Friday, 29 August 2008

Ang Thong National Marine Park - a great day out...

Ang Thong Marine Park is a fascinating archipelago of 80 or so islands to the north west of Samui, many of which rise from the sea as dramatic rock cliffs and bizarre rock formations. Caves, hidden lagoons and white sand beaches are there to be explored and snorkeling among the shallow coral gardens makes a popular and enjoyable day trip. Remember to wear a T-shirt when snorkling; it's easy to become absorbed in the marine spectacle and forget that you are being toasted.

Ang Thong, translates as 'golden bowl', occupies almost 250 sq km and includes 50 sq km of limestone islands and karsts topography. Most of the islands are close to each other making for a breathtaking panorama when sailing around the park. The park itself is inhabited by a surprising amount of asian wildlife and within the seas: dolphins, rays, turtles and frequent sightings of whale sharks by divers and snorklers.

Most of the islands are covered with tropical forests and named after their distinguishing geography, a kind of descriptive appellation, such as 'Sleeping Cow Island' and 'Three Pillar Island'.

Koh Mae Ko (Mother Island) is a must to visit. Here, an emerald seawater lake in the middle of the island is encircled on all sides by limestone cliffs, but linked by an underground tunnel connecting with the sea. Reaching the lake entails a strenuous climb of 40 minutes or so, but is rewarded with a spectacular view across the whole park

Sea caves in many of the islands have intriguing rock formations and a visit to one by canoe can make for an awesome experience. The beaches are surrounded with coral reefs which make for good swimming and snorkeling when the visibility is good. Hundreds of beaches here in the archipelago are deserted. Get a boat and find your own secret beach away from the crowds.

Other popular sites are Koh Sam Sao (Tripod Island) with an extensive coral reef and Wua Talap Island or 'sleeping cow'. The park headquarters is located on the island with basic bungalow accommodation. It takes some effort to climb up the steep 430m hill to a viewpoint offering great scenery of the entire archipelago and the mainland.

Access to the Marine Park is controlled, but several boat rental and kayak operators are licenced carriers, catering to both independent visitors and in organised kayaking/camping trips. The most common transport is by tour boats taking 40-50 people, with lunch on board. Or else you can take the faster speedboat tours, which also provide a snorkeling program. The best way is to put together a group of friends to hire a boat, as we did, and explore the islands and beaches in your own time.

The quickest way back to Samui: time flies when you're in a coma - Lucy & Jonny

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