Sunday, April 2, 2017

ANG THONG NATIONAL MARINE PARK

Last visited MARCH 2017



I first went to ANG THONG on a day trip in the 90s, but it has taken me to 2017 to STAY there.
Because latest visit I used one of the daytrip operators for transport (it's really the only inexpensive way to get there - although LEONARDO's character used a long-tail in "THE BEACH" - that would cost an arm and a leg these day) much of the following info doubles as a DAYTRIP REPORT.

Google Earth image - oops, that is not too clear.
Maybe this is a bit better - but you will need to click-expand the image to read labels.Image from Sawadee.com
If you click the link you will find a full size image.

In reference to the above maps - KO MAE KO has the famous EMERALD LAGOON/GREEN LAKE, KO WUA TALAP is the National Park Headquarters island with the fabulous viewpoint and Lotus Cave, tiny KO TAI PLAO in the north is visited by some tours (but not mine) for snorkeling and kayaking and big KO PHALUIA in the south has some fishing settlements and restaurants but is not visited much by westerners .


The islands are located between the MAINLAND and the islands of KO SAMUI and KO PHANGAN.
SAMUI has the lion's share of trip operators - the main departure piers are at NATHON on the upper west coast (30km to HQ island) although some boats leave from the north coast piers to cut the rather boring transfer from major resort areas to NATHON. However that will add an hour in a slow boat.
Fewer operators come from PHANGAN (32km from THONG SALA) and I know of no regular operators out of KO TAO (north of PHANGAN)  - but it is possible to charter a speedboat or sailboat.
No one operates from the MAINLAND these days.

0815
Guests begin arriving in SAMUI ISLAND TOUR inclusive shuttle vans and line up at the reception tent on NATHON'S main (crntral) pier. I stayed overnight at COFFEE HOUSE, an elcheapo joint immediately opposite the pier and have beat them onboard.


Because most distant CHAWENG and LAMAI guests may have been picked up at 0730, there is a simple buffet breakfast waiting.

0830
The first of our 2 boats leaves the pier. I prefer these old slow boats - they ride rough seas much better than cramped speedboats and have plenty of room to move around (up forward on top is a spacious sun-bathing area). 
Sure the journey will take more time but some of this can be spent on meals which the speedboat trips must fit into shore time. And I like to read, take snaps at my leisure, catch a bit of sun yada.


On departure a very detailed talk on our itinerary and boat safety was give. Similar on arrival at each island stop.

10.00
ISLAND HO!


Shortly after, those who have chosen the more expensive KAYAKING option  launch from the lower deck. This is probably the trickiest part - lady in shot actually overbalanced when transferring. However boat gives each kayaker a divers' DRY BAG to keep valuable safe in mishaps.


Kayakers take off for landing beach below the GREEN LAGOON/LAKE. This is actually HALF the kayakers from each boat - GROUP A paddles across, GROUP B back. Each leg gives paddlers 30/40 minutes of exercise. I think they stopped at a tiny beach en-route


We chug around to KO MAO KO's landing beach, hop into longtails and head ashore. Note how uncrowded the tiny beach is - contrast this to 90 minutes later shown down page. If you click-expand you may be able to see blue floating pier behind that speedboat - makes beach landings way easier.


The stairway up to the viewing platform is short but killer steep. Fortunately for unfit dudes there are several opportunities to stop and rest.


This shot gives some idea of length (signs say 150m butI think that's height - it seemed abt 300m long which is still pretty short) and steepness (45degrees in parts). Yellow arrow shows viewing platform - blue lower section of the climb.


Viewing platform....
....has nearby islands in one direction....
....and the green lagoon/lake (TALAY NAI) in the other. This is surrounded by towering walls, but is open to the sea by a submarine entrance. This featured in the novel "THE BEACH" (although they never identify the island) - the heroes sought an undeveloped island out of SAMUI, unlike the movie which was shot on PHI PHI in the ANDAMAN SEA. 
Green colour comes from the limestone.


On the way down, new to me (um, not surprising - its been 30 years) was this diversion which dropped to....


