After a good couple of weeks, we finally managed to unstick ourselves from our favourite Thai island: Koh Phangan. We ventured off to an island with some of the best snorkelling spots in the world – the famously dubbed “Death Island”: Koh Tao.
And guess what? We didn’t die!
Koh Tao is famously known as a Thai mafia run island. Not the kind of mafia with suits and big guns, but the kind that’s generations old, older than the cops. These families have run this spot forever. They rule and if you mess with them, you’ll probably die. That’s what the media says anyway. If we could give any advice on visiting Koh Tao it would be to just use your common sense. Don’t be that person that gets blind drunk and pisses off the locals…nobody will bother you if you don’t bother them, simple! Well that worked for us anyway, and we absolutely loved it.
SCOOTERING, SNORKELLING, SIGHTS AND SUNBATHING
We’d been warned about Koh Tao’s dangerous roads, several people even told us, if we hired a scooter, we would crash. Of course we hired one anyway!
And no, we didn’t crash. Although we did have a few dodgy moments which Neil, of course, claimed to “have under control…” I even had to jump off sometimes to stop us rolling backwards down steep hills, even with full throttle! For a few tips on driving around this beautiful island check out the video below.
A sneaky sunset
We picked the scooter up on our first afternoon and hired it for three days at 150 Baht ($6NZ) per day. We decided to try and find somewhere nice to watch the sunset and ended up at a resort called Dusit Buncha at the northern end of the island.
There was a sign saying it was 100 Baht ($4NZ) each to enter!? We couldn’t fathom the thought of missing sunset, so we decided to pretend we were guests, gave the security guard a wave, and snuck on in. We sat by their beautiful infinity pool and watched the colours unfold. Wow!
Anyone need a place to drop a knee? Neil wished he had waited now!
The next day we scooted to two different beaches, both famous for snorkelling and both had free entry. A lot of the beaches on Koh Tao have an entrance fee, us being us, we tried to avoid this as much as possible.
We started at a lovely bay called Aow Leuk. We walked through a resort to get to the beach – we were starting to realise most beaches on this island had huge resorts on them. If you wanted, you could hire a beach chair for 150 Baht ($6NZ) and snorkel gear was also available for hire at the resort for 100 Baht ($4NZ). We had our trusty snorkels that had come with us from way back in the Philippines and jumped straight in the water. Wow. This was the best snorkel spot I’ve ever been too, the coral was incredibly colourful, there was so much life buzzing around the underwater world it felt like we had crossed into a different universe.
And, we saw a shark! It swam right on by us, following for a bit before getting bored and swimming away, amazing. We were a little to amused by it to grab any footage though, which was a bit of a bummer.
Beach number two: Tanote Bay. Again, we had to wander down through a resort, lots of steps! The beach was lovely and a great place to sunbath before we splashed back in to snorkel. There was a big rock in the bay that you could swim out to, climb up (someone had attached a rope to it) and jump off. The snorkelling here was great, it wasn’t as good as Aow Leuk, but it was still incredible. After swimming we lay down on some massive hot rocks to dry off, a lovely end to our day snorkelling.
To finish off the day we drove up to Love View Point and the view was incredible. You had to buy a drink to be allowed close to the edge to see it properly.
We started taking a few photos when we saw massive rain clouds coming over and quickly jumped on the bike and scooted back to the hostel just before a massive thunder storm began!
Mango Bay, Sky Viewpoint and Bar and another magical sunset
Mango Bay is rated highly by tourist companies and advertised a lot, usually people catch a ferry taxi to it at 750 Baht ($30NZ) a head, we used our trusty wee scooter. The “roads” were pretty damn steep, challenging and muddy. Neil said that it these were more mountain bike tracks, than “roads”. I clutched on for my life while Neil seemed to be having the time of his! Check out the video above – it was mostly of our drive to Mango Bay.
At one point I had to make an emergency jump when Neil calmly said, ” it’s pulling up, you should probably jump off,” it was actually really fun. We had talked about how I might have to do that before we left in the morning so I felt prepared, the downside was it meant I had to walk up a big hill while Neil shot up.
It took a while, but we finally arrived at the snorkelling side of the bay and had to walk through, you guessed it, another resort. This resort had what felt like 1000 steps down to the bay – no reward with out a challenge right!? There was no beach at this spot, just a warf to climb down where we were immediately greeted by little fish whisking around. The snorkelling wasn’t the best here as the water was a bit murky, possibly due to the storm the night before or the fact there were a lot of boats coming and going as compared to the other bays we had been to. However, it was nice and deep and looked full of coral so I can imagine it would’ve been a great spot for divers.
We had a lot of fun here jumping off the warf, taking fun photos and videos before sunbathing on beach chairs, they were included in the 100 Baht ($4NZ) entrance fee we had to pay to walk down. It was a lovely spot, we even swam across to the beach on the other side to play in the sand.
