Many people stop by Koh Tao, Thailand on their way to or from its neighboring island, Koh Phangnan, where the infamous full moon parties take place. Koh Tao is not just a beautiful island to soak up the rays on, it happens to be one of the most popular destinations in the world to learn how to scuba dive, luring 400,000 people to the island every year.
Getting There: You can get to Koh Tao from the mainland, Koh Phangnan, or Koh Samui by one of the three ferryboat companies. Joint bus and boat tickets are available and can be booked through Lomprayah if you are coming from Bangkok. If you are already in the south of Thailand, then you can get to the island by ferry from Chumpon.
Where to stay: Once you arrive it can be a little overwhelming at the pier with many taxi drivers ready to acquire as many passengers as they possibly can snag, so it’s best to choose what part of the island you would like to stay in before you arrive. Sairee is the northernmost village and is the busiest. If you want to party, this is the best place for you. Mae Haad is the port town and is also quite happening. I prefer to stay in the southernmost village called Chalok Baan Kao, which is smaller and more low key.
Each village has a great beach, but if you want to stay somewhere more secluded than one of the villages, I recommend getting a taxi boat to Sai Nuan Beach and staying in the Sai Thong Resort. It’s only accessible by foot on a jungle path or by boat, so this is not a great place for you if you are going to want to stay up until the wee hours in a bar.
Getting around: I go everywhere on the island by foot because I’m too much of a spaz to drive a motorcycle. Most people rent motorcycles while they are here because they are cheap, easy, and when you get to your destination you are not drenched in sweat. If you decide to rent a motorbike, take pictures of it before you drive out of the shop. I’ve heard too many stories of people being charged insane amounts for the tiniest bit of damage. If there is a scratch on your bike before you rent it, then make sure to document its existence. One way to avoid this problem is to rent the oldest and most beaten up motorbike in the shop because they won’t care as much about it and won’t be able to notice scratches as easily.
If you don’t want to rent a motorcycle, bicycles are for rent as well or you could do the unheard of and just hoof it. Like I said before, this is a small island, you can get everywhere you want with your own two feet and although you may be a bit sweaty afterwards, you won’t feel as guilty about indulging in ice cream sundaes and lounging on the beach all day. Taxi cars and taxi boats are also available, as you will find out the minute you step off the ferry.
Things to Do: Most people come here to dive and it can be difficult to choose a dive school since there are 43 different ones all over the island. If you are interested in diving with a school that is environmentally conscious and regularly participates in underwater clean-ups, then New Heaven, Big Bubble, Ban’s, Asia Divers, Crystal, and Big Blue are all good choices.
One of the best things I’ve done in my two months here was grabbing a few drinks at The Queens. Every night, The Queens has a cabaret show with pre and post-op lady boys lip synching their hearts out to tunes from all different parts of the world. It’s a performance that cannot be missed and is apparently for any age as there were kids no older than ten in the audience.
If that’s not your cup of tea, or maybe I should say bucket or Redbull and vodka, then go bowling. The alley is outdoors and is not automated. It’s a ridiculous experience. At the end of the alley there is a guy who waits next to the pins to roll your ball back and reset the pins. Even if you aren’t a great bowler, it’s worth going just to see the bowling process unfold, plus they don’t make you wear stinky bowling shoes.
Sometimes you just need to get away from the hustle and bustle of the villages, and the best way to do that is to take a hike! There is an incredible viewpoint called John-Suwan Rock that allows you to see Chalok Bay and Thian Og Bay (AKA Shark Bay) at the same time. This path starts by the Freedom Beach resort and is so off the beaten trail that in some parts you can’t quite tell if you are still on the hiking trail. It’s a quick hike and the view is picture perfect.
Giving Back while on vacation: Sometimes when you are traveling it can feel as if you are always taking from the travel karma bucket without a chance to ever really give anything back. You may find yourself relying on the kindness of locals and other travelers for all sorts of different reasons. If you feel like that’s the case, then stop by the New Heaven Dive School and find out what conservation projects you can help out with in and out of the water.
New Heaven also offers a Marine Conservation Course where you can learn about the reefs you are diving in and can help with restoration projects. The course can be anywhere from three days to a month or longer if you are interested in combining it with your university studies. If you don’t have time to take the course, then ask when the next Save Koh Tao beach and underwater clean-up is happening.
Koh Tao is a relaxed bit of paradise and if you are in the area then you should definitely stop by! The only thing I ask of you is to make environmentally conscious decisions while you are here. Don’t leave your cigarette butts on the beach for the fish and turtles to eventually eat and use as little plastic as you possibly can. The only way to keep Koh Tao beautiful is if the people who come here are aware and make good decisions. Enjoy Koh Tao and happy travels!
This post was originally written for www.diwyy.com and can be found on their site at http://www.diwyy.com/new-blog/destination-details-koh-tao-thailand/ .