorkelling or simply just sightseeing and snorkelling, minus the kayaking. We chose the latter, which cost 1,300bht per person (just under £35GBP pp) and included a light breakfast, a traditional Thai buffet lunch with soft drinks and afternoon coffees/teas. This tour group will also pick up passengers directly from their Koh Samui based hotel in the morning and drop them back in the evening after their trip.
General Tour Observations: it is worth noting that the two viewpoints mentioned below are quite tricky to reach.
Things to Pack: plenty of water (soft drinks are available on the boat with breakfast, lunch and in the afternoon), swimwear, beach towel, walking shoes, waterproof/underwater camera, sun protection.
Weather permitting, it takes around an hour and a half from Koh Samui to reach the first destination: Mae Koh Island. A buffet breakfast of pastries and fruits is served en route. The main attraction of Mae Koh is the island’s ‘hidden’ green lagoon (also known as Talay Nai or the Emerald Lake). This is a saltwater lake, spanning a total area of 250m by 350m, that has formed in the crater of an extinct volcano. Swimming is prohibited in the lake.
To reach the viewpoint (100m above the lagoon), you will embark upon your first uphill climb of the day. The tour guides on the boat will direct you to a set of stairs and the walk takes around 15 minutes to reach the viewpoint.
On returning to the boat, the group who had opted to kayak set off on their exploration of the marine park’s caves. Both groups then reconvened for lunch at midday. Should you wish to have an alcoholic drink, this is available at lunch for an extra charge.
After lunch, we clambered onto a long tail boat and made our way across to Koh Wua Ta Lap island. Make sure you request snorkelling gear from the team on board the boat if you are keen to take a dip and snorkel while on the island.
Koh Wua Ta Lap is renowned for its panoramic viewpoint from which you can see a number of the islands that make up the marine park. The 500m uphill climb is not for the faint-hearted and you should allow yourself around an hour for the climb. The stairs to the viewpoint are uneven and it is definitely a fitness challenge in the heat to make the ascent. The island is also home to a number of wild monkeys so ensure that you keep hold of your belongings to avoid theft by primate. Please also make sure you do not feed these monkeys as this simply encourages their bad behaviour!
For those not keen on the uphill climb, Koh Wua Ta Lap has the most beautiful white sand beach on which you can sunbathe. The waters are also perfect for snorkelling and the equipment is available for use on the boat.
I would highly recommend paying a visit to Ang Thong National Marine Park. The picture perfect islands were breathtaking and for me the highlight was definitely the panoramic viewpoint at Wua Ta Lap – the view is so totally worth the sweaty and strenuous uphill climb.
If you’re wondering what else you can do while visiting the Gulf of Thailand, check out my top 10 things to do here.