It will be a while before I can go through all the 1,902 pictures I took at Koh Tarutao and write this up properly! In the meantime, here is a bare-bones version:
I came here for two weeks in mid February 2013.
Tarutao is a beautiful, rugged island. But people don’t come here for the snorkelling. The visibility is very very bad, probably because of deep-sea currents bringing up all the muck from the Straits of Melacca.
Most of the accessible North West Coast is plain sandy bottom. There are a few patches of reasonable coral and fishlife. If only you could see them through the murk!
For you snorkelling fix, go to Koh Lipe instead. The coral is similar and the visibility is ten times better.
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Here is the map from the National Park, with my scribbles on top.
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions
The main camp and headquarters is at (1) – Pante Melacca. The line between 1 and 3 is a river.
You’re not ‘allowed’ to swim across to the North side of the river. There’s some boat traffic from a community of Muslim fishermen living a little way up the river. They have about 20 boats coming and going, plus, of course, there is the big speedboat ferries that come from Pak Bara and Lipe, (but you get used to the timing of those).
Being a hound for exploration, I had a look across the other side. There’s a little bit of coral in the bay 100m North of the river mouth:
I enjoyed going out to (A), the headland after the bay, as there were usually lots of big fish playing around there. The best location is underneath a bit of rock that looks like a high-diving board 10m up the cliff.
You might find locals line-fishing from longtails there. Best to give them priority.
For safety – avoid the speedboat ferries by staying inside the line of the Lighthouse and in-close to the rocks when further North, near the headland.
Area B is the main beach outside Au Pante Melacca. It is flat sand and dull, dull, dull snorkelling-wise. I saw a stingray, but that’s it. The NP literature says that there are also Lionfish there. Gawd knows what they find to eat.
Area C – Au Molae
The South end of Au Molae has the best coral and would be your top-spot for off the beach snorkelling.
Go to the South end of the sand and look along the rocks on the South side of the bay. The coral starts in very shallow water, so please avoid stomping on it.
Better than average:
I swam from 6 to C once. It took about 4 hours and there was nothing much to see!
Oh, there were some cool phosphoresent plankton in the water after it got dark. Give it a try in Au Molae – jump in the inky sea and wave your arms about in the water.
Area 6 – Au Son
To the right of the bay at Au Son camp there is a little scrappy coral, but hardly worth the effort of swimming out to.
The long beach to the left (Area D) is all flat sandy bottom underwater.
It’s gorgeous up-top, though.
Area E – Au Markham
Apparently, there’s Ranger Station at E (that’s for Park Rangers only, not tourists). There are no tracks or trails accessing this bay, the only access is by boat. I didn’t come here.
Area G – Au Talo Udang
Two of the major tourist maps show there being coral in the middle of the bay at G. There isn’t. It’s all flat sandy bottom.
There used to be a hiking trail from H to G, but it’s considered to be overgrown and closed now. I did it, but I don’t recommend it unless you are a masochistic Marine.
Some of the bridges are out and you have to spring-jump up 1.3 metres from the riverbed to get back up to the remaining parts. At some points the path is still pretty reasonable, but at others, treesfalls and rockslides have made it virtually impassable.
Apart from that, you can’t sleep at H (it’s for Rangers only), and the whole journey from A or C to G is about 6 hours each way (cycling from A to H, hiking from H to G). Even if you started at first light, you would only get about half an hour on the beach before you had to turn around and come back again. If you waited for the kitchen to open to get some food before you start, then at the end of the day you’d be pushing your bike up super-steep hills surrounded by tribes of teeth-baring monkeys in the dark. Bad idea.
Here’s a picture of the ‘trail’.
and one of The Little Bulldozer Who Couldn’t:
I’ll post some more pictures of the trail someday.
Here’s the beach at 10 / G
After a quick swim around the bay at G, it was obvious that it wasn’t coral-growing territory.
I subsequently found an old survey-map that said the corals were actually around F. There’s no way you could get there without a boat.
You can get private boat trips around the whole island for 4000B. Ask at the jetty at the Park Headquarters.
Area G – Au Talo Wow
At the long jetty outside the Ranger Camp at G, there is sometimes a guy with a Longtail boat waiting to take tourists out the small islands off the East coast, there. I didn’t try it myself. Close to the coast, it is all rocky and the water was very murky. It doesn’t look at all suitable for snorkelling.
Area J – Au Rusi
Most of the marketing literature says that this area (usually referred to as Au Rusi) is the best snorkelling on Tarutao. That’s probably true, but it’s an easy-win as there’s not much else to beat!
You can only get here by an expensive longtail boat-trip, and (depending how rich you are), I would say that it’s not really worth the money. I forget the exact price, but 2000B sounds familiar.
Actually, the snorkelling is better about 2km North of Au Rusi (at J, where these pictures were taken) than in Rusi itself. Your boat driver will know where to drop you for the best stuff.
That’s all on the snorkelling for now. I loved Koh Tarutao, but not for the snorkelling.
Someday, I’ll write up the full 20,000 word version.
