Pakbara

General

Also known as "Pak Bara", it is a small village on the coast of Southern Thailand. It primarily serves as a transport hub for tourists. There is a pier to catch boats to holiday islands.

Pakbara is the gateway to the tropical islands of Satun Province, Thailand. That includes the pristine islands within Koh Tarutao National Park, super famous ‘hot spot’ Koh Lipe and low-key Koh Bulon.

Koh Lipe has become so outrageously popular, especially among Thai travelers, that a massive pier was built at Pakbara a few years ago in order to handle the throngs of Thai vacationers heading to / from Koh Lipe on a daily basis for several months of the year.

Visitors are swept out to the islands via super-size speed boats, dubbed ‘ferries’ (the small speed boats carry 100 passengers). The larger ones several hundred people at once. At least 2 boats per day make the trip out to Koh Lipe, often stopping briefly on route at national Park headquarters on quieter Koh Tarutao.

Because of the huge influx of travelers, a cluster of boat travel agencies, restaurants, shops selling clothes, beach & food supplies have developed around the pier. There’s even a large 7-eleven and a few ATM machines at tiny Pakbara now !

Simply put, Pakbara is just a boat pier servicing tourists bustling to/from the Satun islands.

History

Pakbara

Pak Bara is where you go to a catch boat to one of the nearby islands (e.g. Koh Lipe or Koh Tarutao). If you arrive in time for your boat you will not stay here but if you are late then you will need to stay for the night in a bugdet type guest house.

Pak Bara is a half an hour or so on a regular minibus journey to the southern-most port town of Satun. A minibus journey of an hour or so will get you to and from the major southern city of Had Yai which is where you can catch a train.

Pak Bara is quiet and peaceful but can get busy if there is a Muslim celebration event. If you are lucky enough to be there during one of these events then you will be impressed. During these events the local muslims dress up beautifully and all gather sitting and eating with live music (Thai), a market (very cheap) and areas of tables and chairs. Southern Thai muslims are very friendly and nice people and are happy to be of service.

The one road from Langu town to Pak Barra pier is natural luscious green dotted with a few buildings along the lovely way and as you enter the pier area of town the houses are more frequent and together lining the road. You can hail a motorbike taxi in Langu to take you the few kilometers to Pak Bara. It will cost less than 100 baht. It is a very nice scenic ride in the sun. A minibus may go to the pier but only if dropping off somebody or privately hired or requeseted or when they know regular customers will be waiting.

Behind the road to the left hand side (entering) is a very unspoilt and quiet beach area. The tide is in at night and goes way out some times during the day. It is the perfect place to feel alone and watch an earth trembling thunder storm and lightning display. You can see it on the way there.

Tarutao National Marine Park

Tarutao National Park is located in the Andaman Sea, 40 km from the town of Satun or 22 km off the shores of Pak Bara, and close proximity to Lipe and Langkawi in Malaysia. To the north, the park borders the Muko Phetra National Park, and to the south, it borders the boundary waters between Malaysia and Thailand. Part of the Tarutao Marine National Park of Thailand. Tarutao is renowned for its history and natural beauty.

The word ‘Tarutao’ was gradually changed from ‘Talotrao’ in Malay, which means having many bays.

The National park covers an area of about 1,500 sq km, including islands and sea. Of the 51 islands, there are 7 large islands; namely, Ko Tarutao, Ko Adang, Ko Rawi, Ko Lipe, Ko Klang, Ko Batuang, and Ko Bitsi. These islands have been formed into two major groups; Muko Tarutao and Muko Adang – Rawi. The area was declared a national park on 19 April 1974, and ASEAN Heritage Parks and Reserves by UNESCO in 1982.

The best time for a visit is during November to April but can be reached at all times of year.

Ao Son - Tarutao National ParkKo Tarutao is the largest island of the National Park, covering an area of 152 sq km. Most of the area is mountainous with a moist evergreen forest and interesting species of plants and wildlife, such as wild boars and hornbills.

There are many bays, both small and large, with beautiful beaches. In the sea, various species of fish, including 4 endangered species of sea turtle, can be found.

