While five days in Bangkok at the super luxury Plaza Athénée might sound like a great escape from London’s cold and damp, it’s still a frenetic, big city. I craved something a bit off the beaten track where I could be a beach bum. And that’s how I got to the marvellous Mango Bay — approachable only by boat.
Back up: it was towards the end of my stay in Bangkok that I ran into old friends who suggested the unpretentious Koh Tao where I could dive, hike and relax on a chic, rural island.
I was entranced and the next day found myself in Koh Samui where I took the two hour ferry to Koh Tao stepping into a world that’s light years away from Bangkok and its well known local beach environs catering to sleaze and backpacker’s on their gap years.
Koh Tao (Turtle Island) was uninhabited until 1943 when a prison was built. In 1947 the prison closed leaving the island unoccupied only for twin brothers Khun Uaem and Khun Oh to travel, from neighbouring Ko Pha Ngan and claim today’s Sairee Beach for themselves. Families and friends followed.
In 1977 the first travellers – mainly divers, visited the idyll on fishing boats and in 1984 the first resort, Niyom Bungalows opened at 30 Baht (60 pence) a night.
Koh Tao is a Diver’s Paradise
Today, some 350,000 travellers visit Koh Tao annually for its quite breathtaking beaches and snorkelling, to learn to scuba (with 50 dive schools it’s one of the world’s best places to pass your PADI) its fresh, healthy food and (mostly) serene atmosphere.
On my first day, under the guidance of snorkel king, Shasha Shayan, I slipped on the snorkel, mask and fins and glided through the Perrier clear waters of Sai Daeng Beach (opposite Shark Island) that seemed to be full of fashionable Europeans. Another day we took a small boat to the glorious Mango Bay.
Amidst hordes of tropical fish I casually bumped into a young three foot Blacktip reef shark and an adult over six feet. Other exemplary beaches were Freedom, Laem Thian, Tanotte Bay and Aow Leuk that, even though spectacular in their own right, were still not quite as stunning as Sai Daeng.
With an assist from the Simple Life Dive School I was soon down to 18 meters amongst pufferfish, a huge shoal of bombardiers and a rather peeved territorial, titan triggerfish.
Others in our group saw the world’s largest living fish– the Whale Shark AKA Rhincodon typus (which, if you believe the Old Testament, was the unlucky species that swallowed silly old Jonah) but I missed it.
High Quality Fresh Food is Cheap
Koh Tao is brimming over with high quality food and as long as you like Thai, you will eat like a very well for a pittance at restaurants such as Ying Yang in Chalok that serves a 4-course seafood feast for 450 BT (£10) each.
Small Island But Nightlife if You Want It
Nightlife is surprisingly lively for such a small island. I mostly stayed near my digs on the beach at The Big Fish in Chalok or at my old pal, Francis Shayan’s, sumptuous five star Pop Villas, a 10 minute walk away after imbibing a few cocktails at the Bubble (reggae) Bar on Chalok Bay or latin at the Next Door Bar just up the beach. Indeed, the South is by far the best most tranquil, sophisticated part of the island.
Warning: One night, I took a 20 minute cab ride to Sairee Beach which became less and less appealing as we inched further North– inebriated tourists, tacky clubs and bars, massage parlours and even a Cabaret ‘Lady Boy’ Club.
Fortunately, none of this mattered to me as Chalok could not have been more different and I returned rather hastily, breathed a sigh of relief, sat on my balcony, looked out to sea and let the waves serenade me.
A Music Festival This March
For something a bit more energetic, March 28th kicks off the Koh Tao International Music +Underwater Festival where my old friend and DJ colleague Giles Peterson, along with Arrested Development, Kevin Yost and 25 other international artists play over three nights at four venues.
Chris dived courtesy of Simple Life – http://simplelifedivers.com.