Koh Tao know how

by Hayley McCool

A guide to one of the most beautiful islands in Thailand - Koh Tao. Great beaches, fantastic food, friendly locals and some of the clearest waters in the world

Only in recent years has Koh Tao become a full-time fixture on many a traveller’s itinerary. The Thai island is small -  much smaller than neighbouring Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. But if for what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in punch. On the southern coast of Thailand and covering an area of less than 21km ‘Turtle Island’ as the name translates is a slice of paradise. It is also a must see for any one visiting the country who is tired by the over commercialisation of some of the more well known Islands.

Koh Tao is home to some of the best beaches and reefs in Thailand yet they never feel over crowded. Perfect for those of you who want to feel like you are on a desert Island without the Ray Mears style survival exercises. The main beach Sairee is adorned with palm trees, white sand and crystal clear waters. The beach is the epicentre of all things social on Koh Tao. So whether your there to sunbathe, snorkel, sip sangsom at one of the many beach bars, you can be sure to find something on this Island to suit you.

Getting there is simple. There are daily ferries from Koh Samui and Churporn taking around 3 hours. There is also a night boat everyday which leaves Surathani at 11pm and arrives at Koh Tao’s port at 5am. Whilst it is not the most comfortable experience it is certainly one of my most memorable. A particular favourite is the man who fell asleep next to me and proceeded to sleep talk for the whole journey. In Chinese. He wasn’t Chinese nor had he been to China. I think he was from Birmingham.  All boat journeys cost around 400 baht and arrive at Mae Haad.

Accommodation is plentiful. I have stayed in a number of places including AC Resort and Lotus Resort. AC is at the higher end, catering to families, whilst Lotus is more basic; attracting backpackers and spritely young things. Prices for accommodation on the island range from about 200 Baht a night for more basic lodgings to around 2000 Baht a night for utter luxury.

Interestingly, there are several quaint bookshops on the island selling both new and second hand books in a variety of languages. There is a 7/11 convenience store, several pharmacies and few clothes shops but they are relatively basic. Koh Tao isn’t exactly 5th Avenue, so if you’re hoping to find a little black dress or a suave suit you’re probably in the wrong place. Besides, it’s far too hot for such attire, with temperatures in the summer 35 degrees plus.

The nightlife on Koh Tao is not as hectic as some of the more well known Thai Islands. That said, it is lively. Most of the night life centres in around the Sairee Beach area. Many of the beach bars who cater for travellers are open until the early hours with Lotus Beach Bar being a firm favourite amongst the under 30 crowds. Choppers Australian Bar and Grill has a fantastic atmosphere with live music, live sporting events and some seriously good food and drinks offers.

Talking of food, Koh Tao really impresses. If you love Thai food there are literally hundreds of fantastic restaurants. A dish which is definitely worth a try is massaman curry. It is made from chicken, peanut, potatoes, and cinnamon and is mouth-wateringly delicious. For the best massaman you are likely to eat anywhere in the world head to the chic Fizz Lounge and Beach Bar. I guarantee you will become hooked.

There are several small delis and bakeries that have opened up on Koh Tao in recent years. Morava in Sairee village has a fantastic selection of bagels, wraps, and sandwiches, so when you have had your fill of Thai food head over there for a club sandwich or a goats cheese and chorizo panini.

Like all good secrets, they never remain sofor long and sooner or later this little Island is bound to become as popular as its neighbours. The funny thing is, if you speak to anyone who has been to Koh Tao, they talk about it as if it is still a secret and maybe this is why is remains understated, sophisticated and not over developed. If you’re looking for a piece of paradise with friendly locals, stunning beaches, activities galore and the odd tipple thrown in for good measure, go to Koh Tao. Just make sure you whisper when you tell your friends how amazing it is.

Getting there

Overnight train from Bangkok to Suratthani, then by ferry.
Flights from Bangkok to Koh Samui, then by ferry.
Train from Bangkok to Chumporn then by ferry

Flights www.thaiair.com www.bangkokair.com

Train and ferry times www.seat61.com