Pasted here is a post I made on a travel forum about Tarutao, more generally:
Supporting photos here : http://pleasenotanothertravelblog.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/miscellaneous/
Overall – well worth a visit for some beautiful naturalistic islands
-Boats to Tarutao and Lipe leave from Pak Bara port on the mainland. There is a national park office in pak bara where you can book accomodation.
-There are ferries to Lipe from Langkawi and up the Thai coast (trang islands, etc) that go to Lipe.
-The only way to get to Adang is via a private longtail boat from Lipe, but it’s not very far or expensive. Some speedboat ferries from Lanta, Trang islands might drop you off on the way past if you ask.
-The only way to get to Rawi is on a day trip/snorkelling boat or private hire loangtail boat from Lipe or Adang.
Is a biiig island (about 30km long). There is about 10km of long white (flat) sandy beaches on the North West corner.
Most people stay at the National Park Accommodation in Au Pante Melacca (right where the ferry drops you off) and/or Ao Molae (about 4km South).
Pante Melacca is the bigger and busier. There is a national park restaurant serving good, basic food at reasonable prices MENU PIC. There is also a small store. They both sell beer, but close pretty early (6pm/8pm). People are generally nature-buffs tend to get up with the sun and go to bed with the sun.
You can rent mountain bikes (200B) at Au Pante Melacca (but no-where else on the island). If you are renting a National Park tent, you get it from here and carry/pitch it yourself. There is a twice-daily ‘bus’ (truck) service to Au Molae (~40B).
I stayed in a tent, so can’t say much about the accommodation, but I did take a photograph of the ‘brochure’ showing the type and price of all accommodation on the island. It’s posted here.
In theory, you can book accommodation (less then 60 days in advance) here, but note that you have to pay for it within 3 days. In the past, this had to be in cash at a bank in Thailand, so was not much use for international bookings. There is now a bank account number listed for electronic transfers, I’ve not heard any reports about how this works internationally.
You can book (rather pricey) longtail trips to various spots on the island from the little office on the arrivals jetty in Au Pante Melacca. I think that the office there is just an ordinary independent travel agency. They will sell you onward travel tickets to just-about anywhere in Thailand. That office will also rent you kayaks to paddle up the mangrove river and into a cave with a few stalactites.
There is a short walk up to a viewpoint and there is a small Visitor centre with displays of local flora and fauna, a cool 3-d topographical map of the park, the skull of the last salt water crocodile found in Tarutao and some history about the old penal settlements.
There is a 3km beach beautiful white sand beach heading south from Pante Melacca. It will generally be totally empty south of the Park accommodation. At low tide, you can walk all the way to the next bay, but at more than about one third tide you would have to swim around a small rocky headland about halfway. Some accounts call the southern half of it Ao Jaak, but it’s effectively just part of the same long beach. There is a back road to Ao Molae, but it’s a bit of an indirect route as it climbs up and around the back of a big hill before returning to the coast.
Au Molae is a smaller bay (about 800m long). It is quieter and very naturalistic with lots of monkeys wandering on the beach. You could maybe spend a couple of days in Au Pante Melacca and a couple in Au Molae. There is a National Park restaurant here – about the same as the main one in Pante Melacca, but smaller. It closes at 8pm and the place doesn’t seem so deserted when everyone piles into the tiny restaurant for that hour between sunset and closing.
For campers, the ground is a bit lumpy here and you might want to bring your own tarp, as there’s not much shade around.
There is one more place with a restaurant on Tarutao – Au Son, another 4 km south down a rough stony road. There is no public transport to here, you have to pay (400B) for a private ‘taxi’.
You can camp here. (There are some bungalows, but I think they are mostly derelict inside).
Not so many people come here. There are toilets and a restaurant (not much english spoken) and lots of cheeky monkeys trying to steal all the food. Outside the resort there is a small, OK beach, but you really want to turn left and head down to the 3km empty beach to the south, which is a really naturalistic beauty. The best one on Tarutao.
On the east coast there is a ranger station at Au Talo Wow (half way down the island), but no restaurant, toilets or accommodation (not even space for campers). There is a long jetty and a big karst rock here, but no beach. There is a good (hilly) road from Au Pante Melacca, but no public transport. The old ferries from Tammalang are ancient history. You can hire a private ‘taxi’ from Au Pante Melacca for 600B (both ways) or cycle it in about two hours. About a km south of the jetty here is a ‘history walk’ showing the dilapidated buildings of a 1930s prison. If you are on any kind of a budget, you could easily skip this. I’ll be doing a detailed write-up on it with lots of pics sometime.
There is a 13km forest track from Au Talo Wow to a sandy bay on the south coast. It’s mostly overgrown and is strictly for masochists only. You would have cover >50km in a day under your own steam and leave before any food places have opened (going 24 hours without any food). Not recommended. If you have the money, you can take a longtail boat from the jetty at Ao Pante Melacca.
Apart from nature hikes or sitting on the beach there’s not much to do and some people don’t like the lack of entertainments. There are about 7 established treks/places to look at, but most of the island is inpenetrable forest. There are wild pigs, monkeys (some agressive, carry a big stick) and lots of insects.
National Park Website
(edit @ 2017: use the button top-right to change the language to English)
And, of course, for more info you’ve always got Tezza.
First Written March 2013, Updated March 201t