Thailand is a travelers dream. It is without a doubt the most exciting place I have ever experienced … it’s also the most international. All languages and nationalities are present; the Aussies and Kiwis are here, French, German and Dutch folks are a common sight; you will hear Arabic and Farsi mixed in with Russian and Mandarin. It’s exciting and its real and I love it! Backpackers, travelers, nomads, wanderers and global saunterers like Jen and I, this place is alive. Sites of the night markets, sounds of tuk-tuks whizzing by, smells of papaya salad full on mint, fish oil and dried shrimp, feeling of the midday noon blazing down upon you, tastes of green curry with chicken mixed with those tiny Thai chilis … its intoxicating. Of all the places we would visit in Thailand, Bangkok was the most intense, however, it was the islands that Jen and I had really come here for.
Koh Tao was a dream. When I imagine Thailand this is what I think of … white sandy beaches, incomparable reefs, scooters zipping by carrying tourists from every corner of the globe, all in search of their own private nirvana. Koh Tao is one part divers paradise, one part bohemian marketplace, one part epicurean fantasy. Tucked away north of Koh Samui and Koh Pangnyang, this tiny little island makes up for its lack of size with an intense vibrancy of life.
Our first taste of Koh Tao came after a seven hour trip from Krabi which includes two buses and one boat ride which pushed on well into the evening. Upon docking, we managed to find our bags amongst the hordes of other souls trying to do just the same. The dock was unbelievably narrow with zero railing to catch you if you accidentally leaned too far over or just happened to get brushed by any of the hundreds of other folks trying to make the same hasty exit as you. A little unnerving but Jen and I managed to find our bags quick and we bolted for terra firma. Next was a taxi ride in the back of a pickup truck up and over dirt roads until we finally reached an intersection and were instructed to hop out and walk down half a block to our hotel. What an introduction!
Sairee beach, which was our home for those 5 days on Koh Tao, was a very interesting little community. The street on which our hotel resided was busy with stands selling coconut rice and hand made jewelry. The road itself was a mish-mosh of half concrete and half dirt with cracks, small potholes and the occasional puddle. Still, no match for all the pedestrians and scooterists who weave in and out of one another with seemingly little concern for safety. Helmets were noticeably absent as were, in many cases, any form of footwear … After the initial shock or seeing a scooter coming right at me while another was on my tail, jen and I got used to the madness and almost started to enjoy the “Frogger” like mentality you needed to remain on two feet; (speaking of scooters, I guess operating the scooter with your right hand while holding your infant baby with your left is only uncommon in the states because it’s certainly par for the course out here. This place is bonkers I tell you!). Sairee Beach reminded Jen and I of Playa Del Carmen, Mexico with its international flavor and paradisal setting and it all combined to make this neighborhood the lively mecca of counterculture for which it is known.
Some of the food jen and I ate here was truly spectacular; dishes that come to mind include a pan seared Barracuda and an entire Red Snapper grilled to perfection; Jen’s dishes would include 3 enormous grilled Tiger Prawns and the aforementioned Mango Sticky Rice, ubiquitous in Thailand but never disappointing.
Right about now you are probably wondering why, after seeing Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi (and followed by Koh Samui) we would also need to visit such a small, out of the way island such as Koh Tao. This can be answered with two words … La Mer. Jen and I love to snorkel and our obsession has taken us to some interesting corners of the world. After diving at some great places near Phuket (Au Sane Beach) and Koh Phi Phi (Maya Beach and Bay – aka THE beach) I was cautiously optimistic for Koh Tao. When looking back I can honestly say that we got what we were hoping or and much, much more. Koh Tao, specifically Mango Bay, Hin Wong Bay and the teeny island of Koh Nang Yuan (pictured above) represented the best snorkeling experiences I have ever had and I’m certain my half mermaid – half bella vivace would say just the same.
Visibility – 90% and strangely enough when the sun did happen to hide behind a cloud (which wasn’t often) the waters clarity would improve; Wildlife – 85% for the countless fish species and varieties. A lower score since we didn’t see any Green Sea Turtles or Octopus as we had hoped for, although I did get a chance to swim with two Black Tip Reef Sharks! Reef Health – 100% and it was this was that was the most wonderful part for Jen and I. Anemones, Fan Coral, Table, Elk Horn and Brain Corals, Giant Clams of impossible variations in color and psychedelic patterns, miniature glowing Christmas tree like organisms that instantly disappear into a hidey hole whenever a swimmer would get too close. The whole experience was like immersing yourself into a David Attenborough narrated film about the abundant sea life of Southeast Asia. Mix this with the perfect 86 degree water and a cold beer waiting for you on shore and you can surely see why Jen and I made the long trek to be here.
Here’s a few moments from the hike up to the top of little Koh Nang Yuan. Steep but well worth this amazing view.
We’re there some less than admirable aspects of Koh Tao to greet us? Surely. Mosquitos, awful roads who left their mark on many unsuspecting scooterists, dirty puddles harboring god knows what in terms of vital contagion, endless partying including daily pub crawls and enormous multi-colored buckets for your tropical drink. This all seems like a recipe for dispair but for Jen and I, it all just worked together to blend the strongest bohemian cocktail we had ever had the pleasure of sipping … One part insanely dangerous beach side fire dance, a dash of impossibly skimpy bikini, one jigger of down tempo deep house sweat, a dollop of coconut cream and mix it all with the wild dreams and desires of your globe trotting pleasure seeking brethren, then, heave it all into the crystal blue ocean… That’s a taste of Koh Tao.