Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Traveling to the Islands in Thailand: The Ko Chang National Marine Park

Made up of fifty-two islands, there are plenty of places to visit within the Ko Chang National Marine Park besides Ko Chang itself. Due to their protected status these islands offer some of the best and well preserved wildlife in all of Thailand. The area's naturally mountainous landscapes and rainforests make for a dramatic skyline filled with a stunning array of majestic cliff-tops presiding over the many white beaches and permanently turquoise seas.

It has been agreed that any land that was planted before the assignment of the area's national park status in 1982 can be bought and used for private development but this is only about 15% of the total land available. Development has also been carefully restricted and as such many of the islands are totally uninhabited. Only ten of the park's islands offer overnight accommodation. On some this may be no more than a basic beach bungalow for about ten US dollars a night, whilst other islands are equipped with resorts providing an extremely high level of luxury and may cost up to 100 US dollars per night. At the cheaper establishments it is possible to just turn up and find a room whereas the more exclusive resorts tend to cater more to visitors who have pre-booked their accommodation with package tour-operators. This is a particularly good option for those who are looking for a secluded spot away from the crowds as most package deals will include boat transport directly to the resort's private beach as well as day-trips to the surrounding attractions and smaller islands.

Following is a list of the best of the smaller islands that the Ko Chang National Park has to offer:

Ko Chang Noi / Laem Chang Noi

The closet of the smaller islands to the arrival port of Ao Sapparot, Ko Chang Noi is situated near the north-western tip of Ko Chang and the bay of Chang Noi (Laem Chang Noi). Although both the bay and the island are made up of rocks rather than sand, the appeal to this area is the stretch of water joining them which is home to a fabulous and pristine coral reef ideal for snorkelling and admiring the abundant marine life. For visitors who wish to stay in this area the Aiyapura Resort and Spa is a five star resort offering guests luxurious rooms with delightful views looking over the island.

Ko Yuak, Ko Man Nai, Ko Man Nok

Following the western coast of Ko Chang and heading south there is a cluster of small islands which can be seen from Ko Chang's Khlong Prao and Kai Bae beaches (creating a spectacular view during sunsets). Due to their small size and close proximity to Ko Chang these islands make ideal day trips but do not offer their own accommodation.

Of these smaller islands Ko Yuak has a small sandy beach with shallow waters making it a good spot for snorkelling, whilst the neighbouring Ko Plee and Ko Suwan have rocky shores. Nonetheless snorkelling around this area is still a real treat as their is an abundance of marine life to be found amongst these rocks. Furthermore, close to Ko Suwan there is a small island known only as Ko Rom or 'Umbrella Island' (due to an enormous tree in the centre which takes the shape of an umbrella), and in the water surrounding this island there are a number of extremely bright corals that should not be missed.

Directly opposite the beach at Kai Bae lies the island Ko Man Nai. During low tide this island reveals its sandy beaches and it is so close that during this time it is also possible to reach it by wading through the waist-deep waters that join the island to the Sea View Resort area of Kai Bae beach. Boats and canoes are also available to make the short trip. Next to Ko Man Nai is its sister island Ko Man Nok which is again reachable by walking through shallow waters or taking a leisurely canoe ride.

Ko Khlum

Once used as a port by the Thai navy due to its sheltered location, Ko Khlum is also a place of historical importance as Thai ships clashed with the French navy here during France's colonisation of Indochina. These days the area has become a popular site for divers who come here to explore the coral reefs submerged under about fifteen metres of clear water. Amongst these corals you will also find a variety of large fish which also makes the area a firm favourite amongst those who enjoy fishing.

Ko Sai Khao

From the southern tip of Ko Chang at Ao Salak Petch it is possible to reach the small island of Ko Sai Khao. The island's many coconut trees gave it its original name of Ko Phrao, although more recently it has taken the name of Ko Sai Khao meaning 'White Island' after its beaches' pristine white sand. During low tide this white sand forms a giant sand dune that is quite spectacular. A large concrete pier allows the island to be easily approached by boat and this pier also provides clear views over the whole area. There is also a paved path alongside the beach which makes for a pleasant seaside walk whilst admiring the beautifully clear blue waters. Limited accommodation is available on the island at the Ko Sai Khao Resort which offers beach bungalows to full board guests only.

Ko Laoya

Heading further south from Ko Sai Khao lies a cluster of three small islands known collectively as Ko Laoya and individually as Ko Laoya Nai, Ko Laoya Khlang and Ko Laoya Nok. These islands share a fertile green rainforest surrounded by long white beaches and remarkably clear blue waters filled with impressive coral reefs. The islands of Ko Laoya Nai and Ko Laoya Khlang are connected by a small wooden bridge and nearby the Laoya Resort offers accommodation to full board guests.

Ko Wai

Continuing south, Ko Wai has become famous for its collection of rare corals which are in excellent condition and can be easily admired by snorkellers and divers alike who come to these shallow waters to see the area's huge two kilometre reefs. Fishing is also a popular activity here as the large rocks are home to a wide variety of large fish. The island is quite big in size but the northern beach is the most popular as this is where the best beaches and corals can be found. There is a choice of two places to stay with the Ko Wai Pakarang Resort offering luxurious rooms to full board guests and the Ko Wai Paradise Resort offering cheaper and more basic beach bungalows.

Ko Mai Dang

Just east of Ko Wai, Ko Mai Dang is a much smaller island but in its favour it offers a serene tranquillity that makes it a fantastic place to camp. Other attractions include a well-preserved coral reef, good fishing waters and sandy beaches.

Ko Ngam

A short distance off the southern tip of Ko Chang lies the small but very unique Ko Ngam. Almost two separate islands, Ko Ngam is held together by a thin sand dune which divides two beautiful natural lagoons filled with an abundance of corals and colourful marine life, making it an ideal spot for swimming, snorkelling and fishing. It is even possible to see dolphins swimming here.

There are a number of fresh water pools inland and during the rainy months a waterfall forms in the hills of Ko Ngam. Indeed after cooling off in the sea it is possible to make the one hundred metre climb up the hill on the south-western side of Ko Ngam. The walk is quite demanding but there are rope lines provided to guide the way and the view from the top is spectacular. From here visitors can see all over Ko Laoya, Ko Wai, Ko Krada, Ko Mak and Ko Chang itself, and naturally this is a stunning place to catch the sunset.

Accommodation on Ko Ngam is ideal for families with the Twin Island Resort offering large rooms to full board guests.

Ko Mai See

Just south-west of Ko Chang lie the islands known collectively as Ko Mai See. They comprise mostly of mountainous rainforest but are also home to a number of small fishing villages that gather around the sandy shores and coconut groves. Of these the beach on Ko Mai See Yai is perhaps the best, with a wide sandy beach stretching across its eastern coast.

The options in the Ko Chang National Marine Park are manifold and when on a trip to Thailand it can be a very enchanting experience to visit any of the above places in addition to the typical tourist destinations.

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