After our busy hiking and snorkelling days we decided to take a couple of beach days and visit some of the beautiful bays nearby.
We got on our scooter from which by now we had become inseparable. We decided to ride a bit further and find Aow Leuk. But when we found it we weren’t too impressed with the beach itself – there were no trees, i.e. no shade, it wasn’t the cleanest or prettiest beach, and the sand was quite stony, so despite the hard ride to get here, we decided to move on.
I’m glad we did, because we spent too blissful days on a secluded part of Chalok and then on a beach we had visited before on our hike, but didn’t stop for a swim: June Juea.
The water is so lovely and warm here and yet still so refreshing. At the shore it’s lovely and shallow, so you can sit in it and let it wash over you, but it gets deep quickly so you can go for a nice swim as well.
It gets incredibly hot on Koh Tao by about midday, so it’s worth getting settled on a beach by nine, when the heat is still manageable and the beach is quiet – most people start coming to the beach at around 11am.
Let me tell you something though: we got to June Juea on two separate routes. First time on foot, hiking from Chalok Beach, find the route here. It’s quite an easy walk and if you don’t like hairy rides on a scooter, take this route. There is a road for the scooter that is asphalt almost all the way, just a small section of dirt track, but this road is not for the faint-hearted. Incredibly steep with long rises and drops and sharp bends, only attempt it if you’ve got at least a 125cc scooter for two and if you are sitting at the back, don’t look and hold on! 😉
I haven’t mentioned Koh Tao nightlife so far – we went down to Chalok village on one of our first nights of the island, but found it incredibly quiet. This wasn’t too surprising to us as all the guidebooks tell you this is the quieter end of the island. There are a few really nice local restaurants here further up from the beach in the village center. These get filled up each night from around 7 pm onwards. We found that the restaurant closest to the beach fills up quickest but this isn’t necessarily because it has the best food. We had dinner here once as well as in the restaurant furthest out and both had really good food.
There are some good bars down by the beach, we stopped at Easy bar and had a drink with Til, our new friend from the train.
We also checked out Sairee for nightlife and the first time we turned up there a bit late as everything was closing! It was only about ten pm, so if you want a late dinner, don’t leave it later than 9pm. Luckily we still found a lady who was selling pad thai. We sat in a bar with really good dance music and chairs on the beach and watch the crazy fire-throwing guys do their thing.
As we only had about a week on Koh Tao we decided that diving will not be on our list of things to do on the island on this short visit. As soon as we made this decision we booked ourselves on a whole day snorkelling trip around the island.
I had only ever snorkelled once before and it was not a great experience, so I was nervous about it, but I wanted to rise above that, especially if in the near future I wanted to try scuba diving.
When I first tried snorkelling in Cuba there were about 50 people all dropped in the same shallow bay with badly fitting scuba masks. The bottom of the bay was full of sharp rocks and the water wasn’t deep enough to splash around in, so we all got cuts and bruises. My mask kept getting full of water and while there were lots of fish around we couldn’t see them as the water was too disturbed and dusty because of all the catamarans and just the sheer number of people! Since then I haven’t been in a rush to snorkel again I have to say.
So I was awaiting our Tao snorkelling adventure with trepidation, but I tried putting that at the back of my mind.
When you are on Koh Tao it is really easy to sign up for these kind of organised days out. There is a tourist office on every corner of Mae Haad, Sairee and Chalok village. They have posters that detail various options for a whole days adventure – you just pick, pay, and then wait for the day to come.
Our chosen package day included a morning pick-up from our hotel, a day spent being skippered from bay to bay around the whole island on a diving boat and stopping at various bays for snorkelling.
In total we stopped at 4 bays and an island and snorkelled in each bay for half an hour before moving unto the next bay.
This was our snorkelling route:
Koh Nang Yuan
There was a group of around 20 people on our diving boat, Americans, French, Germans and Spanish mainly, only us from the UK. I found that most people just kept to their own travelling groups, maybe this was just our boat. The boat itself was small enough to mingle and get to know other people, I think it just depends on who is on your boat.
I actually really loved snorkelling! Adam found it very easy of course as he had already done a lot of diving, so he could help me getting used to my snorkel mask and helped me learn how to breathe through it. In our first bay I struggled a little bit and panicked – the water was quite choppy (it was around full moon, which made the waters a bit rougher than usual) my mask was filling up with water and I found it hard to overcome my natural reflexes of avoiding breathing under water at all cost! At first every time I tried to go under water my head just bobbed right up as if on a spring, it was having none of it! It took a real conscious effort to get over that, but when I did it, it paid off! I calmly tried to regulate my breathing, not panic if a little water got in. Once I learned how to do this, I happily dived under water to explore the fish and corals below. All this only took 20 minutes, so by towards the end of the first bay I was confident enough and looked forward to the next bay 🙂
Each bay presented different marine life and different waters. As the day went along the bays got less and less choppy and fish numbers grew. My favourite was Mango Bay. It was really good fun swimming around in the warm water. I didn’t take an underwater camera, I just wanted to enjoy snorkelling, which I did, so next time I’m going armed with a camera!!
