The ultimate Koh Samui day trip: Thailand's Ang Thong National Marine Park

Karla Cripps, CNNUpdated 26th July 2019
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(CNN) — With Thailand's popular Maya Bay now closed to visitors until at least 2021 to give the area's decimated corals a chance to recover, fans of the stunning cove made popular by 2000 film "The Beach" might want to consider heading east.
More specifically, Ang Thong National Marine Park, located about 40 kilometers off the coast of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand.
Though the movie "The Beach," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was filmed in Phi Phi's Maya Bay in the Andaman Sea, the book by Alex Garland upon which the film was based was actually set in Ang Thong on the other side of the country.
In both the book and subsequent film, a group of international backpackers sets up their own village on an island hidden within this government protected marine park.
For the rest of us, it's most commonly explored while on a day trip from Koh Samui, as options for overnight stays are limited.

Emerald lagoons, private beaches

Thailand's Ang Thong National Marine Park is made up of 42 islands.
Thailand's Ang Thong National Marine Park is made up of 42 islands.
Toruism Authority of Thailand
Established in 1980, Ang Thong -- not to be confused with the central Thailand province of the same name -- is made up of 42 islands spread over 102 square kilometers (about 39 square miles). Travelers will experience beautiful beaches, limestone cliffs, caves and rock formations.
Due to the distance from Koh Samui, hiring one of Thailand's traditional long-tail boats isn't an option. It takes over an hour to get there by speed boat.
There's no shortage of group tour options available, but if you're up for a splurge we highly recommend booking a charter, which averages around $1,000 for an eight-hour day out and includes a deckhand and English-speaking guide in addition to the licensed captain.
This will allow you to explore on your own schedule and avoid the hundreds of daytrippers that visit each day.
"There are many small beaches that the tours cannot go to that we can take advantage of, so we have the time to explore and relax all alone," explains Mark Peter, owner of Samui Boat Charter.
The company has been operating for over 15 years and has a fleet of 10 luxury speed boats and one luxury Fairline Targa 52 yacht for travelers to choose from.
During a recent charter tour with the company, we were able to successfully avoid the other tour boats for the most part, though with some of the more popular destinations you're certainly not going to have the place all to yourself. That said, timing is key and your guide will ensure you arrive before/after peak visiting hours.
These include Mae Koh. It's one of the park's most famous islands but definitely worth a visit to see the Emerald Lake, a famous inland lagoon.
Tours usually also squeeze in a visit to Koh Phaluai, the park's biggest island, where travelers can enjoy a delicious seafood lunch at a stilted restaurant in the island's fishing village.
Another island worth visiting is Koh Wua Talap, famed for wildlife spotting and what might just be the most beautiful viewpoint in the entire park.
Offshore, away from the beach hopping and hiking, popular park activities include snorkeling and kayaking.
For a closer look at Thailand's Ang Thong National Marine Park, check out the above video.