Long tail boats on Ko Rawi in Tarutao national marine park in Thailand.

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Ko Tarutao Marine National Park

Ko Tarutao Marine National Park

This 51-island marine national park, covered with well-preserved virgin rainforest teeming with fauna and surrounded by healthy coral reefs and radiant white beaches, is one of the most exquisite and unspoilt regions in Thailand. Established in 1974, it's the country's second marine national park. Here you might spot dusky langurs, crab-eating macaques, mouse deer, wild pigs, sea otters, fishing cats, tree pythons, water monitors, Brahminy kites, sea eagles, hornbills, reef egrets and kingfishers.

The park's main accommodation consists of small, ecofriendly, government-run cabins and longhouses. You can camp in places, but you'll likely find monkeys and other animals going through your tent in search of food. Pressure from big developers to build resorts on the islands has so far been ignored, though concessions were made for the filming of the American reality-TV series Survivor in 2002.

Rubbish on the islands is a problem – removal of beach and visitor rubbish only happens sporadically, though successful Trash Hero clean-ups are improving things. Do your part and tread lightly.

Ko Tarutao is the biggest and second-most visited island in the group (after Ko Lipe). It's home to the park headquarters and most of the government-run accommodation. There are no foreign-exchange facilities at Ko Tarutao – you can change cash and travellers cheques at travel agencies in Pak Bara, and there are ATMs in Pak Bara and La-Ngu.

Most travellers choose to stay on Ko Lipe, which, despite being part of the park, has rapidly become a popular and paved resort island full of tourist facilities and hotels. Curiously, the island has managed to evade the park’s protection because it is home to communities of chow lair (sea gypsies, also spelt chao leh), making it exempt from the zero-development laws.

Long-tail-boat tours to outlying islands can be arranged through travel agencies in Satun or Pak Bara, through the national park headquarters on Ko Tarutao, or through resorts and long-tail-boat operators on Ko Lipe.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Ko Tarutao Marine National Park attractions

1. Ao Son

9.84 MILES

This isolated bay is on the west coast, a 30-minute boat ride (1500B) or 8km walk or cycle south of Ao Pante Malacca. A signposted track 300m inland from…

2. Nam Tok Lo Po

10.95 MILES

You can walk inland to Nam Tok waterfall (5km, about 2½ hours each way) by taking a trail that starts 500m south down Ao Son's beach.

3. Nam Tok Lu Du

11.15 MILES

A signposted track 300m inland from Ao Son beach leads to Nam Tok waterfall (3km, 1½ hours each way).

4. Ao Molae

11.74 MILES

Quiet, wonderfully secluded and with white sands, Ao Molae is the pick of Ko Tarutao's beaches. Behind it is a ranger station, bungalows and a campsite,…

5. Ko Kra

12.83 MILES

There’s good coral around Ko Kra, one of the little islands opposite Hat Sunrise, but be aware of, and take care around, oncoming long-tail boats. Most…

6. Chado Cliff

13.02 MILES

There are great views from Chado Cliff, a 30-minute hike above the main beach. Apparently pirates plotted attacks on commercial ships from this viewpoint.

7. Ko Usen

13.1 MILES

Ko Usen, one of the little islands opposite Hat Sunrise, has some good coral. Most resorts rent out mask-and-snorkel sets and fins (100B to 200B). Take…

8. Hat Sunrise

13.16 MILES

Hat Sunrise, a sublime long stretch of powder-fine sand, runs along Ko Lipe's east coast and is the best beach on the island. From its northernmost point,…