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Koh Tao, Thailand

16 May 2012 4,829 views No Comment

Koh Tao is a small island off the east coast of Thailand. Together with Koh Samui and Koh Phangan it makes up the trinity of popular islands in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand. Naturally you have to have an opinion about which island is best, for what, at what time of year etc. I don’t, but it seemed to be the general way to fight your corner for your favourite island. Three different people mentioned Koh Tao’s magnetism to me, in a “you’ll never leave” or “you’ll definitely come back” context; so, don’t worry if you hadn’t heard of it, it has a good fan base.

overnight deliveries

I arrived from Bang Wan; 5 hours on a local bus (I must have been tired, I fell asleep sitting on the aisle of the bus.!?), 9 hours waiting in the nothing town of Chumphon and then the overnight boat to Koh Tao. Sorry, that’s not fair, in Chumpon I saw the biggest rat ever walking down the street, and I also saw the biggest cockroach ever in the port. There you go, something in fact to write home about – oversized, undesirable creatures.
The overnight boat looked just a bit bigger than a fishing boat, and the bottom deck was being loaded with cargo (mostly rice). Up on the top deck was a treat – the floor was laid with mattresses and pillows. Before you get too South Pacific happy, it was all a bit ancient, thin and loaded with bugs but, it was a few grades up from what I’d been told to expect, and anyway laying on a rocking boat with stars & waves through the open windows was wonderful. The ride seemed smooth to me, there were a few splashes but mostly I slept, and next thing it was dawn and we were sliding into Koh Tao’s main port.

same same

I won’t pretend to know much about Koh Tao. I stayed within the Sairee Beach area, and I kept my roamings very local within Sairee even. It’s the end of my trip and I just couldn’t be bothered, sorry. What I did see was typical of other coastal places I’ve seen in Thailand, which made me perfectly perfectly happy as I walked along with my gear in the quiet of the morning. The beach has quite coarse sand, no real surf to speak of, palm trees, flowering tropical plants, restaurants, accommodations. Nice. Add swaying lights, some fire twirling and various volumes & flavours of music at night and, well, that’s a Thai beach for you. Like I say, nice.
Along Sairee, the main road runs parallel to the beach which is where I picked up a Songthaew/ taxi for the rest of the way to my hotel: more restaurants & bars, massage & tattoo salons, souvenir and second hand bookshops. That’s the Thailand I know.

island sports

Koh Tao is especially known for good diving. I remember reading about that when I was kicking around the south islands last year. So if diving is your thang, you’ll benefit from lots of availability, very competitive prices, and, I’m told, good training and great reefs. If diving doesn’t do it for you, it’s ok, here’s a small list of things you still benefit from:
1. Most of the accommodation options have decent pools because they can do diving training in them.
2. In the daytimes it’s pretty quiet around the beach and town because everyone is out at sea.
3. Snorkel sets, board shorts and dry bags are cheerily cheap.
4. In the evenings there are lots of ripped, inked, moody looking diving types hanging around. Tough life.

Swimming, kayoing, kite surfing, sight seeing, hanging, are just some of the non-diving options. And I was here to do some kick boxing training.
Muay Thai Boxing School comprises a regular gym, a boxing gym and a ring. It’s got all the necessary equipment but it’s open air and scruffy as a street dog. I loved it. There are two training sessions a day, morning and late afternoon to avoid the worst heat although it’s drippingly, detoxingly sweating all hours at this time of year. You turn up, start skipping and then someone takes you through a training session, at least that’s what happened to me and I didn’t ask any questions/ explore any other options. So that’s around six quid for an hour’s one-on-one with a Thai former fighter. Ridiculous isn’t it. The training was awesome: technique corrections, introducing new defensive & offensive moves, stamina and sprint work, and my trainer was good enough not to roll the ‘you very beautiful’ line til the third lesson so that was nice. Between bruises, aches and split knuckles I could only make one session a day but it was great and very firmly reminded me how much I enjoy this sport.

island treats

Unplanned but joyfully received, there were also yoga classes at the resort next to mine. I only made it to one class but it was two luxurious hours of asana led with a lot of care & warmth. Funny thing, one of the hardest postures for me to do was shivasana (lying down) because you’re supposed to have your palms up and that really hurt my boxing-sore knuckles. Of course I just turned my hands over but it amused me that I needed to modify lying down.

