White Sandy Beaches, Palm Trees & Crystal Clear Water…Koh Tao is an island off the South-East coast of Thailand. The smallest of the Samui islands, it is well renowned for being ‘the’ place to get your dive license. Jimmy has been keen to get his dive license for a while so the trip to Koh Tao was a no-brainer. White sandy beaches, palm trees and crystal-clear water just added to the package.
Getting to the island proved to be a wee bit tough for us. We initially had problems with the Thai Visa, followed by complications at the Thai boarder (check out the last two Malaysia posts for more details). Our first mini-van driver was a swift but safe driver and got us as far as Hat Yai, half-way to the ferry town of Surat Thani. The second bloke was dodgy, having micro-sleeps the remaining 5hours of our journey. After a (stressful) 10hour mini-van trip from Penang to Surat Thani, the plan was to jump on the night boat to Koh Samui.
Surat Thani was a burst of colour and energy. Parades were being held, which I think was to celebrate the end of Buddhist lent. Fluorescent floats and hundreds or people danced their way through the city. A nice burst of unexpected culture. We wandered to the night boat terminal, also the site of the night markets where the parade had finished. After establishing there were no night boats running to Koh Samui that night, we jumped at the chance to head to Koh Tao. The night boat was pretty impressive, two dormitories with around 30 bunks in each, the boat departed at 9.30pm, lights out at 10pm and we arrived at 5.30am. We found it was a great way to travel.
The island of Koh Tao surprised me to some degree. It is reported to be the least touristy of the Samui islands and if this is the case I’m glad we skipped Koh Samui. It is easy to see the island thrives off the dive and tourist industry. Majority of restaurants offer Western and Thai food, something which confused me greatly. There are bulk tourists cruising around here, another thing I wasn’t expecting. It is easy to see why though. The island is small enough to walk around (although no one walks anywhere) and the beaches are beautiful. It really is the kind of place you can escape the world.
The island is amidst what I think is a bit of a transformation. There is a huge contrast between the old, run down, thatched bungalows and brand-new hipster coffee shops. It makes me wonder where the island will be in 5-10years time. We stayed on Koh Tao for 10days, longer than we thought after Jimmy got struck down with an illness and was out of action for a week.
ACCOMMODATIONArriving after 20hours of travel, hungry, sweaty, and smelly, our main priority was ditching our bags and showering as soon as possible. We found the Blue Wind Resort at Sairee beach, who let us check in at 7.30am. Always a bonus. The bathroom was a bit dodgy and the bed was pretty uncomfortable but it was cheap and served a purpose. We moved into Toscana, up from Chalok Ban Kao beach (where Jimmy did his dive course) at the South of the island the next day. I really enjoyed it here. It was a wee bit further away (about 10minutes up the road from the beach) but had an awesome pool area which made up for it. Lastly, we stayed in Ocean View at the South end of Sairee beach. This was great, just off the beach and within our budget.
FOODWhile the food itself here wasn’t disappointing, it didn’t exactly blow my socks off either. As I mentioned, all the restaurants offered Western and Thai food. While we avoided the Western food, I found a lot of the Thai food a bit stereotypical and lack lustre. This may be a bit harsh, but I missed the more authentic Thai food. A stand out was a tiny restaurant down a small alley by the pier, where we had a fried noodle and fried curry and enjoyed both immensely. I do have to admit, a long black from the hipster café went down a treat.
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONSThe big one here was the diving for Jimmy. He completed both his PADI open water and advanced courses at Ocean Sound Dive and Yoga. It seems he had an awesome time, with the school being extremely professional and well run. He was in a small group of four which was good, allowing for plenty of coaching when and where it was needed.
While Jimmy was diving, I enjoyed the pool, beach and a few yoga classes. Yoga is something I’ve always wanted to try. The teacher was great, giving many options (of which I stayed with the most basic) and I found it a great work out.
While most people hired scooters whenever they wanted to go somewhere (it is cheaper to hire a scooter for 24hrs than catching a taxi a short distance), we opted to walk majority of the time. To explore the island in a bit more depth we hired a quad-bike. Much to Jimmy’s disappointment it didn’t handle quite as well as he was expecting and there were several occasions where I had to get off and push. Driving was a bit suspect at times, he even nearly strangled me on a low lying power line at one point (the power lines have caused me some great amusement here). But we got to check out a few different beaches and had fun cruising around the island.
PEOPLE & CULTUREThe island gives off a really relaxed, cruisey vibe. No-one wears helmets on scooters or motorbikes and the only other form of transport is via taxi. In place of a standard taxi, a Toyota Hilux is used, and people jump into the tray for a ride. They are really expensive and the taxi drivers do their best to squeeze extra pennies out of you.
The Thai locals who run majority of the restaurants and hostels can come off a bit rude at times. From what I noticed, a lot of the tourists are extremely obnoxious and rude to the locals and I believe this is what causes them to be a bit reserved. We found everyone to be really helpful and kind. There continues to be a Thai-English and Australian-English language breakdown, which means I have to translate often!