At the southern end of the Andaman coast of Thailand just before the border with Malaysia lies an often overlooked group of islands. The Butangs have clear seas and great diving and snorkelling while Ko Tarutao has limestone caves, deserted beaches and a rich history. They are both well worth a visit.
The Butang Islands
Ko Lipe South Pattaya Beach 006deg 29.06min N 099deg 18.20min E
The Southern anchorage of Ko Lipe like all anchorages on Ko Lipe is surrounded by coral reef so be very careful on any approach. This an excellent anchorage during the north east season only as in south west winds there is a big swell. Anchor in no less than 10 meters on the sandy bottom and beware of the reef that extends up to 100 metres from the shore. The reef is very shallow making access to and from the beach difficult at low tide so it is recommended to land your dinghy towards the extreme eastern side of the beach where you will see a sandy passage extending through the coral. There are lots of different standards of bungalow developments with restaurants ashore as well as plenty of small bars, massage shops and mini markets. Development has been rapid and unplanned over the last few years and there are rumours of a McDonalds on the beach!
Ko Lipe north west Sunset Beach 006deg 29.46min N 099deg 17.55min E
The Northwest anchorage is in 10 to 12 metres on a sand bottom. The depth decreases sharply and there are several large columns of coral close to the surface so take extra care and ensure you have enough swinging room. It is good in the north east season and reasonable in the south west season but will be bumpy if the wind is from the west. There is a reasonable amount of development ashore but much less than on the south side of the island. Good snorkelling can be found around the western tip of the island.
Ko Lipe east Sunrise Beach 006deg 30.08min N 099deg 18.75min E
The north east anchorage is a good south west season mooring. Anchor on the sandy spot south east of the small Hin Takon Dukang in 8 to 10 metres. There are two good resorts ashore on the north east tip of the island or follow the path to the south side of Ko Lipe.
Ko Adang 006deg 31.75min N 099deg 16.00min E
Anchor to the south east of Ko Kata in 10 to 12 metres offshore of the white sand beach. A good spot during the north east season but can be exposed to ground swells during the south west. It is also possible to anchor off one of the beaches on the west coast of Ko Adang but beware of strong current if swimming from the yacht. Just to the west of Ko Adang is a good sandy spot in 8 metres in the gap between Ko Bulo and the small island to the east but you must navigate with extreme caution as there are lots of coral heads.
Ko Butang various anchorages
There are several spots suitable as day anchorages with great snorkelling in both seasons around this island group. During the south west season the north east coast is best and there is a good fringing coral reef with lots of mooring buoys. In north east winds head to the other side where you will again find plenty of mooring buoys along the coast and among the smaller islands to the south east.
Ko Rawi 006deg 32.27min N 099deg 10.26min E
There are good mooring buoys here and it is possible to anchor on the small sandy spot on the west side of the beaches near the reef in 4 to 6 metres but you will only be about 50 metres from the shore. The current can be very strong here so care should be taken when swimming or snorkelling. Go ashore to visit the beach and follow the path north through the trees to the large shallow bay on the north side of the island. There is a ranger station ashore but no restaurants. At the western end of the island is a lovely bay surrounded by huge granite boulders which is suitable overnight in the north east season.
Ko Tanga 006deg 34.30min N 099deg 27.55min E
The islands of Ko Tanga and Ko Chuku are an excellent stop en route between the Butang group and the North of Ko Tarutao. Anchor in 15 to 20 metres between the islands of Ko Tanga and Ko Chuku for snorkelling and swimming or a relaxed lunch. Ko Chuku is a beautiful island with a white sand beach but must be approached with extreme caution to avoid the fringing reef. You may also anchor to the North or South of the island depending on conditions and take your dinghy ashore. Suitable as a lunch stop only and there are no restaurants.
