After spending a day or two on the Thai islands of Koh Samui or Ko Pha Ngan then your senses will persuade you that you have arrived in paradise. These beautiful tropical islands, with their white sanded beaches and blue-green seas are a long, long, way from home. Why would anyone want to leave? Well, because a short hop from Koh Samui are the Ang Thong islands and if you are passing through this part of the world then it would be a crime against travelling if you were to miss them.
Mu Ko Ang Thong Marine National Park is an archipelago of 42 islands just to the west of Koh Samui. The islands are comprised of limestone walls that rise vertically from the sea, sink holes, caves, secret pools, and some of the best snorkelling sites in Thailand. Covered with thick jungle, the islands are home to birdlife including eagles, macaques, leopard cats, and wild boar as well as a small dash of humankind through the two nomadic settlements that are there.
The islands were the inspiration for Alex Garland’s novel ‘The Beach’, and this stunning protected area will satisfy the wanderlust of backpackers, luxury travellers and everyone else in between.
There are several tour companies offering various Ang Thong day trip packages and there are so many to choose from that it’s difficult to know which to pick. Most will pick you up from your accommodation and drop you back off again afterwards, and they usually offer some combination of kayaking, snorkelling, and a short hike. Aside from the activity considerations the tours can be split into two main groups; small speed boat rides that transfer you more quickly to and from the islands or larger boats that set sail at a more sedate pace through the park which may also include sunset views on the route back.
After a little bit of research, we opted for Marine Park Sunset Cruise on the Blue Dragon Classic Thai Yacht. The large boat tours tend to be a bit more expensive than the speed boats but as with most things in life you get what you pay for and the tour was tremendous value money at around £50 per person. The boat was spacious and despite being full on our tour there was more than enough room to spread out and enjoy the journey. There was even a salt water jacuzzi on the front deck. The speed boats looked fun, but a little cramped and bouncing across the sea for a few hours isn’t for everyone.
A little tip – if you are planning to book a one of these tours I recommend doing this earlier in your holiday. Occasionally the trips are cancelled if the weather is not good so this gives you the option to rearrange before your holiday comes to an end.
The teak boats travel at a leisurely pace across the calm sea which was part of the selling point for us – my wife is not a great sailor but her sea legs remained sturdy on a gentle 2-hour journey out to our first stop for a spot of snorkelling.
Of course, all the activities are optional and if snorkelling or kayaking is not your thing then you can sit aboard the ship and continue to enjoy the view. However, the snorkelling here is excellent. The water was very clear, and we saw loads of different types of fish, spiny sea urchins, and healthy coral that we were instructed not to touch by our helpful guide. After half an hour or so we were back on the boat and after this nice little ice breaker we were comparing snorkelling notes with our fellow sailors.
We sailed in and out of islets whose underhangs are the stuff of rock climbers dreams, and limestone pinnacles that stretch improbably out of the sea. The steep sided larger islands were almost triangular in shape and topped with dense jungle, while coral reefs formed a barrier at their shores.
Soon we stopped again for our kayaking adventure, heading out in a convoy of two person kayaks. This was the highlight of the day for me as it allowed us to get up close and personal with the small islands. Our guide led us through natural arches and into a hidden pool, before limboing under low rock ceilings and back out and circling around the islands where our boat had stopped. We were able to pull our kayaks up onto a tiny beach under one of the islands to take photos and bob about in the calm warm sea before heading back on to the boats.
We had a lovely lunch of fresh grilled fish – and the food and hospitality onboard all day were great – before heading off in the direction of Koh Mae Ko where we would hike up to the viewpoint and the Emerald Lake. The Blue Lagoon as it is also known – it looked more of a green to me – is connected to the sea through some underwater caves that bring the saltwater into this steep walled natural amphitheater. There were great views across some of the national park’s islands from the view point as well as down to the Emerald lake.
We started back just at the sun started to cast its long shadows. Stretching out on bean bags we all looked back west, enjoying the view towards the islands that were now being silhouetted by the setting sun. Blues skies turned to orange and red before the sun dropped into the ocean. The sky was almost completely dark by the time we reached the harbour back at Koh Samui but our minds were full of images of the beautiful islands that we had spent the day exploring.