Day 5: Ang Thong National Marine Park, Ko Samui
Today we took a trip to Ang Thong National Marine Park with Caz 100 Degrees East. I had arranged our trip previously with the owner, Caz. It had been a thorough, professional exchange and I was really excited to see if my impression of the company matched up to our experience!
After picking us up from the bottom of the hill by our hotel (seems that no one will drive up that crazy hill), they took us to the dive shop. Once there, we were ushered to a quiet, outdoor seating area in the back to fill out paperwork. There was water on the table and they asked us if we wanted coffee or tea. Everyone was incredible nice from the start. While I had my card with me for the dive (which, considering I have lost 2 or 3 passports, it is shocking that I have managed to hold on to my diver’s license card for the past 12 years), Miguel did not. It wasn’t a big deal as all he had to do was fill out some more paperwork.
After that, we were off. We were due for a 1 hour boat ride, so we went up to the front of the boat. It was incredibly smooth on the way out to the park. We were pretty fortunate for this as it made for a really pleasant ride.
Ang Thong is a protected marine park in Thailand. There are 49 small, rocky islands in the area. It is quite beautiful to take in. I had expected it to be packed with people, however, I was pleasantly surprised. When we arrived at the dive site, there were a few boats with snorkelers. However, our day started much later than most tour companies, so throughout the day we missed seeing anyone else really! If we did, it was in passing and they were on their way out. The guides explained that they purposely tried to avoid crowds so they off-set their times in comparison with the other companies.
Before going into the water, our Dive Master Mila, reviewed a few things since it had been 10 years since Miguel’s last dive and 6 years for me! It was a nice review, especially for Miguel. Then, off to the water! In our group, there was us and also another instructor with a student taking his certification course. Miguel and I went down with Mila and a dive master in training.
We all made it down OK. Miguel had some trouble with buoyancy, so he buddied up with Mila and I buddied up with the trainee.
It was a great dive. It was relatively shallow, only going down to a max depth of 10 meters (which was fine for us!) for 51 minutes. Miguel really lucked out and saw a sea turtle (which have apparently become rare for this area). We all saw spotted blue stingrays and plenty of the fish typical to a tropical reef. I lucked out and saw a sea snake (first time!). Also a first was a buddy that I had for almost the entire dive…a remora (you know, the little fish that attach themselves to sharks) attached itself to me. It was cool to have that interaction and for so long (I am so bummed I left our GoPro cable at home, so we were never able to use it)! When we finished the dive, we all went back on the boat and drove off to one of the islands.
There is an “emerald lake” in one of the islands. It is….incredible. Surrounded by limestone rocks and trees, the lake is an incredible emerald (hence the name) color. Although, it was a little cloudy outside, so it definitely subdued the color a little. The climb up and down was almost as exciting as the pool. I mean that a little sarcastically as “stairs” in many places like this seem to equate more to “ladder”.
After the lake, they took us to another island that had a beach for lunch. They brought lunch with them and set it up right on the beach. It was really nice! We sat and ate with a guy who was taking the SCUBA open-water course. He was Colombian and living in Bogota, so it was nice to sit down and have a chat! Miguel even made me practice some spanish (although, in my defense, I am using a lot of my spanish here…many people speak English but there are not so many spanish speakers, so if we want to speak privately, it is an easy way!).
After lunch, we went to another island where we did a bit of kayaking and swimming. Our last island stop was a spot to see some of the wild monkeys (which was really cool!). I appreciated that the government protects the monkeys here (aka, no feeding and no exploitation as we saw in Ko Samui).
After all of that, it was time to go back.
It was absolutely the most expensive thing we will do in our entire month in Asia ($386), but we both felt it was well worth it. The team with 100 degrees East was friendly and very professional (and more importantly, very concerned with safety), the day was well planned and truly memorable (and again, they did a great job of keeping us away from other tourists, which completely changes the experience in my opinion…for the better obviously!) and of course we saw a place that comes very close to what you imagine a tropical paradise to be like!
After they dropped us at our hotel, we took showers and Miguel was keen to rush off to eat (which is totally the opposite of normal as I am usually the hungry one). We ended up choosing a place near the fishing village. It had good reviews for seafood and was right on the beach. Well, we had a bit of a communication problem and we did end up at a random restaurant on the beach, but it wasn’t what we had planned. Still, the place was incredibly local (which was nice!). There seemed to be a good mix of people there-but it seemed a mix of locals and ex-pats and not tourists (which is usually my goal, I hate going to places filled with other tourists! I come from a tourist town and know what a rip off that is).
When we finished our meal, we called the hotel to pick us up and they told us 40 minutes. We left the restaurant with the intention to walk around, but ended up just cutting back down to the beach about 100 meters from the restaurant and relaxing. Well, the randomness here is that about 20 minutes later, someone from the restaurant walked up and told us our car was there to pick us up!
A sidenote…we decided not to rent a motorbike until our last day, so we took the hotel vehicle most of the time. Our villa was a little out of the way, so, while it was a bit more expensive, it was infinitely more convenient. However, we did feel a little out of place/pompous going to that restaurant and paying double the cost of the meal to get there!!!!