The Beautiful Tarutao National Marine Park
Koh Tarutao National Marine Park is perhaps one the most unique regions of Thailand, with some of the most pristine, untouched islands and beach destinations, which are still accessible. Luckily enough, there are strict Thai laws that keep Tarutao National Marine Park protected from over development – this area is one of the most exquisite, unspoiled regions in Asia. Tarutao National Marine Park is the largest nature reserve in South East Asia and is located in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Southern Thailand, just above its border with Malaysia. Protected partly by its national park status, and mostly by its relative inaccessibility, Koh Tarutao National Marine Park is a destination many people dream of visiting.
The huge archipelago features a myriad of coral reefs and 51 tropical islands, most of which are uninhibited, with well-preserved virgin rain forests that are home to an abundance of life. Of the 51 islands, there are 7 large islands; namely, Koh Tarutao, Koh Adang, Koh Rawi, Koh Lipe, Koh Klang, Koh Batuang, and Koh Bitsi. These islands have been formed into two major groups; Muko Tarutao to the East and Muko Adang – Rawi to the West.
Tarutao, which is situated off the coast of Satun Province was established as a national park in April 1974, and it prides its unspoiled tropics in the Andaman Sea. The park, which covers an area of 1,490 square kilometres, was originally named by the Malay’s as Pulau Tertua, which means ‘old, mysterious and primitive island’. This was used to name and describe the main island of the national park. The word ‘Tarutao’ was gradually changed from ‘Talotrao’ in Malay, which means having many bays.
Where to Stay
Many travellers choose to stay on Koh Lipe because of its natural beauty and peaceful surroundings. It is fast becoming a popular and increasingly desirable resort island to visit in Asia. This paradise island is filled with tourist amenities, picturesque resorts and homely bungalows. Koh Lipe is the ideal place the stay if you wish to have easy access to Tarutao National Marine Park by take a boat tour.
You can even choose to camp at the national park over night, or alternatively return to the comfort of your own bed back on Koh Lipe at the end of the day. Whether staying at the National Park or just visiting on a day trip, it is truly spectacular to witness such wonders of nature. There are not many places like this accessible for people in the world, making it a region which exceeds expectations.
If you prefer an adventure, you may wish to experience camping on one of the primitive islands for a night. This can be easily arranged as locals have specific regions that are set up as camp sites. Koh Tarutao, one of the main islands, offers a variety of government run accommodation including tee pee tents and family sized tents, as well as activities for those staying on the island. Koh Adang, on the other hand, is much lower key and set up for travellers who wish to relax, relax and relax a little bit more. Tents and sleeping bags are available to rent on arrival at various campsites across the islands. They can cost as little as 200 baht for a day. Unfortunately, there is no possibility to book your camping equipment in advance.
There are very few bungalows on Koh Tarutao and Koh Adang, which are situated near the ranger stations on both isles. If you would like the opportunity to stay in a bungalow, as opposed to camping, you must visit the Department of National Parks (DNP) Wildlife and Plant Conservation website to book your bungalow in advance.
Prices can be found on their website and stay the same throughout the year. Depending on whether it is high or low season, it is usually fairly easy to secure a bungalow when you book in advance.
Getting to Tarutao National Park
There is a one-time national park admission charge upon arrival at Tarutao National Marine Park. This costs just 200 THB for foreigners and 40 THB for Thai citizens. Speedboats and long tail boats chartering between Koh Lipe and Pak Bara will often take a diversion and stop at Koh Tarutao, so long as the captain has been notified ahead of time. There is usually a little extra charge, about 50 baht, but you will be taken exactly where you want to go. The journey from either Pak Bara or Koh Lipe to Koh Tarutao takes around 45 minutes and costs approximately 300 THB, depending on the weather and tides. You may be able to buy a ticket between Pak Bara and Koh Lipe, stopping over in Koh Tarutao for a few days. This means you can camp on the main tropical island and throughout the day explore its untouched jungles; a truly magical experience of nature in the tropics.
Pak Bara, which has a pier on the mainland of the Satun Province, is easily accessible, offering bus and minibus connections to and from most of the major cities in Thailand, including Bangkok and some of the neighbouring provinces like Krabi and Nakhon Si Thammarat. Koh Lipe, as one of the islands of the national park is accessible from the mainland coast of Thailand, but can also be reached from Malaysia, with boats ferrying between there and Langkawi. Should you choose to take a bus to Pak Bara from another port somewhere in Thailand, it is advised to check the times of the ferries to save you having to spend a night in Pak Bara.
Ferries depart daily from Koh Lipe for Koh Tarutao at 9:30am all the year round, and there are additional departures at 12:30pm and 1:30pm during the high season.
