I’ve been roaming around Thailand clueless by choice, by only planning one week ahead. So when I decided to leave my beloved Koh Phangan, I came across a few little worries overlaying the beautiful pictures I had seen of this island.
“Enjoy your time in Koh Tao, but be careful and mind your business”, was the thing I heard by basically everyone I was leaving in my community in Sri Thanu, my personal hippie bubble at the time. While sitting on the boat heading to Koh Tao, I had the brilliant idea to google search what everyone was trying to warn me about. I came across numerous blogs and even mainstream media sites, reporting about the crime rate increasing on the island. From murderers, to rapes and drink spiking, basically all the good stuff was on the list while I was approaching one of the most green and lush islands I’ve seen in Thailand so far. When I stepped out, I decided for myself to draw my own picture about it. I had booked my stay for four nights only, so if shit was seriously about to hit the fan, I was going to be out of there very soon.
I ended up extending my stay (oh wonder!) for ten days, and I bet I would have added a couple additional nights if my visa wasn’t about to expire. Koh Tao is the smallest island between the other two, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. If you hop on a scooter, you can basically have a drive around it within the hour. Even if I loved all the other places I have stayed, I found the bluest water and the prettiest white beaches here. From the epicentre of Sairee to laid back Freedom beach, from palm jungles and breathtaking lookout points, Koh Tao has them all. I’ve encountered the friendliest local people so far and the laid back vibe had me pretty quickly. Water sports lovers like divers and snorkelers sure find paradise here. So was all the worry for nothing?
Thailand is well known among tourists and highly frequentated. The fact that the number of diving schools in Koh Tao only hit 126 speaks for itself. I was living by the port and close by lively Sairee beach, since I would have lacked of mobility otherwise, and the first thing I noticed is how backpacker friendly this island is. Hostels are found at every second step and the main beach has all the possible bars lined up close to another. Gazing at sunset on a pillow was one of my favourite hobbies, but I also noticed why the locals could have been starting to get tired of us westerners by hanging around at Sairee a little bit later at night. I feel sometimes the tourist forgets what country he’s visiting and there was no exception here. I watched loads of backpackers getting intoxicated to the max at night, acting like dorks and stripping butt naked (or going further, but you don’t need any graphic description for that, right?) in front of the locals. As much as they could be used to all of us going crazy, I still believe that we should respect the places we visit as actual GUESTS, and maybe save our crazy habits for countries were such things are more or less tolerated better. I am not assuming with this that it was any of the victim’s of the past accidents fault, but some things can be prevented in my opinion.
I enjoyed my time in Koh Tao to the fullest, I joined a snorkeling trip which included sightseeing the wonderful Koh Nang Yuan Island, I went to little local restaurants, sat on plastic chairs and stuffed my face with the most delicious thai food overlooking the sea. I went out exploring with my lovely friend Liselore from grabyourbags.nl or simply hung out on my bungalow’s patio, listening to the chirps with a kitty on my lap. I did not experience anything negative, so if you’re considering to visit, I highly reccomend you to do so.
As I said, I felt safe all the time on the island. However, I took a few precautions for myself. Sairee is lively at night, but still during the late hours, I felt more comfy to take a bike taxi to go home instead of walking. Some streets lack of light, let alone the inner side of the island. I would not be that adventurous at a certain hour. When in bars or at parties, my drink was always close to me with my hand covering it. Most of the time I stuck to beer which I saw being opened by the bartender.
Where to Stay
At that stage of my life on the road, I was pretty tired to constantly bargain all over the place for taxi prices, and since I am not a scooter driver myself, I looked out for a position from where I could easily walk everywhere. I loved my stay at Triple B Bungalows: a chilled place by the port, with very friendly owners, quiet and affordable huts, with its own restaurant and hammock chill area.
Where to Eat
You rarely go wrong in Thailand when it comes to eating. But if I should mention a few favourites, then it would be for sure the local joint RR Aroi (the one with the plastic chairs overlooking the port), where food is good and for a bargained price. If you have the chance to visit Freedom Beach, the restaurant there serves a delicious pad thai and has a great terrace.
I booked my snorkeling day trip at Koh Tao Scuba Club for 600 Baht. It was a nice experience especially to see the different spots around the islands by boat. My friend did her padi there and was very happy with the staff.
If you rent a scooter and go out to the more secluded beaches and viewpoint, there’s an entrance fee of 50Baht per place since this year.
How to get there
I took the fast boat from Koh Phangan, which can be booked online easily. Koh Tao can be reached from Bangkok by bus to Surat Thani and then by boat in approximately 8 to 10 hours. Price for the ride ranges from 800 to 1200 Baht, depending on the comfort you choose.
Moral of the story people: make yourself an opinion about the places you visit. Have a little sense of sanity and everything will go well. Koh Tao is a wonderful place. Enjoy it to the fullest! The only danger I see is you wanting to stay forever 🙂