HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thai Tales 2/3 - Koh Tao: Paradise lost, then found

I arrived in Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, after a 7.5 hour overnight bus ride from Bangkok to Chumporn, followed by a two hour wait at the pier, which was accompanied by an amazing sunrise, and finally a 90 minute ferry ride to the island. Although this was time-consuming, Lomprayah, the company I booked through, was mostly punctual and totally trustworthy. They deserve my recommendation.
Sunrise at the Chumporn pier.

Koh Tao, located about 300 miles south of Bangkok in the crystal-clear Gulf of Thailand, is part of the island group that includes Koh Phang-ngan, famous for its drug and alcohol-fueled Full Moon Parties, and Koh Samui, home to some of the most opulent resorts in the world. Tiny Tao (it's only 21 square kilometers in area) is known for one thing - world class diving. More scuba certifications are awarded on Koh Tao than anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, I couldn't afford a diving course, and I wasn't staying long enough to get an Open Water certification anyway. Therefore, my time there was fairly uneventful, with two exceptions.

My first day had bummed me out. I had gone so far south looking for a relaxing beach paradise, but Sairee, the area I stayed in, was far from ideal. The beach was quite pretty, but it was narrow, so space to chill out was at a premium. Behind the beach ran a lengthy string of dive centers, hotels, 7-11's, and restaurants with nearly identical menus. Therefore, on my second day, I decided to escape all of this, and ended up exploring a good chunk of the island on foot.
Sairee Beach
I woke up and headed into Koh Tao's steamy interior. I soon realized that not renting a motorbike had been a great idea, because many of the "roads" looked something like this:
Although it was hot and the hilly terrain made for a challenging hike, especially in flip-flops, I enjoyed the serenity of the deserted path I had found: for long stretches the only sounds to accompany my crunching footsteps were those of squawking birds, chirping insects, and the distant howling of monkeys.

After hiking over 3 kilometers of rough trail, I came upon a scene straight out of "Lost", or maybe "The Twilight Zone" - a seemingly deserted bungalow resort. There were still posters hanging in the reception area and fans in the rooms, but I saw no signs of recent activity - well, except for one shirtless guy standing on a rock. The paths were overgrown, and even the satellite dishes on the roof of the main building were broken. Farther up the path, I stumbled upon a grease-stained shack that contained two car engines and a pile of empty oil bottles. This part of the island was remote and inaccessible by car, so I have no idea what those items were for, or how they even got there for that matter. That hike proved to me, once again, that the best adventures are usually the ones you make yourself.

The next day I went on a snorkeling trip that was supposed to go all the way around the island, but strong waves on the east coast limited us the western and southern sides. Despite the limitation, I really enjoyed the trip. We stopped at Shark Bay first. We were told that black-tip reef sharks lived there, and that they wouldn't bite us "as long as we didn't bite them first." After 20 minutes in the water I had seen nothing but fish and was about to give up, when a 4-foot long shark suddenly cruised by right in front of me. I could've reached out and touched it. Seeing an alpha predator like that was an awesome experience: we humans like to think we control all things at all times, but one shark like that could take out any of us very quickly.

We stopped at two other places, including the stunningly beautiful Nangyuan Island, which sits just off of Koh Tao. The underwater scenery was amazing, thanks to the clear water that allowed for visibility of at least 20-30 feet. The fish came in brilliant shades of purple, blue, green, yellow, and orange, creating a gorgeous mix of colors. At one point I came upon a school of almost translucent, thin, long fish. I have no idea what they were because I'm not a marine biologist, but they were almost hypnotic. There were fish everywhere, and they weren't afraid to swim right up to you either. That was a great experience.
Nangyuang Island - two hills conneced by a strip of beach

One of the bays on Koh Tao.
In the end, then, Koh Tao wasn't ideal for me. The island is undeniably beautiful and there are stunning sunsets nightly, but it's not the best place for relaxing. Whenever I decide to learn how to dive I will definitely consider going back. The waters around the island lay in the migratory path of whale sharks, and swimming with one of those would be epic. The next time I'm in the mood for being a beach bum, however, I'll look elsewhere.

The best meal I had on the island - barracuda, shrimp, and mussles mixed together and steamed in a banana leaf.

Fire shows are popular at Thailand's beaches, and they provide great photo oppotunities.

One last sunset in paradise.

1 comment:

  1. Your 'One last Sunset in Paradise" is STUNNINGLY, - UNFORGETABLY,UNIQUE!..merci !