Ko Tarutao and the Bulon group
Ao Pante 006deg 41.75min N 099deg 38.25min E
Anchor to the Southwest of the rock outcrop which is marked by a distinctive white light tower in 6 to 10 metres on a sandy bottom. Ashore you will find a concrete jetty at the entrance to a mangrove creek that is navigable for dinghies at high tide, and sea canoes at all states of tide for some distance passing through a limestone cave known as the “Crocodile cave”. You can hire a guide to this cave from the park administration building where you will be asked to pay 200 baht per person for landing ashore. Other facilities include a small shop, basic restaurant, campsite, library and museum. There is a path leading to a lookout point above the anchorage but it can be slippery and takes about 35 to 45 minutes so leave plenty of time to come back before dark.
Ao Son 006deg 37.89min N 099deg 36.45min E
Anchor in 6 to 8 metres on a sandy bottom. There is a long sandy beach where you may see monkeys and even turtles between November and April. Look for the start of a 4km trail at the northern end of the beach, near the freshwater stream, that leads to the Niwon waterfall with a pool big enough to bathe in. At the southern end of the bay there is a small river which is a great place to go exploring the mangroves by dinghy or canoe.
Ban Ao Makham 006deg 32.60min N 099deg 37.60min E
Anchor in 7 to 10 metres on sand. This quiet location is often visited by local fishermen because of the freshwater streams ashore where you can also see a few of their huts.
Ao Talo Udang 006deg 31.00min N 099deg 41.00min E
Anchor in 5 to 6 metres in the bay. This spot is suitable in north east season and during the south west season proceed a short distance around to the East coast and anchor to the North of Ko Belitung Besa at 006deg 31.75min N 099deg 42.15min E or in the bay to the North of Ko Sing. Ashore you can see the remains of what used to be a penal colony village and salt factory used before the Second World War when the whole island was a prison for Thai criminals and dissidents. Thai fishing boats often anchor here in the evening before heading out to the fishing grounds after midnight and can be quite noisy. Make sure the yacht is well lit overnight.
Ao Talo Wao 006deg 37.60min N 099deg 41.38min E
Anchor to the North of the pier at in 7 to 9 metres. The pier was formerly used for landing prisoners in the days when the island was a penal colony. On the hill above the bay is a ranger station with roads leading north to Ao Pante, west to Ao Son and south to Ao Talo Udang. All are excellent hiking routes for the more energetic. There is a small restaurant near the pier which is open in the Northeast season only and a hosepipe for filling water in jerry cans.
Ko Laen 006deg 42.75min N 099deg 40.25min E
Anchor in 8 to 10 metres to the West of Ko Laen in this pretty little secluded anchorage. A good overnight stop in the south west season but there are no restaurants.
Ko Khao Yai and Ko Bulan 006deg 48.75min N 099deg 41.00min E
Enter the anchorage from the south and anchor at 006deg 48.6min N 099deg 41.4min E in 4 to 6 metres. Not viable as an overnight anchorage in south west season but it is a good spot for exploration of caves and coves of Ko Bulan.
Ko Bulon Mai Phai 006deg 49.80min N 099deg 35.43min E
Suitable as a daytime only anchorage in 5 to 6 metres off the white sand beach on the south east corner of the island.
Ko Bulon Le 006deg 49.68min N 099deg 32.60min E
The Eastern coast is a series of beaches with secure holding in no less than 6 metres and at least 1000 metres from the shore to avoid the coral reef which surrounds almost the entire island. The easiest place to land the dinghy is at the north east corner of the island where there is a beautiful white sand beach. There are two resorts and a small shop ashore with trails leading across the island to two interesting caves. Do not enter the shallow bay on the South coast in the yacht under any circumstances as there are coral heads throughout the entire bay.
17 Ko Don 006deg 51.35min N 099deg 35.80min E
Anchor in 6 to 8 metres on a sandy bottom just off the beach on the east coast where you will see a small village. This anchorage is not suitable as an overnight stop and there are no restaurants.