White sand beaches, palm trees, turquoise waters and amazing food. Thailand fully lives up to the hype. We spent a week on the island of Koh Samui for our friend's amazing destination wedding. The island really is the perfect size. Not too big, not too small, and packed perfectly with adventures. But, if you're looking for pristine, untouched Thailand you'll have to venture off Koh Samui and into the Mu Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park.
The marine park is a pristine marine preserve that includes 42 islands spread over 250 square kilometers. Only two of the islands are inhabited, and tourists are only allowed to overnight on one. The limestone islands form an archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand, and are home to monkeys, exotic plants and a ton of underwater sea life.
Thanks to their amazing and well deserved reviews on TripAdvisor (they have almost 1,000 reviews and five stars!), we chose 100 Degrees East for our tour. Without a tour or boat charter, there's no way of reaching the park. 100 Degrees East uses small speed boats to tour the park. Each boat only has room for 12 guests, and the guides did a great job of maneuvering us around the larger tours (many large boats hold 150 people each and cluster together in the park). We left a little later than other tours, had a flexible schedule, and usually had the beaches to ourselves.
We started the day snorkeling just north of the marine park at Koh Wao. The guides took us through two caves that the larger groups weren't allowed in. I'm a pretty good swimmer but have a healthy respect for the ocean so I usually opt to wear a life vest while snorkeling. My Maui-local boyfriend chose to free dive, and the guides were more than happy to let him do his own thing. The life vests they supplied fit really well and didn't try to choke you while snorkeling. Parts of the caves and corals were really, really shallow and I was very happy to have the vest on. The final swim back to the boat was through deeper water and while the waves weren't breaking there was a decent swell.
A short boat ride later, and we arrived at a brilliant white sand beach that we had all to ourselves. Lunch was fresh Thai food, on the beach, with fried chicken and drinks for purchase. The beach was covered in swings and there was plenty of shade. After lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon sailing between little islands and stopping for short adventures. There was kayaking (which we actually opted to skip), a hike up to a gorgeous viewpoint, some less than friendly monkeys on a beach, and one last quick stop for an orchid.
The hike takes you up to a view of the Emerald Lake and the entire Ang Thong Park. It's amazing, hidden, and very steep. It's not so much of a hike as a long ascent up stairs so steep they could easily be mistaken for a ladder. It's hot, humid and everyone was out of breath by the time we reached the top. One of the guides had a bag full of ice cold waters--thankfully. The view was great, but coming down was a bit harrowing. If you're afraid of heights, this might not be the best activity for you. I really wish I'd taken a picture of the crazy stairs/ladder but I was too busy trying not to fall.
We ended the day with one last stop. Our guides said the weather was still good, and asked if we wanted to see a rare blue orchid that is only found in the park. I'm flower crazy and obviously agreed. After another short boat ride, and we found ourselves in paradise on Ko Wua Talap. Seriously, I could have skipped the entire day and just come straight here. It was perfect. Powder white beach, monkeys, a friendly island cat, adorable little bungalows, and pristine turquoise water. The island was deserted. We spent an hour wandering around, swimming and just taking it all in. Ko Wua Talap is also where the headquarters of the park are. For 600 baht you can spend the night in a bungalow. That's less than $20. Non-Thai citizens are only allowed one night, so make the most of it! It's seriously a bucket-list thing, and we're already trying to plan a trip back.