Holiday in Ko Tarutao
Is your idea of a vacation getaway one that involves going to a remote island brimming with mysterious history, as complicated and twisted as the vines growing wildly in its jungles? Seek no more, for Ko Tarutao is the place to be. You might have heard of this place from the episode of the hit, reality television show Survivor filmed in Thailand.
The word “tarutao” aptly means primal, ancient and mystifying in the local Malay dialect. So it is no wonder that Ko Tarutao, an immense 150 square kilometre island, exudes the same ambience despite the infusion of the only sign of western influence, a winding, pallid road cutting straight across the entire island.
Once an incarceration station for the ruthless criminals of Thailand, Ko Tarutao’s harsh topography is reminiscent of California’s island of Alcatraz plus a few treacherous and mountainous areas (500 metres above sea level) scattered here and there. Over 3,000 prisoners stepped foot on this island during the late 1930s and early 1940s. On the island’s eastern coast is a place called Talo Wow, the place for lowly prisoners while the elite prisoners were detained at Talo Udang located at the island’s southernmost region. Famous prisoners like the son of Rama VII were incarcerated there when he was convicted as a political threat to the King.
Gruesomely, so many perished here, over 700 prisoners, especially during the Second World War, as they were left to starve and die from illnesses such as malaria and influenza. Those who outlived such tragedy went on as notorious pirates victimizing trading ships en route via the Straits of Malacca. Rumour has it that up to this day, you can still find remnants of the many ruins left behind if you can trace them amidst the vines and growth of the wild jungle
This notorious reputation of being the stronghold of disturbed souls of criminals and ruthless pirates of long ago plus the natural habitat of wild animals is what makes Ko Tarutao unappealing to be settled in but a magnet to adventurous tourists of all ages. In 1974, however, the place was officially declared as a national protected domain, further enhancing the region’s ancient forests.
Furthermore, Ko Tarutao is Thailand’s densent area as to the wildlife found. Hundreds of bird species, crab-loving macaques, mouse deer, whales, sea turtles and monitor lizards are but a few of this island’s inhabitants. We would not recommend snorkelling around the waters, however, since it is usually muddy as compared to its neighbour, the Andaman Islands. But you are more than welcome to try Ko Tarutao’s other activities on its white sand beaches, waterfalls, routes, vistas, jungles and caves.
Unfortunately, the national park needs a little more tinkering as far as signage go. Ao Pante is littered with brown and yellow signs but they fail to spill over towards the entire national park. On the contrary, the other signs found throughout the islands are unpredictable and mostly in the national language. In some areas, you just have to trust your survival instinct to get to one place from another even if there might be red paint marks or arrows. The best way to go to avoid getting lost in Ko Tarutao is to seek the aid of the park ranger on duty or the personnel at the information centres.
A Few Reminders
Ko Tarutao is open for visitors from November 15 to May 15 only and you cannot enter it during its off season.
You will be dropped off at the pier of Ao Pante Malaka from where you will be asked to pay the sum of 200 baht as entrance fee to the park. You can stop by the shop near the pier to purchase some basic needs like toiletries, snacks and drinks. Note, the shop only opens from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Check out the available lodgings and sites at the Vistor’s Centre where you can easily converse with the rangers fluent in English. While you are there, you can also rent several amenities like shuttles, guides, mountain bikes, kayaks and even longtail boats.
You have to bear in mind that Ko Tarutao is not your average and typical tourist spot since it is also a national park. At all times, observe modest silence. Electricity is rationed from 5:00 to 11:30 p.m. and dining options are very limited and ceases operation at 7:00 p.m. maybe due largely to the fact that they do not encourage drinking or rowdy parties.
We mentioned that the park is home to a wide array of wildlife, right? One particular animal is the brazen monkey who more likely than not will pay your tents a visit to snatch some of your shop purchased snacks or restaurant take outs.
The park do not maintain a medical clinic, unfortunately and they park office can only take the local currency so don’t bother with your ATM cards, credit cards, foreign denominations or even traveller’s cheques. Bring plenty of baht currency.