Surat Thani’s Mu Ko Ang Thong and Khao Sok National Parks

Picturesque reasons for Thailand’s new ban on single-use plastics

Unique Trip Thailand

Words: Mark Glanville
Photos: Phuwadol Jankhum
Published: November 10, 2018

On Sunday August 12, 2018, over 150 national parks throughout Thailand took the fight against plastic pollution to a new level, with the introduction of a new ban on single-use plastic bags, foam food containers, capped water bottles and other such single-use plastic items. At least, the two picturesque reasons for Thailand’s new ban on single-use plastics are Surat Thani’s Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park and Khao Sok National Park.

In September 2018, I had the pleasure of joining a Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) fam trip to the southern province of Surat Thani, the four-day itinerary of which included visits to two national parks – Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park and Khao Sok National Park. It was the latest in a series of media fam trips hosted by the national tourist office in support of its Amazing ThailandOpen to the New Shades’ communication concept launched in visitor source markets around the world.

The two national parks, as I was to discover, were abundant in picturesque beauty and dramatic landscapes. And to my great pleasure, devoid of any plastic bags, drinking water bottles and the like that was anywhere it shouldn’t be… such as floating half-submerged off a beach or simply just lying on the beach, having been casually discarded by its user. What trash I did come across was exactly where it should be, in trash bins provided precisely for the very purpose.

Picturesque reasons for Thailand’s new ban on single-use plastics

The ban on single-use plastics appeared to be working, at least in the parts of the Mu Ko Ang Thong and Khao Sok national parks that we visited. And that is an encouraging notion. On previous occasions during my 20 plus years in Thailand that I’d visited the spectacular islands and waters of southern Thailand I had at times spotted errant trash – not to any great extent but still trash – floating or lying around. But, I’m glad to say, not this time.

Ironically, it was not until well into day three of our trip that it suddenly occurred to me I hadn’t seen the odd plastic bag or bottle. Contemplating this at the time, on a longtail boat skimming between islands it so happens, I recalled a quote I’d read from the TAT’s press statement in which it had stressed how the importance of protecting Thailand’s landscape and environment could not be understated.

Indeed, I thought, as a spray of oddly refreshing and yet pleasantly warm seawater caught me full in the face from off the boat’s bow. We were approaching the location for lunch that day, a quaint wooden house-cum-restaurant called Phalauy Sea Food nestled along an inlet on Ko Phaluai island, the largest of the 42 islands in Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park. With many of the island’s residents being fishing folk, the various dishes we enjoyed featured seafood that’s as fresh as it gets. I’m talking grilled crab, barbecued fish, buttered shrimp and prawns the size of your hand.

Picturesque reasons for Thailand’s new ban on single-use plastics

Khao Sok National Park had taken up the first half of the trip and is the subject of a separate blog (Khao Sok National Park: rainforest-covered hills, soaring limestone cliffs and scenic lake expanses) and we were now exploring Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park. Spread across 102 sq km the park covers an island archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand between the mainland to the west and the islands of Samui and Phangan to the east. Surat Thani province is a major jump-off point to the park.

Many of the park’s islands are close to each other, making for scenic sailing and sightseeing by boat whether longtail or speedboat. All but one or two, including Ko Phaluai, are uninhabited. Varying in size, they are mostly forest-covered and typically feature steep limestone cliffs and caves. The local wildlife includes long-tailed macaques, wild boars, smooth-coated otters, the collared kingfisher, white-bellied sea eagle, Oriental pied hornbill and Pacific reef heron while among the plants is the Ang Thong Lady’s Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum Ang Thong), an endemic species found only in Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park.

Picturesque reasons for Thailand’s new ban on single-use plastics

Prior to our scrumptious seafood lunch on Ko Phaluai island, we’d visited one of the park’s highlight attractions – a saltwater lake on Ko Mae Ko island called Thale Nai or Emerald Lake.

The small beach at which our boat dropped us off boasted a drink and snack stand, room to walk around a bit and stretch the legs and the start of the stairwell that leads up to the lake. Thankfully it is a small beach; any larger and I could picture this cozy stretch of sand trying to accommodate numerous boat loads of tourists all wanting to clamber up the stairs at the same time.

The stairwell to the lake is built into the limestone cliff and is particularly steep at some points, but the scenic vista to be had from the viewpoint once at the top is certainly worth the effort. The lake’s beautiful emerald green waters enchant the eyes for a second or two, before one’s gaze is drawn to the striking limestone walls that jut straight up on all sides. It is a picture certainly worthy of a postcard or two.

Picturesque reasons for Thailand’s new ban on single-use plastics

Back down at beach level, my attention was caught by a rather large sign in a rather garish shade of purple that had been erected in the sand. Aesthetics concerns aside, the sign carried a thought provoking message; under the headline ‘How long until it’s gone?’ were pictured various items like paper cups, cigarette butts and aluminum cans along with the time it takes for each to biodegrade.

Shockingly, it takes a plastic bag around 450 years to do so, while foam never does. They are figures I’ll be keeping in mind for any occasion on which I might find myself about to toss trash anywhere other than a bin.

Following our seafood feast at Phalauy Sea Food, the remainder of our wonderful time in Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park was spent snorkeling around some of the other islands and relaxing on woven mats under the shade of giant boulders Mother Nature had so perfectly positioned on a beach our local guide knew we’d like and – thoughtful chap that he was – decided to show us.

Picturesque reasons for Thailand’s new ban on single-use plastics

It had been quite some time since I’d simply forgotten life’s daily stresses and all the hustle and bustle of city life even if only for an hour or two, and just relaxed on the warm white sands of a Thai beach. Considering the mere hour’s flight time from Bangkok, I lay there thinking myself a little crazy why I wasn’t doing this exact same thing on a regular basis. Say, once or twice a month.

Getting there

The best way to visit Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park is on a day tour from Samui Island or Pha Ngan Island, both of which are around 30 km away. These tours typically stop at several different locations in the park and aside from the picturesque sightseeing by boat offer the opportunity for snorkeling, swimming and beach relaxation.

Being a national park there is an entrance fee (this is either included in a tour’s price or is additional) of 300 Baht adult/150 Baht child for foreigners and 50 Baht adult/25 Baht child for Thais. Inclement weather can sometimes see Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park closed in November and December.

Checking in

Basic bungalow accommodation is available on Wua Ta Lap Island, which is where the park headquarters is located. This should be booked in advance as there are only a few bungalows. Tents can also be rented to stay in, or visitors can bring their own.