....a platform not far above the lagoon surface. National Parks bans swimming here.


Back at the beach we had about 40 minutes - I grabbed my face mask and swam out along the back of the swimming enclosure 30m off the sand - a bit of coral, plenty of weed and a few fish but nothing to get excited about.


National Parks had a canteen set up back of beach - did a roaring trade in snacks and drinks. Bathrooms are in this area plus some nice shade.

12.00
Back to the boats (background). At least a dozen other craft had come in during out time here.


We picked up lunch on the lower deck on boarding - plenty of room to eat up here on the second level. Eats the usual Thai fried chicken with curry, vegs, fruit, water etc - yummy and no shortage if you fancy seconds. Beer and snacks could be bought.

12.30
Approaching the National Park HQ beach on KO  WUA LAP/KO WA TA LAP/KO WUA TALAP island. Awesome VIEWPOINT is at highest point in shot - the LOTUS CAVE is just out of frame to the left - its access track starts near end of beach.


Beach is pretty nice. This early morning shot is uncrowded but even when lots of boats arrive later it doesn't get too busy largely because lots of people are doing the climbs which tend to be time consuming
Our tour leader told us people not staying overnight (I was the only over-nighter on the 2 boats) have until 16.00. This gives sufficient time to climb to both the VIEWPOINT and LOTUS CAVE, plus have a swim/snorkel and spend some time on the beach. However people of average fitness should maybe do only ONE of the climbs - I'm super  fit but was bushed enough after the haul to the viewpoint to postpone the cave to the second day. Then again I'm 71 (a super fit 71yo is equal to a very fit 20yo). It was no problem doing both on the same day 30 years ago.
If I had to pick which climb, I'd take the VIEWPOINT. It's 100% more rewarding vs 30% harder.


ANG THONG MARINE PARK HQ area. You may have to click expand to read labels. The cleared area behind the beach slopes back slightly less than 200m. I forgot to add a linear scale - straight line distance between placemarkers of the restaurant and N is 280m.


My first stop was the NATIONAL PARKS OFFICE/VISITOR's CENTER to book in. The staff is great - polite and helpful: not the officious types you get at the SIMILANS and SURINS.
The area also has a small museum where displays show the geology and fauna/flora of the area. This skeleton came from a 8m BRYDE'S WHALE washed up on an island beach a few years ago.


They had some very good large scale photos of park highlights. This one is great for people unable to get to the VIEWPOINT - you can insert yourself into the picture by standing on the platform. The opening pic at the top of the page is another from here.


My NP tent. One of 4 set up (they can quickly erect more if a large group arrives - there is no booking system for the tents) but I was the only person there. In good condition, just big enough for 2 plus gear (fine for solo me), thin yoga type matress and small hard pillow but I slept pretty well. I didn't need the supplied sleeping bag.
Cost me 250baht - I don't think I was charged the NP ENTRANCE FEE (300b for non-Thais) probably because it was included in my boat trip fee (1300 all up).


Tents were on a gentle slope about 100m behind the beach (there is a bit of telephoto in this pic) - a quiet area. Nearest bathroom was abt 70 to right of shot: being furthest from beach and the daytrippers it was in best condition at the end of the day. Note one WC was western style, one Thai squat. Ditto the other bathroom close the beach and restaurant.


You can bring your own tent and camp for 100baht or so. Thais are keen campers and flock to NP islands in holiday time, but these tents were occupied by a group of French kayakers who paddled in late afternoon.
BTW the visitors' center has rental kayaks. There are a few other beaches around this island and it's not too far to adjacent islands.


Visitors can also stay in 2 bedroom NP bungalows for a reasonable 600b. However these are difficult to pay for if outside Thailand (none of this credit card stuff!) - they were all taken when I arrived.
I stayed in similar on KO TARATAO some years ago - not too bad.


These dudes were hanging around the HQ clearing and beach - rangers will fine you for feeding them but they were pretty slick in raiding unattended food as the French campers found out.


