Escape to Tarutao Island

One of the first books that I read about Thailand was called “Pirates of Tarutao” by Paul Adirex. It is loosely based on a true story of prisoners on a penal colony that were forced to become pirates due to food shortages during the Second World War. The real name of the author is Pongpol Adireksarn and at one time he was the Minister of Education in Thailand. I enjoyed reading that book and thought that I would never get a chance to visit this remote island off the coast of Satun in Southern Thailand. So, I was really pleased when the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) invited me to join them on a trip to that area.

Tarutao Island is part of the Tarutao National Marine Park, the second of its kind in Thailand when it was created in 1974. The marine park consists of 51 islands scattered over an area of 1,490 square kilometers in the Andaman Sea. The southern edge of the marine park borders with Malaysia. Out of the 51 islands, there are only seven large islands. These are: Ko Tarutao, Ko Adang, Ko Rawi, Ko Lipe, Ko Klang, Ko Batuang and Ko Bitsi. During our trip we stayed on the island of Ko Lipe which I think is where most people stay. It is unfortunate that we only had a brief time to visit Ko Tarutao but from what I saw there is enough to warrant staying on this island for a few days.

Ko Tarutao is the largest of the islands and has never been permanently settled by people. It is mainly mountainous with evergreen forests. But, it also has mangrove forests and beautiful sandy beaches. You can join long-tailed boats tours to explore some of the bays or go on walking tours along mountain trails. They even have bicycles that you can rent for the day. The island is home to a large variety of wildlife that includes bats, crab-eating macaques and even dolphins in the clear blue waters. During our brief visit we were shown some of the accommodation which seemed quite reasonable. The cheapest was about 500 baht and had room for four people. Bungalows with bathroom for two people started at 600 baht. There is also a camping ground where you can either pitch your own tent or rent one from the park office.

Near the park office there is a small museum which gives more information about the ecology of the park but also the history of the prison. Apparently the first prisoners arrived here in 1938 and were a mixture of common criminals and political prisoners. Probably the most famous was So Setabutra, the author of the first Thai-English Dictionary. He wrote some of the book while in prison. During World War II, food and medical supplies were unable to reach this isolated island. In desperation, some of the prisoners and guards banded together to raid passing merchant ships. This continued until 1946 when British naval troops were sent in to put down the pirates. From what I understand there is very little evidence left today of the prison which is a shame.

Ko Tarutao is also famous for being the location for the popular TV programme Survivor: Tarutao in 2002. Which probably gives you some indication of its remoteness. The best time to visit is between November and April. During the rainy season you will most likely find that there are no boats heading to the island. The nearest mainland pier to Ko Tarutao island is at Pak Bara which is about 22 kilometers away. A number of boats leave daily and there are quite a few travel agents at the pier selling tickets. When I get a chance, I would like to go here again and spend more time exploring the island. I like it when there is a combination of natural history and historical events. Maybe next time I will take the book Pirates of Tarutao and read it while I am there!

5 responses to “Escape to Tarutao Island

  1. With the exception of two books (the ones about Tarturo and Madagascar), I read all novels by Paul Adirex. Although they have a questionable literary value, the author treating the readers like 5th grade students, the one about the birth of Bangkok (“Ratanakosin”) is a very good example of Thai historical fiction. From what I’ve read on the internet, this specific book was a best seller in its Thai edition. It’s still available at all leading English-language bookstores throughout Bangkok.

  2. Thailand is very beautiful country…which i have ever seen…its a one of the gorgeous city in the world…i always visit thailand once in a year..during my holidays.. I read all novels by Paul Adirex.

  3. i think thailand has really beautiful islands but Andaman Islands are also considered as one of the most beautiful islands in India. You may get a lot of useful info about it on http://www.mytravelindiaguide.com/south-india/traveling-to-indias-untouched-andaman-and-nicobar-islands/

  4. BackpackerThailand

    Thank you for this article and sharing those beautiful pictures. Tarutao island is very nice and beautiful beach but I like Koh Lipe the most.

    Maybe a good recommendation. This year I’ve been to the island of Koh Lipe in Thailand.
    I had a great time on Lipe and there was a lot to do like snorkeling, shopping and eating in good quality restaurants and bars. I can really recommend Koh Lipe for a nice relaxing holiday in paradise!

  5. guruofreflexology

    I had never heard about this island until now. I think you have a very good post about what are the possibilities of traveling to this place. Tourists always search for destinations where they dont have much public around but can experience the real nature and beauty. Thailand has improved their tourism to a new level and are attracting a lot of tourists from all around the world just because of these islands.