Our last Thai Island was Koh Tao. This is a famous island for diving with Koh Tao having the second highest number of people gaining their diving qualification here per year, only being beaten by Cairns (where we qualified). Aside from diving, Koh Tao was also the home of one of my best friends Kathryn (who we had lived with in Melbourne) and so I was very excited to go to the island and this was also the reason we chose to spend the longest here with 4 nights. We got picked up from our hostel on Koh Phangan on Wednesday 21st February2018 at 11pm to get a taxi and then a ferry over to Koh Tao. We had to wait over an hour for our ferry at the port but there was a breeze and a shaded waiting area so it wasn’t a bad wait. The ferry was around 2 hours as Koh Tao is a lot further north compared to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan.
Kathryn met us off the boat and we headed back to her house where we would be staying during our time on the island. It was great to catch up with her and, after a few hours, she took us to a little local place for some Thai food. Niall had rice and duck and I had a spicy noodle soup and we both really enjoyed our food. We then went to a place called Bar Next Door for one of Kathryn’s friend’s birthday. The bar had a rooftop area so we got to see a bright red sun set over the horizon and then got to have birthday cupcakes and drink beer and wine as it got dark. The bar also did a fire show which we got to watch near the end of the night but we liked it for getting to spend time with Kathryn and meet a lot of her friends who live on the island with her. It honestly was just the best to be spending time with her again and getting to catch up!
The next day, Kathryn wasn’t feeling so great so she stayed in bed and we went for a walk around Sairee which is one of the areas what has a lot of bars, restaurants and dive shops and is where Kathryn lives. Sairee is all paved along the beach and is very pretty. It looks a lot more upmarket than the other islands we have been on and reminds me a bit of Koh Phi Phi due to it being quite small and having walking areas – Phi Phi feels a lot smaller though.
The sea was beautifully calm and it was a nice day, a little bit cloudy but still hot and sunny. In the afternoon, we decided to get a boat over to Koh Nang Yuan which is an island around a 5/10 minute boat ride from Koh Tao and cost us 300 baht (£6.90) for a return ticket leaving from Lotus Bar on the beach. We got the boat over at 2pm and got picked up when the island closed at 5pm. The island is rented off the government by a rich man and they charge 100 baht (£2.30) for you to get on the island as a conservation and cleaning fee – you also weren’t allowed plastic bottles. What was annoying about this was that the beach had a lot of rubbish on it and so it did make you think what that 100 baht was being used for in the name of conservation!
We decided to go up to the viewpoint that was on the island first as a few dark clouds were approaching so we wanted to get there before we didn’t have a clear view. The clouds ended up floating straight by but it was still good to up to the top first so as to get the exercise out of the way allowing us to snorkel and chill for the rest of the day. The viewpoint was up some very thin stone stairs to the top. It was a pretty view, overlooking the beach and very bright turquoise water. We spent ages up here sitting on a rock and enjoying the view until it started getting a bit too crowded and so we went back down the thin, steep stairs to the beach.
We sat on our towel and relaxed for a while and then went snorkelling. The snorkelling wasn’t exceptional and there didn’t seem like there were many fish around that we could see which was a bit of a shame. Fortunately, we had our own snorkelling mask so we didn’t have to rent them off anyone on the island which would likely have cost quite a bit of money. We got the boat back around 5pm and then went back to Kathryn’s to get showered and ready to go out for food.
Poor Kathryn had been asleep all day but she came to have food with us and took us to a great place that was just up the road from the beach and did really tasty food in big portions and cheap prices. I got massaman curry fried rice and Niall got Penang fried rice and we both really enjoyed our meals. I don’t know the name of the restaurant just that it’s next to the big 7-Eleven on the island but I’ll definitely eat there again if I’m ever back in Koh Tao – it was probably by favourite meal of our time on the island (although all the food was good).
The next day we booked in to go diving with a company called Phoenix Divers. We were told that the dive sites would be to South West Pinnacle and another dive site determined on the day based on sea conditions etc. It was one of the cheapest we had found in the island as 1,600 baht (£36.50) and we would be leaving at 6:45am the following day. The company seemed good and were rated highly on trip advisor and Kathryn (who has done around 200 dives and is a diver master in the area) said that South West Pinnacle was one of her favourite dive sites so we were happy to sign up with them.
