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Koh Tao – A Short Review




This is a short review of our time on Koh Tao, in early January, 2007.

My boyfriend and I caught the catamaran from Tong Sala, on Koh Phangan, to Koh Tao and caught a ride in a pick-up truck to Hat Sai Ree – the most congested of Koh Tao's beaches. It's a long, thin strip of beach that's not much good for sun bathing and has a lot of dive boats and longtails tied up everywhere. A stroll along the beach at sunset yields an earful of chill-out music, an eyeful of travellers sprawled under merrily burning tiki torches, and more than one whiff of marijuana.

We checked in at Big Blue Divers but the accommodations were a bit grim. I decided to chuck the diving course I'd put a deposit on and we struck out on our own the next morning. It was pissing rain and we just couldn't seem to find a good-value bungalow or even just a room that wasn't seriously overpriced, but it was January in the tropics which means it is to be expected. We pressed on.

We did find one bungalow on the path through town, beachfront, and the price was decent, so we took it. However, after going back to retrieve our bags at Big Blue, we found out why the bungalow was available. The rain had stopped by then and the construction had started! It wasn't just one construction site, it was two sites – one site on each side of the bungalow. So when the circular saw stopped on one side, the hammering started on the other! We sadly trudged back to registration and asked for our money back, politely, explaining why and, more importantly, why the situation was not their fault, therefore enabling them to save face and producing the desired result – our money back – hooray! But we were still without a room for the night.

We decided that we were trying too hard, so an hour or two later, after pint of beer and some lunch, we had done a little more research on Koh Tao and decided that we wanted to try Ao Tanote, on the east side of the island. The guidebooks said that the snorkeling was good and the beach was quiet, and that sold us.

The share truck was axle-deep in water as we drove along the main road out of Hat Sai Ree, but then we started up the mountain and that was the end of the water. Unfortunately, it was not the end of my anxiety about the situation. The red dirt road was deeply and unevenly rutted and as we climbed higher and higher, the road got worse and worse. I was too scared to look over the side of the truck and down the mountain, but with every jolt and skid of the tires my heart leapt into my throat. Would we become the next headline in our home town, "Two Killed On Koh Tao"?

Well, we got to the top of the mountain and then started down. I had thought that going up was bad enough, but going down was even worse! The truck's right front tire would drop into a rut and the driver would gun the engine to get it out. When the tire popped out of the rut the truck would squirt down the road and the driver would pump the brakes and the back tires would skid and the back end would fishtail a little and I'd start my prayers again.

After what seemed an eternity of twists and turns and near misses we arrived at Diamond Beach Bungalows on Tanote Bay. The skeleton staff welcomed us and showed us what accommodations they had. We chose an ocean-front bungalow with bath and front porch and hammock for 1000B. It was brand new with a tile floor and a rock-hard bed and floor-to-ceiling windows and it was painted a lurid neon green that somehow blended with the rest of the island foliage.

The bay had a few bungalow operations and a German dive shop. Most of the visitors stuck to themselves, having come to Tanote Bay to get away from it all, plus most of them spoke German and were there for the diving. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing the whole time and it rained some, so snorkeling was impossible. Coconuts and palm fronds would come crashing down in the middle of the night, we were never sure what we would wake up to the next day. It was exciting and a little scary.

The small beach had more than enough shells to make beachcombing an entertaining activity. Every time we looked down there was another kind of shell, or color, or size that we had not seen the last time. A scant 5 minutes of beachcombing would produce enough shells to oooh and ahhh over for the next 15 minutes (of course we put them all back when we were done). Some shells even had critters still in them, which we threw back into the water immediately.

We really enjoyed our time on Tanote Bay – 4 days of doing absolutely nothing except stuffing our faces with delicious and cheap Thai food and reading and walking on the beach. One bungalow operation had internet, reachable by wading through a stream and over some boulders with the surf crashing all around, and then skimming around the outside of the dive shop on a narrow ledge, so we caught up with the news after a few days.

Besides not being able to snorkel, and the terrible road conditions, the only thing bad that happened (and it turned out okay) was that Diamond Beach Bungalows lost our laundry! A whole load went missing. They kept asking us if another load was ours, and we kept telling them no, no, that's not ours. Unfortunately, that one load had all but one pair of my boyfriend's undershorts which were these special mesh travel shorts purchased for the occasion (at $25/pair). However, the bungalow owner offered to pay for the laundry. So we spent some time figuring out how much we paid for the items, and how much they would cost in Thailand to replace (if we could find them) and we tried our best to factor in the difference between our incomes and theirs, and came to a figure, which was much, much less than it would have been had we been in the West, and the bungalow owner agreed to pay it – about $80. If anyone goes to Koh Tao, check out Diamond Beach Bungalows – they have delicious food and they're responsible and honest.

After 4 days I was finally ready to face the return truck ride back to the pier. Ugh, I kept my eyes closed the entire ride as I was positive we were going to slide right off the rutted road. As you can tell, we made it, but that was not the last of our adventures that day.

We boarded the catamaran to Koh Samui and were subjected to an amazingly rough ride due to the windy weather previously mentioned. Catamarans not only go up & down like a regular boat, they also go side to side, which this one did like a champ. My poor boyfriend was sicker than he's been in 20 years, using up two barf bags in a scant hour. Many, many people became seasick on that windy and rough ride and I was scared witless. Once we docked at Koh Phangan we jumped ship and stayed the night on short notice, postponing our arrival on Koh Samui until the next day.

To sum up, I would recommend Ao Tanote (Tanote Bay), and Diamond Beach Bungalows, but not Hat Sai Ree in the high season.

Stickman's thoughts:

It sounds like it was an adventure. Wow, the cynic in me is amazed that A) you got a refund on the bungalow close to the construction and B) a refund on the lost laundry.

I guess I must be getting old because while it sounds like you had a lot of fun, the idea of having to battle such limited infrastructure puts me off visiting Ko Tao.