The group of 42 islands that make up Ang Thong National Marine Park lie just 45 kilometers off the coast of Koh Phangan, taking around an hour to get there by speedboat. Gaining status as a protected National Marine Park in 1980, ‘Ang Thong's’ incredible natural beauty captured the imagination of none other than cult backpacker hero, Alex Garland, who made the Marine Park the setting for the utopian beach society of his famed novel.
'Ang Thong' literally means ‘Bowl of Gold’ and the park covers an area of 250 square kilometers with limestone karsts of different in shape and sizes, reaching between 10-400 meters into the sky. As well as pristine coral reefs and abundant underwater life, which attracts divers and snorkelers alike, the area promises picture-postcard white stretches of sand, hidden caves, tropical forests, bizarre rock formations and most appealing of all; an emerald lagoon enclosed on all sides by limestone cliffs.
Looking out to Ang Thong National Marine Park from nearby Koh Phangan
Things to do:
Snorkeling at Koh Talap: Plunge into the warm waters straight of the speed boat and discover the underwater treasures of the Marine Park. Follow colourful parrotfish in and out of the rocks, glide past silvery shoals of Barracuda, spot goby fish poking their heads out of the sand and swim through a group of elegant angel fish.
The Emerald Lagoon: (Known in Thai as ‘Tha-le Nai’ or the ‘Inland Sea)’. To get to the Emerald Lagoon you will arrive at a small beach where a few other boats were also moored and make your way off the boat and up the steps over the mountain. The lagoon is certainly a wonder to behold; shiny bright green glistening under the sun making the image that you were seeing look like it had already been ‘photoshopped’ and the colours enhanced to appear in a luxury travel magazine. It is believed that the lagoon was created from a huge 250 metre cavern with a limestone roof. Over thousands of years, rainwater eroded the roof causing it to collapse and exposing it to the air. Tourists are not allowed to swim or snorkel in the lake and so the water remained so calm like a sheen of glass that no one dared touch. Under the rock, you could just make out a gentle current where the underground tunnels connected the lagoon to the mighty sea.
The amazing Emerald Lagoon in Ang Thong National Marine Park
Sunbathing and kayaking at Koh Wua Ta Lap: This island is one of the largest and most spectacular of the National Marine Park. Pulling up through turquoise waters onto the white sand, fringed with palm trees all around, it is the perfect picture of paradise. From here you can go kayaking to explore the island's rocky perimeter, paddle under natural coves and spot sea eagles soaring by.
The beach at Koh Wua Ta Lap
Spot the monkeys and other wildlife: The island is also home to the 'dusky langur', whose cheeky black furry face can be spotted amidst the canopy of the trees. Ang Thong National Marine Park also boasts 54 different species of birds, including herons, kites and hornbills, and many mammals such as otters, langurs, hogs, silver haired bats, dolphins, whales, not to mention the many reptiles dwelling here such as hawksbill turtles, iguanas, pythons and cobras.
Climb to the viewpoint (A MUST DO!): From the main beach on Koh Wua Ta Lap island follow a wooden sign that says ‘Pha JunJaras Nature Trail,’ which points upwards to a steep path through the jungle some 500 meters. From here you will climb up a rocky jungle path which gets a bit tricky at the top where the path becomes all exposed rock and you have to hold onto the rope to keep your balance. A quick glance back at the view which is opening up below is enough to spur you on! There's a wooden platform at the top once you've scrambled up the last few metres of rocks from which point the view is... SPECTACULAR!
Rather than having to follow a secret map, sneak through drug lord protected land or jump from cliffs to get to paradise... you'll be pleased to discover that there are day trips to the Marine Park from nearby islands. We took a day trip from Koh Phangan with Safari Boat costing 1600 baht per person or 1800 baht with kayaking. Entrance to the national park costs an extra 200 baht for foreigners or 40 baht for Thais. You can also take trips from nearby Koh Samui or Koh Tao and there are options for camping overnight.