I visited Thailand in March/April 2013 with 5 friends (although we met others along the way). Below is an account of my time in Koh Tao.
Koh Tao means island of the Turtle due to their presence at certain times of the year. The island is the smallest (21km²) and most northern of the 3 inhabited islands that preside in the Gulf of Thailand. The island is known as a scuba divers wet dream but due to a lack of time we were only able to enjoy the islands above water delights.
Koh Tao was our first destination after leaving Bangkok (hence our whiteness in the pictures). We took the overnight train from BKK and arrived in Chumphon where we got the high-speed cameraman (Lomprayah) direct to Koh Tao. This is more expensive that the route through Surat Thani but cuts about 10 hours from the travel time.
We stayed in a couple of bungalows close to the Mae Haad Pier. I would however recommend heading north and staying on the beautiful Sairee beach, the main beach on the island. This was only a 15 min walk from our accommodation.
Koh Nang Yuan
My favourite part of Koh Tao is actually a small archipelago of islands to the north west of the island called Koh Nang Yuan. The group of 3 rocky outcrops, connected by a small sandbar is a travelers / scuba / snorkelers paradise!
We first glimpsed Nang Yuan during our initial boat into the island from Chumphon as supplies were dropped off to the only resort on the island. Charmed by the beauty of the place, we immediately jumped on a longboat and headed back once we had checked into our accommodation. A longboat takes 10-15 minutes each way and a round trip costs 200 baht (about £6). Entrance to the island costs 100 baht (£3) per person.
With emerald green waters, the first thing we did was get into the water. The crystal clear waters and abundance of activity (from sea cucumbers to rays and endless variety of fish). This was unfortunately before the days of my GoPro.
Warning: Snorkelling on Nang Yuan is too enjoyable. I spent over 3 hours of island life in the water and my cheap Thai sun cream couldn’t hack it and I ended up with 3rd degree burns on my shoulders and forehead. Don’t be that guy., re-apply.
Warning 2: The only restaurant on the island is part of the 5* Nang Yuan resort so prices are more expensive by Thai standards.
A popular activity on Nang Yuan is taking the 15 minute hike up the largest island to a natural viewpoint looking down on the archipelago. This is a short steep hike which shouldn’t cause much issues, even in flip flops. The path can get hazardous when wet or extremely dry (sandy) so be careful. The view however is out of this world and well worth developing a sweat for. To celebrate, get back into that water!!
As Koh Tao was our first taste of island life, it was also the first taste of island nightlife. With only 3 nights on the island we were keen to make the most of both sides of the island. Early evenings consist of relaxing bean bags, a sunset and a seemingly unlimited supply of bottled Chang. It is here where we first witnessed the visually spectacular fire dancers and even participated ourselves.
After a while, the Chang change to buckets and the music volume increases and the parties really begin. These parties go on all night until the sun rises. The party migrates to hotel parties but ultimately ends back up on the beach. It is here you meet people of all nationalities but ultimately you will always bump into someone who lives 15 minutes down the road and wonder why you have come all this way to meet someone else from Manchester ha!.
Our 2nd night of partying on the beach did throw up an unexpected curve-ball. A drunk, rude and obnoxious Canadian (edit: Something I can now comfortably is not representative of the nation) decided to throw a fire dancers ball (whilst lit) onto the bar’s beach hut. Luckily it bounced off but the locals were not too happy with proceedings and exact revenge serverly (SO DON’T MESS WITH LOCALS). Only through the interception of others was this guy not severely hurt. I bumped into the same guy 3/4 hours later after a lengthy time in A&E and he looked like he had done 10 round with Mike Tyson. This was an isolated incident on Koh Tao as the locals typically couldn’t do enough to help you when they could.