We were given lunch on the boat and various snacks and tea and coffee throughout the day – the crew really looked after us. At around 2 o’clock we stopped at Koh Nang Yuan, which is a small collection of beautiful islands and the clearest waters you will ever see! We stopped here for 2 hours and were left to explore on our own. Koh Nang Yuan is a national park and you have to pay 100 Baht to set foot on it, it’s well worth the small fee though. You can walk across the island on a narrow strip of sandy beach or just in the water. You can also hike up to a viewing point on top of one of the hills, do this as well if you are here, the view is amazing. But be careful, the last stretch of climb is not an easy one, better wear proper shoes rather than just flip flops, and definitely don’t go barefoot like some people did when we climbed!
At 4 pm we got back on our boat and headed back to Koh Tao. We even got a ride from Mae Haad pier back to our hotel. The day went quickly and it was a lot of fun! Together with our entry to Koh Nang Yuan it cost the two of us 1700 Bahts (around £35) and it was well worth it! I learnt to snorkel and I got over my initial Cuban snorkelling experiences, so now I am ready for any future snorkelling and diving 🙂
After lunch on our third day on the island of Koh Tao we got our walking boots on and set out to do a bit of hiking. We walked for most of the afternoon from Chalok Bay to Sai Nuan Bay, stopping at each bay as we reached them on foot through the jungle, hills and rocks.
After Chalok we walked to June Juea which was absolutely beautiful. White sand and clear waters. No time to stop for a swim today, but we made a mental note to perhaps come back here for some beach time another day.
A sweet little dog was our guide on the stretch of the road between June Juea and Cape Jeda Gang. We turned the wrong way at first and he started following us almost like wondering where we were going. When we realised we were on the wrong course, we turned around. So did he and he started leading the way, every now and then stopping, turning back, making sure we were still following. He lead us from June Juea Bay all the way to Cape Jeda Gang in what proved to be the most tracherous section of the track. When we got close enough to the next bay, he sat down in front of us and wouldn’t budge – almost as if saying to us, ‘I can’t go any further, but you’ll be alright from here’. We gave him some water and then we parted ways. He headed back to June Juea and we turned towards Cape Jeda Gang.
This bay was beautiful, such different coastline to the previous ones with its huge boulders. We found a little bar where we sat down for some refreshing fruit smoothie. We sat at a bench that was balancing over the rocks of the bay.
Finally we reached Sai Nuan and its beautiful beach and decided to stop here for dinner as the sun started to set. This particular trail would have eventually lead us all the way to Mae Had, so it is a good hike to do if you ever fancy a slightly more advanced trek. The bay where we eventually called it a day had a really chilled out feel about it. We sat down in the cool wooden stilted structure over the water and had the most amazing cashew chicken ever!
After dinner and a few beers we got in a taxi boat and travelled back around the southern coastline to Chalok. At Chalok The lads had to get out and pull the boat into the bay as the water was so shallow! 🙂 I was just enjoying the view from the boat while getting pulled into the bay.
Hiking on Tao is great, and there are several different trails to take. Always take plenty of water, good walking shoes, sunscreen and perhaps a hat with you.
If you are ever in Koh Tao, here are the directions for our hike:
- Go to west Chalok, cross the concrete bridge leading to Saan Jao. Take a break at the Viewpoint restaurant with the best angle of the Buddha Rock.
- Then go uphill and follow a shady path over to a friendly, quiet bay: June Juea.
- At the end of the bay a steep path goes uphill into thick jungle. After a while you reach Cape Jeda Gang.
- From there uphill again, stay on the coast side path until reaching the next bay, Sai Nuan.
- Up again you will reach a concrete path leading around the cliff through a hill side resort and finally arrive at the gorgeous Jansom Bay.
- Now it is only a 10 min walk through a resort to reach Mae Haad.
This trip should take about 3 hours, so don’t start too late.
This trail and many others can be found in the Koh Tao Info booklet that can be picked up in any shop or restaurant on the island.
