Let’s cover the basics of Ang Thong Marine Park quite quickly: it’s beautiful, and you need to go there. Actually, you’ve probably already seen it without realising. When Leonardo DiCaprio wasn’t splendidly shirtless and fighting crocodiles, his character in The Beach spent some time at Ang Thong’s beautiful, bright blue lake: Thale Nai, or Emerald Lake.
Ang Thong National Marine Park
What is Ang Thong? 42 islands comprise this protected archipelago. If you’re picturing a “park-park”, replace picnic benches in your mind with, oh, three dozen more islands. 41 of the islands are uninhabited. Sea gipsies are said to live on one, living as traditional fishermen.
Why visit Ang Thong Marine Park? Even if you’ve spent time in other beautiful corners of Thailand – this place has extra-special all over. It’s remote, a few hours’ boat ride from Koh Samui (depending on the boat), though the islands’ composition looks even further removed. (Mountains and rock faces are limestone, as opposed to Koh Samui’s rich, orange-red, earth). The trip’s highlight is Emerald Lake at Ang Thong which you’ll likely recognise from the movie The Beach.
How to plan your day-trip to Ang Thong
Group excursion vs private charter You heard it here first: there will be other people at Ang Thong Marine Park! Still prettier than where you’re currently sitting? To have more control over your day at Ang Thong and where you stop, considering booking a more personalised charter. Private charters are available from a number of companies, as are ‘more the merrier’ mass outings. Of course, smaller, faster boats with more customisable itineraries do cost more (and vice versa).
Group bookings will depart on a set schedule with designated times at each island stop – i.e. a few hours set aside for snorkelling. If you like groups and get along with strangers, you’re assured of a great day out. Otherwise, consider a private charter. A trip Ang Thong is amongst the best of Koh Samui’s experiences.
When to go: We recommend giving yourself a few days on Koh Samui before your excursion, in order to adjust to the strong sun and heat. You don’t want to spend a day on a boat in full sun before you’ve accepted you need major SPF.
Schedules to Ang Thong: Plan for a full day out. Most tours leave Koh Samui early in the morning, and the journey by boat to Ang Thong is a few hours.
Before you hire a boat: Be sure to ask what’s included and not – i.e. life jackets, drinking water and snacks, snorkel gear, etc. Reputable companies provide water but do make sure. Also, check in advance the availability of shade on the boat you choose! (Especially important if you’re coming to Koh Samui with children).
Ferry and boat options from Samui to Ang Thong: Get there in a big boat, little boat, private boat, busy boat, fast boat or by sailboat. Many Koh Samui charter companies have a range of craft to suit your budget and size of group.
How to hire a boat and make a booking: If you have a big group, a tight schedule or specific requirements – certainly inquire with boat charters in advance, by email. Many have expat involvement so English language communication isn’t a problem. However, if you’d like to wait and see, it’s definitely possible to book your Ang Thong day-trip with little notice once on Koh Samui or Koh Phangan. You’ll find booking offices and travel agents all over Samui. Otherwise, check with your hotel and have them do the legwork. It’ll cost more, but laziness and holidays go so well together.
Your day at Ang Thong Marine Park
What to bring on your Ang Thong tour?
Appropriate shoes: Women’s Merrell Jacardia sandals or men’s Merrell Kahuna sandals – sturdy sandals like these can handle water and grip slick surfaces. Getting from your boat to the island, you’ll likely need to hop in and out of a longtail boat tender – just a mention if anyone in your group would struggle.
Camera or phone protection: DicaPac Waterproof Camera Case means not only do you not have to worry about dropping it out of a long-tail boat, but you can take great photos while snorkelling.
Beach reading: The Beach – if not now, when?
Microfibre travel towel: Sea to Summit DryLite Towel – weighs nothing and gets you dry in an instant. Its silver-ion magic bits mean it won’t ever smell in Thailand’s heat.
Water: unless you’ve checked that your charter provides it.
Sun protection: Most of all – be smart with the sun. Wear a reliable sunscreen with high SPF, and a wide-brimmed sunhat (even better if it won’t fly off a fast boat). Don’t forget seasickness bands, if you’re so afflicted.
Things to do at Ang Thong
On arrival, you’ll probably visit the largest island, Koh Wua Ta Lap (though boutique tour operators avoid this busy spot and find quieter stops). Wua Ta Lap operates as a sort of “Camp HQ”, with a small restaurant and adjacent museum (perhaps a stretch of the term – on our last visit there was a preserved dugong in a tank). You might then eat lunch. The food is along ‘get what you’re given’ lines – it’s basic but not really the point of your trip. Call it camp food – sustenance on a nature outing, rather than Pad Thai of a lifetime.
Reality vs expectation: Unlike the movie and the postcards, there will be other people at Ang Thong. It’s a great spot and, while not over-run, many TripAdvisor comments bemoan: “Lovely spot, shame about everyone else”. Depart for Ang Thong with realistic expectations. Yes, it’s absolute paradise, but it’s not going to be all yours. (However, boutique tour operators come as close as possible and do an incredible job of avoiding the crowds).
Hike to Leo’s Lake (Emerald Lake): To see Leo’s Lake, you’ve got the option of hiking up some stairs to enjoy the view. You can’t swim in it or go near it – but nature’s better appreciated in a “look but don’t touch” sort of way, right?
The climbs up to the viewpoints are quite steep – highly recommended if you’re in decent shape (and are wearing shoes or sandals up to the job). Small children might struggle with this climb.
Beaches and snorkelling: Back down at sea level, you’ll have time to enjoy your desert island experience, swim, snorkel and enjoy your group’s company. Some charters offer kayaking as a separate option – the only way to see some of the caves up close.
Wildlife viewing: Keep your eyes open and bring some binoculars! 16 types of mammals are found across the island (or so says Wikipedia).
Ang Thong Marine Park weather
Above all else – check the weather forecast before you depart for Ang Thong. If poor weather is predicted, perhaps postpone your day trip to avoid a rough journey.
Ang Thong National Marine Park closing period
Are you coming to Koh Samui in November or December? The park is usually closed to visitors from November 1st through December 23rd yearly, to give nature and its creatures a break. That said, this period is Koh Samui’s rainy season, with a high likelihood of very rough seas. You don’t want to go to Ang Thong at that time of year, anyway. Promise. (If rainy season is light, these dates adjust accordingly. Ask your tour operator for updates).
However you make it happen – do be sure to get to Ang Thong Marine Park at least once in your lifetime. We insist!