The 40 virtually uninhabited islands of the Angthong National Marine Park display a rugged beauty distinct from palm-fringed Ko Samui 19 miles (31 km) away to the southeast. The Angthong (“golden basin”) islands, covering an area of 39 sq miles (102 sq km), are the submerged peaks of a flooded range of limestone mountains that, farther south in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, rise to 6,000 ft (1,835 m).
Angthong’s pristine beauty owes much to being the preserve of the Royal Thai Navy, and there fore off-limits until 1980 when it was declared a National Marine Park. Now naval boats have been replaced by tourist ferries. Most visitors come on day trips from Ko Samui to relax on the micawhite sands, explore the lush forests and limestone caves, sea canoe around the islands’ jagged coastlines, and snorkel among the colorful fan corals.
Another attraction is the abundant wildlife, both on land and in the sea. Leopard cats, squirrels, long-tailed macaques, sea otters, and pythons may be glimpsed, and a lack of natural predators has made the endearingly friendly dusky langur easy to spot. Among the 40 bird species found in the archipelago are the black baza, the edible-nest swiftlet, the brahminy kite, and the Eurasian woodcock.
Divers taking advantage of the excellent coral off Ko Sam Sao will probably see short- bodied mackerel (pla thu), a staple of the Thai diet. The sea around the islands is favored by the fish as a breeding ground. It is also possible to spot dolphins, although they are wary of humans because fisherman catch them for their meat. The park headquarters, and the islands’ only tourist accommodations and facilities, are located on the largest island, Ko Wua Talab (“sleeping cow island”). A steep 1300-ft (400-m) climb from here leads to a vista offering wonderful panoramas of the whole archipelago and beyond to Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Samui, and the mainland. The view is at its best at sunrise and sunset. Another fairly tough climb leads to Tham Buabok (“waving lotus cave”), so named because of the shape of some of its stalactites and stalagmites. On Ko Mae Ko there is a swimming beach as well as the stunning Thale Noi, a wide turquoise lake bordered by sheer cliffs. This is the “golden basin” that gives the islands their name