Ang Thong National Marine Park along with Sail Rock are the two most famous dive spots that are accessible from Mae Haad. What is less well known is that Ang Thong is a fascinating collection of islands to the West of Koh Phangan that is great for not only diving but also snorkelling and kayaking. If you are looking for an interesting day trip, a break from the relaxing sands of Mae Haad then Ang Thong Marine Park might be the ideal destination for you.
From the north of Koh Phangan it takes just over 2 hours to reach the northern tip of the Ang Thong island chain. The main island and where you find the park headquarters is Koh Wua Talap. Here you will find a restaurant, some bungalows and two beaches at either end of the island. You can trek between the two beaches via a 30-minute jungle trek. There aren’t any roads on the Ang Thong islands and this trek is through thick jungle. To make things easier for visitors there is a rope to guide you.
‘Ang Thong’ means ‘golden bowl’. It refers to the large inland lake in the archipelago. The lake is located on Koh Mae Ko. The saltwater lake is called Thale Noi. The turquoise water and rich bio-diversity make it a great place to snorkel or dive.
The islands are the peaks from a flooded limestone mountain range. Each of the islands have unusual shapes made by karst rocks. The names of the islands in translation reflect the shapes such as ‘Sleeping Cow Island’ and ‘Three Pillars Island’.
On Koh Paluay is a semi-permanent settlement of Sea Gypsies or Moken. They follow an animistic religion and migrated to the Gulf from farther south in Malaysia. Other than the park rangers and the Thais working at the restaurant and bungalows these are the only people on the islands.
Because the islands are mostly uninhabited they are full of fascinating flora and fauna. These include Leopard cats, long tail macaques, sea otters and the dusky langur.
Activities on Ang Thong Marine Park include trekking, exploring hidden coves in sea kayaks, snorkelling, and of course, diving. The depth ranges from shallow to 25 meters. The best dive spots in Ang Thong Marine Park are Hin Yippon, Koh Yippon and Koh Luuk Lek. There are plenty of coral gardens as well as swim-throughs. You can spot the famous whale shark as well as common fish such as trigger fish and parrot fish. For those looking to spot rarer species there is the also the chance to see sea snakes and turtles.
From a diving point of view the other great thing about the Ang Thong Marine Park is that it is seldom visited by the large Koh Tao diver groups as it is too far away. Too many dive boats tend to scare off the wildlife and make the water crowded. This is not the case at Ang Thong.
All the dive shops in Mae Haad, Haad Salad, Haad Yao and Chaloklum have regular day trips to the islands. Snorkelers are welcome to join too. Trips usually include transfers and free lunch on the boat. It is also possible to find boat tours to the islands. You can asked to be left on the islands and be picked up the following day. For those looking for the ultimate remote and Robinson Crusoe experience it is hard to beat. Indeed this is where the film ‘The Beach’ is supposed to be set.