We knew we’d love Koh Tao.
Before arriving in Asia, it was somewhere we had barely heard of and not really considered visiting, apart from the fact a couple of friends had recommended it.
But those friends had recommended it for diving; something I’m not particularly interested in as I have a mild fear of being underwater!
The more we travelled, the more we were told: go to Koh Tao. You have to go to Koh Tao. Koh Tao is the best Thai island. Don’t miss Koh Tao.
And so we went north instead of south from Koh Phangan, and as we were a little apprehensive of it being overhyped, we arrived with an open mind. We looked down from the boat as we waited to get off, and huge shoals of fish congregated around us in every direction, the clear sea broken up by coral reefs.
We already loved it.
Then we got to the end of the pier and were hounded for the next 100 metres. “TAXI TAXI TAXI BOAT TAXI WHERE YOU GO TAXI TAXI?!?!?!!??” This would be our soundtrack for the next few days, and already I was SICK OF IT.
…….And then we got past them, to the main shopping street of the town, and I was in love again.
Unfortunately, we had decided to come a day early after figuring we might actually want to spend a bit longer on Koh Tao, so we had only booked somewhere for the following night, and tonight it was fully booked. So was the hostel next door. And the hostel opposite. Clearly everyone was coming from Koh Phangan, and a LOT of people had come off the boat with us. Shit.
We managed to find a guesthouse a few metres away and we were relieved to see that for the two of us, we were actually charged almost the same price as the hostel dorms. The owners were lovely ladies who were so nice that we actually came back to book a snorkelling trip through them and do our laundry!
The next day, after stringent research into how Koh Tao is scam central for hiring scooters, we went ahead and hired a scooter to explore the 6 mile long island. This was the first time Ash had ridden one in about 8 years, and also the first time he’s ever driven me anywhere!
We had an absolute blast, riding up to the north of the island to see the paradise isles of Nang Yuan just off the coast, and back down to some of the beaches hidden in nooks and crannies.
We also stopped off in the popular hub of Sairee to see what the fuss was all about, and we weren’t impressed. It’s okay. It’s nice. It’s touristy and expensive. And as we were staying in what I think is a much nicer town that had food for half the cost, I don’t see why it’s worth the hype. Even the beach wasn’t that much better than the one in Mae Haad.
After a failed attempt to ride up a very steep hill to a viewpoint, we returned the bike with no problems whatsoever, and we have heard from people who have had accidents that the rental place is very fair in charges, so I highly recommend if you do want to hire a bike here, go with Oli’s Motorbike Rentals.
And as it happened, the hostel we were booked into was also pretty awesome. We could see why it was often booked up. Everything is London themed inside and out, and we hear from a little bird that the dorm doors are going to painted as Tardis’ soon!
Our second full day had been booked up for a snorkelling tour. I wasn’t keen, but Ash was dying to do it so I thought I should face my fears and give it a go.
At our first stop, we were in deep water with strong currents. I had a panic attack while trying to swim back to the boat and the views hadn’t even been that good. Was this going to be a complete disaster? I finally got back to the boat in tears, all my energy drained. I considered not leaving the boat again.
Then we got to our second stop and the water was clear and calm. I decided to give it a second chance – and it was INCREDIBLE! The colours were unbelievable and as we floated serenely back to the boat, our heads still submerged, an entire school of fish swam between us. Suddenly getting back to the boat wasn’t a priority any more. Absolutely amazing!!!
We made two more snorkelling stops, and I swam at all of them. It doesn’t sound like much, but I was really proud of what I achieved! Our final stop was at the two little islands off the north coast.
We eagerly walked off the boat, leaving our shoes behind. We could always come back for them if we needed them. Soon enough, after being kicked out of our beach loungers because we didn’t want to pay 400 baht for them, I wanted to climb up to the viewpoint at the top of one of the islands. I went back for my shoes and the boat was gone.
Our tour guide was nearby and told me it had to be moved away from the dock. I contemplated attempting the climb barefoot, and in the meantime, Ash had cut his foot on coral and could barely walk.
This was going very well.
Eventually, I decided I’d regret not doing it. I made my way across the beach, the hot sand burning my feet with every step, and walked around the platform to see what was ahead of me. A lot of steps under shade, I was glad to see, and even though there were a LOT of them, it didn’t seem too bad. I began my journey.
Then I got near the top – I could even see it. What lay between me and there were red hot rocks, each three times my height, to navigate up to the viewing platform while only being able to touch them for a split second at a time.
Even the rock I’m standing on in the picture was agony!! But was the view EVER worth it! (and a Thai guy took this picture from up in a tree, ha!)
Getting back down, naturally, was even harder, as I tried desperately to stop myself bouncing off each rock to the steps below. And of course I received a lot of comments about how mad I was to attempt it!
So that was my day of pride. I managed to hold my head underwater for prolonged periods of time without freaking out, saw a ton of amazing coloured coral and fish, and climbed a mountain barefoot.
That evening, our final night in Koh Tao, we were off to see Sairee “properly” – with the infamous Koh Tao pub crawl. (anyone who has been to SE Asia recently will have seen the shirts everywhere)
We arrived on the back of a pick up truck, and after being stuck in a huge queue to the first bar, we had shots squirted into our mouths with syringes, we went to a pool party, we watched a fabulous amateur lady boy show, and we finished the night on the beach watching fire shows while everyone else got very, very inebriated. After my experience on Koh Phangan, I wasn’t planning to get that drunk again for a while. We even saved money on getting back to Mae Haad at 2am by discovering it was only a 20 minute walk (though I’m glad we did one of the truck rides!).
It was a good evening, though I felt it was a little overpriced for what it was – 400 baht, and most of it probably paid for the shirt! The lady boy show required buying an expensive drink, and the included drinks were very light in alcohol. Our night was also massively busy (probably the post-Full Moon crowd again) so it was easy to talk to people but also easy to lose them within five minutes. I did, however, bump into a Scottish lad I met in Vietnam!
Our last day was mostly spent figuring out how we were going to leave, or whether we’d even leave that day. We ended up booking on the overnight boat; something I’d wanted to avoid as we’d heard they’re pretty dire conditions. But it was the cheapest option we found for booking straight through to Koh Lanta, and so we went for it.
We relaxed on the beach for the rest of the day, watched dogs swimming in the sea, and then headed back to the hostel where they had kindly said we could shower before our journey. We decided to get a couple of drinks in at the bar opposite, and the hostel owner joined us and bought us drinks! His Thai girlfriend turned up too, and we had a really nice chat about our lives, their lives, how he set up the hostel, why he moved to Koh Tao (from Holland!), how the island has changed in recent years, and how he thinks it’s going to change. It was a really nice end to our time there.
And so it was time to say goodbye. To the beautiful sunsets, to the beautiful town, to the beautiful beaches. To our favourite Thai island.
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