Koh Tarutao Island

Stone arch at Khai Island, Koh Tarutao National Park

The former “Hell Prison Site” and home of “Pirates of Taruta” in the old days, Koh Tarutao (Tarutao Island). However, the island presently is another dream destination among many travelers both Thai and foreigners. Rich in its natural resources and magnificent circumstance environed the area of the island where is part of the Tarutao National Marine Park Archipelago is called “Maldives of Thailand.”

About Koh Tarutao

Koh Tarutao is the largest island within the Tarura National Marine Park Archipelago which encircled with 51 islands and stone islets in the Andaman Sea adjacent to the Strait of Malacca in the India Ocean. The island is under the administration of La Ngu district, Satun province in the south of Thailand which is only 4.8 km of distance from Malaysia’s Langkawi Island to the south. The space of the island included the sea is 1,490 square kilometres.     

Tarutao” is Malawi which distorted from the word “Talotarao” which means “a lot of bays”.

The Hell Prison Site of Koh Tarutao

An island of smooth polished rocks in formation

The area of Tarutao Islands – Langkawi Islands renowned as the maritime line since the 1st century A.D. when the first Hindus evacuated from India by way of Burma and Thailand to Indonesia. According to the mariner, mythology noted that “Taruta Island” is a cursed island, anyone who enters the lush rainforest on this island will never come out, and the one who lives at any bays in the island for permanent will face with the cold, fever, delirium, or even death. 

And due to the location of the island of which is far away into the deep blue sea with strong wind and waves, and also lots of wild sea animals – alligators and sharks. Thence, the island was formed to be the prison base for the serious criminals and political prisoners. The pioneer groups of the Department of Corrections went to survey the island around the area called “Talo Udang Bay” and Talo Wao Bay” on July 30, 1937, to prepare of the establishment of the prison and the first prisoners arrived at the site in June 1938.  And then in late of 1939, 70 political prisoners were sent to the site and imprisoned at Talo Udang Bay. The prisoners at Tarutao Prison was approximately 4,000 in total.  

Later, in 1943 the Malaria was harshly dispersed within the prison site until the situation was out of control because it was lack of the physicians and medicines. Therefore, the numbers of prisoners to the death from Malaria is more than 5-6 persons a day. And in late of 1943, the number of the cumulative death of the prisoners was 700 in total. The officers needed to wrap the body with cloth or mat and buried in the cemetery and delisted from the prisoner register without notice to the family.

Followed by the savage environment and cruel incidents at Tarutao Prison brought it another name which is the “Hell Prison Site of Tarutao”.  

The Territory of Pirates  

According to the Greater East Asia War occurred during 1941-1945 resulted in the transport between Tarutao Island secluded from the mainland. It was a severe shortage of the consumables within the prison site, and later in 1943, the warden, guards, and prisoners altogether pillaged the cargo ships that navigating between Penang, Langkawi, Kantang, and Burma. And it was the beginning of the legend of “Pirates of Tarutao”.

The pillage of the Pirates of Tarutao affected enormously to the living of people in Penang. The shortage of supplies specific to rice and the price of the products were changed increasingly. There was a petition toward the government to set up the patrol ships and permitting the freighters to arm included the guard ships. After that, the British government, in 1945 asked for the permission from Thai government to allow the British troop to wipe out the pirates of Tarutao and the mission accomplished finally.   

From the Prison …to become the National Park

Tarutao National Park Thailand

Afterwards, the Department of Corrections proclaimed to abolish the vocational training center at Tarutao Island. Consequently, the island was abandoned for 26 years until there was an announcement of the establishment of Tarutao National Marine Park on April 19, 1974.

In 1982, Tarutao Islands National Marine Park recognised from the UNESCO: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization as the ASEAN Heritage Parks and Reserves.

The Heritage of the Fascinating Sea

Koh Tarutao National Park

The Tarutao National Marine Park Archipelago consists of 51 islands and islets with 1,490 square kilometres in its capacity which can categorise into 3 main parts are Tarutao Islands, Adang-Rawi Islands, and Dong Islands. However, the sea space and the water of Adang-Rawi and Dong Islands are more appealing that Tarutao Islands. Regularly, the tourists will stay at Lipe Island or Adang Island and hire a boat and diving package to tour around the islands instead of staying on the Tarutao (Lipe Island locates within the Adang-Rawi Islands).

“Tarutao Island” the largest island of Tarutao Islands National Marine Park with 152 square kilometres of capacity. Due to the size of the island and the limited number of the tourists to stay overnight on the island; as a result, the island is surrounded by the tranquil and private atmosphere. So, it is so-called the hideaway destination for one who seeks for the quiet and beautiful place to escape from the bustle.

