Koh Tao feels like an island that was colonised by backpackers who never left. I’ve met several individuals who visited Koh Tao for a few days, and ended up staying a few years. In a world where everyone is rushing to the next big thing, you can see why an island no bigger than an international airport can be the final destination for so many. 2km of white sands line the west side of the island, only interrupted by a few boulders along the way. The rest of the land is coated by lush forest, with a few sporadic dirt roads heading upwards towards the peak.
Looking around the town and along the beach, you can’t avoid the backpackers. The “Chang” beer logos printed on vests, dreadlocks, and bandaged legs from motorbike accidents (I can even tick that box now! Will explain later…).
But let me back up a little. After 6 days in Bangkok, I took a night bus to Chumphon, which is a quiet port town on the East Coast. I arrived at 4:30am, and walked to my hostel with some vague and hopeful directions I recorded on my phone the night before. On arrival, the owner kindly offered me a bed for the last half of the night for free, which I quickly accepted so that I could sleep off any remaining Bangkok fatigue.
Chumphon itself doesn’t see too many tourists, as many head directly to the nearby islands. But it was still a pleasant stop to break up the journey. There wasn’t too much to do in the town, and most of the streets would follow the pattern of dusty restaurant, dusty convenience shop, dusty cafe, dusty restaurant etc. So after a day of street food and wandering, I took an early night in preparation for my 6am ferry the next morning.
Koh Tao has a population or just over a thousand, although it felt like a lot more when 100 taxi drivers (motorbike and car) were shouting for your business to take you to your accommodation when you arrived from your ferry. A local diving instructor who I met on the ferry conveniently walked me to my hostel, which was positioned on a main street near the port.
The whole island was buzzing with the prospect of Songkran, the celebration of the Thai New Year, where everyone washes off their sins of the past year with a big water fight. Everyone picked up a water gun for around 200 Baht (£4), and headed towards the beach. It was crazed water based warfare, where no one was safe, where pouring a bucket of water over a stranger’s head was normal practice. 50% of the water guns hilariously broke after about 2 hours, but what were you expecting for 200 Baht? Water slides were set up from the beach bars, and everyone was a target that day. During the evening, the buckets and water guns were put down and the drinks were picked up as festivities continued until the early hours.
The day was fantastic, and I was only slightly held back by an incident with a motorbike the day before. It’s common practice for tourists to rent motorbikes around Thailand, as it’s a cheap and easy way to get yourself from place to place. A small group of us were heading on bikes to a famous viewpoint on the other side of the Island. Getting there required traversing some steep off-road terrain, and just before we were about to arrive, I lost control of the back wheel over a ridge and skidded off my bike. My injuries weren’t too bad, but I had suffered a bloody cut on the top of my right foot which needed some attention. There’s always a deep sense of annoyance if you get ill or injured whilst travelling, as you can lose precious days to recovery. But I’ll be damned if a minor motorbike accident was going to hold me back from Songkran. Those two hobbling nights out that followed were some of the best I had in Thailand.
It’s well known that dodgy bike rental stores can give you hefty fines for small amounts of damage (and if you’re unlucky they’ll claim you were responsible for scratches that were already there). I was using a rental store with a decent reputation, although when I sheepishly returned my bike, the owner was quick to note down every small mark from the crash, naming each piece which needed replacing with an attached cost scribbled down next to it. I followed his footsteps keenly, speaking to him throughout and trying the sway all the costly decisions he was making. The only upside was the I would get a 30% discount on replacement damage as I was at the hostel next door which was owned by the same individual. It seems like the bike part replacement business was in a profitable state if they could be handing out 30% discounts! At the end the damages came to 4000 Baht (£80), which isn’t the end of the world but I knew cocktails and fancy food would be off the menu for the next couple of weeks!
Oh well, I’m only halfway through my stay in Koh Tao. The whole island has an enticing feel to it and I’m looking forward to every remaining minute. Tomorrow, the scuba diving begins!