About Koh Tao
Though it is most renowned for its SCUBA DIVING, Koh Tao can now offer you a wealth of activities to enjoy both in and out of the water. In fact it is difficult to know where to start. Oh, I know – what about the fabulous white sandy beaches and rocky coves that are dotted around its coast. Many of these provide excellent snorkelling and if you get up early enough or go later in the day, you can swim with the baby reef sharks at some of these sites.
There are mountain trails for the more active, mini golf, rock climbing, flying trapeze lessons, speed boat trips around the island, Muay Thai (Thai boxing), yoga, footpool, MMA training, Crossfit, all sort of adventure sports, or, for the less energetic, Koh Tao is blessed with fantastic scenery, great sunsets and many idyllic hideaways where you can watch the natural world go by.
And then, to follow your hectic (or maybe not so hectic) day, perhaps a massage or some other spa treatment. This, like the yoga, can be experienced on your spacious terrace overlooking the sea and the jungle.
Or, how about a Thai Cooking Class with Nong Joy. If you are staying in The Penthouse (or The Villa), she can even do this for you in your apartment.
All this, and there is a range of bars and clubs to suit all tastes, just as there are different cuisines from around the world on offer from a host of restaurants. Truly an island with something for everyone.
Koh Tao (Turtle Island) is the northern most island of the Samui peninsular, some 70 km from the east coast of Thailand and about 38 km north of Koh Pha Ngan (home of the Full Moon Party).
A little history
From 1933 to 1947 the island was used as a prison for political prisoners. Its location meant that there was no means of escape by swimming and, in those times, even taking a boat meant taking your life in your own hands. In 1947 the then King of Thailand granted a pardon to all these prisoners and they were transported to the mainland. Soon after a small but steady flow of people began to come to Koh Tao to farm coconuts and fish. Then in the 1980’s adventurous backpackers discovered Koh Tao and tourism has powered growth here ever since.
In the past Koh Tao was a very difficult place to get to, and boat crossing were often delayed for days at a time. Fortunately travel links with the island are now, you will be glad to know, much better. After arriving at Bangkok airport you have a number of travel options:
The easiest is to catch an internal flight to Koh Samui airport. And then it is a short ferry journey (2 hours) to Koh Tao.
If you wish to fly with Thai Airways, it is possible to fly from your home country to Koh Samui without having to collect your luggage and check it in again at Bangkok. Be careful, though, to ensure you land in Koh Samui in time to catch the ferry, otherwise you will have to spend the night in Samui.
Bangkok Airways also offer flights from Bangkok to Koh Samui.
From Samui to Koh Tao takes about two hours and there are two operators: Seatran Discovery have three crossings each day: 8.00 am and 1.00 pm and 4.00 pm. Lomprayah also offer three services each day at 8.00 am and 12.30 pm and 5.00 pm. The Seatran pier is about 10 minutes from the airport whilst the Lomprayah pier takes about 30 minutes to get to unless you are catching the 5.00 pm service. This leaves from Nathon and takes about 45 minutes to reach from the airport. Both companies offer a taxi service from the airport to their pier. If sea conditions are bad, you should know that the Seatran ferry stays more upright that the Catamaran but the Catamaran will work in higher seas than the Seatran ferry. October and November tend to be the season for higher winds and, therefore, higher seas.
As an alternative to the domestic flight to Koh Samui, you can make your way from Bangkok to Chumporn overland. We have found that the best way to do this is by first class air con overnight sleeper train. It does get you to Chumporn at an unearthly time in the morning (about 4.30ish) but at least you can go for a walk, stretch your legs, there is a buffet car, and you can lie down and have a nap (depending on how well you sleep normally). You can book this in advance via Island Travel (http://www.islandtravelkohtao.com/)
Or you can travel by first class coach from Bangkok to Chumporn. Lomprayah run these coaches and sell combined coach/ferry tickets. This can be arranged very easily once you arrive in Bangkok or via Island Travel.
Wow, where to start…. Anyone that knows anything about Koh Tao will always mention the scuba diving and the food.
In Sairee there is Barracuda. One of our ‘treat’ restaurants. They also have another ‘branch’ in the Nay Pon walking street. It offers a slightly different menu but I confess that I prefer the ribs at the restaurant in the town (next to the Lady Boy show). Also in the Nay Pon Road there is La Pizzaria – great pizza and pasta joint, and there is The Beer Masons for a glass of ‘craft beer’ after your food.
Thaita offers great Italian food as does Portobello. Ushi’s place – ‘A Taste of Home’ is at the bottom of our hill and does excellent German food at great prices; and further towards the town there is The Gallery for more ‘up market’ Thai food. Or 995 Duck for – you guessed it – duck. But it is great duck and it is cheap as chips. Then there is Blue Chair and Su Chilli – Thai restaurant. Blue Chair offers a nicer ambience I think and their chicken with cashew nuts is the best around. Also in the thick of it down in the town there is Sairee Sairee. I confess I am not a big fan of their main dishes, but their deserts are great. Try the smooth chocolate cake in particular – or there is the awesome profiteroles. Then there is Hippo, excellent ribs and possibly the best burgers on the island – oh, and the Snickers shake is excellent too.
Down on the beach there is Fizz Beachlounge. A great place to hang out – nice cocktails, great food and big, comfy beanbags to relax in. The chocolate brownie here is the best brownie on the island.
Away from Sairee there is Hacienda – great Sunday roasts, BBQ on Wednesdays and a great menu the rest of the time. Great British deserts too like sticky toffee pudding or bread and butter pudding and the ‘Outrageous’ desert is excellent to share. Opposite Hacienda near the 7-11 is Keaw Korean BBQ – a really fun, social dining experience where you cook your own food on your own personal hot stove. Lung Pae up in the hills looking out towards Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Samui offers a great ambience and does great steaks and fish plus excellent Thai food. They also offer a free taxi service to get you there. Greasy Spoon in Mae Haad offers THE best English breakfast on the island and the lasagne is great for lunch too. Enjoy (restaurant near the Songserm pier) is also great value for money and offer great German food, but the service can be very slow so don’t go there hungry. Yangs on the main road in Mae Haad offers great Thai and western food and is excellent value too. The place is ‘basic’ and service can be sketchy but the food is well worth it.
I think these few places should keep you occupied for a while, but if you need some more suggestions please just ask.
A small detour on your way to Koh Tao.
If you are thinking of spending a few days in Bangkok before heading south, you may want to consider taking a couple of days out to visit Kanchanaburi – famous because this is where you find the ‘bridge over the river Kwai’. This town is just a couple of hours bus journey west from Bangkok and there is a host of stuff to do here.
In particular you should visit the waterfalls at Erawan National Park. Seven waterfalls along this stretch of the river. The water is crystal clear and there are a number of swimming opportunities. Be aware that you should wear good water shoes for this trek.
Also Hellfire Pass. We think this is the best of the museums though it is not a museum in the true sense. This is the site of the Konyu cutting – a particularly difficult section of the Thai – Burma railway. Many tens of thousands of pow’s died in its construction and the very emotional story of the men that lived and died here is told very well. Some trekking is involved in this tour so wear reasonable walking shoes. If you are on an organized trip, ensure they allow a good 2 or 3 hours here.