The attractions of Koh Tarutao

The island features lots of attractive sightseeing for the visitors to enjoy as by following;

1. Talo Wao Bay (Ao Talo Wao)

Ao Talo Wow split rock formation

It situates in the east of Tarutao Island. A beach is blended of rocks and mangrove which is not appropriate to swim. At the front of the bay where a location of the bridge is reaching into the sea. And at the end of the bridge to the north, there is limestone cliff towering in the endless sea. So-called the scene of the bridge and the limestone cliff is a remarkable hallmark of Talo Wao Bay.   

Besides the beauty of nature here, the location is former part of the prison site in the past. And for one who loves the history, there is a historical study trail which is approximately 1-2 hours trip by foot. The path leading to some of the historic spots related to the prison– the Red Building, a cemetery of 700 corpses, prisoners’ dormitory, and so on. The visitors can come to the bridge by hiring the boat from the national park office at Pante Malacca Bay (the pier at Talo Wao is prohibited for the touring boats, it is reserved to the dock for the national park boat in monsoon season only).      

2. Pante Malacca Bay (Ao Pante Malacca)

Punte Malaka beach, koh tarutao , Thailand

It is a location of the Tarutao Islands National Marine Park in the west of the Tarutao Island. It is a soft, radiant sandy beach of 1.5 km long with pine trees, Malabar almonds, and Seashore Screwpine lining along the coast. The bay is descending that quite safe for swimming, and the water is crystal-clear turquoise. More than that, the location is also perfect sunset spot.  

2.1 Toe Boo Cliff

Viewpoint in the evening at Toe Boo cliff

“Toe Boo Cliff” or so-called Pha Toe Boo is another sunset spot beside the front beach of Pante Malacca. The location is 60 metres above the sea level provides the sea view all through the bay including “Pante Malacca Canal” in the north of the shore, too. It just 15-20 minutes’ walk to this viewpoint.   

The mouth of Pante Malacca Canal is the site of the tourist pier. All of the visitors who plan to stay the night on Tarutao Island will ashore here. If you want to hire the boat for the diving trip around Tarutao Island or Kayaking at “the Crocodile Cave” which locates at the end of Pante Malacca Canal can contact the tourist service counter at the park office.

2.2 Crocodile Cave

Crocodile Cave

“Crocodile Cave” is a fantastic stalagmite cave situates 2 km from the mouth of Pante Malacca Canal. Travelling to the cave can go either kayaking to the wooden walkway at the mangrove forest in front of the cave or hire the boat from the national park office. 

Not far from the pier, it is a small hexagon auburn building located in the east side of the street which is “Chao Pho Tarutao Shrine” (the guardian spirit of Tarutao). Some of the tourist worship at the shrine for luck and safe trip. And between the national park office and the tourist guesthouse is “Exhibition Hall” where displays photography, painting, animal remains, the geographic genetic information of the national park in the overview, included the appliances related to the historic prison site at Tarutao. So, the real fan must not miss this part of the island.

2.3 Crab-eating macaque

The monkeys-crab or Javanese macaque on the island in Thailand

“Crab-eating macaque” a creature the visitors can see in general around the Pante Malacca Bay. However, the crab-eating macaques here are quite wild, so it is prohibited for the tourists to feed them and also carry on the food between the guesthouse and other locations since they may grab the food or bite the tourist.

Further from the crab-eating macaque, in the early morning and the evening, it is possible to spot the “hornbills” that often come to find the food at the cafeteria. 

3. Molae Bay or Ao Molae

Ao Pante Malacca

Another lovely beach in the west of the island. A kilometre coast is beautiful and more peaceful than Pante Malacca Bay. The bay features the crescent shape of the beach with beautiful beige sandy beach and shady trees all along the beach. The location is 4 km from Pante Malacca Bay which allows the tourist to come here by foot or hire the car from the park office (we don’t recommend to charter the boat because the price is not reasonable to take).     

Molae Bay offers the camping ground included the restroom facility. Anyhow, the tourist stay at this area will be trying to take the journey to the other parts of the island since you need to contact the national park officer via radio to call the transport to pick you up.

4. Others

Apart from the primary tourist spots mentioned previously, there are many more of the attractions on the Koh Tarutao Island as by following;

4.1 “Talo Udang Bay” or Ao Talo Udang


The bay is in the south of the island which is about 23 km from the park office and 8 km from Langkawi Island in Malaysia. It is former jail for the political prisoners in the old days, but currently, it is a base of the Tarutao Islands National Marine Park Guard Center Unit 2 (Ao Talo Udang). Notwithstanding, there is no any exciting tourist attraction so if you don’t have plenty of time for the trip. You can skip this part of the island.

4.2 “Son Bay” or Ao Son

Ao Son - Tarutao National Park

One of the top tourist spots on Tarutao Island. The curvy powdery white sand beach alternates with the rocky beach of 4 km in its length is such a lovely to visit. Moreover, the bay is also the location of Tarutao Islands National Marine Park Guard Center Unit 4 (Ao Son). Two cascades are accessible by walk in the southeast of the bay is “Ludu Waterfall” which is 3 km from Ao Son and “Lopo Waterfall” which is 5 km from the bay.

