Koh Tarutao National Marine Park is located off the west coast of Thailand. It consists of 51 islands and it is one of the richest marine reserves in the country. The islands are reached from Pak Bara pier on the mainland, where boats leave at 10:30 or 15:00 daily. The cost is 100 Baht, or about 3US$. Pak Bara pier can be reached from the town of Satun, in the extreme south-west of Thailand. The island group is close to the Malaysian border and, in fact, can sometimes be seen from Malaysia.
The islands that have boat service and camping facilities are Koh Tarutao, Koh Adang and Koh Lipe. There are opportunities for sea kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving around all of the islands, but most services are organized from the mainland. There are also many well marked hiking trails on the main islands, not to mention beautiful, white sandy beaches. The best times to visit the islands are during the dry season from November to May as access might be limited and dangerous during the monsoons.
Koh Tarutao, the main island in this group, like Koh Tao on the east coast, was once a prison island for political prisoners and high security inmates. Remains of the jail buildings can still be seen. On April 20, 1974, the island group was proclaimed a national park. Later UNESCO proclaimed Tarutao National Park as an ASEAN Heritage Site.
One of the greatest features of Koh Tarutao Marine Park is the complete lack of development that has overtaken many of the other islands in Thailand. The accommodation is basic and most visitors camp. On Koh Tarutao, there is only one restaurant, the park run canteen and the electrical generators are only run for 4 hours a day, from 6pm-10pm. This renders the place empty of party animals and it is lovely to be able to stare at the stars in a light free and quiet environment.
I had the chance to visit the main island of this marine park, Koh Tarutao at the end of 1999. I reached the island only hours after crossing the border from Malaysia and it was my first island experience. This means that I didn’t fully appreciate the isolation and seclusion of this island paradise until a couple years later when I had experienced the more crowded islands of Koh Tao, Koh Chang and Koh Samui. There is something to be said about sharing a 3 km long pristine beach with only a dozen other people.