Ko Tarutao is the largest of the 51 islands in the Tarutao National Marine Park archipelago in the Southern Andaman Coast of Southern Thailand, in Satun Province.
Ko Taratao is approximately 30 km west of the coastal city of Satun. The island is 26.5 km long and 11 km wide. The highest point is over 700 m high. Rainforest covers over 70% of the island.
The name Tarutao comes from the Malay words "Pulau Tertua" (the island of old).
From 1937 to 1948, because of its remote location, Ko Tarutao was used as a prison, housing as many as 3,000 prisoners simultaneously. During World War II, after food supplies were cut, the prisoners turned to savage piracy, cold-bloodedly murdering crew of any ships passing by. In 1947, the British army forced the surrender of the pirates within a week.
In 1975, the island was named as the first marine national park in Thailand.
In 2002, the 5th season of the television show Survivor was filmed on the remote south part of the island.
The south part of the island, the location of the filming of Survivor, is generally un-patrolled and a report in 2013 noted that it is run by gangsters and is the location of a human trafficking operation. It can be reached via long-tail boat in a several hour trip.
There is a one-time national park admission charge upon arrival of ฿200 for foreigners and ฿40 for Thai citizens; save the ticket as it allows for entry to other nearby islands. Foreign students pay only ฿100 on presentation of a student card.
Satun Pakbara Speed Boat Club operates once daily speedboats between Ko Lipe and Pak Bara, with a stop near the park headquarters building at Ao Phante Malacca in the northwest of Ko Tarutao. The journey from either Pak Bara or Ko Lipe to Ko Tarutao takes 1 hour and costs ฿700. From Pak Bara, there are bus and minibus connections to most of the major cities in Thailand. Ko Lipe can be reached from Langkawi, Malaysia. If taking the bus to Pak Bara from elsewhere in Thailand, make sure that you will arrive in time to catch the ferry, otherwise you will have to spend a night in Pak Bara.
The island can be traversed by foot, by bike and can also be explored by boat.
- Crocodile Cave (Tam Jorakae), a partially submerged cave among the mangroves, can be reached by kayak or via a guided tour boat organized at the park headquarters building. Despite the name, there are no crocodiles.
- Former prison grounds at Ao Talo Udang - Although most of the buildings have been demolished, signage and a museum depicts prisoner life on the island.
- Ta Lo Wow Bay is on the northeast side of the island.
- Pante Malakar Bay is on the northwest side of the island.
- Son Bay is the only bay on the west side of the island and is knows as a place where turtles come to lay their eggs. Its longest beach is about 200 m. There is a canal to divide the private beach and the public beach. Since it is on the west side of the island, it is a great place to watch the sunset.
- Makham Bay is on the southwest side of Ko Tarutao.
- Ta Lo U-Dung Bay is on the southeast side of Ko Tarutao and offers a view of the tiny Singha island.
- Hiking - There are several hiking trails in the jungle, including to the Lu Du Waterfall and to the Tob-Bob cliff – 400m high.
- Birdwatching and wildlife viewing - Trips depart from the park headquarters building at the north side of the island extremely early in the morning. There have been 109 species of birds spotted on the island, including doves, sandpipers, plovers, swifts, owls, woodpeckers, and hawks. Also found on the island are macaques, flying lemurs, and bats.
- Kayaks and paddle-boats - available for rent for ฿500/day.
- Bicycling - bikes are available for rent for ฿250/day.
- Snorkeling Trips - The calm, clear water makes the Tarutao Marine Park area ideal for snorkelling, with 25% of the world's tropical fish species found in the area. On the island of Ko Tarutao itself, there is not much to see when snorkeling, even though there is a good spot on the northeast side of the island which you can reach by longtail boat. According to the park staff, it is not worth going if you plan to go on to Ko Lipe or Ko Adang afterwards.
There are no ATMs on the island. The closest are in Pak Bara or Ko Lipe. Bring plenty of cash!
Eat and drink
The national park service operates two restaurants and a mini-mart that provide a range of good quality meals: fried rice/noodles (฿70), main courses (฿100-150), all day with cold soft drinks, snacks, water (฿30), and beer (฿50).
All lodging on the island is owned and managed by the national park service. Guests have the choice of bungalows (350-420 baht per night), with either indoor or outdoor toilets, or camping. You can rent a tent for 200 baht a night, which comes with mats and mosquito nets. You can also pitch your own tent for 30 baht a night. Lodging cannot be booked online. To book accommodation in advance you will need to call the National Park on +6674783597 or +6674783485. Luggage can be stored in the office to free up space if you are camping. There are many mosquitoes on the island and no repellant, so bring plenty with you.
Internet is available at the park headquarters building.