It only took us a day wondering on the island of Koh Tao to come to the conclusion that we definitely needed a scooter to get around on the island. Almost everyone does this – locals and tourists as well. There is only one asphalt main road on the island going from north to south, from Sairee to Chalok. There are several dirt tracks branching off the main road towards the various bays. Although the roads off the main road are also being asphalted over in places as the island is continuously developing.
Tao is only 21 square km and walking from Sairee to Chalok would only take around 40 minutes to walk, but just for convenience’s sake a scooter was in order.
This proved to be our best decision.
Adam quickly got used to whizzing around on it. ‘Shall I go to the shops?’ ‘Shall I go get our laundry?’ ‘Shall I go here, shall I go there…?’ Any opportunity, he was off on the scooter! 🙂
I only got on it when there was an actual purpose to the journey and I bet Adam was glad about that. It is hard sitting on the backseat, you have no idea what the driver is thinking and all you can see is an incredibly steep dirt road rushing towards you. It would have been slightly less terrifying if I had my own scooter, but sitting on the same one was actually quite a lot of fun! It was nice holding unto Adam while whizzing around 🙂
The first day we had the scooter we got our map of Koh Tao and decided to visit a nearby bay on the southwest coast. It was only about 2 km away, but a lot of it was on hills and steep dirt roads, up and down, up and down. I’m only glad we splashed out on the 125cc Honda – we are both quite big people, and the scooter did struggle to get up some of the steep hills on route, but we always managed to do it. The little scooter did well.
Sai Daeng Bay was beautiful. Pristine beach, clear water and hardly any people. We had a swim in the bay, the water was quite choppy and it got deep quickly. It made quite a nice change though as both in Chalok and Sairee the water is really shallow.
We made the rookie mistake of roasting our pale UK bodies on our first beach day yesterday and by now had lovely red burn marks on various parts of our bodies. So by now we made sure we kept applying and reapplying that factor 30! Be smart about this on your holidays, don’t go all out on your first beach day, an hour in the sun is enough, otherwise you end up with lovely burn marks like we did 😉
We also had our first home comfort food today. We found a French bakery in Chalok called Croissant and I almost yelped with joy when I spotted peanut butter toast on their menu..!! I felt pathetic, but 10 days into our travels and I chose to have that for my lunch instead of pad thai. I never thought I’d be that person, choosing the comfort food of home over the delicious local Thai food, but my goodness that peanut butter toast was amazing…! 😉 No picture, I was too busy eating it!
Koh Tao was THE place in our whole trip that we were most looking forward to. While the rest of our trip is still surrounded by fog, i.e. we make it up as we go, one thing was certain: Koh Tao.
Adam spent 3 weeks here back in 2004. He came to Koh Tao to do some diving which had been one of his lifelong dreams to do. He loved it on Tao and ever since we’ve been a couple he always talked about this place, how much he loved his time here and how much he wanted to go back.
Originally we wanted to spend about two months here to really settle into island life, recharge our batteries and for Adam to do some diving again. Unfortunately our delay in leaving the UK meant that we actually had to cut out this portion of the trip and spend no more than a week here if we wanted to see the rest of South-East Asia. So this in itself was a bit disappointing.
And when we got to the island that feeling of disappointment got a little worse still – the place Adam had remembered with so much affection seemed to have disappeared, in its place were now villages, rows-upon-rows of shops and restaurants, tourist offices, more shops, more restaurants, just concrete, heaps of taxis and people everywhere. I looked at Adam as we made our way from the ferry pier into the village of Mae Had and he seemed distraught – this is really not what he was expecting.
As we made our way from Mae Had towards our hotel near the southern side of the island there were building works and rubbish everywhere by the main road.
That first day in Koh Tao was hard.
Now I am making this lovely island sound awful and it really isn’t, it is actually beautiful. It was our expectations that were too high, and I don’t think Tao would have ever lived up to the idealised picture in our head.
At first we were a little bit intimidated by the location of our hotel, but once we settled in, actually we really liked the hotel. So we decided to explore our surroundings, find the beach, etc. We walked down to Chalok beach, but there were so many scooters on the road, going up and down, it took us a while to find our way and get over the fear of being run down 🙂
Chalok beach looked lovely and really quiet. The sun started to go down and it actually looked beautiful… I started to feel more at ease and enjoyed walking in the white sand and having the warm sea of the bay lap at my feet.
We had dinner at JP Restaurant, right on the beach and we watched the sun go down and the length of the beach become dotted by tiny twinkly lights. It was all quite lovely.
