Ang Thong National Marine Park – Paradise!

Day 18

My sunburnt shoulders and back were healing but were a horrible peeling mess. So a t-shirt for today’s outing! An early start for a tour pickup. In classic Thai fashion one hour later the mini-bus finally arrived and we drove at hair-raising speed along to the south coast, stopping at resorts to collect people. The posh resorts employ death-defying guards whose job is to run into the constant melee of traffic with a stop sign so that vehicles can enter and leave the resorts – otherwise they are stuck waiting for hours. As you see motorbikes and pickup trucks veering around them I wonder how many get flattened. To get a sense of the madness of Samui’s roads get this: I read Thailand has the highest road accident rate in the world, and in Thailand Koh Samui has the highest accident rating of all! There’s always people doing crazy overtaking, farangs riding around on bikes for the first time, people pulling out of nowhere, vehicles on the wrong side of the road, animals in the road, you name it – and because the roads are good everyone is going fast.

At the docks we got onto a big “slow boat”. Speedboat tours cost over double. The travel agent had recommended this company over another one which seemed exactly the same because of they had a nice new boat. Well, if it exists, this wasn’t it. This ship was falling apart. It was about 500 years old but had a certain rusty charm to it I suppose. Aside from me there were very few people alone on board, most were couples of all ages and nationalities, with a few families and groups of friends thrown in.

Hello, I’m new apparently

We headed out for over an hour towards the park. Our jolly guide showed us the options available when we arrived. I asked him about the climb to the viewpoint the Brits had warned me about. “You’ll be ok, just be careful”. No kayaking for me of course! As we approached the green islands came out of the haze. I read this was one of the places for the inspiration for the novel and film “The Beach” and you can see why. Real paradise islands covered in hilly jungle with little strips of white sand and limestone cliffs and formations rising off them. Very cool.

We landed on this beach

We pulled into the big island where the park headquarters are and got on a longboat to the beach. You can stay in bungalows here, I’d love to do that sometime but it’s too pricey for solo travel. A few other big boats were moored offshore and the island was quite busy. I began the climb up the jungle path to the viewpoint. It was hard going and immediately got quite steep with natural steps between roots and jagged rocks, some smooth from many feet over the years. In the wet this would be lethal but the weather was true to the forecast, a bit cloudy and strong sun. I had got lucky!

The jungle climb

By 200m up the going was steep and I wished I’d brought more water. There was a rope by this point to help with the climb. The viewpoints at 100 and 200m were impressive but I just stopped to look quickly and pressed on to the top, we didn’t have much time. I was encouraging a German woman who was with me who was on the verge of giving up – promising her the view would be worth it!

The last section was as extreme as I’d heard. A steep climb over a diagonal slope of jagged grey rock with no path and a rope to help.With one arm and my heavy camera shoulder bag this was quite a challenge but slowly and surely, with the help of the rope, I climbed my way up. A little wooden platform is just below the summit and the view is amazing as you can see! Photos with the tripod I’d lugged up were almost impossible as anyone moving on the platform vibrated the whole thing. Well, sharp photos or not the view was worth the climb. Quite a few people gave me kudos for doing it one-armed!

A very treacherous climb…

…but this is the reward!

The descent was very slow going and much harder than the climb. I got there in the end and saw some monkeys on the way down with a baby. They didn’t move to anywhere easy to photograph. I discovered a small scratch on my big zoom, probably from sand. Damn, that will come up in every photo with that lens now.

Amazingly I wasn’t the last back and the other stragglers arrived to get a longboat back to the big boat. When the guide’s assistant told him I’d gone to the top the guide was laughing at me. “I thought you meant you go to the 100m viewpoint, not 500m! You are climbing up there with one arm – good man! Haha!”. We had an epic lunch on board and I chatted to some 50ish Aussie chaps who, when I told them of my plans for scoping out Oz for emigration, warned me that they reckon Oz working hours and conditions will go down the pan soon, along with the economy. The cost of living there has reached untenable levels, one of them explained. I guess I’ll have to see how things are in a year or two.

We puttered through the scenic islands through turquoise water, next stop was a paradise bay with a path up from the beach to a lagoon. By “path” I mean the steepest steps known to mankind. If you don’t hold the rail you are mental as one foot between those steps would be a broken leg, and one slip a broken neck! The lagoon is awesome though, well worth the climb once again. You descend the other side to get to the surface and you can see fish from a platform above. No swimming allowed although you are dying to jump into that turquoise water after that hot climb!

The lagoon

Back at the beach you can snorkel and swim, but I couldn’t be bothered, Koh Tao has the best snorkelling. Chatted to a young travelling couple who studied in Oxford and turned out they were heading to my next planned destination around the same time as me, KhaoSok national park. Maybe I’d run into them again some day around there, unfortunately I didn’t get to catch them again before the end to exchange email addresses. Whilst we waited for the kayakers to return, people could dive off the boat and swim in the lovely turquoise waters.

As the sun got low we headed for home. The trip back was awesome as clouds came down over the islands and the sun shone through making god rays. The deck was warm and most people came up top to sunbathe and watch the islands getting smaller. I put on my favourite liquid drum and bass tunes, sat back and felt probably the best I have since I started these travels!

Approaching Samui

Goodbye, Ang Thong. I’ll be back one day!

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