I’d barely been in the water a minute, barely spotted the washed out coral and lazy fish, before I grated my right foot against a hunk of rock.
If the coral had been beautiful, I might have been able to forgive it. But this piece of coral was vapid, indistinct and unworthy of its categorisation.
In disgust, I kicked my feet out to escape its insulting appearance, only to further gash my toes. I glided clear of the coral, raised my foot above the waterline and surveyed the damage. Several gashes, neatly spread across each one of my toes and upper foot, immediately began to bloom red.
My sister chose this moment to raise her head, remove her snorkel and say, “I wonder if there are any sharks in here”.
Some may have called it quits right then and there, but I’d paid a hefty AU$99 to join this day tour out to Thailand’s Ang Thong Marine Park. And I was determined to get my money’s worth.
Ang Thong Marine Park is a collection of jagged islands near Koh Samui that make a popular snorkelling and kayaking adventure trip for visitors. I say it’s near Koh Samui, though it is, in fact, an hour’s tiring boat ride to reach the first destination – the reef.
We had an unusually pessimistic German guide on board, whose briefing before we donned our snorkels included a warning that this reef was no Great Barrier Reef (though even that can be disappointing) and a rather miserable observation that the weather was unexpectedly nice and unlikely to last.
He was sadly right on the first score. The reef was bland in comparison to other renowned snorkelling destinations. The coral was mostly lumps of yellow and spiky anemone. The only noticeable fish were zebra fish.
When I eventually boarded the boat again, the local staff pointed at my foot, hurried me inside and produced a machete. Jokers they may have been. But they were excellent doctors, patching me up with alcohol and iodine before shoving me towards a kayak for the second adventure of the day.
Kayaking at Ang Thong
What is most breathtaking about Ang Thong is its scattering of 42 islands, a small scale version of Halong Bay, over aquamarine water. And you’ll get no better view of these islands than when you’re kayaking beneath their overhanging cliffs.
We followed our guide around the islands, trusting him blindly as he appeared to lead us right into the island’s craggy rocks, until we realised there were caves leading to charming inlets, secret bays.
The narrow caves caused chaos on the 10+ kayaks in our group. But the mood was upbeat, the squeals of horror as you rammed into another kayaker’s back sincere, the easy forgiveness heartening. It brought us all closer.
After such a workout on the biceps, the buffet lunch onboard the boat was well deserved. The sudden onslaught of rain … Well, not so much. But our German guide seemed to take satisfaction in the weather heeding his forecast.
Rain schmain. Nothing would stop us from our second kayaking adventure … Actually, it stopped plenty of tourists, who wisely opted for the long boat taxi to our next destination instead. Those of us foolish enough to kayak watched our fellow tourees zip onwards as we battled against rain and gusts of wind determined to pull the oars from our hands.
But it was worth it. Our guide hugged the cliffs, where the overhang often protected us from the worst of the storm, which was already easing off. He led us through more caves, an adventure which never got old. But the arms grew quickly tired, the determination waned. It was a relief when we hit the beach.
Time to relax, you’re thinking? Oh no. Next was a vertical challenge to scale ladder-like stairs to the top of the island. From there, we could enjoy boastful views of Ang Thong, a magnificent sweep of islands. And in the opposite direction we could admire a landlocked seawater lake, reclining in the basin of a crater hidden from the sea.
It had poetic beauty, which I suppose is why it became the inspiration for the book (and subsequent film) The Beach.
With arms and now legs thoroughly beaten, we retired to the beach, regretting our adventurous spirit that required us to kayak back to the boat.
Perhaps the German recognised the looks of despair. Or perhaps it was just routine. But the kayaks stayed moored on the beach as we were sheperded into long boats. The storm began to brew again and unleashed its second wave of fury. The marine park turned to formidable hues of grey, stormed-tossed blue and murky green. We tucked our chins to our chest and rode through the tempest.
As the boat rocked back towards Koh Samui, pummelled by rain, we sought shelter below deck. Bodies sprawled across bean bags, chairs and tables, the day’s hard yakka and the lullaby rocking of the boat sending everybody into an exhausted slumber.
It’s not the adventure you’d expect to have at Koh Samui, where island living predominates and the holiday is all about the tan, the hair braids and the foot massages. But as we disembarked the boat in a drunken line, there could be no doubt we deserved the foot massages this time … Except for me. With a nicely minced foot, no one was going near my toes any time soon.
Ang Thong Tour details
I travelled with Blue Stars, a slightly pricier tour company that specialises in kayaking and smaller groups (we had about 40 people on board). The tour is 2500 baht per person. Pick up from Chaweng starts at 7.15am and you can expect to return around 5pm.
A light breakfast, buffet lunch, and afternoon tea is included in the price, as is the marine park fee. Make sure you bring bathers, LOTS of sunscreen, a towel, and some warmer, dry clothes for the ride back (it can get chilly if rain hits).