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Koh Tarutao is the largest island of the eponymous Tarutao National Park. The island is 11 kilometers wide, 26 kilometers long and the highest point on the island is 700 meters high. Despite the sad history of this destination, this island is regularly visited by adventurers, nature lovers and peace seekers. Tourism is therefore a considerable source of income for the families who still live on Koh Tarutao. If you want to know if this island is something for you, read on.
From May to November you cannot visit the island of Koh Tarutao as a tourist. This applies to many islands in the Tarutao National Park. Only Koh Lipe and a number of surrounding islands are open all year round.
By boat to Koh Tarutao
From the mainland (Pak Bara) regular speedboats leave for Koh Lipe with Koh Tarutao as a stopover. A one way trip costs 400 baht per person and in three quarters of an hour you will arrive at Tarutao. Another possibility is from the other side, namely from Koh Lipe. This boat trip takes about an hour and costs 500 baht per person.
DO YOU KNOW?
Tarutao comes from the Malaysian words Palau Tertua and means “oldest island”. Old or not, this national park with its beautiful islands like Tarutao is well worth a visit!
Tarutao National Park entrance fee
In addition to the cost of the boat trip, you will also need to pay 200 baht per person for a ticket to the Tarutao National Marine Park of which the island is part off. For children the entrance fee is 100 baht per child.
Arrival at Koh Tarutao
Once you arrive at the pier in the northwestern part of Koh Tarutao you’ll soon bump into the headquarters of Tarutao National Park. This headquarters, located on the beach of Punte Malacca, also serves as a visitor center and shop where you can buy something to eat and drink. There are also mountain bikes and kayaks for rent here. A kayak costs 500 baht for a whole day. Keep in mind that there is no ATM on the island so take enough cash with you.
The pier at Punte Malacca serves as the main entrance to Tarutao. This is where you arrive if you travel from Pak Bara or Koh Lipe to the island. There is also a second pier on the island but we will come back to that later.
In the headquarters you can see an exhibition about the history of Koh Tarutao. The island used to be a prison island. Very impressive and a visit to the exhibition is worthwhile!
Punte Malacca pier | Image: Vyacheslav Argenberg (Flickr)
Not so long ago a large population of saltwater crocodiles lived on Koh Tarutao. Today these crocs are extinct but you can still visit the Crocodile Cave or in Thai, Tham Chorakhe or Tham Jorakae. This cave, located in the northeast of the island, can be reached by (longtail) boat. From Punte Malacca you can rent a boat that sails back and forth for 450 baht. This is not per person so if you can share this boat with others you should definitely do so! Don’t forget to bring a flashlight, of course you can use it on your phone but you can also buy one in the shop of the base camp.
The boat will take you via a canal to a mangrove forest in which the Crocodile Cave of Koh Tarutao is located. After about fifteen minutes you arrive near the deep cave. Once you arrive at the lake you arrive at a wooden jetty after which you follow a path towards the entrance. The road continues over a footbridge and ladder that eventually ends up on a plastic raft. Through this raft you literally enter the Crocodile Cave. Through a long dark tunnel you finally arrive at the crocodile cave of Koh Tarutao. A large cave of a few hundred meters in diameter in which you can walk around and marvel at the beautiful world we live in. It seems that the cave is a few kilometers long but a large part of it is not accessible for visitors. Nevertheless, we advise you to visit the Crocodile Cave during your visit to Tarutao!
Crocodile Cave | Image: patrickahrend (Instagram)
Toe Boo Cliff Viewpoint
From the beach of Punte Malacca you can hike to the Toe Boo Cliff Viewpoint. This viewpoint is located at an altitude of 114 meters and is conveniently close to the visitor center. In the northeast of Punte Malacca are the stairs to this viewpoint. The trip to the top takes a maximum of half an hour and after you arrive at the Toe Boo Cliff Viewpoint you will have a wide view over Punte Malacca. You can also see the islands Koh Ra Wi, Koh Khai and Koh Adang. You can read more about these islands in our article about the Tarutao National Park.
Video: Aaron’s Travel and Adventure Network (YouTube)
Transportation on Koh Tarutao
In terms of transport there is little choice on Koh Tarutao. Scooters are for locals only and not rented to visitors of the island. However, you can rent a mountain bike for 250 baht per person per day. This way you are still mobile on the island. Mountain bikes can be rented at the base station or at the ranger stations.
If you don’t use a mountain bike you are dependent on two forms of transport on the island. The first form is the old-fashioned leg wagon and the second option is transport via the shuttle taxis that drive around the island at fixed times. Be well informed about these times, especially when you need to catch a boat to the mainland or Koh Lipe.
Image: marclandreth_ (Instagram)
Spending the night on Koh Tarutao
On Koh Tarutao you won’t find luxury resorts, but you can stay the night. This is possible at three locations on the island, on arrival at Punte Malacca around the headquarters, on the grounds of the ranger station in the bay of Mo Lae or at the second ranger station located in Ao Son Bay. Mo Lae Bay where the first ranger station is located is about four kilometers from the pier where you arrive when you visit Koh Tarutao. The furthest ranger station, in the bay of Ao Son, is located 8 kilometers from the Punte Malacca pier. The easiest way to get to the ranger stations is via the transport offered on the island or via a rented mountain bike.
