Ang Thong National Marine Park
Ang Thong Marine Park is a fascinating archipelago of 40 or so islands to the north west of Samui many of which rise from the sea as dramatic rock cliffs and bizarre rock formations. Caves, hidden lagoons and white sand beaches are there to be explored and snorkeling among the shallow coral gardens makes a popular and fascinating day trip.
Angthong, translates as 'golden bowl', occupies almost 250 sq km and includes 50 sq km of limestone islands and karsts topography. Most of the islands are close to each other making a breathtaking panorama sailing around the park. The park itself is inhabited by a considerable amount of asian wildlife and dolphins also live in the sea.
All the islands are of different sizes and shapes. Most of them are covered with tropical forests and named after their distinguishing geography, a kind of descriptive appellation, such as 'Sleeping Cow Island' and 'Three Pillar Island'.
Caves in many of the islands have intriguing rock formations. Visit one for an awesome experience. The beaches are surrounded with excellent coral reefs which make for perfect swimming and snorkeling. Hundreds of beaches here in the archipelago are deserted. Get a boat and find your own secret beach away from the crowds.
Koh Mae Ko (Mother Island) is a must to visit. Here, an emerald seawater lake in the middle of the island is encircled on all sides by limestone cliffs, but linked by an underground tunnel connecting with the sea. Reaching the lake entails a strenuous climb of 40 minutes or so, but is rewarded with a spectacular view across the whole park.
Other popular sites are Koh Sam Sao (Tripod Island) with an extensive coral reef and Wua Talap Island or 'sleeping cow'. The park headquarters is located on the island with basic bungalow accommodation. It takes some effort to climb up the steep 430m hill to a viewpoint offering great scenery of the entire archipelago and the mainland.
Access to the Marine Park is controlled, but several boat rental and kayak operators are licenced carriers, catering to both independent visitors and in organized kayaking/camping trips.
The most common transport are tour boats taking 40-50 people, with lunch on board. Or else you can take speedboat tours which also provide a snorkeling program. It gets you to the archipelago faster. The best way is to put together a group of friends to hire a boat and explore the islands and beaches in your own time.