The next day we decided to walk to Mae Had and it was about the same distance as Chalok. We walked further to Sairee beach where Adam did his diving 10 years ago. We went there with an open mind and found that Sairee village had a really good vibe with lots of diving schools, restaurants, tourist offices and resorts after resorts. When Adam was here 10 years ago there was hardly anything on this strip – now it was an actual village. I tried to cheer Adam up and said ‘well it is a resort island now, but as far as resorts go, it is the nicest one I’ve been to…’ I meant that. Sairee village seemed like really good fun and we even contemplated letting our already paid for hotel room go and move down here…
But for now we just wanted a little bit of sandy beach for ourselves to lay down our towels and sun ourselves a bit. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds. We walked about half a mile and almost the length of the beach was taken over by resorts and bungalows literally built so far into the beach that at points we couldn’t walk in the sand, we had to walk into the sea to go around the bungalows’ stilts.
Finally we found a strip of sand and spent a few hours on the beach. The sand was so soft and the sea was beautiful and warm but still cooling.
So after these first couple of days we decided that the only way to enjoy the island was if we rented a scooter. Thee are scooter hire places everywhere on Tao and for 200 Baht a day you cent get a 125 cc Honda in exchange for your passport. No one looks at driving licences. We hired a scooter for two days and off we went! Amazing! Suddenly it was as if the island had opened up for us. The Honda took a bit of getting used to for me, I was definitely a back-seat driver, making horrified noises, but Adam took to the scooter really quickly.
Now our hotel location wasn’t so bad at all, in fact right in-between the two main beaches it was strategically in a great position to explore from. With a map of Tao and the keys to the scooter in our hands we started planning for the days ahead.
So far we have existed in Bangkok on travel and accommodation that we had booked before leaving the UK: our little security blanket to clutch to in the first few days of our Asian Adventure. Now our time in our pre-booked hotel was almost up and we still hadn’t decided how to make our way to our next destination, Koh Tao.
So we spent a morning trying to find the most cost-effective option.
We set out on this trip with just a vague idea of which countries we wanted to visit. We wanted to be spontaneous and ‘go with the flow’. However trying to arrange our travel to Koh Tao has taught us a lesson – it’s all well and nice being spontaneous, but leave it too late and you won’t have any options to get to where you want WHEN you want. Turns out the flights to Koh Samui were now a bit too expensive and the coach and ferry combo had already been all booked up online. So we looked at the slowest option, the train (apparently trains in Thailand tend to run with long delays, which makes them a slower form of travel). This was actually the cheapest option by far, but again, online booking had already closed. So we went to Bangkok’s central Hua Lomphong train station to buy the tickets in person. We managed to get tickets for our elected day, but only third class tickets, which meant no sleeping car for us! Neither of us really fancied spending 9 hours of travel through the night sitting upright in uncomfortable seats with nothing to look at but the darkness of the night, so (after much deliberation, nail biting, and a walk filled with nervous tension through Chinatown*) we went back to the station and asked for an exchange of our tickets for a day later, but in a sleeper car. And all was well in the world again.
We made arrangements for our extra night’s accommodation in Bangkok and quickly booked our hotel for Koh Tao through Booking.com
The train tickets were already sold to us with boat tickets attached, which was really convenient. So if you are visiting one of the islands the onward journey from the various port towns is taken care of when buying the train tickets. We travelled to Chumpong on the overnight train and the ferry company offered a transfer from the train station to the ferry port as well.
The overnight train journey was an experience in itself. I secretly wished we would take a train down to Chumpong as I had never travelled on a sleeper train before. Well, it’s an experience that I could take or leave, but it was ok. We only managed to get upper bunk beds. We had been warned that the upper bunks suffer from bright light and cold air conditioning directly above, but we had no choice, but to take these seats. We both got a few hours sleep, but it did get incredibly cold up there – they give you blankets, etc. but by halfway through the night I had my thick jumper’s hood pulled over my head and struggled a bit with the cold. The air-con system also made a loud whirring sound. I once woke up and in my dreamy state it sounded like there was a helicopter taking off directly by my head…
The train carriage looked like a huge dorm room 🙂 However thanks to this we met a great guy from Germany, who we chatted to for a while and agreed to meet up during the week in Koh Tao.
The train arrived in Chumpong an hour late at 5am and we had enough time to get a coffee and then catch our coach transfer to the pier. At the pier we got in the loooong line of travellers waiting to check in – we all got colour-coded stickers depending on which island we were headed to. A good system for sure and a very smooth operation and everyone got to their particular islands, no problem. The catamaran company Lomprayah certainly has the market cornered! Google ‘how to get to (Koh …) from Bangkok’ and almost all roads will lead to Lomprayah..
I guess it’s good in a way, you can always be sure you are in good hands with a trustworthy company.
