Last week I took a one-day outing from Nathon, Koh Samui, Thailand to wander around the islands in the Ang Thong National Marine Park (Ang Thong means golden bowl.) The islands in this park are among the most striking I’ve seen anywhere.
The park has over 40 islands and is justifiably known for its natural beauty. These islands are grouped close to one another and make a breathtaking panorama as you sail through them. They come in a range of sizes and shapes and have amusing names like Sleeping Cow Island and Three Pillars Island.
The park covers about 250 sq km, including 50 sq km of limestone islands, and is a prime example of karst topography. Many of the islands leap from the sea with bizarre rock formations and dramatic rock cliffs. The islands are peppered with caves, hidden lagoons and white sand beaches. I saw dozens of snorkelers exploring the shallow coral gardens.
With two exceptions, no one lives on these undeveloped islands. One of the habited islands is the island of Ko Wua Talap where the park headquarters is based. There is a also a restaurant, as well as a lookout post 350 meters above sea level where one can see the entire park. I was still recovering from a motor scooter spill when I visited the park and couldn’t make it to the top, but I did climb up 150 metres and took a picture that only gives a hint of the full extent of the park. The other habited island is Ko Paluay. Sea gypsies live here, and still earn their living from fishing today.
I particularly liked Thale Nai, an emerald salt-water lake about 100 metres above sea level. Park management thoughtfully provided stairs for the hundreds of tourists who climb from the beach up the side of a steep hill to see this remarkable blue-green lake.
The woods are dry evergreen forest, beach forest and limestone forest. There are limestone forests on the limestone mountains with only a thin layer of soil.
These islands are too small and too steep for large animals. There are 16 species of mammals in the park, like otters, langurs, crab-eating monkeys, hogs, silver-haired bats, dolphins and whales. The islands have at least 54 species of birds, including little herons, oriental pied hornbills, brahminy kites, drongoes, common sandpipers and hill mynas. You can also find green turtles, ground lizards, iguanas, pythons, hawksbill turtles and cobras.
A marine park would not be complete without fish. This park is home to blacktip reef sharks, butterfly fish, blue-spotted fantail rays, angel fish, parrot fish, snappers, blue swimming crabs, groupers, sea slugs, sea fans, oysters, sea whips, giant clams and coral. When I saw others out snorkeling, I truly regretted my motor scooter accident, as it left me incapacitated to the point where I could not participate.
Ang Thong National Marine Park is one of those sights you just shouldn’t miss if you go to Koh Samui, Koh Phang or Koh Tao in the Bay of Thailand. The price was not exorbitant, the ship was suitable and the lunch was nutritious. If you go to southern Thailand, you definitely need to put this park on your list of places to see.
Photos by Jan Wall – all rights reserved