KOH TAO

In Thailand by thedustyroad8 Comments

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.

A cluster of palm trees swaying in the ocean breeze at Sairee Beach, Koh Tao.

A cluster of palm trees swaying in the ocean breeze at Sairee Beach, Koh Tao.

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.

Enjoying a few beers on Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, watching the sun disappear into a sea of clouds.

Enjoying a few beers on Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, watching the sun disappear into a sea of clouds.

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.

ACCOMMODATION

Arriving 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.

FOOD

While 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.

Night markets in Koh Tao

Night markets


ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONS

The 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.

Diving in KOH TAO

Diving with Ocean Sound


Diving in KOH TAO

Diving in KOH TAO

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.

Koh Tao viewpoint

Koh Tao viewpoint


PEOPLE & CULTURE

The 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!

MISHAPS

The only mishap was the lack of night boat to Koh Samui. We thought the boats ran every night. I’m not sure if there was no boat because it was the end of the Buddhist lent, or if they only run on alternate nights. This actually worked in our favour, we don’t mind missing Koh Samui and Koh Pha-Ngan. It also saved us a bit of money in ferry transfers.

WHAT WE LEARNT

Watch out for rogue power lines. The power supply in Koh Tao was extremely volatile. There are so many separate lines running next to each other they hum and crackle. If it rains too hard the power cuts out (which isn’t too much of a drama, it was out for around half an hour maximum while we were there). This also means you have to be careful when charging electronics as the electricity tends to surge when it turns back on. We did, however, come to the conclusion that the individual lines can’t carry too much power. Men would cut down trees which tangled in the lines at night time without any protective equipment.

Main road at Soiree Beach, Koh Tao

Main road at Sairee Beach


BUDGET

It was quite expensive to stay in Koh Tao. We massively blew the budget. When I was researching what to budget in Thailand I think it was for areas excluding places like Koh Tao. We found food and drink to be quite expensive, with street food costing the same as restaurants. For the 10nights it cost us just under 23,000B (approx. $900 AUD) which included the ferry tickets to and from the island. Jimmy paid 16,600B (approx. $660 AUD) for the open water and advanced diving courses. This is less than half what you would pay for an open water course in Australia. I think I have made the budget a bit to strict, but will see how we go as we travel north through the country.

PLAN

To head to Bangkok for a few days. We have done some research and realise we need a Laos Visa if we want to cross the boarder at the Golden Triangle. Our other option is to cross from Nong Khai to Vientiane where you can get a visa on arrival. So we are just considering our options incase we need to stay in Bangkok a wee bit longer to go the Laotian Embassy. After Bangkok we will head north to Chang Mai, maybe stopping at Sukhothai to check out the ruins on the way. A bit more organisation to do in Bangkok!

Comments

  1. Reminds me of the powerlines in Kathmandu. They were very dodgy looking. Had blackouts every night without fail.

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