Koh Samui Archipelago (surrounding islands)
The cluster of islands that make up our Samui archipelago include Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and the Angthong Marine Park – which itself is made up of 40 islands spread over 100 square kilometres. And across all are pristine beaches and sparkling blue waters.
Now, the first of these paradises to cover is of course Samui itself. And seeing as you’re here already, it probably needs little introduction. And, when you’re feeling adventurous, it’s easy to take day trips or short exploration breaks to the neighbouring islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Tao as well as the marine park for a change of scenery. There are several options to do your island-hopping, from luxury sailboats on private charter, to organised joining tours and even ferries to go it alone. The same goes for accommodation — you can ‘rough it’ in a cheap beach bungalow, but there are also options to stay in five star accommodation on both Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. And if you are exploring the marine park, it’s possible to do live aboard options on some of the luxury boats, or just enjoy a day trip and then return to your resort, tired after and enjoyable day out at sea. But of course, after you’ve visited the other islands in the archipelago, Samui’s charms, luxurious spas and accommodation, fine-dining restaurants as well as choice of things to do and see will draw you back.
Angthong National Marine Park
The marine park is located north and west in Samui archipelago, and is within sight of Samui on clear days. The islands of the park are covered in beach forest, mangrove forest and limestone forest areas, and are home to an abundant bird life as well as Asian Long-tailed Monkeys, sea turtles, tortoises, lizards, pythons and wild pigs. An abundance of sea life is at home in crystal waters making for good snorkeling conditions, although the best snorkeling is around Koh Tao, or near Koh Tan just off Samui.
Alternatively, explore caves and tunnels carved out of the limestone cliffs by erosion, creating strange rock formations that tempt you to investigate further. Bending low in your kayak as you just make it under a jagged rock overhang, through to a hidden lake, it’s easy to imagine this being a perfect pirates’ refuge.
The easiest way to experience it is via one of several tour operators that offer day trips to the marine park. Prices vary according to the luxury of the vessel transporting you to the park, ranging from speedboats, to larger and slower converted fishing-type boats, to the more luxurious motor-sailing boats. Each operator has their preferred itinerary and route, as well as a focus, with some specialising in kayaking, others in snorkeling or diving, and others more focused on sightseeing and the adventure of the trip itself.
Speedboats do the trip from Samui in about an hour, with the slower vessels taking around 1.5 hours. When it comes to sailing, this will depend on wind and whether the guests are more interested in the journey or the destination. The park is good to visit most of the year, except in November, in the peak of the gulf monsoon season, when seas can be rough and visibility poor.
Getting to Angthong National Marine Park in the Samui Archipelago:
Koh Phangan, 20km away, is about two thirds the size of Samui, but is not as developed, mostly due to the fact that it’s more mountainous and not all beaches can be reached by road – you can take longtail boat taxis to the more remote beaches. Another reason that this beautiful island is less visited than neighbouring Samui is that it currently doesn’t have an airport, so it needs to be accessed via ferry. However, a small airport is currently under construction (completion end 2013) so this may change the visitor numbers to the island.
Koh Phangan is most famously (or infamously) known for its monthly Full Moon Parties held on Haad Rin Beach, where tens of thousands of party revelers enjoy live DJs, fire shows and ‘bucket’ cocktails. If this party scene is not for you, don’t be put off from visiting the island as the rest of the month it’s a tranquil location, and the effects of the Full Moon Party are not felt further afield than Haad Rin.
Accommodation options are expanding and now there are several upmarket resorts on Koh Phangan, most of which have their own speedboats to ferry guests arriving at the airport on Samui. The island has many beautiful bays to explore as well as waterfalls inland. It’s well worth a visit for a few days, and as access from Samui is quick via ferry, when you’re finished exploring, just hop on the ferry back to Samui.
Getting to Koh Phangan:
The Seatran Discovery Link has a route arriving and departing from Samui’s Bang Rak pier, 300m before the entrance to Big Buddha, at the end of Bang Rak. This ferry leaves Samui, and travels to Koh Phangan, (and then onwards to Koh Tao). It departs daily at 8:00am and 1:30pm and takes 30 minute to Koh Phangan.
Seatran Discovery www.seatrandiscovery.com
The Lomprayah high speed catamaran ferry leaves from its own pier in Mae Nam, and travels the same route as the Seatran discovery above, but goes onward to Bangkok. It leaves twice daily, at 8:00am and 12:30pm. The shorter trip to Koh Phangan costs 300 baht, lasting only 20 minutes.
The Thong Nai Pan Express is a small ferry that departs from Koh Phangan’s Thong Nai Pan Noi and visits Thong Nai Pan Yai, Haad Thien, Than Sadet and Haad Rin before travelling to Mae Nam on Koh Samui’s north shore. The journey from Thong Nai Pan to Koh Samui costs 300 Baht.
The Haad Rin Queen is the only ferry from Samui to Koh Phangan that docks at Haad Rin, the other all disembark at Thongsala. The journey lasts 50 minutes, and costs 200 baht. The Haad Rin Queen leaves from the Big Buddha pier, in the centre of Bang Rak beach, a rather rickety wooden pier, just next to the new Petcharat Pier. Daily departure from Big Buddha pier: 10.30, 13.00, 16.00 and 18.30.
Haad Rin Queen +66 (0) 7748 4668
Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan
Koh Tao (Turtle Island), 70km from Samui, is mostly visited by divers, as it’s home to some of the best dive and snorkelling sites in the Gulf of Thailand. Several dive schools operate from here and the choice of accommodation is growing, although there are fewer high-end resorts than on Samui. Most roads are still dirt, and there are no big supermarkets around, and little in the way of fine-dining.
Koh Nangyuan is a small private island about 15 minutes by boat from Koh Tao. Actually, it’s three small islands connected by a white sandy beach, surrounded by crystal clear water, teaming with sea-life and ideal for snorkelling. If you’d prefer to stay on busier Samui, but still want to dive, not to worry, as many dive and tour companies do day trips from Samui to Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan as well as the surrounding dive sites.
Getting to Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan:
The Seatran Discovery has a route arriving and departing from the Bang Rak pier, 300m before the entrance to Big Buddha, and the end of Bang Rak. This ferry leaves Samui, and travels first to Koh Phangan, and then onwards to Koh Tao. It departs daily at 8:00am and 1:30pm and takes 90 minutes to Koh Tao.
Seatran Discovery www.seatrandiscovery.com
The Lomprayah high speed catamaran ferry leaves from its own pier in Mae Nam, and travels the same route as the Seatran discovery above, but also goes onward to Bangkok. It leaves twice daily, at 8:00am and 12:30pm. The trip to Koh Tao costs 600 baht and lasts 1hour 45 minutes. Lomprayah also offers snorkeling day trips to Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan.
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