14.07.2013 35 °C
Whilst writing this post I realise this is probably going to evoke jealously in whoever reads, you’ve been warned and I apologies in advance. I also feel a little ashamed as there really haven’t been many marvellous adventures, or significant cultural uncovering these last 2 weeks. I’ve been spending my time in a tropical paradise - sunbathing, drinking beer, snorkelling and having a jolly good relaxing time all round.
After the first week in Bangkok, and the previous 2 weeks in Sydney I was feeling a bit drained. Bangkok’s exciting, impressive and exhausting all at the same time. So needing a rest I decided to travel south to check out the famous Islands off the Thai coast.
My sister gave me some good advice, she’s been to Thailand before and recommended Koh Tao as a good destination. I also realised, after doing some research, this Island is the closest to Bangkok - I need to return to Bangkok afterwards to travel east towards Cambodia – so I started planning my trip. Koh Tao is the smallest of 3 islands located 70km east of the coastline near Chumphon, in the Gulf of Thailand. Chumphon itself a large town situated about 450km south of Bangkok.
There are several options for getting there and I’d ruled out flying at the start of the trip, this is a land and sea adventure only. Thailand has the best metre gauge railway system in the world and provides an overnight 1st class sleeper train from Bangkok to Chumphon or you can opt for the 2nd class day express train. Once at Chumphon you can buy a bus and ferry combined ticket to Koh Tao, in fact you can buy a combination ticket all the way from Bangkok but I decided to take the day express train from Bangkok, stay the night in Chumphon then travel out to the island the following day.
Koh Tao, which means ‘Turtle Island’, is a small tropical island barely 21km square. You can walk around it in a day and its name comes from being rich with sea turtles, nowadays they have mostly moved on to other breeding grounds. It’s only been inhabited since 1899 and from 1933 was used as a political prison. Then in 1947 a royal pardon was given and the prisoners released. Not a bad place to be imprisoned if you ask me. Fisherman and farmers started to arrive shortly after by Thai traditional sail boat (a dangerous journey even in 1947) to fish the waters and farm the rich soil. In the eighties it was discovered by the first backpacker travellers an soon became famous for its natural beauty, especially for its marine life and coral reefs. Nowadays famous for being a paradise getaway and one of Thailand’s biggest dive spots.
After the train down from Bangkok I slept over in Chumphon. Not the most inspiring place, mainly a transit town for tourists heading to and from the Islands but served my needs well and then I was at the Ferry port to pick up the Catamaran. The trip was fast and took just under 2 hours, I could see the first of the days thunderstorms brewing on the horizon as we travelled. Then when I landed at Koh Tao I got soaked to the skin by a tropical down poor, even in the ride to my hotel it insisted in getting me through the opened sided taxi.
It was the start of the wet season in Thailand which runs from July to November, although the first 2 months aren’t that bad and you can expect one almighty down poor once a day for about an hour, usually in the afternoon then it clears up. Quite nice air clearer after the hot humidity and when it comes down… it comes down like a sheet and usually accompanied by thunder and lightning.
Before I arrived I’d booked 1 night at a reasonably cheap hotel 300m from the main Sairee beach called the Sairee View Hotel. I booked a further 6 nights once I arrived avoiding the 10% tax by paying direct in cash and they will usually give you a discount on top. A good tip for Koh Tao, law and tax are pretty lax in this place. The hotel was basic but clean and tidy with really friendly staff. Large rooms with a big fan in the centre of the ceiling, no aircon or hot water but it didn’t matter much, cold showers are fine in this heat and you get free nightly entertainment from the Gecko’s climbing the walls! The hotel is elevated on the hill giving you some nice views of the bay, this was the shot from my room and I climbed up onto the roof for an even better view.
I hired a cheap scooter from the hotel at 150 Baht a day and spent the rest of the week exploring and snorkelling in the many secluded bays, sunbathing and generally having a relaxed chilled time. This island is very laid back and friendly and I’d soon forgotten what day it was or how long I’d been here
Sairee Beach, which is the only large beach on the island and where most people stay. The nightlife is pretty good to. I took these shots during a night time trip onto the beach with my tripod. You can see the green light over the horizon being given off by the Thai fishing boats.
On the last day I hired something a little more serious to explore more of the islands rough off-road tracks. There is only one sealed concrete road here stretching along Sairee beach and connecting the small southern town, only about 4km in length, the rest being dirt tracks up and down the steep mountains.
You should check you brakes thoroughly before hiring bikes here because you’ll need them! I’ve heard plenty of stories of unmaintained bikes being hired by tourists who don’t find out until it’s too late. There are very steep rough tracks here some with over 40% inclines.
I found myself having to brush off my off-road bike skills pretty quickly, some of the tracks were even unpassable on the Kawasaki 150 I’d hired. It had been many years since I’d done this kind of riding, it was great fun through and I found some quite interesting place tucked away up and over steep mountains down to secluded bays.
In the end I’d extended my stay at the Sairee View Hotel some more days and spent 12 days in all on the Island. I had a great time and felt relaxed as well as several shades browner when I left. High recommended if your ever out here.