We Went to Thailand! 2/3: Koh Tao

Posted on 20.01.2016

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We took a shuttle to the bus station, and took a bus to Surat Thani town, where we boarded a ferry that would take us to Koh Tao. That morning, we’d had our last lunch at 6am at the lovely Tree House hotel, and then said our goodbyes. We were pretty sad to leave the place, but looking forward to the amazing things we thought awaited us on Koh Tao.
DSC_1973In our minds, we had the idea that Koh Tao would be this amazing, empty place, full of empty white beaches and plenty of opportunities to go snorkeling or diving.

While that snorkeling and diving part is totally true, the ’empty’ part was certainly not.

We learned that on the ferry on the way there. It was crawling with douchey tourists with tattoos, orange skin and beach attire.

We also learned that I was unequivocally sick. We’re pretty sure it was food poisoning, and that it involved the shrimp I’d eaten the night before. As I said in my previous post, when a hotel is actively trying to get shrimp on the tables, don’t trust the source. Lesson learned.

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The only other possibility would have been the water I drank from the waterfall in the cave, although Mark didn’t get sick from this. But I was definitely sick, which definitely ruined our plans for Koh Tao.

I was sick for the entire ferry ride, and the entire first day on Koh Tao. We took a quick walk around the area had a drink (juice for me) at a beach side cafe where we watched our first of a week of amazing sunsets, and then went back to the room so I could relax. Mark put me in the middle of ALL of the pillows on the bed, and I fell asleep at like 9pm. SUCH a bad vacationer!

That night, it sounded like there was a party going on somewhere nearby. We got a little ticked off since we thought we had made a bad choice in our booking, and had somehow ended up in the middle of party central. There were party and drinking noises going on until about 2am, when it started to die down. It didn’t keep us up all night, but it was a bit of an annoyance, since I was feeling so shitty.

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The next morning, we got up and walked around, checked out the place. The day before, we’d just barely seen it: Our hotel was Simple Life Divers, and it was wonderful. We’d booked the place because it apparently had a ‘private beach’ (pictured left) and offered SCUBA lessons.

The room was amazing and we could walk down to the beach or the pool easily, but the ‘private beach’ part is a bit of a joke.

We’d initially thought we could take lessons and get certified in one day. When we got there, they told us it is a 3-day  minimum to get certified, but we COULD take an excursion out to learn how it works, and give it a trial.

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I was so sick, though, that breathing through my nose OR my mouth was hard, so we decided to drop that. Instead, Mark suggested we go snorkeling, since that would give us a feeling like we were SCUBA diving, and we’d still get to see plenty of fish and things in the water.

There was only one issue with this: I’ve never used a snorkel, period. I am terrible at mouth breathing, and I was sick. Regardless, we caught a taxi truck over to Aow Leuk beach and rented some snorkeling gear there.

The reviews of this beach say it is lovely, and from Mark’s accounts, the fish he saw were amazing and diverse, but the beach itself was full of trash, and that was pretty annoying. I lasted 5 minutes trying to snorkel before I gave up, and went to lay on one of the beach lounges (available for rent) while he continued to snorkel.

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Mark felt bad about it, but I really didn’t care. All I wanted to do in Thailand was lay on beach chairs and enjoy the scenery, anyway, and since we couldn’t get trained in how to SCUBA dive, I was totally cool laying there.

Although I did think, many times, of grabbing a trash bag and picking up all of the trash in front of me. The only reason I didn’t do it was that I wasn’t feeling well, it was hot, I didn’t have a bag, and the crushed shell beach hurt my bare feet. So I laid around enjoying the view and feeling pretty sick for a few hours. And that was fine.

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The trash thing really got to me, though. We’d seen a ton of it when we went down to the ‘private beach’ in the morning, and it kind of felt like an outtake from the Beach. All that was missing was a young Leo DiCaprio voiceover, bitching about how terrible tourists can be.

To be fair, Thailand is still developing as far as some people and places are concerned and this is normal, but the places that are full of tourists really need some clean-up.

We went back to the hotel, relaxed for a bit, and then walked down into the area we thought was the ‘town’ and had lunch. The place was nice, the food was good, and I was slowly starting to eat food again. Not much, mind you, but bits and pieces.

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We saw another phenomenal sunset that evening, and made a decision we would watch the sunset every night we could while we were in Thailand, since they were all beautiful.