At 6:45am we were leaving on the boat to do our dives so we had to get up at around 6:15am to get there on time. We were tired and when we arrived at the dive centre it took us around 10 minutes before we even found someone who worked there. No one greeted us and it was only after we thought it would be getting near to the time we’d be going on the boat that we actively found someone to help us. We were then introduced to our dive master Colin who would be guiding us for the two dives. We then had to go and get all of our kit together which involved getting fins fitted, a wet suit, a BCD and a snorkel mask. Once we had this we then all went on the boat. A little boat took 24 of us over to their dive boat which was a reddish pink and had two floors, a wet deck where the tanks were and then a dry deck to relax while we went to the dive site. Our first impressions weren’t great, we felt neglected by not being greeted, not being told we needed to sort out our gear and having no staff smile or say hi to us the entire day except for our dive guide – we have never had that experience before.
We then had to set up our equipment which we hadn’t done since we qualified as this is normally done for us. We still remembered how to do it so that wasn’t a issue but was a surprise how little the staff actually did considering what you pay for the dives. Koh Tao is a very cheap place to dive, I guess we just hadn’t expected that level of ‘do it yourself’ but when talking to other people we have found out that’s just how it’s done on Koh Tao, I think because it’s mainly a dive school island. Our second gripe with the dive company was that Colin treated us as if we were students who were just learning to dive and so took on quite a patronising tone with us. I’m not saying we are expert divers but we have dived regularly over the year since we have been qualified so we do know what we’re doing and are certainly not still learning the ropes meaning we don’t expect to be treated that way.
The dive site we went to for the day, South West Pinnacle, is considered to be one of the best dive sites on Koh Tao. It is composed of many small pinnacles with a larger one in the centre all under the sea (of course). We enjoyed our first dive and got to see lots of fish including giant schools of barracuda (small ones, not like you would see on Finding Nemo) which was cool and also saw a lion fish and a giant shrimp. We enjoyed the dive and found the water to be clearer and less green than in Koh Phi Phi although we probably saw some better stuff on that side of the country.
When we were coming up from our dive, someone had spotted a whale shark which got all of the staff very excited and led to us not leaving the dive site for our second dive. We had a bit issue with this as the dive site wasn’t very big and so we would be diving in the same circle all over again and also, we had been told we were going to two different dive sites. This was our only time to dive in Koh Tao and so we wanted to be able to get a good feel for the diving here which we weren’t able to do. Although we would have loved to see a whale shark, we didn’t want to spend a whole dive swimming into open water looking for one which was pretty much what we did. Even though we had said to our guide that we weren’t bothered about the whale shark and we wanted to be at any other site you could tell he was hoping to see it (I’d like to point out he’s seen them before) and so frequently took us into open water where there was nothing to see to look for it. No one on the boat saw the whale shark so it was a complete waste of time and a dive. I made the most of the dive when I was down there and almost left our guide at one point to explore the coral more seeing as I didn’t like how he kept swimming us away from things to see. Niall made his feelings about the waste of a dive very clear and managed to make it so we ended up only paying for a single dive each with saved us 1,600 baht. We were glad about that but I think we both would have preferred to pay the full amount to actually do two dives.
On our final day in Koh Tao, Kathryn was able to get us a bike to rent for 200 baht (£4.60) from her friend Flash and we all went out to drive around the island as Kathryn was feeling a lot better.
Our first stop was to New Heaven dive centre that, as well as diving, does an awful lot of conservation work for the ocean. They have made artificial coral reefs before, organise beach clean ups and have some rescued green turtles that they’re looking after until they’re big enough to be released back into the wild. The turtles were probably the size of an adult outstretched hand, were a reddish brown and were very cute. It’s cool that the dive shop is seeing the important difference they can make and are actively trying to help the oceans that they dive in every day.
Kathryn took us to a rocky area where we could look over onto Shark Bay. A lot of the beaches on Koh Tao charge to go onto them so we didn’t bother with anything of them which is why Kathryn took us here so that we could see the bay free of charge. The sea was quite choppy so we didn’t attempt to go in but there are baby black tipped reef sharks here which you can often see whilst snorkelling which is very cool. Kathryn went down to the water and started collecting cigarette butts and plastic bottles. It was remarkable the amount of rubbish she found in such a short space of time and it was really good of her to be collecting it up to get thrown away properly. It’s mad how many times we’ve seen people throw their cigarette butts into the ocean when it’ll never decay and it’s been known to kill turtles as they swallow them and choke which is just horrible.
