Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Thailand Trip - Koh Tao Dec 2012

After my trip to the quiet little sleepy town of Kanchanaburi, it was off to Koh Tao for my long awaited beach vacation! This year, I've decided to cut down on the number of places and focus on just 2 - 1 land 1 beach.
Hearing good things about Koh Tao- Beautiful island, lively, diving place etc, I was excited about it!  But the journey to Koh Tao is not exactly the most fun!
There are several ways to get to Koh Tao:  Through Bangkok, Surat Thani or Samui.
From Bangkok, either you Bus-Ferry; Train-Ferry; Fly-Ferry (in increasing costs).  I took the Bus-Ferry, the cheapest and easier to book way cos they have a lot more buses available.  If I had known about flying, I probably would have done so!  The flight from Bangkok to Chumphon costs about 1500-2000B each way.  My Bus-Ferry ticket costs 1000B.  Saves loads of time!  The Bus-Ferry took 12H in total.  Train-Ferry would take longer cos train, although more comfortable with the sleepers, travel at a much slower speed.
From Surat Thani, you could take the night ferry or the day ferry that departs from the Pier.  Of cos you can buy the combo ticket that includes a bus ride to either the train station, airport or city.  Unfortunately, there is no direct flight from Singapore to Surat Thani an vice versa. I would have taken that option.
Then of cos, Samui to Koh Tao isthe nearest but probably most expensive way because a flight from Singapore to Samui is not cheap.  Again, I was banking on doing that route when I leave Koh Tao (saves time cos Koh Tao to Samui is maybe 1H or so) but couldnt get my free tickets.
Anyway, on the 26 Dec 2012, I embarked on a whole day of travelling, 12H started at 9-ish pm where I just zoned out in the bus (cold bus) and woke up when it arrived in the wee hours of 5-ish am the next morning.  The ferry was very on time and left at 7am (maybe 5-10mins late) and the journey was smooth sailing... We arrived in Koh Tao about 2H later where I was picked up by my dive shop to do all my diving paper work!
My 500B Bungalow. It is just about 30m from the beach. Nice! Too bad no hammock
Thanks to Scuba Junction, my dive shop, I managed to get myself a room during this peak season, especially so since full moon party was on 28 and 31 Dec over at Phangan.  At 500B per night, I stayed in a 'private' bungalow with SB Cabana.  Double bed with cold shower and toilet.  Not bad except they dont have a hammock.
Immediately I booked myself on 2 dives in the afternoon.  The dives were 850B/dives for 1-8 ives, and gets cheaper the more dives you do with them.  Also, pretty cheap open water and advanced course, where they throw in freeaccomodation fo the duration of your course! Wasn't so much impressed with my first 2 dives.  Visibility was poor, and frankly speaking, not very colourful down there.  Finally the constant travelling the day before caught up with me and I took a nap after my dive only to wake up for dinner around 8pm.
Sairee beach at High tide
Sairee beach at low tide
Met a French-American on my way in search of dinner - Dave.  Pretty interesting guy.  Had dinner with him and a divemaster and a French couple.  Can you believe that he doesn't drink AT ALL??  Neither could I but it was true!  No beer or anything alcoholic.  Strange.  Though he smokes a lot...
Another 2 dives the next afternoon, still not impressed.  But my DM was pretty cool - Rachel!  She's so animated and cute! Haha Awesome.
Met a young japanese who was travelling out of his country for the first time ever at age 22, with barely there English on his own!  He was in Koh Tao for the Experience party, a Trans party for the Hippies.  He was soo innocent (though not really since he kinda smokes and stuff) but it was really interesting seeng someone travelling out of his comfort zone for the first time, alone, and couldnt speak much English.
Finally did a morning dive on the 3rd day, went to a wreck and that was kinda cool, though we couldn't swim through the wreck but at least someting different.  Visibility was still as bad and at one poit I lost my DM, but luckily  had my buddy in sight, who is a Dive Instructor, so I stuck with him.  Though he was kinda oblivious to the fact that nobody was around.
At Nangyuan viewpoint on Koh Tao itself.
After the morning dives, instead of sleeping, I walked to Nangyuan viewpoint, which is an ok walk, just 30-40mins away from Sairee beach, with a pretty steep steep slope to overcome on the way.  The view was pretty alright.  But it was kinda nice to sit there, relax a little and read while enjoying the view.  Didn't get to travel to Koh Nangyuan itself, though it would have been much nicer viewing the islands from on top...
Sunset @ Sairee Beach
Finally a day of no diving so that I have time to explore Koh Tao!  This day, on the 30 Dec 2012, I walked to Chalok Bay to conquer John Suwan Viewpoint!  The walk to Chalok Bay took 1H, and there were pretty steep slopes to handle too!  But me and my every trusty flip flops did the miles!  At Chalok Bay, it was about another 15-20mins climb up to Freedom beach and John Suwan viewpoint, with barely there signposts to lead the way.  You just had to feel your way up!  Cos the only way to go is up!  And the reward is amazing!  The view just blows you away!  Makes the sweat and 1.5H walk all worth it!  You are at the southern most tip of Koh Tao looking back at the island.  Though you can't actually see the whole island, You could see the southern beaches spreading out and it was so beautiful.  Not to mention that it was so breezy and cooling up there!  I took a few pictures and just sat at the edg of the rock face, staring for 1H!  I could sit there forever!  Met 3 Americans - Tony, Heidi, Hannah up there!   Really nice people.  Tony and Heidi is travelling for 1 year, while Hannah teaches in Seoul!  We started talking about Seoul and climbing the Gwanak-san!
Walking along the boardwalk
On Top of John Suwan viewpoint
Then it was time to head down o cool abit at Freedom beach.  It was quite a small beach but rather nice.  Snorkelling is blah there but a good chill out area.  We had a drink at the resort there before I started to walk back in view of the looming clouds.  In my haste, I realized I forgot to pay for my drink and I was already 20mins away!  I attempted to pay back by searching for them @ their resort but couldn't quite find them.  Damn!  I could have waited but the sy looked really black.  I walked away feeling really guilty.  Believe me, I was really guilty.  It's not like I deliberately not pay.
Enroute back, I stopped by the Flying Trapeze, asking about the night performance.  I was told by Hannah that they have free performances on certain nights, but alas I was unfortunate!  The lady boss had a sore throat and had to cancel, first time ever in 7 years!  Damn it!  Disappointed, I went back to my bungalow, washed up and went in search of food for an early dinner and knocked off soon after.  It was after all a tiring day.

