Tarutao is the largest island of the 51-island National Park archipelago covering a whopping 152 square kilometres. Its southern coast lies only four miles from the Malaysian duty-free island of Langkawi.
Tarutao comes from a Malay word for “old, mysterious and primitive” – an apt description for this densely forested, former penal colony. In 1938, the government chose Tarutao to incarcerate 500 political prisoners as it was fairly remote and infested with crocodiles.
The island’s history is sketchy but, by 1946, the inmates were multinational and running their own anarchic society; some were referred to as pirates. The British army was invited to clean it up in 1946, and the penal colony was disbanded.
Tarutao was declared Thailand’s first National Park in 1972 – incorporating the neighbouring Butang Group in 1974. Among its attractions, Tarutao offers lots of walking trails leading to waterfalls, caves, lookouts and isolated beaches, while stories of early clashes between national park rangers, pirates, fisherman and poachers are the stuff of legend.
Although we mention only anchorages of special interest here, plenty more await discovery around Tarutao.
Access from the mainland is from Pak Bara landing at Ao Pante, where onward ferries to Butang and Lipe are available.
57 miles from Koh Lanta Lighthouse
Anchor southwest of the rock outcrop in 6-10 metres on a sandy bottom or take one of the orange government moorings. National Park headquarters has a cement pier at the entrance to a mangrove creek for shallow-draft vessels. A 500 baht per person landing fee will be levied.
The mangrove creek, which extends several kilometres and is navigable by dinghy, runs through a stunning limestone cave (Crocodile Cave). Sea turtle nursing ponds built to raise hatchlings of endangered species stand at the entrance to the park administration building.
Other amenities include bamboo houses, bungalows, a small store, restaurant, museum, visitors’ centre, communications office, public toilets, and a library. Just south of the settlement is the oldest road on the island, built in 1937, running 11 kilometres to Ao Talo Wao and a further 8 kilometres to Ao Talo Udung. A branch track goes to Ao Son on the west coast. These are all recommended trekking paths from the main campground area and pass by waterfalls in the hills.
Ferries from Pak Bara operate daily via Koh Tarutao and onward to Koh Adang and Koh Lipe in the Butang Group.
11 miles from Ao Pante
Anchor in 7-10 metres near the long pier next to the rock outcrop. The pier was built as a transit centre for prisoners en route to the main prison camp at Talo Udang. There is a ferry service here serving Satun, the Butangs and Langkawi.
There is a ranger station on the hill and roads leading north and south. You can rent a bike or get a shuttle bus from the visitor centre. Easy access to fresh water at the end of the jetty. Beware of an uncharted rock in the inner channel north of this anchorage.
16 miles from Ao Pante
Anchor in 5 metres just west of Koh Panan. This anchorage is suitable in the northeast season only.Once ashore, look for a lonely historic outpost, once the site of a penal colony for female and male political prisoners, a salt factory and later a busy village. Little trace of either remains, although the young Thai rangers stationed here will be happy to show you around.
A scenic, deep passage exists just to the east between Koh Panan and Koh Belitung Besa. At 32 metres throughout, the current can run at two knots mid tide.
10 miles from Ao Pante
Anchor off the north beach and creek entrance in 7-10 metres. Anchorage is also available at any of the four beaches on this beautiful stretch of coast in 5-10 metres on sand. There is a creek on the northern beach where fresh water can be found. This is a great anchorage for the northeast season.
This quiet location is often visited by local fishermen for the freshwater streams ashore, and a few fishermen’s huts are located near the creek.
5 miles from Ao Pante
Anchor anywhere in 6-8 metres on a sandy bottom in the northeast season only.
Ao Son has a long all-tide beach where a few remaining sea turtles nest from November to March. The maze of mangrove channels at the southern end of the bay is ideal for dinghy or canoe exploration.
Look for the beginning of the trail to Niwon Waterfall about half a kilometre south along the beach. A 4-kilometre track leads to a small waterfall with a pool big enough to bathe in. Toilets and a freshwater stream are found near the ranger station at the north end of the beach.
17 miles from Ao Pante
These islands, halfway between Tarutao and the mainland, are a favourite haven for local fishing boats. Both offer good, safe daytime anchorage. Koh Koi Noi is a beautiful sand island with shallow water all around, so approach carefully. Anchor as appropriate for prevailing conditions and ground swell.
30 miles from Ao Pante
This is the first port of entry on the west coast of Thailand. Vessels wishing to enter the Satun River will find a buoyed channel, which leads all the way to the concrete government jetty.
Here you will find police, customs, harbour department and immigration as well as easy access to supplies, ice, workshops etc. The provincial city of Songkla province, Had Yai, has an airport and is about one hour road journey from Satun.
Most yachts prefer to anchor in the entrance to the channel and go ashore by dinghy. We suggest you leave one crewmember aboard as river traffic is heavy. Ferries regularly ply between Satun and Langkawi.
While every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained in this book is accurate, the charts of anchorages are based on personal experience and satellite imagery and are intended as a guide only. They should not be used for navigation. Please refer to Official Hydrographic Charts of the respective countries.
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