In a nutshell
Koh Tarutao can be loosely translated to mean old and mysterious. After a brief few moments on the island, this name seems perfectly apt. Towering, gnarly cliffs, incredibly dense jungle, mangrove swamps, and beaches teeming with stinging creatures all make this small patch of land ideal for the Indiana Jones wannabe, and hell for those who crave internet and soft blankets and fresh smelling clothes.
Why go to koh Tarutao
Koh Tarutao is most certainly suited for the adventurous souls. With no resorts, interesting smoothies or cocktail bars, holiday makers should beware. Head to the island for the deep, lively, and slightly intimidating forest.
The Thai government sent 3,000 prisoners to the island in the 1930’s and 40’s. When supplies to the island ran dry during the Second World War, hundreds upon hundreds of prisoners died of disease and starvation. The remaining few resorted to piracy for survival, producing a tale reminiscent of scary movie scenes with blood-chilling images. While the story is one of great tragedy, the ruins of the prison are brilliantly interesting and provide strong lessons to be learned.
Through the intensely dense jungle that covers over 70 per cent of the island are deep and dark roads, covered in moss and the scuffling of small creatures. The roads beg for exploration and make for one special mountain bike ride.
The hiking paths are not too dissimilar from this. The sounds and smells of the forest and its animals provide a scintillating experience as you trudge through the impossibly dense, and sometimes incredible steep portions of the jungle. Bring all the water that you can carry-there is nowhere to re-stock, and it’d be preferable to stay off the toll of untimely and disastrous deaths on the island.
The island has several snorkelling spots. The island was, in fact, Thailand’s first ever marine park. The waters can be fantastic on some days, but murky on others. There are also the population of small rays and jelly fish that add a level of danger to your swims. If this intrigues you, you obviously haven’t been stung – it’s not great.
While you attempt to take in the views surrounding you, float down the mangrove-lined canal on a kayak. Alternatively, hop on a long tail boat and venture to some of the more distant bays and islets. Keep your eye out for rare bird species, and be sure to tell your uncle Ned about what you find. To Bu Cliff, over 110 metres high, and the serene Lu Du waterfall are also well worth a visit.
When to go to Koh Tarutao
For the best weather, but higher prices and more people, head to the island during November and May. Rainy season will make the island far more like the ghost town that it once was, and will surely make for a special experience too. If you’re into that, head on over between the months of May and October. A valid consideration is your plans beyond your visit to the island. Your stay on Koh Lipe will most certainly benefit from rays of sunshine and the absence of damp rain jackets.
Where to stay on Koh Tarutao
As with most national parks in Thailand, the accommodation options can be pretty basic. There are few surprises here.
If you have your own tent, you’ll pay a mere 30 THB to camp at any of the three main beaches – amazing! If you need to rent one, you’ll have to pay 250 THB for the night. You’ll get bedding, scenic views, and a pretty unique experience – give thanks for third world regulations and the freedom to roam and explore the countryside.
Cabin-style rooms at Ao Phante differ very little from the norm in Thailand. The rooms are spacious, have wooden floors and plenty of windows. The beds are a little hard, and fans a little noisy and the water streaming out the shower head a little cold. This is all manageable when you consider where you are, the price you’re paying, and the great story you’ll be able to tell when you get home. Rooms here go for 600 THB and have the advantage of being near to the main park services.
Couples in search of seclusion and a moderately romantic evening will have their needs satiated by the bungalows down at Ao Molae. The rooms are big, the bathrooms clean and the beds comfortable. There is even a restaurant nearby. You’re also much closer to the Lu Du waterfall and Ao Son – which are both great ways to spend some time. Rooms go for 600 THB.
Electricity on the island is available in the evenings, and the water for your showers will most certainly be cold. Your sense of immersion in the jungle and extraction from the oh so comfortable norm of heated towel rails and organic facewashes is strong. But, it’s fun!
Where and what to eat on Koh Tarutao
Don’t expect expertly cooked, thick, bloody steaks. Don’t expect macaroons and craft beer. Do expect tofu, rice, eggs, Thai basil, soups and bursts of flavour. The three local spots on the island are your typical roadside kind of establishments. The fare is basic, cheap and full of character – and maybe some preservatives – who knows! Thai curries, fish dishes, Pad Thai and other classic Thai dishes fill the majority of the menu. However, French fries, some simple sandwiches and some even more simple western breakfasts are available too.
Be sure to make it to the restaurants in the opening hours. After they’re gone, there is very little that you can do about your tummy rumbling and the slow onset of food-shaped hallucinations. It is wise to pick up some snacks at the pier when you arrive to tide you over until your next meal.
How to get around Koh Tarutao
Getting between the various beaches and points of interest in the park isn’t easy. Walks or cycles are long and bumpy and will have you working up a bit of a sweat. If you’re not in for this, you can rent a songthaew kind of taxi to take you around the island for three hours on a trip. This will set you back a strong 600 THB. Ultimately, your best bet may be a mountain bike for the days that you are there. Considering the pain you avoid and energy you conserve, 250 THB a day seems well worth it.
How to get in and from Koh Tarutao
Pak Bara Pier on the mainland is the main departure and arrival point between the mainland and the island. Speedboats are the only manner of getting through to the island.
From Pak Bara the speedboat departs at 12.30pm and will make a stop at the island within the next 30 minutes. Adang Sea Tour has a boat at 11.30am during high season and there may be a couple of other options between November and March. The trip will set you back between 450 THB and 600 THB.
Pak Bara-bound boats leave the island at 12.30pm and cost as much the initial trip. Should there be sufficient demand, there may be another trip through, but this is only likely in peak season.
Heading in from Koh Lipe, there is little difference in the process. Head to the pier and catch the speedboat to the island at 9.30am or 11.30am. It takes a bit longer than from Pak Bara, and will see you arrive within 60-90 minutes. This trip costs up to 650 THB. Boats for Koh Lipe leave Koh Tarutao at 12.00pm.
These times are largely accurate. However, according to demand, the schedule of the trips will change. Check with staff at the relevant piers in order to confirm these details, or find out about additional trips. There are many companies that offer this trip at various prices. Do your best to get a good rate with a bit of asking around.
Coming from Bangkok? Book a flight with NokAir to Trang. Take a minibus from here through to Pak Bara pier and then the ferry from there. The minibus and ferry shouldn’t cost you more than 600 THB.
The park charges at 20 THB entrance fee. Which, considering the immensity of the unspoiled forest at your fingertips, is an absolute score!
Is Koh Tarutao a safe place to visit?
Safety on Koh Tarutao is really nothing to be concerned about. The prisoners and pirates are long gone and the local people living on the island are famously smiley. Should you be smart about your possessions and not leave them unattended, it is highly unlikely that any harm will come to you.
Should you graze, cut, or incur a minor injury during your adventures on the islands, park rangers are able to assist you. Any serious injury, however, will require a trip to the hospital in La-Ngu on the mainland.