From Pak Bara, ferries leave daily for Koh Tarutao at 11:30am. This is operational throughout the year and costs 300 baht each. During high season there are more regular ferries, which leave daily at 2:30pm and 3:30pm.
Long tail tours and boats to outlying islands can be arranged and chartered through a number of travel agencies in the province of Satun. Tourists traveling from Pak Bara can also book through the national park headquarters. Most hotels and resorts also have information and booking services, which are linked to long tail boat operators on Koh Lipe.
What to Expect
These islands host lands that have never been touched before. Although there are trips introducing tourists to the marine park throughout the year, it is government protected; ensuring wildlife and the natural beauty remains priority above tourism.
The calm, crystal water makes Tarutao National Marine Park area ideal for holiday makers as you get to see extraordinary landscapes that can only be seen in certain parts of South East Asia. Many tourists travel to the park, specifically for scuba diving or snorkelling. With 25% of the world’s tropical fish species found in the area, it is a region all marine enthusiasts should visit. On Koh Tarutao island, there is not much to see when snorkelling, though there is a good spot on the north-east side of the island, which can be reached by long tail boat. Instead, park staff recommend dive sites around Koh Lipe and Adang, which sport huge, colourful coral reefs and marine life of all shapes and sizes.
Koh Tarutao, the largest island of the National Park, covers an area of 152 square kilometres. Most of this region is mountainous with a moist evergreen forest, alive with interesting species of plants and wildlife unique to South East Asia. Species include herds of wild cattle, wild boars, hornbills and mischievous macaque monkeys. The island is home to a number of beautiful bays and the sea around the island is said to be a nesting spot for endangered species of turtles.
The rest of the islands within the National Park are teeming with further wildlife including dusky langurs, crab-eating macaques, mouse deer, sea otters, fishing cats, monitor lizards, snakes such as cobras, king cobras and tree pythons, plus beautiful birds, including hornbills and kingfishers. As well as dense jungles and white powdered, sandy beaches, the uninhibited islands have tucked away treasures of natural beauty spots. There are waterfalls, hidden turquoise lagoons and an abundance of mangroves.
There are eco-friendly nature trails set around several of the islands to give travellers a real taste of the raw tropics. Tarutao Nature Trail, from the park’s headquarters in Ao Phante Melaka, is a nature trail that masses through a luscious evergreen forest, which eventually brings you out at Ao Talo Wao. This 12 kilometre path is flanked by dense woodland and shady plants as well as wild animals and many interesting species of bird. In particular, the hornbill can be often seen along the way.
Another nature trail is to Ao Chak, Ao Mo and Ao Son. This 8 kilometre walk takes around 2 hours and while trekking you are able to experience passing through a virgin rainforest. It’s common for people to go birdwatching here. Sounds of exotic birds can be heard from the tree tops; it’s truly magical to walk through this terrain and explore nature.
Additional activities on these tours include kayaking, which is awesome for the adventurous who want to scope out the seas alone. Nature-loving tourists will enjoy days at the waterfall and watching animals such as monkeys and wild boars. If you still have some energy left, there are fresh water lagoons and viewpoints up on the high cliffs too, where you can admire the stunning panoramic views across the national park and beyond.
How Long to Stay
The majority of travellers take one-day boat trips around Tarutao National Marine Park, which includes light snorkelling at coral reefs and visits to several beaches and mangrove forests off the coast of specific islands. These organised trips will take visitors to see birds at Ao Chak; the beautiful sandy beach at Ao Son, which is the longest stretch of white sand on Koh Tarutao; historical traces at Ao Talo Udang; and the brilliance of nature at Ao Talo Wao, where there are often divers round the coral reefs.
The more hardcore traveller is likely to choose a weekend trip, or stay for 3-4 days to visit Tarutao National Marine Park. For around 8,000 baht these eco-friendly tours provide living arrangements, food and a range of exciting activities to keep you busy throughout the day. In fact, a 4 day stay over at the marine park will be packed with things to do and places to see. People who love the outdoors will be in their element at Tarutao. With such unspoiled grounds, there is a lot to take in and explore; making the marine park an especially memorable experience. A trip like this includes everything you’ll need, except alcohol.
During an all-inclusive stay, some of the activities include trekking and snorkelling, with all the amenities you could need readily available and welcomed in the price. For the three nights you stay at the national park, you will be camping, but the tents, which are funded by government and park officials, are homely, with bedroom space as well as a living area.
When to Visit
The best time to visit is during November to April, however if you are in the area any other time of year, the park is still accessible; potentially the weather will be the only concern. Find out when is the best time to visit Koh Lipe and its surrounding islands before you book your trip.
In the summer months, it can get hot as the sun comes up, so tourists are encouraged to wake up and start the day early. The only real drama during certain months can be a tropical rainstorm, in which case you might get a little wet. But generally the tents, which include sleeping bags too, are comfortable and spacious.