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March 25th: Ang Thong National Marine Park, Ko Samui, South Thailand

On Ko Samui, Edwin, Louis and I visited the Ang Thong National Marine Park, as featured in the cult novel 'The Beach'. Arriving at 8.30am to catch the boat over, I was dismayed to find a small army of tourists aboard the mini liner. This is Ko Samui, I guess.

First stop was the entrance to the park itself, where some strict rules were inscribed on a noticeboard: 'Disobeying competent officials, 30 days in prison.' 'Picking up stones and coral, 5 years in prison.' Perhaps a little oiling of the palms would...?

An area had been put aside for camping and I longed for my tent to stay the night and watch a sunrise. A trail leads steeply to a viewpoint from which all the islets could be seen. Towards the end, the near vertical climb required the help of a rope for hoisting yourself along. I can proudly report I was the first one up, overtaking a ten year old in flip flops on the last stretch...

Once back on the beach, a storm was rolling in, fast. As I write this on a scrap of paper, the wind crescendos, swaying coconut trees, throwing up stinging sand everywhere, buffeting me around. Its strength is phenomenal, but the storm has not yet arrived. The sky is darkening with every moment. First a few droplets fall, and then it pours - big heavy droplets strike the sea like gunfire. Everyone makes for shelter, but Edwin and I leap into the warm water and see the storm through. A quarter of an hour later the show is over, darkness is rapidly being displaced by a blue backdrop once more...

We then moved on to the awesome aqua green crater lake, set deep within one of the islands. Climbing to another lookout post, the view is again spectacular and we duly lined up to take our photos. Next to me, some 'Beach' pilgrims were whispering, 'I guess that rockface has to be where they jumped from for the first time...hmm...wonder where the waterfall is...' At its base, tropical fish swirled in different shapes like sycronised swimmers, and we sat and watched them for a while. Ridges were hollowed out under the rockface, under which seeped the turquoise liquid. Caves disappeared into darkness. Even under its veneer of commercialism, I can see what inspired the writing of 'The Beach.'

Lastly, we stopped to snorkel among some rock formations, swimming through archways and floating in the sea. Again, the rocks were hollowed out at sea level, giving them the impression of floating above the sea, a dark shadow cast beneath them. We weaved our way between the craggy peaks, rising out of a blanket of forest.

Like many of the Thai boats, the ones which ferried us to and from the beaches were long and slender, and had top heavy old car engines, with the propeller at the end of a long stalk. Positioned at the back, the drivers had to use all their body weight to steer, and would leap from one side to the other gracefully.

As we headed back to Ko Samui, the sun setting behind us, the islands dissolved into silhouettes. The light was golden and a thin cloud cover gave everything a hazy coating. It had been a long day, and we left the boat feeling very contented. The Ang Thong park is a place I would love to return to with my tent one day and while away a few days on one of its many islands. Who knows, maybe that beach really does exist...

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