I’ve mentioned the beach lights up in the evenings; Sairee faces west so sunset has potential to be wonderful. My middle night was quite clear so the sunset was really pleasant. Even if it’s overcast sunset is still worth looking forward to because most of the bars have happy hour at that time :) From what I saw & heard Sairee is a decent enough party town. I saw two amusing signs on my wanderings:
“Female bar staff wanted. Cash in hand. Free accommodation. Free drinks. Free boom boom.” That’s a real CV stopper isn’t it.
“F*ck it, have a bucket.” Ah, the times I’ve said go on then to that!

I’m off the booze at the moment so partying, bucket-ing etc wasn’t for me. Instead I planted myself at plastic tables on the sand for long sessions of soda & lime, peanuts and various colours of curry. Had BBQ-ed fresh white snapper one night too, I enjoyed that. So I sat on the beach, everything blowing in the sea breeze, reading excellent books in swinging light and variously stretching, rotating & massaging the parts of my body that hurt. I’ve never done this before but I was getting into a bit of couple-specific people watching. Ah, the ones walking around all loved up, cute, that’s a nice feeling. And the ones bickering, I wanted to hug and say it’s not worth it, go and have a bucket, ha ha.

Sorry, back up, did someone just mention massage. All gods bless Thailand and its high population of soft-skinned, firm-fingered, acu-pressure knowledgeable masseurs. Around Sairee, like all Thai beaches, there are heaps of massage/ beauty salons of varying aesthetic appeal & location and slightly differing pricing structure. I had an ‘expensive’, utterly worth it, full body oil massage that I never never wanted to end, and a well-bargained half hour foot massage that was spot on. Really, if you’re not sold on Thailand at this point…

the 411

Koh Tao is small (sub 21 square k), I’ve been told it’s easy enough to walk from west to east side, and certainly easy enough to see the whole thing by scooter. It’s not flat though, there’s some decent gradient on this little pile of rocks, reminded me of Ko Chang, just saying in case you do decide to pound it. I did not pound it, this is third hand information.
The boxing, the hanging, the reading & working were absolutely perfect for me and I just didn’t feel the need to explore at all. One thing I didn’t much like about Koh Tao – and perhaps it’s the same on the other two islands but I noticed less because I had company – was the crowd. I didn’t find tourists or locals very friendly. Now, admittedly I’d just come from yoga-love Bali and cuddle-love Bang Wan but all the same, a few more smiles wouldn’t have gone amiss. I was disappointed. Hear me people, I was disappointed in you. While bobbing in the pool on Tuesday I did have a good chat to a cool Austrian guy and he offered the same opinion, so it’s not just me.

Koh Tao is well serviced for the to and from journey, almost anyone on the island can sort you out with tickets etc. The port area is busy, scrambly, full of food, drink & souvenir sellers, I liked it a lot and I’ve heard it’s quite a chilled place to stay as well. My return journey was on catamaran, a swift, bouncy ride that made me homesick for the Manly ferries. And as I left, I puzzled over two things about the crossing here: how did it take all night when this cat manages sub two hours? And how did we sleep if it was anything like as bouncy (I mean bone shaking at times) as this.? With all its fans and returnees there are bound to be dozens of people who have an explanation. And maybe I can offer a suggestion if Koh Tao works its magnetic stuff and I come back.

Gallery

1st, 2nd & 3rd class

arriving. dawn on the beach at Koh Tao




here ya go: Thai beach street

evening on the beach






first day training



another day training








storm clouds right over Koh Tao

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