After leaving Bang Saphan I headed directly to Champon to catch a catamaran over to the very beautiful island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand. Only 21 sq. Km, Koh Tao (turtle island) has surprisingly a lot going for it! It boasts 2 of the top diving schools in the world and is considered one of the top spots in the world to dive, has several volunteer opportunities from being a “Trash Hero” to helping at the Animal Clinic and even some Marine Conservation programs as well. In addition, it has 2 Muay Thai Kickboxing training facilities: Island Muay Thai (where I’m currently training and will write more about in another post) and Monsoon Muay Thai Gym.
The island itself is lush and green with a large variety of foliage and critters all around. The beaches are breathless with clear blues and greens and abundantly diverse marine life to boot. Sadly, the island does have a dark past as it is the site of the very unfortunate murders of a young British couple just last year in September that made news world-wide. There are even websites dedicated to the “dark side” of Koh Tao, but so far I haven’t witnessed or felt any dark side to the island.
Like the two neighboring islands to the South of Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Tao also parties it up every full moon. They call them “Full Moon” parties, which is really just another excuse to do what people do nightly here (party in bars) but apparently kicked up a notch. Before coming I had heard the Government is trying to put a stop to them because of the drugs that also surface during the parties, but so far all the islands are still celebrating the moon phases. The other two islands apparently also have half-moon parties and even new moon parties! I haven’t experienced the Full Moon party here (the first one I will be present for is tomorrow night) but honestly have no interest to join the crowds at the bars for it. See, while this place does have a huge party scene to it, my purpose here is to train in Muay Thai and get involved where I can in the available volunteer opportunities. Guess I’m growing up a bit… Just a bit though;)
The expat community here is also huge! Most are in their early 20’s and have come here originally just for vacation and ended up getting jobs and staying. I would say honestly the population of people from the UK or Australia is possibly more than that of Thai’s and Burmese. It is legal to get a job in Thailand as an expat if it’s in an area of expertise that a Thai local wouldn’t necessarily have, such as teaching English or in the case of Koh Tao, diving instructors. One of the bummers in my opinion about having so many expats on the island however, is that the Thai culture seems lost a bit. Many of the locals speak better English than most native speakers and while they may view it as a benefit for them, it’s hard to find locals who only speak Thai. Hence why I wrote my other post on “Talking Thai” so I wouldn’t forget what I’ve learned so far!
As the island does boast some of the best diving in the world, there are dive shops absolutely everywhere! You could probably throw a rock in any given direction while walking, and within only a few meters (depending on your location) could hit anywhere from 3-5 of them! They really are everywhere you look, which makes it tough when trying to pick one to go with. Everyone has their opinion on which is the best, and so far each person I’ve spoken to has named a different one as “the best”, lol!! Though I do have my open water certification, I have yet to have done any diving as it’s been so long since my certification and I would have to do the refresher course AND for this month at least, I am tapped out financially on my extra-curricular spending. It’s all about the budgeting! Perhaps next month I’ll get into it, but for now, I frankly enjoy going to the beaches and simply snorkeling! It’s free to snorkel on your own (though there are snorkel tours available too) and the variety of marine life seen snorkeling is impressive enough to me to stick with that for now.
Truth be told… while there are several beaches around the island I’ve so far only made it to two! Sairee beach and Hin Wong beach. Hin Wong beach is teeny and is privately owned so the owner (Mol of Mol’s beach bar) asks that each visitor either pays 50 baht (equivalent of just over $1.50) or buys a drink from the bar. The snorkeling is unbelievable there and I keep returning for it’s absolute beauty and range of marine life! Every time I go I see something new! There are irradescent clams, blue-spotted sting rays, parrot fish, all sorts of damsel fish, christmas tree corals, anemones, puffer fish, and on and on! Every time I go I also wish I had an underwater camera so I could share the beauty under the water!
Since I don’t have a motorbike however (the roads are absolute crap on the island and the other drivers are nuts to boot!!) I walk there, which is yet another way I get my exercise. It’s a literal pain in my rear to scale the wee but very steep hill to get to the other side of the island, but it’s well worth it once there!! While I do adore going to that beach, I also try to space out how often I go because inevitably I end up having some drinks at the bar then curse myself as I have to make the trek back over the hill, sweating my rear off (and hopefully some of the booze) to get back to my place. Mol herself is quite the character too! She is a native Thai but speaks English perfectly and even has a cockney accent when she drinks, lol!!
When I first arrived, I walked my way in the blistering heat from Mae Haad (where the boats all dock) toward Sairee and found very close to the Wat a place called Happy Bungalows. For 400 baht a night I got my own bungalow with a bed, bathroom and little fridge. When I first arrived I wasn’t sure honestly how long I’d actually stay. My plan was to check out the two Muay Thai gyms and if I liked one, I would stay for a month to train. If not, I would hang about for a few days to a week then head elsewhere. Within 3 days I’d decided to stay and found a monthly rental with a kitchen through Bua Management. Now almost 3 weeks in, I’m planning to stay for another month. There are two reasons I came to that decision: first, I’m really enjoying the Muay Thai training and want to give it another month and second, one of my friends will be popping into Thailand to see me. Since she is interested in diving, I figured I may as well stay put so at the very least she gets to do some diving in one of the best spots! 🙂