Once my stuff was stowed in the tent I decided to tackle the VIEWPOINT CLIMB. This is a 450m trek in which you climb from abt 20m to 220 - that's an average gradient of 1 in 2.5, not real easy. But it is considerably steeper towards the top. Most consists of pretty well formed steps with assist ropes. NPs also station workers towards the top for guidance (and encouragement).
I approached the climb as a fitness workout - was determined to do it in one hop despite maybe 5 rest points, some with good viewpoints. I have to tell you that despite my way average higher fitness I was pretty used up by the top.


The outlook from the top is worth it - I've been most places in the Gulf and Andaman the past 30 years and can't think of any viewpoint to beats this.


On the way down, I spent time at the rest stops. Not wasted.


14.30
Back on the beach the day-trippers begin moving out to their boats.


The place gets pretty quiet once the day-tiippers leave.


Dinner in the NATIONAL PARK RESTAURANT. I've found quality/prices vary according to who has got the contract - this one pretty good with okay food, reasonable prices and good service. I didn't visit during day-tripper peak and can't say how the place goes in a busy period. At dinner and breakfast there was only a few customers.

0900 day 2
Beach still laid back.
Lovers of scenes like this: make the best of it - the day-tripper boats will begin arriving within 90 mins.


I decided to snorkel the outer area of the swimming enclosure before incoming boats churned up visibility. Typical of ANG THONG, the underwater scene was nothing to get excited about - some scattered coral, a fair bit of weed and some nice fish. But I'm spoiled, having snorkeled so much at Australia's Barrier Reef.

11.00
The climb to the LOTUS CAVE was shorter than to the VIEWPOINT (300v450) but not all that easier. Total time taken about the same. Conditions underfoot were often rougher (not a place for flip-flops etc) and even steeper in parts. Fortunately a lot had helper ropes.


Part way up, the track flatens for about 50m and there is a short sign-posted off-shoot to this good BEACH VIEWPOINT.


Inside the cave, a circuitous route continues to climb steeply for half the distance. Unfortunately helper ropes are not as plentiful here. Natural light means torches not necessary. Stalagmites, stalactites and other cave features not particularly mind blowing.


Back to the beach for more swimming and sun. I have arranged to meet our tour leader at 1415 near the cabana left background - so at 1330 I grab a beer or two from the beach canteen (bottom left) and head up to these shaded picnic tables where I can check his arrival.


1500
We leave the beach. This is a completely different group to yesterday. Some are probably wondering where this funny looking old dude has come from but are too polite to show it.


On board. After tea and coffee many repair to the upper deck for some afternoon sunshine. Try this on a bumpy cramped speedboat.

1630
Back at Nathon, we transfer to the pier via sister boat.

COMPARISONS
The SIMILANS and SURINS are the other big two island national parks. 
BEST VIEWPOINT - ANG THONG
BEST SCENERY - SIMILANS AND ANG THONG for multi-island daytrippers, ANG THONG for National Park HQ Island only visitors.
BEST BEACH. Donald Duck beach in the Similans may be the best in Thailand. There is a second NP camp ground there but it is a bit time consuming to reach. All the day-trips visit. For NATIONAL HQ ISLANDS I reckon the SIMILANS win but the others are not shabby.
BEST SNORKELING - the SIMILANS although things have gone downhill. The daytrip visits more snorkeling spots and the long distance from the coast (hence deeper, clearer water) potentially makes for better coral. But bleaching sure has knocked it around. Ditto the SURINS. ANG THONG CORAL (shallow water close to the coast) has always been a distant third.
MOST POPULAR - the SIMILANS probably because of closeness to PHUKET and KHAO LAK. The lovely main beach at HQ islandcan get quite crowded between 1030 and 1500.
BEST BOAT TRIP - ANG THONG. The SIMILANS is too far for a slow boat which jams you into bumpy speedboats. The trip out to the SURINS is shortest but for some reason slow boats were not offered when I visited. As far as attractiveness of places visited, the SIMILANS daytrip probably wins although ANG THONG is not far behind.
MOST ISOLATED - although closest the coast, you are less likely to be staying close to the departure pier for the SURINS.

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SAMUI ISLAND TOUR


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