This “turtle island” doesn’t actually have all that many turtles. Located on the east side of Thailand beside Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, Koh Tao has a population of about 7,000 people. 6,999 of them are divers.
But seriously, it’s dive Mecca with dozens of PADI and SSI certified shops populating its three main villages. Sairee Beach (which is not really a nice beach) is the main “town” and backpacker central. Going up the main road, resorts sprout up offering beach side bungalows. It’s there that my mum and I stayed and having been used to dorms all throughout my travels, clean sheets and a private beach view bungalow was a lovely luxury. The food poisoning resulting from resort food was not, however.
Food poisoning aside, Koh Tao’s coral and sea life is astounding and even if you’re not a diver, grab some fins and a snorkel and check out the local bays. Ao Leuk bay to the south east of the island was tucked away and had incredible visibility and the two islands of Nang Yuan off the north coast of Koh Tao are just a short taxi boat ride away (100 baht one way per person). Try to check them out after 2pm because that’s when all the tour boats leave and the island is nice and quiet. Don’t forget to climb up to the look-out.
Koh Tao is also one of the best places to learn to dive. You are absolutely spoiled for choice in terms of dive shops so make sure you look into (a) how you feel around the “regulars” at the shop (b) class sizes (c) whether you have to lug around tanks or if they are already there for you on the boat and (d) cost and if there are any discounts. A “fun dive” if you’re already certified will run anywhere from 800 to 1000 baht while an open water course will be 8500 to 9500 baht (that sometimes comes with accommodation). If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of a whale shark!
Other things to do on the island include renting a motorbike (200 baht per day) and driving around the island. I would strongly suggest doing this as oppose to taking the “taxis”. They are unlicensed so taxi fare here is outrageous.
Lastly, when in Thailand, do as the Thai and get yourself a massage. They’re anywhere from 300 to 450 baht and are performed fully clothed. I would say a Thai massage is a little like if someone was moving your limbs into yoga poses. I particularly like the spine twisting, tiger balm and physicality of Thai massages but some might find it weird.
I’m off to Bangkok tomorrow and will post a bit more about Thailand before I head to… Kazahkstan? Yeah, you heard it, Kazahkstan.