Attempting to reach Taratao underlines its remoteness. We rose at five and presented ourselves to the first tuk-tuk driver we saw. He waved away our attempts at bargaining, and pointed us in the direction of a dilapidated red pick-up truck with an even more dilapidated driver. He agreed to our lower price, and we rode to the bus-station in the back of the truck with – I swear I’m not making this up – his zimmerframe.
From the bus station we rode for 90 minutes to Satun where we wandered aimlessly until another tuk-tuk presented itself. We hopped in and were whisked to La Ngu, where we hopped out again and waited for our third tuk-tuk of the day. This third one finally dropped us off to the pier at Pak Barra, from which the islands of Lipe and Tarutao are reached.
No sooner had we sat down on the boat than we were joined by Tim, an ex-Derby man on his way back to Malaysia via Ko Lipe. I asked him what he did for a living. “Fuck all,” came the cheery reply, which I took to mean journalist. Close: he was working on a documentary about a Malaysian woman who formed a one-person resistance to the Japanese during the second world war.
Suddenly he leaned forward, earnestly. “Listen,” he said. “Don’t tell anyone about this place, ok? Word of mouth is fucking murder for places like this.”
When we arrived on Tarutao I saw what he meant. The island is a designated national park with a single road, wide enough for a single truck; no houses and no permanent population. We arrived at the quay with a huddle of holidaying Thais; our boatload contributed the only people we could see to the footprintless beach.
Tarutao is as close to untouched as it’s possible for a place to be and still have links to the rest of the world. There are no internet cafés or bars, just a few miles of trails through the jungle. Wandering no more than 200 meters from the camp, we saw lizards the size of dogs, monkeys swinging in the trees, and heard enough strange snuffling noises to have us nervously clutching each other every night we were in the tent. It even has resident eagles, which we caught fleeting glimpses of.
Even when we were there, the signs of construction were there. I recommend that you go, of course, because deserted, kind-of accessible tropical islands aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, but it might be best if you go sooner rather than later. Sorry, Tim.