History of Koh Tarutao

Apart from an abundance of nature, Koh Tarutao has a remarkable history. In 1936, the government set up a reformatory estate and a prison on the island. Being a remote island having natural elements which pose obstacles against escape, Tarutao was, therefore, chosen for this purpose. An office building, houses for wardens, a sleeping hall for prisoners, and an occupational training centre, were built at Ao Talo Wao and Ao Talo Udang.

Ao Son - Tarutao National ParkIn 1938, the first group of 500 prisoners was sent to the island. The number of prisoners gradually increased to a maximum of 3,000. In 1939, the government sent 70 more political prisoners resulting from the Bowondet and Nai Sip rebels, to be detained at Ao Talo Udang.

In 1941, World World II caused an impact on the Tarutao prison and it quickly became short of food and medicine. As a result, a great number of prisoners died of illness and starvation. The wardens and some prisoners decided to attack commercial ships sailing in the sea in the Straits of Melaka and rob goods from them. Therefore, the area become known as 'A sea full of pirates".

In 1946, the British government who ruled Melaka at the time successfully suppressed the pirates of Tarutao by force upon permission from the Thai government, later, the Department of Corrections announced the dissolution of the Tarutao Prison. After that, the island was left mostly deserted for next 26 years.

On 19 April 1974, the Royal Forest Department declared the establishment of the Tarutao National Park, the first-ever marine national park of Thailand. The headquarters of the Tarutao National Park is located here. There is a tourist service centre where an exhibition has been held about the nature and history of Ko Tarutao.

From Ao Phante Melaka, visitors can walk up to a viewpoint on Pha To Bu (To Bu Cliff). Ao Chak, this small bay is next to Ao Phante Melaka. Ao Mo Lae, it is 4 km from the park’s headquarters. The bay possesses a clean white sandy beach. There is a beautiful grove of coconut trees amidst tranquility, as well as bungalows.

Ao Son - Tarutao National ParkAo Son, is 8 km from the park’s headquarters. This curve-shaped bay has sandy beaches which are interspersed with rocky beaches. It is also an egg-laying ground for sea turtles. A camping and food services are available. There are small waterfalls: Namtok Ludu and Namtok Lopo. This is an ideal place for forest trekking and a nature study.

Ao Talo Wao is a bay located to the east of the island, and provides another viewpoint for a beautiful sunrise. The Park’s Ranger Station To To 1 (Talo Wao) is situated here. It is a historical area where the reformatory estate for detention and critical prisoners was established. Nowadays, the park has imitation buildings of the past, such as houses of the warders, a sleeping hall of prisoners, an occupational training centre, a cemetery of 700 corpses, etc., constructed in the area.

Ao Talo Udang is a bay located to the south of the island, 8 km from Ko Langkawi. The Park’s Ranger Station To To 2 (Talo Udang) is situated here. In the past, it was where political prisoners from the Bowondet and Nai Sip rebels were detained.

Tarutao waterfallNamtok Ludu is a small beautiful waterfall, around 3 km from Ao Son. There is a nature trail from Ao Son to Namtok Ludu. Tham Chorakhe is a cave of 300 m in depth. Inside, beautiful stalactites and stalagmites can be found in different forms. To visit the cave, take a long-tailed boat for around 20 minutes. The boat cruises along Khlong Phante Melaka (Phante Melaka Canal) where numerous mangrove trees grow all along its banks. About an hour is needed to explore the inside of the cave. Visitors should bring their own torches.

Pha To Bu is a cliff 60 m above sea level. A 20-minute-walk up to the viewpoint passes by a dry evergreen forest. The viewpoint is behind the park’s headquarters, overlooking the beach of Ao Phante Melaka, Ko Bulon, Ko Klang, Ko Khai, Ko Adang, Ko Rawi, and Muko Phetra.

Access

Boat

Boats run to Koh Bulon, Koh Lipe, Ko Tarutao.

Minibus

Minibuses (aircon) run regularly to and from major and minor southern destinations.