Besides the beautiful scenery of the location, Ao Son is also the centre of sea turtle preservation of Tarutao Islands National Marine Park, too.

There are 2 options to get to Son Bay which is 8 km from the park office at Pante Malacca Bay; hire the pick-up truck service from the park office or employ the boat from the pier. We recommend hiring the pick-up truck which saves your budget and time. And travelling by foot is not recommended because if its distance and challenging route. 

The Son Bay offers the camping ground including the restroom facility as same as Mo Lae Bay, but it is not convenient to travel to other areas of the island from this spot. 

5. Snorkelling at Tarutao Island

A must not miss activity when visiting at this mystery island since the coral resource at Koh Tarutao is very abundant, although the coral reef here is not pretty as ones at Adang and Lipe islands). And the recommended areas for the snorkelling at Koh Tarutao Island are

5.1 Ya Kha Island (Cogon Grass Island)

Snorkeling Point at Tarutao Andaman Sea Thailand

Ya Kha Island is a stone islet situates in the northeast of Koh Tarutao Island. The top of the islet covered with dried golden yellow Cogon Grass teasing with the mild breeze of the summer. There are diverse corals, and the species of sea creatures live under the water here such as Fine spine coral, Staghorn coral, Brain coral, Finger Coral, Sea anemone, Indo-Pacific sergeant, etc. Nevertheless, the distinctive one is “Purple-White Soft Coral” that is plentiful in this area even though the “Coral Bleaching Phenomena” took place in 2010 impacted some of the coral reefs at Koh Tarutao Island. Luckily, following the report of a survey by Thongteawdotcom in February 2011 found that the richness of the coral reefs in overall is good.

And not far from Ya Kha Islet there is an unknown diving spot, but the location is exceptional because the red coralline algae are very rich. And also the sponge, sea anemone, clown fish, Yellow-stripe trevally, Finger coral, disc coral and other sea animals.

5.2 Ta Kiang Island

snorkel in Tarutao marine national park , Thailand

Another diving site around the Tarutao Island to recommend is “Ta Kiang Island” (Lantern Island). The island has a lighthouse to guide the mariner in the night time since the old days. However, the tower here is not a fully-constructed building as we know in general, but it is just the metallic structure with a light on the island. The under the sea world at Ta Kiang Island is fantastic with a variety of marine lives – Giant clam, sea anemone, large coral, Lettuce Coral, Brain coral, Disc coral, Honeycomb coral, and diverse species of sea fish. 

Tourist Season at Koh Tarutao

Wood swings at the beach at Tarutao, Tropical Beach, National Marine Park

So-called the tourist season of Tarutao Island is between November 16-May 15 annually. And from May 16 to November 15 of every year the location is out of the season.

The accommodation at Koh Tarutao

Guesthouses are providing for the tourists at Tarutao Island and Adang island. For more information, please contact at Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation call +662562 0760 or website www.dnp.go.th. The Tourist Center at Tarutao Island National Marine Park at Pak Bara Pier, La Ngu district in Satun call +667478 3485, +667478 3597, +667478 1285, and Tarutao Island National Marine Park Guard Unit 1 (Pante Malacca Bay) on Tarutao Island call +667472 9002-3.

How to Get to Koh Tarutao

Bangkok – Pak Bara Pier, La Ngu, Satun province:

1. By Car

From Bangkok, drives on the highway number 4 (Phetkasem Road) passes Phetchaburi, Prachuab Khirikhan, and Surat Thani. And then enter to the road number 41 and drives through Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phatthalung to reach Rattaphum district in Song Khla. Then, gets on the highway number 4 again and take a right to enter the road number 406 to enter Satun. And heads toward to the road number 4073 to La Ngu and Pak Bara Pier respectively. The distance is 1,029 km in total.

2. By Public Bus

  • Getting the bus service from Bangkok route Bangkok-Satun and gets off at La Ngu. Then, gets the pick-up truck service to Pak Bara Pier. or
  • From had Yai, Song Khla province, gets the bus route Had Yai – Pak Bara. Otherwise, there is the van service travel from Had Yai to Pak Bara and taxi from had Yai to La Ngu, as well.
  • From Trang, gets on the bus route Trang-Satun and gets off at La Ngu, then gets the pick-up truck to Pak Bara Pier.

For more information, please visit www.transport.co.th or call +662 894 – 6122

3. By Train

There is no train travel directly from Bangkok to Satun. However, the tourist can get the train at Had Yai or Trang. And transits to various public transports to Pak Bara Pier. For more information about the train can visit www.railway.co.th or call +662 621 – 8701.

4. By Plane

There is no any direct flight from Bangkok to Satun, but the tourist can get the flight to Had Yai or Trang. Then, gets the public transport services to Pak Bara Pier.

Note: To ensure your trip, and please check for the information regards to the weather, trip schedule, and price in prior.      


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