Traveling from Koh Sok to Koh Tao is an easy and affordable trip on the tourist bus and boat. If you are after a little more freedom and adventure or are feeling the need for a lie-in (the tourist bus leaves at 6am), a couple of local buses and an overnight boat will get you there in a more leisurely style. Be prepared to fight for your bunk on the boat and a long wait at the pier. Waiting at the pier, however, is all part of the fun. There’s a range of street stalls selling everything you could possibly want to eat or drink, from fruit juices to candied sweet potato to a sophisticated G&T. Explore the tent market, with its tailors, gambling and stationary supplies. It’s wonderful opportunity to people watch, be it locals or your fellow travelers!
Landing in Koh Tao and it’s the usual barrage of tourist touts. If you know where you are going, be firm. If you don’t, get on island time from the moment you land, grab a fruit juice and then go about finding accommodation. After the tourist hoards have cleared, it’s a far more laid-back process. Taxi boats are a wonderful way to get about. While expensive, it’s a taxi and a sightseeing trip rolled into one and presents the opportunity to stay somewhere a little more out the way. Enjoy it while you can, by day two, the constant call of ‘taxi boat’ will start to grate! If its wild nights you’re after, its better to stay near the main beaches; negotiating the dirt roads after dark or a few drinks is a sure-fire way to make paying for that travel insurance worth every penny. But if its tranquility you want, take a boat and go away from it all. While you pay for the privilege, and there’s not much in the way of nightlife, there’s something to be said for a few days in a beach hut, falling asleep to the sea and cicadas instead of psy-trance and drunken teens.
It’s the ultimate opportunity to pack light: swimsuit, sarong, sandals and sunnies. And mosquito repellent… Lots of mosquito repellant, several packs of mosquito coils, and copious amounts of whatever anti-itch method you subscribe to. But any place where mosquitoes are the only drawback has to be pretty special. Of course, the sea is the ultimate retreat from the mozzies and the stress of everyday life. The beaches are stunning, archetypal clear blue water and white sands. There’s an abundance of tropical marine life, from literally rainbow fish to turtles. Koh Tao is a diver’s paradise and nearly every resort, tourist operator, restaurant, club or pub is affiliated with a dive school. Companies keep prices fair by all staying at roughly the same cost per dive, but may sweeten the deal with free accommodation or free dives, so its worth looking around for the best package. Even if you aren’t interested in diving, the snorkeling is accessible and fun, and it’s easy to spend hours gazing at all manner of marine life without branching far from shore.
Motorbikes, scooters, dirt bikes and ATVs are all available to rent. They are a great way to see the island, particularly when it’s hot and the hills make walking hard work. All your mother’s warnings about being safe and sensible should be heeded, the dirt or sand roads can be rough going, and tourists and locals alike abandon any pretense at road courtesy or safety. While travel guides seem to place the blame on the ‘three-to-a-bike with an underage driver’ locals, its much more likely to be the 18 year old gap-yearer with a hangover, trail bike and no concept of a speed limit that will be your undoing. Convince yourself its all part of the fun and enjoy the freedom. After all, when you get back to London, chances are you won’t be swerving to avoid the lizards!
Unfortunately, there aren’t many isolated beaches left, and half the restaurants offer more Western food than Thai. If you want a chance to experience Thai culture, Koh Tao certainly shouldn’t be your only Thailand destination.
But whether you spend your days diving or relaxing, your nights falling asleep to the sea or drinking spirits by the bucket, Koh Tao offers something for everyone.
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