All three locations have around ten bungalows and a field on which a number of tents can stand. The price for renting a tent on Koh Tarutao is 200 baht per day. The space in the tent is large enough for two persons including hand luggage. If you have more luggage with you, you can store it at the location where the tents are rented. If you brought your own tent you pay 30 baht per day for the pitch only.
If you prefer not to sleep in a tent, you can choose to sleep in a basic bungalow for two to four persons. These bungalows on Koh Tarutao can be booked from 350 baht via the website of Thai National Parks. The bungalows don’t have air conditioning but do have a fan in the room. Please note that there is no electricity 24 hours a day on the island. So a power bank is a handy tool.
The bungalows on Mo Lae are the most modern and offer you the most comfort but the most beautiful place to stay is on the grounds of the bay of Ao Son. Here you have a view of a beautiful sunset!
There are many wild animals such as macaques (monkeys) on the island. Close your tent or bungalow and your luggage as well as possible because the monkeys are all too happy to look for something tasty to chew on.
Camping on Koh Tarutao | Image: Vyacheslav Argenberg (Flickr)
Restaurants on Koh Tarutao
There is a restaurant located at both sleeping places on Koh Tarutao, so you won’t starve to death during your stay on the island. For a meal you pay between 70 and 200 baht and for a drink like water or soda you pay the same as on most other islands in Thailand. As an example, a can of Coke costs 40 baht. Snacks can be bought at the supermarket on the grounds of the visitor center. A nice picnic with a beautiful view on the beach!
Mo Lae Bay
The bay of Mo Lae has a beach with white powder sand and is surrounded by a beautiful forest. The Mo Lae Bay is located four kilometers south of the headquarters and is also the location of the first ranger station. You can reach this bay by following a path through the jungle from Punte Malacca. On the terrain there are a number of modern but basic bungalows and you will find a field on which the tents can stand. There is a restaurant and you can rent mountain bikes on the terrain.
Images: maneeoregan (Instagram)
The second ranger station is another 4 kilometers away from Mo Lae Bay, the distance from the pier is about 10 kilometers. The distance and location of the Ao Son beach makes this an ideal place for those looking for peace and quiet. A nice and quiet spot on the coast of Koh Tarutao! The beach of Ao Son is elongated and from here you can see the sun set at its most beautiful.
Ao Son is known for being an area where turtles lay their eggs, if that is still the case we don’t know. But if you get the chance, this is of course a very special experience to witness! Behind Ao Son is also the Lu Du waterfall whose water eventually ends up in the sea on the beach, this source of fresh water attracts a lot of birds, reptiles and animals. So don’t be afraid if suddenly a monitor lizard or mouse deer crosses your path… It’s not for nothing that you are in a national park! Mouse deer, as big as a lapdog, are not fairy figures, they really exist. Go and see for yourself! We’d never heard of them.
Images: lars_lovehandle (Instagram)
The Lu Du waterfall
From the beach of Ao Son there is a three kilometre long path through the jungle of Koh Tarutao. Keep in mind that the first kilometer is quite tough, think of water shoes instead of flip-flops and bring something to drink. At first you’ll come to a small waterfall but this isn’t yet the Lu Du waterfall, so keep walking until you reach the actual waterfall. Below is an impression of the Lu Du waterfall so you can guess if this is something for you to visit when on the island on Tarutao.
Video: TimmyME (YouTube)
Ao Ta Lo Woo pier
The grand prize for the most photogenic piece of Koh Tarutao goes to… the pier of Ao Tao Lo Woo. Not because the pier itself is so beautiful but because of the colossal limestone rock (Koh Mak) that towers above the sea next to the pier. A perfect place for a nice photo opportunity! This beautiful picture is located on the east coast of the island about 12 kilometers from the base station. The Ao Ta Lo Woo pier is almost no longer used as a pier but for a placement on Instagram all the more!
Ao Ta Lo Woo pier | Image: Vyacheslav Argenberg (Flickr)
Prison Island Koh Tarutao
Near the Ao Ta Lo Woo pier you will find a two kilometer long path that leads you past a number of historic buildings. These series of buildings date back to the time when Tarutao was a prison island. Because we were so fascinated by this history we dedicated to publish a special article about it. If you want to know more about this period read the history of Koh Tarutao.
DO YOU KNOW?
On Koh Tarutao there have been many recordings of different survival reality series such as the French tv series Survivor.
Taruato prison island remainings | Image: Andrea Hale (Flickr)
Nature on Koh Tarutao
Koh Tarutao is home to many species of birds, insects, animals and reptiles. You will find crab-eating macaques, langurs, civet cats and wild boars. These animals are regularly caught stealing a snack from a tent or bungalow that is not properly closed. You have been warned!
On the island you can hire a ranger to plan a walk both during the day and in the evening. This way you will learn more about the history and nature of Koh Tarutao. There is even a good chance that you will see a python in a tree hanging from a branch. Less innocent are the groups of feral cattle left behind by the former inhabitants of the island. The cattle have managed to adapt to the wilderness and now live in various herds on the island.
Image: kasper_s_norgaard (Instagram)