Thailand is famous for its splendid beaches. There are plenty to choose from, to be sure, but the islands comprising the Tarutao Archipelago in the far south of the country are arguably the best of the best.
The island chain consists of nearly 600 square miles of jungles, ocean and beautiful beaches in the Andaman Sea. At its heart are the headquarters of Ko Tarutao Marine National Park on the island of Ko Tarutao. Astonishingly, this jewel of the Andaman was a notorious prison for political prisoners as late as 1948, functioning similarly to Alcatraz by relying at least in part on the surrounding shark-infested waters to dissuade the unlucky occupants of the island from swimming for the mainland. Some tried (the dense, malarial swamps of the interior were quite the motivator), and sadly, most died.
Today, the prison camp at Ao Taloh Udang has been reclaimed by the jungle, and the island is principally populated by monkeys rather than people. The only modern buildings to be found are the handful of government-operated bungalows on the beach near the ranger station at Ao Pante Malacca. Visitors in pursuit of rainforest at its most pristine (to say nothing about the miles and miles of untrammeled sand) will hardly begrudge the lack of luxury. The truly stout of heart can opt for spending a night or two under simple canvas coverings on the remote beaches of Ao Son, Ao Makham and Ao Taloh Udang.
Ferries to Ko Tarutao depart daily from the jetty at Pak Bara, 40 miles north of Satun. Ferries are operational from November to May.