It seems like a lot of people in Thailand are frightened of Tarutao Island, writes Channel 4 News Asia Correspondent John Sparks.
When we asked locals whether they would take us there by boat, they were quick to say no – and that seemed very odd indeed.
It was strange, because Tarutao Island is an absolutely spectacular Thai national park.
Situated 30km from the mainland in the sparkly blue waters of the Andaman Sea, the mountains of Tarutao dominate the surrounding area. It is cloaked in a rich layer of jungle and its beaches are white and hotel-free. It’s the sort of isolated spot that many people dream of spending time on.
Except Tarutao Island is also the stuff of nightmares. It took us weeks to find out why people were so frightened, but in the end it made perfect sense.
Local people and senior police officers, speaking off the record, told us the southern section of this beautiful island is gangster territory – the hood of human traffickers, who run a number of secret prisons from the jungle floor.
It is here that desperate migrants from neighbouring Burma are incarcerated, beaten and extorted – and risk being sold as slave labour to fishing fleets.Rohingya exodus
Our story begins 2000 kilometres to the north however, a few miles off the shore of another island called St Martin’s. It straddles the border between Burma and Bangladesh and it is here that ocean-going ships anchor while awaiting their desperate human cargo.
The passengers are largely Rohingya – a Muslim minority now fleeing a vicious ethnic conflict in north-west Burma. Their situation is dire – civil rights group Human Rights Watch says they are victims of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.