Before we had set out for the day we had had a tiny spattering of rain but then we were lucky enough for that to blow past leaving us with beautiful blue skies for the majority of our drive around. We continued on to a couple of viewpoints, the first being Saideang Viewpoint which gave lovely views over the ocean. Koh Tao has quite a few viewpoints dotted around the island so we just went to the ones that were on our side of the island.
We then drove up to the ‘I love Koh Tao’ Viewpoint which has a ‘Koh Tao’ sign on top of it and looked out over another stretch of sea. It was whilst we were here that it started raining again so we took shelter and waited for it to pass us by. It didn’t take too long and then we were able to head back into town where we went to pick up a dog Kathryn’s partly owns (she fostered the dog with her friends) called Lady.
Lady was quite a shy, jumpy dog but quickly warmed to us seeing as we were with Kathryn. She had to sit in the footwell of our bike which involved her being on either side of Niall’s feet while he held the lead so she couldn’t jump out. Half way to the beach a very loud bike went past that made Lady a lot more fidgety so I spent the rest of the journey stroking her under Niall’s arm and holding her collar whilst he focussed on driving us safely there. She was a cute dog and was very happy once we were at the beach and she was being played with.
We hung out at a place called Maya Beach Club where Kathryn works for the rest of the afternoon before we went out for tea. Kathryn took us to a restaurant further away from the beach that did good pepper chicken and pad Thai wrapped in an egg which is apparently the authentic way it should be eaten. I just had the pad Thai which was nice and niall enjoyed that and the chicken. The portions were big too so we were pretty full when we headed back to the house to get showered for the evening.
That evening I had booked in to go and get a tattoo at a bamboo tattoo parlour called Zoko which Kathryn had said would be the best place on the island to get it done. It was going to be my first tattoo and they were good at making sure I was happy with what they were doing and he kept checking I was ok whilst he was doing it. I got five elephants on my foot. The elephants are a tattoo my brother and sister both have already so it’s kind of become the family tattoo (there are five of us in the family) and it felt good to be getting it to match them.
Bamboo tattoos are done by a needle inside a bamboo stick that’s dipped into the ink and then put into your skin. It’s seen as a lot less invasive than a tattoo gun tattoo as the needle isn’t dragged across the skin but is done in individual punctures. This takes longer but the healing time is only a few days which suited me a lot more considering I was travelling around in Asia and it’s also famous in Thailand so felt only right to get that style of tattoo.
It hurt quite a bit but mainly when he was tattooing further up on my foot as that was near the bone. Sometimes my foot would involuntarily twitch like what can happen when you get an injection for example but he was good at steadying my foot and my tattoo turned out great. It’s remarkable the precision they have and I was so happy with the finished piece. After he was done we both took pictures of it and then he added vaseline and cling filmed my whole foot up so as to avoid infection whilst it first started to heal. I kept this on the rest of the night until we went back to Kathryn’s as we went to some bars and had a night out so I didn’t want to get any sand in my tattoo or anything. Kathryn then had some cream I could use for my tattoo for the first night and morning but even by the morning it had healed a lot!
We went to Bar Next Door and the Fishbowl which were next door to one another and seemed to alternate who was hosting the party as the night went on. We met Kathryn’s friend Travis and the four of us spent the night playing beer pong and doing shots in the clubs. It was a fun night and a nice way to end our time in Koh Tao as we were leaving the next afternoon.
Koh Tao is a really nice island and I understand why Kathryn has made this her home in Thailand. We got to meet a lot of her friends who all adore her and it was good to be able to picture all of the places she had told me about before. Her hospitality helped us have a great time here and it was so good to see her!
Once we left Kathryn we had a long journey back to Bangkok where we would then be going to the Airport to fly to India so it was going to be a tiring next couple of days.
Southern Thailand had been great. It had cost us a lot more than we had expected but the beaches were all lovely and we had a relaxing time here as well as getting more diving done. It had been great and we probably could have spent even longer here had we had the money. Saying that, we were happy to be going on our next adventure and would be returning to Thailand in a couple of months to explore the North of the country.
Sending Love x