The Thai Pearl of Ko Tao: 4 Days on the Island
There was just one week left of my three months trip to south east Asia. Before visiting Bangkok and flying home, I decided to spend some time on the beach, away from the crowds. The summer in Europe was gone and I wasn’t prepared to go back to the cold weather yet. It was the off-season and there were very few visitors on some of the southern Thai islands, so they seemed more than suitable for my plan. After having a lot of fun on Ko Phangan, it was Ko Tao’s turn.
Ko Tao is a tiny island few hours boat ride from either Ko Phangan or the coast (Chumphon). It only has around 2,500 inhabitants and it’s very popular for amazing scuba diving and snorkelling experiences. Beaches, sunsets and nature on the island are out of this world.
Arrival to Ko Tao
I arrived to the island around 3pm from Ko Phangan for around 500 THB. It was an extremely hot day and the sweat was real. It was a bit easier on the deck of the ferry where I was standing when the boat was approaching the port. The boat sirens went off, indicating our arrival. I was looking at the landscape realising the beauty of the island even before I stepped on it. The music from my headphones was blazing and it additionally lifted my mood.
Going with the flow
A person from a local agency approached me on the boat to sell a scuba diving course. We had a chat and he offered me a free transport to their office which happened to be just next to my hostel. I happily accepted and 15 minutes later I was in a pick up truck with two Germans going towards the office. After realising it takes three to four days and costs quite a lot, I decided not to go for the course.
Later I checked into the Good Dream Hotel where I met couple of people. The hostel is situated 2 minutes walking from Sairee Beach and the most busy street on the island filled with bars, shops and restaurants. Ari, an Israeli guy, and Anna, an Austrian girl, were equally starving like me. It didn’t take us much to get out together for some food. Thai food from 995 Roasted Duck was just what we needed. In the same street there are many local restaurants that prepare amazing and cheap Thai food and are much more authentic than those on the main streets, from which many are too ‘westernised’ and expensive.
After the dinner we found a nice spot for a beer + sunset combo. It wasn’t hard since Sairee Beach is in the west and Fizz Lounge’s bean bags right on the sand were too inviting. Despite our pessimistic prediction, one of the most spectacular sunsets of my life happened that evening. It seemed like the sky wasn’t expecting it either. It was so confused about which colour to be that it just burst in all of them at the same time. Travelling in monsoon season, I haven’t seen too many beautiful sunsets as it usually happens in this part of the world. In a way, I was craving it, and this day definitely filled that need to the top.
Time for a Day Trip
The next day I woke up early to go on a snorkelling tour. I thought it could be a decent replacement for scuba diving as I had never done it before. Most agencies do similar tours for 850-1000 THB, at least in September. You get on a boat and snorkel around 5-6 different bays or beaches and get a warm lunch.
It was an amazing experience seeing various coral, crabs, exotic fish and other sea animals for the first time. We were lucky enough to see several giant sea turtles just a couple of metres away! Later, heavy rain spoiled a bit our tour half way. However, there were fun people on the boat so it didn’t really bother me.
The tour itinerary
We started off by visiting famous Ko Nang Yuan island and continued circling around Ko Tao clockwise. Ko Nang Yuan island is a private island that’s very carefully taken care of. There is a limited number of people per day, plastic bottles are prohibited, it’s cleaned daily and it’s not possible to visit it after 4pm or so. Its fame comes from its unique landscape form with thin sand strip connecting three pieces of land. After the meal on the boat, we proceeded towards Mango Bay and couple of others, just to finish the tour in the Shark Bay where the turtles were feeding.
When we were disembarking, there were the after tour souvenirs offered to us. One of them was the strangest I’ve ever seen. Each of us was photographed while boarding the boat that morning and while we were on the tour they made plates with our individual pictures in the middle. I couldn’t suppress a laugh looking at myself in that colourful plate and I wasn’t the only one. I don’t think anyone bought it at the end.
Exploring the Island
The next day I decided to move from the hostel to a bungalow right on Sairee Beach. I found a really nice private place at Mama O’Chai Bungalows for only 500 THB a night. You won’t find these online, she’s an extremely nice old lady you have to look for in a little house next to the beach.
Beautiful but private
That day I went to the Shark Bay and Haad Tien Beach. That beach, as many others, is private and if you wanna stay there for a while, unfortunately you have to pay 200THB. I stayed for 20 minutes until a guy approached to tell me this. It is a very beautiful beach with crystal clear sea though, so it might be worth it. After that, I went to the John-Suwan Viewpoint. This is an ideal spot for taking panoramic pictures of the island’s beaches and hills or just to sit there for a bit and immerse into the surrounding beauty.
One thing though, on the way to John-Suwan, there’s another viewpoint for which you have to pay a small amount. You get one fresh drink for it and it has a little bar and metal construction on the top to climb up to. On my way there, there was a lady who directed me to that one instead of John-Suwan, which is a natural viewpoint (a rock). In any case, they’re both equally nice!
After spending some time there I went back to my bungalow and with couple of beers and a dinner to-go watched the sunset on the beach. Later, I walked around the main streets a bit and then called it a day. Netflix was my companion for the rest of the night.
I woke up early to enjoy first rays of sun and my last full day on the island. After my little breakfast routine accompanied with an espresso, I went for what later turned out to be a mini hike to Sai Nuan Beach in the south.
The furthest you can come with a scooter in that area is Koh Tao Royal Resort. After that you have to walk around 20-30 minutes to Sai Nuan, passing few other private beaches. If you go on a hot day like I did, prepare for hordes of flies and mosquitoes as well as an incredible amount of sweat. Unfortunately, the same as the day before a guy approached me telling that Sai Nuan is a private beach. Therefore I had to pay the fee. It’s a nice setting over there with big rocks you can jump onto and follow the coastline.
Finally, some nature for free
There was one more beach I wanted to visit. Ao Tanote, surprisingly was free of charge! It’s also a nice spot for snorkelling with equally beautiful sea colour, rocks and the setting like other places on the island. On my way back I ate a delicious burger at Big Bite Burger & Bar.
My list of places I wanted to see there was complete. I decided to skip some other beaches as I felt more like relaxing than rushing to see every single thing on the island. The rest of that day I spent around my bungalow swimming and sunbathing, calling some friends from home and reading.
Summing it Up
In the morning, as I realised the end was near, I was reflecting on my whole trip and what’s coming next. Since this was my first long backpacking experience, I had a lot of things in my head and at the same time the level of happiness and energy was optimal. I relaxed and rested enough to finish it off in the chaotic and hectic atmosphere of Bangkok before leaving the continent.
The Perks of Off-Season
Ko Tao, similarly to Ko Phangan was one of my favourite places in Thailand. It is slightly more expensive than the rest of the places in Thailand I visited but that’s the case almost with any other remote island. It’s not spoiled and overbuilt (yet) and the beauty of it is just indescribable. I went there to be away from the crowds and spend some time looking back on my whole trip, but in the high season there’s a lot to do even if you like partying, pub crawls and similar things.
Despite its popularity, due to the off-season I had the feeling no one even knew about this island. That combined with the luck of having an amazing weather every day made my stay there unforgettable. In case you are backpacking through Thailand, make sure to visit this pearl, even if you have limited time.
Are you travelling to multiple countries over the next few months? Looking to share your story and get a little extra pocket money? Apply to become a Travltalk contributor now!