After the traumatic catamaran journey to Ko Tao, we couldn’t wait to check into our accommodation, lose the backpacks and hit the beach. We had pre-booked a basic bungalow a few minutes walk from Sairee Beach, which is Koh Tao’s main beach and not too far from the pier, so we thought it would be a good base. However, when we got there very little beach was visible and in places the ocean was lapping the various buildings which lined the main street. “Not a problem” we thought, “it must just be high tide”. We enquired with the owner of our bungalow as to what time all the beach would be back, to which he replied we would need to come back in May!
I last came to Koh Tao almost exactly 10 years ago as part of a backpacking adventure with my friend Anna and I have the most fantastic memories of our time together in Thailand. In fact we too had an eventful journey from the mainland, not on a catamaran being sick, but on an overnight cargo boat wedged between piles of fruit. I fell in love with Koh Tao, it was the most beautiful place I had ever been to and I couldn’t wait to come back with Mark. Anna and I didn’t stay at Sairee Beach, we stayed at Chalok Baan Khao which was a beautiful bay in the south of the island with a handful of beach bungalows, one shop, a couple of restaurants and dive schools and the most relaxed vibe.
The main strip at Sairee is a hectic mix of restaurants, bungalow resorts, souvenir shops, dive schools and tattoo parlours. Our bungalow owner said Koh Tao has changed a lot over the last 4 years and seen massive development, particularly Chalok Baan Khao. Fortunately though regulations mean there aren’t the high rise hotels and the big chains, like McDonalds, that you see on some of the other Thai islands.
Despite the hectic nature of Sairee we did find a lovely restaurant where we ate good cheap Thai food and then sat on their decking until late.
(The view from the restaurant)
The plan was to do an organised snorkelling tour on our second day. But with strong winds hitting some of the best bays we decided to do our own thing and took a longtail boat across to Ko Nang Yuan which is just off Ko Tao and made up of 3 tiny islands connected by sand bars. Again I have great memories of Anna and I coming here, walking along the practically deserted beach, taking just a few steps into the sea before being surrounded by a colourful array of fish and then eating a yummy lunch at the lone restaurant. This time however the beach was crammed with sunbathers and there has been more development on the parts we saw. The water was still crystal clear but the fish much harder to find. When we eventually tracked some down they were beautiful, but it was sad to see all the dead coral they were swimming around. I guess this is what some people call progress.
(We climbed to this viewpoint on Ko Nang Yuan)
(this picture is from the internet as we left our camera behind)
In the evening we wondered the main street at Sairee visiting a few shops. In a small convenience store we had our first crime related incident. A Thai man was acting strange and loitering too close to us. We were both aware that something was amiss, so I was keeping my handbag close (it contained important anti-bacterial products and make up) and Mark was keeping a close eye on his wallet. As we walked away from the store however we noticed that Mark had been relieved of a 50p bottle of chocolate milk! The cheek!
Don’t get me wrong. Despite the negatives Koh Tao is still an amazing place. I didn’t dive this time around, but I’ve got no doubt that the dive sites are still among the best in the world. It’s just difficult not to make comparisons when you have been somewhere before. Perhaps if we had stayed in another part of the island (or in May!) our experience would have been completely different. Unfortunately it wasn’t cheap on a backpackers budget to get to other parts of the island so we only really saw the Sairee area.
We didn’t make it over to Chalok Baan Khao. I decided instead to keep my memory of my beautiful paradise.