Another thing I learned in Thailand: the western food they have on the menu (unless it is steak or a hamburger) probably won’t be what you are expecting. My examples were eggs benedict, mozzarella cheese sticks, and a few others. I thought some heavy comfort food might do me some good, and I just ended up being disappointed. So for this, as a PSA, I recommend just ordering the stuff that is local, or looks interesting. It might be better overall.

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So yeah, beautiful sunsets. And lots of people, everywhere.

The area we’d initially thought was the ‘town’ turned out not to be. And we also realized we’d been sitting on the same beach where those British tourists were killed in 2014…

We had no idea when we booked the place. But honestly, I’m really not sure how anyone could get murdered there. It is SO crowded and there are so many people around, even in the off-season. How could it have happened? We wondered about that as we watched this amazing sunset and made our plans for our final day on the island, which was also my birthday.

IMG_5639That day, we decided to go over to Koh Pha-ngan, which you can see from Sairee beach.

I have to learn to stop trusting guidebooks.

Anyway, we had a nice breakfast (I was still eating fruit and drinking only juice at this point), and then caught a motor boat ferry over to the island.

All I wanted was to see the land bridge that gets covered at high tide. And from the photos in the guide-book, I had this ludicrous idea that we might be the only people who thought to do that.

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WRONG. So, so very wrong.

We went early, as the hotel staff told us to do, and it was already completely full. The island apparently closes to visitors around 5pm, so the only way you could possibly see this place without the hundreds of people who also had the same idea would be to rent a bungalow on the island. And then see it early in the morning, or in the evening, when all of the day-trippers are gone.

I think I’m starting to learn a lot, doing all of this traveling. Never trust the photos on the internet!

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We manged to secure one of the last available seats that were there for rent, and then watched as the tourists came, were told there were no more, and then got turned away, to go sit at the bar and sip cocktails from their bar stools.

We also watched the tide slowly come in, and had to move our chairs back at one point. We went in the water twice, I think, but it was hard to see any fish, since there were so many people doing the exact same thing as us.

Interestingly enough, when we got back to Koh Tao that evening, we ran into two people we’d been on the cave and lake tour with in Khao Sok a few days earlier. That was strange, but just proved the point that Thailand is already well-known and doing just fine.

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We got back to the island at about lunch time and relaxed in a cafe for a while. Had a few things to eat (tiny, tiny things: the heat made us both lose our appetites), and then walked around to do some shopping for gifts.

This was when we learned that Koh Tao town stretches WAY, way back, and that we were on the tail end of it at our little divers resort. We had initially thought we were near the center of things, but it turned out that we were kind of on the quiet end. Which was fine for us, since we didn’t really want to be around so many people.

And there were really SO many people. But I think I’ve already said that. I don’t know what I was thinking, expecting to bring my Mamiya and get some beautiful shots of deserted beaches. What in the hell was I thinking? I’ve traveled a lot and am still so clueless.

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Tourists are the worst. Everywhere. I don’t exactly consider myself a misanthrope, but some of the conversations you hear people having are just cringe-worthy. People talking about how much diving experience they have. How many friends they have on Facebook. All of the other amaaaaazing places they’ve been to that you’ve never even heard of. Making terrible pick-ups on fellow travelers.

I really, really don’t miss my 20’s, being single, or being so naive. I don’t mean to sound holier-than-thou, it’s just getting to the point where it is the same shit, everywhere. It’s really hard to escape it. Douchey Americans, shitty Brits, Germans leaving their towels in odd places on the beach. It just doesn’t change.

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And now it’s me, doing the Leo voiceover and bitching about the tourists.

We had our final evening on the beach, and my birthday cake was a chocolate raspberry cheesecake. I was happy with it. I drank juice. Still no alcohol for me.

Then we walked back to the hotel, took a short swim in the excellent pool, and then went back to the room, packed our bags and got comfortable in bed to watch the Hunger Games and fall asleep.

Koh Tao really is a beautiful place, and if you want to go to learn snorkeling, they have so many schools and places to go to. Our only regret was that we weren’t there long enough to do the SCUBA lessons, and that I was too sick to do them, anyway. Then again, maybe it was better that we didn’t do them here, since we might have just been really annoyed at all of the people around us.

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The next morning, we got up super early to get a taxi back to the pier, so we could take a ferry over to Koh Samui, where we would catch a plane to take us to Phuket for our last night in Thailand.

As a note, Samui airport is AMAZING. Highly, highly recommend. It will most likely be crawling with tourists who are acting terribly, but it’s lovely. And they have free food and drinks there. And free wifi. So you can tune out and ignore everyone.

 

Part 3/3 coming soon.