Bus

Old traditional Thai buses (orange coloured) run regularly through Langu and can be hailed. They do not go to Pak Bara but can be caught passing by the minibus office in Langu town center. They are cooled by having the windows wide open and also small ceiling fans. Sometimes they have a music movie playing (Thai music) and they sure do love their music loud ! Ear plugs may be of use to you.

Get Around

Locally you can get around by motorbike taxi. They are known as "Win" or "Win taxi". Ask a local for the number of "Win Taxi". You will be charged slightly more than a local but not unfairly so in my experience.

Activities

See

  • Humble Thai locals living slowly and peacefully.
  • The pier area with just a handful of essentials shops and eateries.
  • The Thai fishing boats area. Stare out to sea. Watch the boats full of young Thai fishermen/boys if they are leaving or coming in.
  • The quiet beach and the lush greenery. Pakbara has a long sweeping beach with fantastic views over the sea and nearby islands stretching southward. The beach is utterly deserted except for Sundays when local Thais pop over on their day off for a meal with views. The beach is a great place to watch sunrises and sunsets, take a stroll, watch local fishermen or simply enjoy the stunning scenery. Pakbara beach is lined with charming local-style restaurants that offer guests cute Thai thatch pavilions set on sand overlooking the beach to dine at. Many specialize in seafood. Others serve a large variety of Thai dishes.
  • Go into Langu town and see how they live.
  • Go for a leisurely drive (obviously you will need transport which may not be available) see the wonderful local countryside and impressive scenery. All so natural and green. If you are unable to due to no vehicle then jump on one of the big old orange buses and head towards Trang. It is approximately 2 hours but you get get off the bus anytime and catch the one going back. The ticket for Trang is very cheap indeed on these Thai buses. Trang is a big town and has a train station and is a lot more built up than where you are coming from. It has Tescos and Big C and Robinsons hypermarket malls. Great for shopping.

Things to do

You can relax in the sun. Maybe fantasize about how, if you wanted to disappear like Lord Lucan, then this is a place you could come to and stay and never be discovered by anyone or anything you want to disappear from.

Buy

There are two ATMs at Pak Bara.

Restaurants

There are two or three good local restaurants.

Unlike the islands, Pakbara has many local food shops offering a huge variety of tasty Thai dishes, all at normal mainland Thai prices. In comparison, the islands offer only tourist restaurants with inflated prices and a very limited selection.

It would be also a nice relief to pay normal Thai prices for meals instead of double or triple price at the islands.

Please note that restaurants don't sell alcohol.

Friendly people: The people in Pakbara, even those in the tourist shops around the pier, are quite friendly, down to Earth and distinctly not pushy. you will find that quite surprising and refreshing for such a super popular, tourist packed spot in Thailand. Usually in such places, locals have a jaded, aloof attitude towards tourists. Not in Pakbara !

Drink & Nightlife

As it is a muslim area alcohol is not on sale as it is elsewhere. The local Buddhist Thais will buy it from a shop and sit in the sun drinking it. Restaurants don't sell alcohol. There are a few karaoke bars. If you look hard and ask too you will spot a place where locals sit and drink and do karaoke.

Hotels

  • Pak Bara Custom House.
    200 Bahts for a double room with fan (Apr. 2014). Free wifi in the lobby, not in the rooms. It is literally on the pier. So just a few paces to your boat to the island.
  • Laguna.
    (500-1500 bath) - More expensive but a lovely quiet location on an empty beach. Quiet, peaceful and scenic.
  • PornAree.
    (not spelled in English so ask a local near the pier. They will know) - A budget Thai place offering rooms on the beach with fan (250 bath) and aircon (400-700 bath). A young Thai family who speak no English. They have on site essentials shop (they sell alcohol) and surrounded by beachside eateries and restaurants. A nice good nights sleep listening to the waves lashing the shore line.
  • Happy House.
    (One street up from the plaza in front of the pier. Signposted on main road). Adequate place to spend the night while waiting for a ferry. Clean. No services. Free Wi-Fi. 490 baht (high-season).