On our way back from Mango Bay we wanted to stop by one of the many view point bars and decided to pick the first one we saw, Sky Viewpoint and Bar. It was basically a rickety little house with a really nice viewing platform. It cost 100 Baht ($4NZ) each to get in, but you could put that towards food or drink, so really they just wanted you to buy something, sweet as!
There was a local family living here and a few of the children played us some sweet tunes on guitar while singing as we looked out towards the ocean over a sea of palm trees, an amazing time.
We ended our day down on Sairee Beach near our hostel where watched the sunset, it was beautiful! There were heaps of jumping fish really close to the shore, the birds loved this! It was amazing to sit and watch the sun turn the colourful boats into dark silhouettes and it slowly set behind them.
The famous Nangyuan Island
We’d heard the island just off Koh Tao was rated one of the most beautiful spots in the world and figured we’d better take a look. Down at Sairee Beach the longboat water taxi’s were charging 600 Baht ($25NZ) each for a return trip, we thought this was massively overpriced as it was just a 10 minute boat ride. We jumped on our scooter and found a resort closer to the island (Hillside Resort) that had a pier, so we walked on down and flagged a longboat which was on its way to Nangyuan. The drivers aren’t really meant to stop here, but anythings possible for a few Baht! He did it for 300 Baht ($12.50NZ) each return, we jumped in. Score!
There was an entrance fee of 100 Baht ($4NZ) to get on to the island and you weren’t allowed to take any plastic bottles with you. It was a very eco friendly place where they just had glass bottles which they cleaned and recycled. The locals were also oddly concerned about their sand, not allowing you to put a beach towel down to lay on as it may take sand away from the island. To us it just sounded like a ploy to get you to pay for their beach chairs, 150 Baht ($6NZ) for two people for the day.
The island was very beautiful, but the snorkelling was terrible as there were just too many people and the water was super murky. The view point (above picture) was a hot and sweaty hike up to. The view up the top is amazing, but again there was a massive crowd of sweaty people all trying for the same shot, on this tiny rock. We got pretty fed up and Neil started getting pretty bad heatstroke. I felt like the island had too many people on it at once and I found myself wanting to get back to Koh Tao two hours earlier than we had planned. It really was stunning, but I’m just not a big fan of huge crowds in small places. We enjoyed chilling out on the beautiful sandbar which Neil snapped the below picture of me on.
High Bar and Natural High Bar
When we arrived back on Koh Tao we decided a cold drink was in order and went to a place a lot of our travelling friends had told us to check out, High Bar. This wicked spot was up very high! It’s designed to look like a massive tree house and was pretty funky. It had an amazing sea view and was a lovely place to relax.
Not too far around the corner we saw signs for another bar called Natural High Bar, this one we hadn’t heard of before and thought it could be fun to see the difference between the two.
Natural was also very high up, but it was further into the jungle meaning it didn’t have a Seaview, instead it was surrounded by nature and was more open than the original. We preferred it.
Some good tucker
Locals tipped us off about a couple of spots on the island that weren’t as expensive as the rest, as the food on Koh Tao was generally pretty pricey. The first was Pranee’s Restaurant, this place had a big menu, the food was good, the service was on point and the price was right. A bonus here was it was just down the road from the Taco Shack (our accommodation – check out a review below) near the beach, can’t complain about a two minute walk!
Our favourite dining spot however was Yang’s Restaurant. Up the hill and around the corner to the right from the Taco Shack was this popular local restaurant which had great food. It had a huge menu with local Thai food and western food – you could get a huge chicken burger for only 50 Baht ($2NZ). We ate here at least once every day – jacket potatoes became my regular go to. Both of these eateries can be found on google maps if ya fancy a bite and need directions.
This diving and snorkelling paradise was amazing, we could’ve easily spent a lot more time here! We were super stoked we hired a scooter and got to see a lot of the island with the short time we had. One day we plan to go back and get diving certificates – it seems to be the best place to do it!
The Comfortable Shack – for those needing a spot to stay:
After jumping off the ferry at 3pm we walked a short distance and found The Taco Shack. It wasn’t really a shack, but a great little hostel, we ended up staying here the whole time.
- 300 Baht ($12NZ) a night
- Spacious clean dorm rooms equiped with lockers for your valuables. The dorm room doors were also coded so randoms couldn’t just walk in
- Comfortable beds with reading lights and outlets above each one
- Decent aircon
- A really nice atmosphere with super helpful staff
- The wifi was terrible, but it was bad all over the island
- The tacos were awesome
- The only downside was the showers were outside (they had a roof) with flimsy curtains – no lockable doors. This could be a bit scary for solo-female travellers