Angthong Marine Park: How to plan your day
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. How so? Read on...
Ang Thong National Marine Park
So, where have you seen Ang Thong Marine Park? 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.
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 gypsies are said to live on one, living as traditional fishermen.
Ang Thong Marine Park is 250 km², though most visitors will see only a tiny portion.
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
Tip: Get more tips, charter recommendations and more ideas for day-trips in The Koh Samui Guide.
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.
Ferry and boat options from Koh Samui to Ang Thong
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).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.
‘Ang Thong’ means “Golden Bowl”.
What to bring on your Ang Thong tour?
Mosquito protection: Standard for anything you do in Thailand, but especially so if you'll take any hikes or walks through vegetation up to viewpoints. As you'll be in and out of the water all day, you might add waterproof repellent bracelets. As always, a bottle of quality mosquito repellent, like Incognito, should be one of the first things in your day bag or backpack (see my favourites).
Sun protection: Now's the time to add a long-sleeve UPF 50+ swim t-shirt, and anything else that's UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor). Swim t-shirts tend to be thinner fabric than rash guards and are better for Thai heat and humidity. The joy of Ang Thong is a day of water and more water. Using sunscreen alone – even if you manage to reapply it on wet skin – you could end up badly sunburned by the end of the day. The genius of UPF fabric is that it retains its sun protection even when it's wet (unlike sunscreen which will give you 40 to 80 minutes depending on the brand). If you're fastidious about sun protection (or just don't want wrinkles), I recommend such a swim top as a vital packing inclusion.
More sun protection: As for sunscreen? Note that common sunscreen ingredients known to harm coral reefs are (technically) banned in Thai national parks – including Ang Thong National Marine Park. If you'd like to stick to the letter of the law (or just do your bit for coral), pack a mineral sunscreen. I've tried most of them and prefer Blue Lizard Active Mineral-Based Sunscreen Lotion and Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen Spray.
Sun hat: Finish your sun safety with a wide-brimmed sunhat – again in a UPF fabric. My choice here is Outdoor Research Sombriolet Sun Hat – tried and tested by yours truly on fast boats in strong wind. If your hat choice doesn't have a drawstring, plan to spend the multi-hour boat trip holding it on your head. Final flourish? Don't forget your lips: Jack Black SPF Lip Balm is my favourite.
Appropriate shoes: You want grippy sandals that can get wet and will stay on your feet. Ideally they can handle a bit of hiking, too. Something like Keen sports sandals (+ women's version) are ideal – 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.
Water: Check that your charter provides drinking water. If you're not used to strong heat, you might include a tube of electrolyte drink tabs (or pack a carton of coconut water).
Your backpack: If you're planning lots of island-y adventures in Thailand, it's worth packing a dedicated daypack and keeping it stocked with some "just in case" bits. Many hiking daypacks fold up to a tiny travel pouch that fits in your hand, as do micofibre travel towels. Finally, a mini first aid kit and seasickness bands (if you're so afflicted) earn you an A+ in preparation.
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.
Channelling Leo in The Beach is one thing, Titanic… quite another.
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.