Koh Tarutao is the largest island in the Tarutao National Park. The island is 11 kilometres wide, and 26 kilometres long and the highest point on the island is 700 meters high. The headquarters and visitor centre are located near the beach of Punte Malacca. Kayaks and bicycles can be rented there and a small shop offers snacks and drinks.

The island has an interesting, but dark history. In the late 1930s, political prisoners had been kept there with the total number reaching even 3.000 people in 1938. When The Second World War broke out, the supplies from the mainland to the island were cut off causing food shortages and the death of many prisoners. The guards and prisoners formed alliances in order to survive and started attacking ships passing by around the island. Around 130 ships were sunk before the British forces came to the rescue towards the end of the war. Until the prison was shut down, nearly a third of prisoners lost their lives due to cruelty from guards, starvation and malaria.

How to get to Ko Tarutao?

As of April 2022, the only option seemed to be taking a speedboat from Pakbara Pier which heads to Koh Lipe but stops on Tarutao Island for about half an hour to allow the passengers to have a short walk and take pictures on the beach. On the next day, you could continue your journey further and jump onto another speedboat heading to Ko Lipe.

Getting to Tarutao on the way back from Koh Lipe may be difficult as tour operators usually don’t make a stop there and go directly to Pakbara Pier. If you travel with a bigger group, it could be negotiable but otherwise, don’t consider that option.

The National Park entrance fee is payable at the ferry terminal, costs 200 THB for foreigners and is valid for 5 days.

When to go?

The island is open for tourists from October to May. From June to September, the visit is impossible and you will have to go directly to the more popular Koh Lipe instead.

How long to stay?

ItÔÇÖs a small island but using a bicycle rather than a motorbike (not available for rent) makes it way slower and more tiring to explore. 1 full day should be enough to see the highlights on your two wheels and enjoy beach time. If you want to visit Crocodile Cave, you need to count in some extra hours and either rent a kayak or ask around for a long-tail boat.

Koh Tarutao, Thailand
Mangrove forest

Where to stay?

National Park accommodations or tents are the only options on the island. I got a bungalow at Ao Phante Beach, close to the visitor centre and the restaurant. The room was quite big and had a private bathroom but there wasn’t a mosquito net which presence I always appreciate. It cost me 600 THB per night. I also saw some bungalows at Ao Molae Beach, where the group of monks was hanging out, and at Ao Son Beach, which looked completely empty.

You can rent a tent or bring your own and camp at all three locations mentioned above. For sure there is a restaurant near the visitor centre and another one near Molae Beach, but I’m not sure about Ao Son Beach.

Getting around the island

Options are limited to walking or renting a bicycle. Tourists are not allowed to rent or drive motorbikes on the island, only park rangers can do so. Bicycle rental costs 250 THB per day. Check the breaks as there are a lot of hills on the island, but it seems that the bikes are in general in good condition.

In high season, there should be also available old-fashioned leg wagons and shuttle taxis that drive around the island at fixed times, though I didn’t see any during my stay on the island.

Rental bicycle and narrow paths around the site of the former prison

Tips

  • Always consult with rangers about your travel plan, especially your boat schedule or possible hikes.
  • Take enough cash as there is no ATM on the island.
  • Pack good insect repellent. There will be mosquitos and most probably sandflies as well. I was really badly bitten all over my legs and it was itching for several days.

Interesting places

Crocodile Cave

The name comes from a population of saltwater crocodiles that once lived on Koh Tarutao. But don’t worry, it’s history and now they are extinct. The cave can be reached by a longtail boat (the price should be around 450 THB) or by kayak (500 THB for the whole day) and you will go through a very scenic mangrove canal. As always in the caves in Thailand, it’s good to have your own flashlight to see as much as possible.

Koh Tarutao, Thailand
Mangroves canal leading to Crocodile Cave
Koh Tarutao, Thailand
Top-down view of mangroves canal
Koh Tarutao, Thailand
The boat ride to Crocodile Cave is very scenic

Ao Talo Wao

The most iconic sight on the island with the pier leading to a huge limestone rock. You can also notice a few smaller islands in the background. A good paved road with monkeys chilling on the side leads there all the way from the visitor centre, though it’s a bit hilly so take your time and don’t forget water. The distance is about 12 kilometres. There is also a ranger building displaying boards with information about the island.

A bit further are remains of historic buildings that once belonged to the prison. The trails around the site are narrower but still doable on bicycle. If you are lucky, you may see a wild boar.

Koh Tarutao, Thailand
Photogenic limestone rock at Ao Talo Wao
Koh Tarutao, Thailand
Top-down view of the pier and the rock
Koh Tarutao, Thailand
Ao Tao Wao and the mountains
Koh Tarutao, Thailand
Nearby small islands

Ao Taloh Udang

If you continue from Ao Talo Wao and the remains of the old prison even more towards the south, you are going to the place where political prisoners were kept. Unfortunately, the road isn’t paved and cannot be done on a bicycle. If you are adventurous, you can hike there but for me, it looked way too overgrown.

Mo Lae Bay

Calm beach close to a very nice bungalow complex, located four kilometres south of the headquarters. When I was passing by, there was a big group of monks. It was nice to see them chilling like that wearing their orange robes ­čÖé There is a restaurant with tasty and affordable food too.

Ao Son Beach

Very long and beautiful beach, yet completely empty. It’s located another 4 kilometres away from Mo Lae Bay.

Koh Tarutao, Thailand
Aerial view of long and remote Ao Son Beach
Koh Tarutao, Thailand
Small river flowing into the sea
Koh Tarutao, Thailand
Mountains in the background of Ao Son Beach

Lu Du Waterfall

A signposted track 300m inland from Ao Son Beach leads to this waterfall. It’s about 3 kilometres and 1.5 hours each way.

Toe Bu Cliffs

The hike takes about 20 minutes and starts just behind the National Park’s headquarters. There is a great view over Ao Pante beach and other islands.

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