23 Jan 2015
The pier was crowded when I arrived – testament to the popularity of the once little-known island of Ta Chai. With travellers sharing tales online, the off-shore wonders of Phang-nga province are among Thailand’s ‘sights to see’ and Ta Chai tops the list. That’s why these people were queuing on Khao Lak’s Tap Lamu Pier for an early morning speed boat to this ever-green island.
In the heart of the Similan National Park, Ta Chai offers an Andaman adventure.
A guide’s voice interrupted the travel chatter, “Ta Chai Island to the right.” The speaker wore a helmet of plastic flowers, and his impromptu jigs and wide grin cheered the sluggish crowds boarding the boats.
It was set to be a lovely day. The mid-May skies were clear and sunny – despite the coming monsoon rains. I felt lucky to be on the boat at all. Ko Ta Chai or and Ta Chai Island is closed to visitors during the rainy season and not re-opened until October. I was among the season’s last visitors – with only two days before the final boat left.
And I was there thanks to Facebook. A few weeks prior, a friend had posted pictures of herself basking on a white, powdery stretch of Ta Chai Beach – “the reality is so much better”, she wrote. I was mesmerised – and opened Google to find a plane heading south. I was on my way to Ko Tachai.
Tourists flying from Bangkok and heading to Ta Chai tend to spend a night in either Phuket or Phang-nga’s Khao Lak. Day tours are easily arranged locally in both destinations. I stayed in Phuket, but that meant an early morning drive to Tap Lamu Pier two hours away – the first boats leave around 9:00 a.m.
At the pier, our fruit-hat wearing, grinning guide gave us the lowdown on Ta Chai and its Similan neighbours. The most important lesson of course, was to ensure we took care of the local environment when we arrived. This meant leaving our shoes on the boats and only our footprints on the islands.
We shouldn’t feed the fish, leave any rubbish or do anything that will negatively affect the marine or island’s eco-system, our guide advised. Green initiatives such as these are aimed at ensuring the local charms can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Getting to Ta Chai is an adventure in itself. A large speed boat with room for 30 travellers whisked us there in an hour and a half and we were welcomed by the sparkling white beach from my friend’s pictures.
In real life it was so bright that sunglasses were needed to avoid eye-strain. The sand was powder soft and lapped by clear blue waters – it was like being in a dream holiday brochure.
As well as basking in the tropical beauty of the island, there are many things to enjoy on a Ta Chai day tour. Sun worshippers and beach bums are dropped off to enjoy the sands, but most visitors peep into the undersea world by snorkelling.
On sunny days, the visibility is amazing and there are shoals of colourful fish playing just off-shore. I was delighted by the vibrant Anemone (Nemo) fish, but these are also the playgrounds of Parrot fish, Lion fish and many others. It was a psychedelic display and a memorable experience.
Everyone came together for the beach lunch which offered savoury snacks and sweet desserts, with entertainment from the guides.
After lunch we explored. In the thick jungle we saw ‘Mae Kai Bats’ hanging from the trees but the stars of the show was the ‘Pu Kai’ or ‘chicken crabs’ native to the Similan islands. Their name comes from the curious sound they make, just like a young chick.
A trek to the other side of Ta Chai takes 20 minutes. I had to do it barefoot, but it’s gentle on the feet and I was rewarded with a panoramic view of the blue Andaman Sea -a memorable scene to take in before heading back to the boat and getting back to the mainland.
I was among the last of the season to see Ta Chai – but it won’t be my last visit. The island showed me that tourism doesn’t have to blight Thailand’s natural beauty. It can offer a chance at preserving it. Green travel is now the industry’s watchword. And, with eco-friendly initiatives in place, paradise found, doesn’t have to become paradise lost.
About Ko Ta Chai
Ko Ta Chai lies in the Andaman Sea between the Similan and Surin Islands and is in the Similan Marine National Park. Visitors are not allowed to stay overnight.
Day trips cost 3,000 – 4,000 Baht and can be booked at travel agencies in Phuket and Khao Lak.
Best time to visit Ko Ta Chai: November – April.
For information and tours: