Looking for your fix of clear blue waters, incredible ocean vistas as far as your eyes can see and the untouched, natural island beauty that Thailand is known for but yet seems like a mythical tale? Well you need to look no further than a lesser-known national park situated just off busy party islands, Ko Pha Ngan (Koh Phangan) and Koh Samui. All you need to do is take a Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park tour.
I’ll be honest: when we booked our tour we didn’t expect much. We had just been to the very uninspiring and much touted Full Moon Party over on Koh Pha Ngan (read more about that experience here, if you dare!), and were expecting an overcrowded, over-commercialised, over-priced day out.
But boy, were we wrong… our Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park tour was one of our Thailand highlights and one of the only day trips we’d include on a Thailand island itinerary.
About Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park
It’s little known but the real inspiration for Alex Garland’s novel and film The Beach (swoon: Leonardo di Caprio!), was Mu Ko Ang Thong, and not Koh Phi Phi or Krabi as some might think. Mu Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park is actually an archipelago of 42 islands, characterised by incredible towering mountains, pristine white beaches and – as we found during our exploration – vivid sea life, baby blue lagoons and thick, humid jungle brush.
Ang Thong (loosely translated as ‘Golden Basin’ in English) is situated between the much larger, arguably more famous islands of Koh Pha Ngan (32 km) and Koh Samui (28 km) which, actually makes it perfect as a day trip from either of these islands. There are two modes of transport out to the islands: the more traditional wooden boat tours which take between 60 and 120 minutes to arrive there, and the speedboats which will take about 45 minutes.
We opted for the latter, booking with SafariBoat tours, the largest and most reputable operator on Koh Pha Ngan. TLDR: Book with them!
If you’re on Koh Samui and looking for another provider, we’ve heard good reviews about this one from Get Your Guide.
Transfer to the island
We waited at our hotel only for a brand new pick-up to roll out, roll down it’s windows and usher us in: definitely a very plush start to the day. If you’ve ever been to the islands in Thailand, you’ll know that you are mainly travelling in the back of dodgy-looking taxis (proudly advertising the local hospital – affiliates perhaps?), or on a moped, so this was a great VIP experience before we’d even left the docks.
We were delivered to the main pier at the SafariBoat storefront, where a basic breakfast of toast, fruit, coffee and tea awaited us. There’s also a 7 Eleven nearby if you want to buy some snacks for your journey. As a group we all walked down to the boat, ready to travel out to Ang Thong together. Now we were lucky in that we were travelling in low season but, for our tour, our speedboat was half-full, which was quite a luxurious ride. We could imagine that if the tour boat is crowded, it could be less comfortable so it’s worthwhile checking with the operator how busy your tour is, before you book it.
Photo credit: SafariBoat
The trip takes about 45 minutes and, let’s be honest, it’s bumpy. Even though the gulf of Thailand is quite placid, you’re still in a high speed motorboat, racing across the ocean. Bring motion sickness tablets if you need them, else your operator usually has Dramamine tablets lurking somewhere on the boat.
The tour itinerary
Our guide was very knowledgeable about the islands, particularly on how to avoid the crowds from other boats to ensure everyone got the best experience. In this case, he opted to get the two hiking portions of the day out of the way first, to ensure we were climbing in the cooler part of the day.
First up was the Emerald Lagoon which lives up to it’s name. This is a short hike – perhaps 10-15 minutes at fast pace – although it has some pretty steep steps, so you need to watch your footing. You’re rewarded with some pretty spectacular views of the emerald lake. Keep in mind that you can’t swim here, so might need a quick stint in the ocean before heading to your next destination.
Next stop, was one of the larger of the islands where you are also able to stay overnight – either in a hut or camping. Unfortunately we didn’t have time on our trip to do the night’s stay at Koh Wua Ta Lap, but we’ve heard that there is a good chance to see bio-luminescence at night which would be pretty special.
The best part
This is the start of the climb to the Ang Thong Marine Park Viewpoint. The hike takes about 25 minutes but is well worth it. It’s not the easiest of walks, but the reward at the summit is amazing and the vantage point allows you to see all 42 Islands of Ang thong National Marine Park. Note that it is well worth doing the hike in trainers or hiking sandals – there were a few people in normal flip flops/sandals and they struggled to do it. Make sure you also take heaps of water with you; our operator supplied us with some but yours might not.
After the walk back down, and a quick cooling dip in the sea, we then stopped off on Koh Sam Island for a delicious Thai lunch, along with some sea kayaking. Our operator brought heaps of different Thai delicacies (curry, papaya salad and even a warm vat of rice!), along with refreshing watermelon. While that settled in our bellies, we were off kayaking! It’s a relatively quick trip where you navigate round the peninsula to another beach, take a quick stroll and then return; perhaps 30 minutes in total.
Our final spot of the day took us to the more renowned snorkelling spots, where they supplied us with fins and snorkels. We didn’t have the best visibility, but we both never shy at the opportunity to jump in, cool down and explore. There were a few Angel fish, along with a bunch of smaller reef fish so it felt worth the experience. Just keep clear of the underwater rocks which are a bit jagged at times, and the spiky sea urchins!
Photo credit: SafariBoat
As you would imagine, really the same in reverse. The trip back took about 45 minutes where everyone re-hydrated and rested up after what had been a particularly active day. We arrived back at the storefront around 4pm before being transferred back to our accommodation and flopping onto our bed.
Pricing, what to pack and what to know
Costs for the trip vary per operator but ours cost 1,800 baht per person (approx. 50 GBP) at time of writing. This included everything from the transfers, lunch, snorkelling and kayaking but didn’t include the entrance fee to the Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park, which was 100 baht (2.50 GBP) per person.
For your packing list, we’d recommend the following:
- Lots of water!
- Swimming costume
- Hiking shoes or sandals
- Swimming towel
- Your own snorkelling mask (if you have one)
- Medication to consider: Motion sickness tablets, rehydration sachets
We would highly recommend the Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park Tour to anyone, the islands are stunningly beautiful and you touch on nearly all of the adventure experiences you might crave on an island holiday. More generally we recommend taking the speedboat option, as we left relatively early we beat the other boats over from Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, giving us the peace and quiet of this special place all to ourselves and others on our boat. We seemed to be departing most places just as the larger slower boats were arriving!
Getting around Thailand
If you’re looking for travel options around Thailand, we’d recommend checking out Bookaway for the best trains, bus and transfers. They have amazing 24 hour support and many routes have great cancellation policies – which is a bit of a relief, when you need to change travel plans. Trust us, that happens more than you’d expect.
Not sure about the tour or would like any other advice on travelling around Thailand? Get in touch with us or post a comment below!
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