At low tide, the beaches connecting the three small islands appear and fill up with sunbathers.

The Islands of Thailand – Koh Tao

Koh Tao, Thailand

February 5, 2015 – February 8, 2015

Full Koh Tao Photo Gallery

Leaving the modern city of Bangkok, and all its malls and modern conveniences behind we boarded a night train heading south in order to catch a boat to the islands and beaches of southern Thailand. Our first destination, the beautiful white beaches and green jungle covered cliffs, and perfect turquoise water of Koh Tao. A place to soak up the sun, snorkel over the reefs and drink apparently sun shy beverages with tiny umbrellas on the beach.

We boarded a train in Bangkok, the station is conveniently located at the end of one of the city’s subway lines. Our night train left in the evening and arrived at our stop in Chumphon around 4:30am.  From there we boarded a bus to take us to a nearby pier were a large modern motor catamaran waited to take at least a hundred sunscreen clad westerners to the islands along Thailand’s eastern shore.

The night train to Chumphon, the seats fold down into beds.
The night train to Chumphon before it filled up.  The seats fold down into beds.

Thailand has thousands of islands and hundreds of them have facilities for tourists. Whether you’re looking to relax on a beach with no one else in sight or party the night away with every modern convenience near at hand, all can be found on one of Thailand’s plentiful islands.

It’s difficult to say which islands are the best or which should be seen and which should be skipped as it all depends on what precisely you are looking for. We would recommend reading a good guide on the various islands and pick out the ones which sound the most interesting to you. Our first destination of Koh Tao promised to have a good well rounded mix of beaches, restaurants, party atmosphere, private getaways and good snorkeling. This gave us a great opportunity to see which type of island we would want to visit in the future.

Koh Tao, Thailand

The island of Koh Tao, Thailand.
Beautiful turquoise bay on the island of Koh Tao, Thailand.

The island of Koh Tao is big enough to have several towns, each with a complement of restaurants, nightlife and of course a beach lined with guest houses and resorts. Not knowing much about the island and which area we would like best we picked a room along the beach in the larger town of Mae Haad where the boat arrived for a single night. Something we have done many times when arriving in a new destination is to stay a single night somewhere convenient and spend the day, sans heavy bags, looking around for a better place to spend our remaining nights. Like many of the islands it is big enough to have several stretches of road and motorcycles are available to rent for cheap to take you from one town and beach to another. Be careful about scratches on the bike though, we heard from several people that the companies get a lot of their money by nitpicking every little scratch, demanding premiums for replacing fenders, which won’t actually get replaced.

Tip: A good idea if renting a motorcycle would be to take pictures of your bike at the rental shop, so you don’t get stuck paying for other peoples scratches.

The largest town on the island, Mae Haad, is full of shops, bars and restaurants all crowded with tourists.
The largest town on the island, Mae Haad, is full of shops, bars and restaurants all crowded with tourists.

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If you don't rent a bike (recommended) you can get a lift across the island in the back of one of the islands many truck taxis.
If you don’t rent a bike you can get a lift across the island in the back of one of the islands many truck taxis.

Mae Haad, being the largest town on the island has lots of restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops.  Mae Haad is just south of Sairee, the island’s largest stretch of beach, which also has the largest nightlife scene.  Sairee has the island’s largest party scene and is the reason many tourists visit.  For our remaining nights we wanted to be at a quieter and more relaxed beach and found a very cheap room at a small resort along the southern beach of Chalok Baan Kao.

A view of the crescent shaped bay on the south end of the island.
A view of the crescent shaped bay on the south end of the island.
The beach in front of our guest house.
The narrow beach in front of our guest house.

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Snorkeling Koh Tao

The island has great reefs around it and both scuba diving and snorkeling are hugely popular. In fact the island is well known for having one of the most popular, as well as quickest, scuba diving certification schools in the world. Complete scuba certifications can be had in as little as 10 days. We however, elected for one of the vastly simpler, safer and cheaper snorkeling trips and headed out on a boat with a few dozen others for a trip which circled the island, stopping at several great snorkeling spots.

Snorkeling Koh Tao.
Snorkeling Koh Tao.

Towards the end of our snorkeling trip and most of the way around the island our boat dropped us off for a few hours at the hugely popular Nangyuan island just off shore. It is a small island sitting just off shore and popular for people making a day trip from Koh Tao. Nangyuan island is actually three small islands connected by stretches of beach at low tide. The beaches get extremely crowded with sunbathers and people playing in the shallow warm water during the day before they pack back onto the boats for the trip back to Koh Tao.

Tiny Nangyuan island just offshore from Koh Tao.
Tiny Nangyuan island just offshore from Koh Tao.
At low tide, the beaches connecting the three small islands appear and fill up with sunbathers.
At low tide, the beaches connecting the three small islands appear and fill up with sunbathers.

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Nangyuan has good snorkeling just off its beaches.
Nangyuan has good snorkeling just off its beaches.

Altogether we spent four days on Koh Tao, relaxing on the beach, wrangling with the sunscreen, soaking in the bath warm water and snorkeling with the fishes and battling off sunburns in search of some much needed beach fun. Then it was back on the high speed catamaran and off to explore some more of Thailand’s islands along the western side of the peninsula.

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