Ang Thong National Marine Park

Sea kayaking in Ang Thong Marine Park was hands down one of the most enjoyable experiences I had in my multiple trips to islands and beaches in Southeast Asia. The concept of a protected water are is so startling.. and even more so to find that the Thais generally do respect the restrictions. The water, although murky, was quite clear of litter. The islands gorgeously green and untouched.

The kayaking, I went with Blue Stars. The outfit was heavily German focused. I suspect the 70% of the group that day I went came from an organised German tour. Considering one of the founders/guides is German, I wasn’t surprised. We were split into two groups to rotate use of the kayaks. The German group was led by the German guide, and the English group was really the non-German group led by a silent Thai guide. We didn’t get much narration from our guide, but given that our kayaks were paddling in single file, I don’t feel like we missed out on the experience.

Ang Thong is largely composed of rock islands. We weaved between tunnels and crevices around the rocks on our first paddle. After lunch, we moved southward to the larger islands. The saltwater lake was largely non-event, more so when we weren’t allowed access to the lake directly, just a view from a vantage point. The beaches looked gorgeous and quiet, away from the hubbub of Samui and its rowdy scene.

It’s a pity we didn’t have time to wander in some of the islands. I was sun-xhasted by the end of the trip, but I would imagine the islands offer a more lush and nature wildlife viewing than the more tourist trampled rain forest treks in Samui or mainland Thailand.

Koh Samui

Koh Samui validated my ability, as unnatural as it felt, to enjoy a beach getaway.

I generally am not a beach-goer. I have an inexplicable phobia of swimming in open water. During a family vacation to Maui years ago, my father was mortified to discover I hadn’t the courage to go snorkeling, an outing he arranged especially for his swimmer daughter. I have long since tried to overcome my dread.. competing in the swimming segment of a triathlon relay, returning to Maui on my own with a snorkeling trip, snorkeling in Bali.. but beaches still don’t quite agree with me.

Until Koh Samui. Picking a hotel right on the Lamai Beach, I forced myself to swim out in the bay daily, taking advantage of a nice long dock the hotel laid out to the water. The water was extremely shallow. Standing up, the waterline barely hit my hips, making for a very awkward swim with coral so freakishly close to my body. shiver

I learned the key is to have a good hotel. One with both the option of not doing anything or doing something. Being right on the beach was fantastic. Being in a villa-style room with a patio also was fantastic. Being in a resort with inclusive activities keeps boredom at bay.

I *did* confirm my inability to stay put for long. Despite lounging most of the first day, I still went for a walk to downtown, which was a sticky thirty minute walk each way. Lamai apparently turns into a sketchy bar strip for the classic old farang with barely over teenage Thai women crowd. Walking through the daytime, it was dead. The vendors sold the usual sun dresses, knock offs, uninteresting stuff. The second day I joined a tour of Samui, including an elephant ride, ATV riding, and a waterfall visit (the last was a bad idea at the end of the dry season…). The third day, an all-day trip to Ang Thong for sea kayaking. See the theme here? Cabin fever gets to me.

I had a wonderful time in Samui. The smallness of the island opens up access to more options for things to do versus the larger Phuket. My take away from this trip is to find a good resort in a good location. Sounds obvious, but, knowing my tendency and my preference, it can make or break my beach trip, especially if I travel alone.