In 2000, The Beach may not have garnered great critical reception, but we can all appreciate what the film starring Leonardo Dicaprio tried to give us: a vision of paradise (and how it can go wrong, but we’ll ignore that part). While it was shot on Thailand’s Koh Phi Phi nearby, Alex Garland’s original novel, The Beach, was inspired by the scenery of Ang Thong Marine National Park.
Koh Samui is perhaps Thailand’s second-most popular island tourist draw (after Phuket). It is a land where tourists wear swimsuits on the streets and can get away with having very little to do with real Thai culture, and many do. But, Koh Samui is brimming with opportunities to get to know the culture and the land. Its close proximity to Ang Thong Marine National Park is one of its many hooks. The Park consists of 40 small islands in the Gulf of Thailand. It is slightly northwest of Koh Samui and southwest of Koh Pha Ngan (home to Thailand’s famed Full Moon and Half Moon Parties).
The most common way to get to the park is to take a boat tour. These usually provide lunch and snacks and can have a max group size of 40-50 people. Tim and I opted for the company Blue Stars and luckily ended up with a group of less than 20–including Brits, Italians, Germans, and us, the Canadians. The leader is a nice German guy who took the time to do both English and German versions of his spiel about the park. We snacked on croissants and fresh fruits on the 1.5-hour boat ride from Mae Nam Beach.
Going to Thailand during the rainy season is a great thing for many reasons: less crowds, lower prices, but you’ve got to take the rain when it comes. Luckily, today the clouds opened up and the sky above the Gulf of Thailand would be blue for the entire trip.
Surrounded by a group of small, rocky islands, separated by varying deep blue and turquoise waters, the boat anchored. We went to the back of the lower deck and took turns settling into kayaks in pairs. Two Thai guides led us around islands, along the caves and overhangs. Black rocks shadowed over us in areas, and white sand sparkled up through clear shallows. This is a place to be lost (though not to be tipped over, so be careful).
After kayaking for a while, we headed back to the boat and spent some time swimming, snorkeling and jumping off the second-story deck of the boat. In the rainy season, the water can be a bit turbid for snorkeling. Tropical fish, coral, and urchins with scarily long and needle-like spines make up the underwater landscape through the haze. In places, the coral and urchins are only several feet below, so it’s quite easy to scrape or cut yourself (which I did, just a little).
Back on the boat, we sailed south to Koh Mae to see its interior Green Lagoon. Along the way, we passed 40-meter-tall islands of rock and white-sand beach on every corner. No wonder Garland was so inspired here. In the kayak again, we landed on one of the beaches and made our way up a steep wooden staircase. Between the steep cliffs of Koh Mae we could finally see the emerald waters of the Lagoon, accompanied by sounds of buzzing wildlife in the trees. Growing heat and humidity meant a quick retreat to the beach and the cool waters once again. After a short time, we were back on the boat again for another two hours of sailing on the Gulf, making our way back to Koh Samui.
Blue Stars rate for 1-day tour: THB 2,200 per person for Adults = about $75 CAD = about $68 USD
7:30 am – 4:30 pm, include pickup, dropoff, park admission, lunch and light breakfast
Some info courtesy of Tim, read his article here.