Ang Thong Marine Park

Victor Gleim

"Ang Thong" meaning "Golden Bowl", is a glorious marine park located off the coast of Surat Thani Province in the Gulf of Thailand, covering a vast 250 sq km of ocean. This includes 50 sq km of land spread over 42 beautiful limestone islands, of which only two are inhabited. Most of the islands are in close proximity to each other, and they rise dramatically from the sea in all kinds of amazing shapes, sizes and rock formations. Most of the islands are covered in tropical forests, and many are named after their unusual features and shapes, such as "Sleeping Cow Island" or "Three Pillars Island". The islands provide visitors with a range of activities, including jungle trekking, caving, exploring hidden lagoons and white sand beaches, snorkelling near the coral reefs, kayaking, and observing the abundant wildlife, flora and fauna. The park is a protected nature reserve. The trees are classified into three groups: dry evergreen, beach, and limestone forest. There are 16 species of small mammals, such as otters, langurs, crab-eating monkeys, hogs, silver haired bats and dolphins. Whales can also be spotted here. There are 54 species of birds, 14 species of reptiles and the waters are teaming with a wide variety of marine life, such as turtles, butterfly fish, angelfish, parrotfish, blue-spotted fantail rays, mackerel, giant clams, oysters, and coral. The most visited island is Koh Wua Talap, where you will find the park HQ, an information centre, a restaurant, tourist bungalows and camping area. Koh Wua Talap has two beaches at opposite ends of the island, and it is possible to trek from one end to the other, although it is quite a rough trail. It takes around 30 minutes for those who are up for it, and a rope leads you the right way. There is also a high viewpoint from where you will get a stunning panoramic view of the entire marine park. Ko Mae Ko which translates as "Mother Island," is another island that is a 'must see'. Here lies Thale Nai, a beautiful emerald seawater lake which is located in the centre of the island, and was one of the locations used in the cult film "The Beach". The lake is surrounded by limestones cliffs but is linked to the sea by an underground tunnel. To reach the lake, you have to be in reasonable shape as it involves an energetic trek of about 40 minutes. The climb takes you up a series of natural steps which winds its way up the cliff, and at one point, takes you right through an opening on the rock face. The final leg is quite steep, but if you pace yourself, there should be no problem. From the top, you are rewarded with glorious views of the lake and a spectacular view of the entire marine park. Other popular islands are Ko Sam Sao ("Tripod Island"), which has an extensive coral reef, and Wua Talap Island or "sleeping cow". In this unique marine park, you have a choice of literally hundreds of completely deserted beaches to explore and, time permitting, you should also try to make it to at least one of the many incredible caves. The restaurant near the HQ is open until 10:00pm and serves reasonably priced, simple Thai dishes from 60B to 100B per dish. There are also two 'bars' that sell beer near the park HQ; great to enjoy a beer on the beach while watching the sunset. A number of boat companies that operate tours from the neighbouring larger islands of Koh Phangan, Koh Samui and Koh Tao. You can visit for the day, and some operators offer multi-day trips on liveaboards. Make sure you only buy your tickets from a properly registered agent who will display the official "TAT" sign. There is also accommodation on the island. Check out the Info section for details. Tips Things to take with you include bottles of water, a sun hat, sunscreen, and a spare T-shirt to cover you when snorkelling. Treks across the islands and up to the viewpoints are not for the feint hearted. On occasion, you may have to edge around craggy outcrops or hang onto questionable ropes, so you will need to be quite fit and make sure you wear sensible footwear.

Map of Lower Gulf of Thailand

Lower Gulf of Thailand-Map