So some pictures of the creatures I saw during my dives...

Another jellyfish upside down
Wreck diving
31 Dec 2012, NYE! I booked myself on a morning dive to Chumphon Pinnacle, where divers say is the best chance to see Whalesharks.  Apparently there had been spottings a few times during the month.  I was excited, really really wanted to see them big shiny things!  On the boat, with Caroline my DM again, I met Lisa and Jamie, single female travellers from Switzerland and USA!  Really fun and nice gals whom I'll later have more fun with during the night.
Back to the dive, no whalesharks.  So sad.  The dive site was quite nice, one of the better ones I've been in.  Visibility still sucks. 
Last afternoon of my trip, I decided to hit another viewpoint - Sairee Rock.  The weather was real fine as I walked out, sun was shining ever too brightly.  The walk was not the most easy, with almost 90 degree upslope on concrete and soil.. Took me 40mins to reach the intersection to the trek toSairee Rock.  Happily, I walked up the trek for 15min only to start hearing thunder.  Looking around for potential hideout, I couldn't really find any.  Just before the rain became too heavy, I perched myself between an opening in the rocks, just nice for me to lay backwards with not much space to move around.  There I hid for 40mins, waiting for the rain to stop.  Then I continued upwards in search of the viewpoint, only to be greeted by mist and fog halfway up.  Just when i was contemplating whether to continue or ot, the sky rumbled again!  I thought, since I'm not going to see anything up there anyway, might as well head back.  That was when It really poured.  Once again seek refuge in some shack and waited it out.  Still ended up walking back barefooted in the light rain.  Not that I lost my flip flops but it was easier to walk barefooted than with a pair of slippery flip flops.
Totally drenched, wet, cold, took a shower and a nap once again in preparation for the big night.
Met up with Lisa then Jamie for dinner.  Met Sophie and Emma, 2 gals from UK as well.  Nobody knew anyone prior to coming to Koh Tao.  We had a waiting episode for some 5 Swedish lads, but we decided to go ahead first.  Had a real nice dinner at Lung Pae Restaurant, somewhere near Tanote bay.  Yes, it is considered expensive by Thailand standards, but it was NYE! We deserved some pampering! The food was good!  The boys arrived soon after.
After dinner, it was beach party time back at Sairee Beach.  We started the drinking at Lotus Bar, then moved on to Fizz and fish bowl.  It was a crazy night.  Buckets of Sang Som mix passed around and photos taken.  The countdown was fun!  But there weren't as much fireworks and lanterns as what I experiencedin Koh Lipe last year.  But still had great fun with great people!  Love you gals and boys!
My new friend Lisa! She's awesome
The awesome gang of 5!!
Of cos the entire team of 10 who made the night so fun!
Soon, it was time for me to leave the island.  Once again, I chose to leave on NY it self.  Note to self:  I need to stop planning to leave on NY day.  It is never a good idea given the fact that a big party is bound to happen on 31st.  And the fact was - I was hungover, feeling terrible and tired while waiting for my ferry.  I kept my head down on the railings the entire time I was in the ferry, praying that I was in bed!  It didn't help that the ferry departs at 1015am in the morning.  Though I did sleep in the 9H bus ride (was s'posed to be 7H!!)  But I booked myself into Sheraton hotel (free night) upon arrival and njoyed a night of luxury with hot water, AC, TV and nice comfy bed!  Sorry, just had to have 1 day of R&R.
I like Koh Tao.  Not for the diving.  Yes, it is cheap, if you happen to be there, and you want to learn diving, go ahead!  But don't go there specifically for diving.  There are so many places to go for diving in Thailand.  But Koh Tao has quite a lot to offer for non-divers.  You can explore the island for the hikes and the beaches scattered around!  Of cos good if you know how to ride a motorbike.  Like me, if you ca't, just walk it.  You will not die!  It is not the cheapest island, but well, I guess alot of islands in Thailand are not cheap now, but still you can get good food if you are willing to pay for it.  Plenty of night life if you are into that as the bars come alive at Sairee Beach every night as early as 9pm!  If you are more into quiet, then don't stay in Sairee Beach.  The further you are away from sairee, the more peace and quiet you get.  Maybe I will go back again?  But I guess I will try to explore other islands first.  Maybe the next time, I shall visit Phangan and Samui.

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