To be blunt, our trip to Koh Tao was nothing like the scuba-filled tropical adventure we had been building up to for months. Rather than getting cheap scuba training in one of the diving capitals of the world, Stu and I sat in our hotel room and watched Netflix for two days – he with a brutal cold and I with the stomach acid of an overweight, chain-smoking, grapefruit juice chugger paired with the remnants of my bronchitis. Neither of us were physically fit to dive nor did we have the mental drive. To top it off, we realized our visas expired in a couple days upon arrival, so getting certified would require breaking the law or buying an extension.
Getting to Koh Tao
One thing we never understood about the bus system is SEA was the time schedule. Every overnight bus leaves around 7 PM and arrives at 4 AM, just early enough where no hotels or restaurants are open. It’s ludicrous. Why don’t they just leave at 10 PM and arrive at 7 aM? Nobody knows.
We got dropped off by our overnight bus from Bangkok right on time at 4 AM. Except this time our destination was an island, so we were actually dropped off at a ferry dock, and the first ferry of the day was at 7 AM. For three hours everyone on our bus attempted to get comfortable on wooden benches outside during the sunrise, which made it even harder to sleep. Finally, a surprisingly modern looking boat came and loaded up the one hundred or so tourists. It was another 4-5 hours to Koh Tao, but the boat had a TV and was showing some recent American movie, making the trip seem shorter.
First Impressions of Koh Tao
As all of the tourists were herded off the ferry and onto the island, swarms of pick-up-truck taxis surrounded the area. With the ebb and flow of the customary Thai street hustle, we eventually shuffled into the bed of a truck whose driver promised us a cheap hotel in the center of the main area. The whole time I was on the island I don’t think I saw any vehicles besides trucks and motorcycles. It was unique in that way.
The roads were dirt and buildings were spread out, except for the island center, which had a cluster of restaurants, homestays, stores, and diving schools. Apart from the small business owners, it seemed like everyone on the island was foreigner or ex-pat. The locale consists of travelers stopping by for a week to dive and snorkel and the much more common scuba bros and diving chicks with pierced eyebrows who have lived on the island for years. The diversity of human archetypes and interests on the island was very, very limited.
If I had been diving, getting into the culture of it, and experiencing the same amazing underwater sensations that clearly grabbed all of these sea junkies and kept them in the area, I am sure I would have loved Koh Tao. But without the draw of scuba, Koh Tao lost a bit of its charm.
Even without scuba diving, the warm, clear waters of the beaches were great. Koh Tao definitely had the quintessential island beaches that resemble the paradises of so many postcards. Local fishing boats filled the shallows, while divers and tourists blanketed the shores. Although hundreds of people lined the beach, it was always dead quiet in the daytime, everyone peacefully sunbathing or sitting in the shallow water enjoying the views.
Koh Tao Night Life
Despite my stomach and recovering lungs, I did manage to make it out one night and hit the local bars because that’s what Gauchos do, right? I met a local who took me to the three major bars including Rock Beach Bar, Fishbowl, and Lotus Bar. At Rock Beach Bar, fire-dancers swing balls of fire at the end of chain put on impressive performances to American pop and hip hop every night. It was quite the sight, but after an hour the overpowering smell of the fire accelerant they used drove me away.
Fishbowl and Lotus Bar specialized in beer pong and dancing on the beach, respectively, but I think Rock Beach Bar was the most interesting. Overall, it was a pretty awesome night life for such a small area of the island.
Saying Goodbye to Thailand
Unfortunately, we realized our visa expired earlier than we thought, so we booked transportation out of Thailand and left Koh Tao after just a few nights. Maybe one day I will return and become a part of the diving culture I viewed from the outside.