We finally arrived on Koh Tao after 1.15 hour ride on the super fast catamaran. The island already looked stunning, could not wait to see what was awaiting us on the other side of the pier 🙂
These are some of the observations we made during our 6 day stay in Bangkok:
Traffic never stops. The roads are crazy, there seems to be not much lane discipline, everyone swerves in and out and each time you decide to cross a busy road as a pedestrian make sure you have your wits about you. And yet everyone drives really calmly, you hardly ever hear the screech of tyres or beeping horns and we never came across road rage. Somehow it all works!
No matter where you eat (apart from Hua Lomphong station) food is amazing, you cannot go wrong.
There are places where prices are different for locals and foreigners. Don’t be scared to barter, or at least try it with market sellers and taxi drivers.
Beauty ideals seem almost unattainable. And we think we have it bad in the west! Almost all beauty advertisements here call for whiter skin and all famous folk look almost like Westerners. Even well known brands like Loreal are geared towards the local market by offering products with skin whitener in them.
Local men love the Premiership and they all have their favourite teams and players. A lot of people will ask you where you are from and if you come from England their next question will be which team you support and then they will tell you the latest match results you may have missed.
Tuk-tuk drivers will always try and get your business even if you are standing at a pier waiting to get on a boat.
When out and about its worth carrying a plastic bag in your backpack or handbag for any rubbish you have. Bins are far and few inbetween.
You can get by on two Thai phrases in Bangkok: Siwadika/Siwadikap (Hello) and Kapunka/Kapunkap (Thank you) Most people in the tourist areas know a bit of English and even if they don’t they have seen enough tourists already to know immediately what they are after. But knowing a couple more like phrases will always go down well with the locals. They love it when you speak their language, they are quite taken aback by it.
A 7/11 convenience store is always nearby wherever you are, in case you need your essentials, some creature comforts or simply cold bottles of water.
Food on sticks is amazing.
My favourite day in Bangkok by far was our 5th and last day in the city. We had now been here for long enough to work out the transport system and get a good idea of the different districts so that we could plan our day ahead pretty effectively.
As our hotel was located not too far from Siam, we decided to start the day here and went to visit the Jim Thompson House Museum. We weren’t really sure what to expect as we had heard good and bad things in equal measure, but in the end we were very pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed our visit here.
Jim Thompson – also known as the most famous ‘farang’ or foreigner of Thailand – was a businessman who in the mid-20th century revived the Thai silk market. He was also an architect and, as both Adam and I enjoy good architecture, we found the home he created, which is now a museum, pretty amazing. I told Adam to remember the layout as one day our house should look similar 😉
There is a really nice restaurant here as well next to beautifully landscaped, lush gardens and a big koi carp pond. Tourists are not allowed to wonder the house by themselves – everyone has to go around with an official tour guide. Our tour guide was lovely, speaking English in a strong, but melodic Thai accent. All the staff are beautifully dressed in traditional costumes. There are information boards around the place explaining the process of harvesting and weaving silk and the process is also demonstrated.
Even though Jim Thompson House museum has got a reputation for being overly touristic, I actually thought it was one of the best and most interesting sites we visited during our stay in Bangkok. It’s always nice to learn something new and we learnt loads about silk, about Thai architecture and living spaces and about a hugely inspirational American businessman who became a bit of a Thai national hero.
After a bit of lunch we headed to Lumpini Park to have a couple of hours of downtime, a bit of people watching, a bit of reading, and watching the setting sun illuminate the high rising buildings of Silom.
After sunset we headed back to Phaya Thai station at the end of the Skytrain line and from here we hopped in a cab that took us to Rajadamnern Stadium. This was our last night in Bangkok so we decided to go out with a bang and watch some Thai kickboxing or Muay Thai. This sport is huge in Thailand! A bit like football in England.
It is well known that tickets to see the fights are inflated for foreigners. Ringside seats go for 2000 Baht per person, which is quite a lot, and standing tickets go for 1000-1500 Baht. We didn’t pre-book tickets and this seemed to have been the right thing to do. As we rolled up to the stadium in our cab we were pretty much grabbed by ticket sellers. When they realised we were only about to by the cheaper standing tickets, we were escorted to a lady who seemed to have all the secret deals: she offered us ringside tickets for 1600 Bahts each! This seemed like a good deal so we went for it.
The fights were really good fun, but the whole atmosphere in the stadium was electric as the locals were placing bets, shouting at the fighters and at each other, and collectively shouting out each point scoring move in the ring! I would say watching the local spectators was almost as much fun as watching the fights themselves! Sorry about the quality of these pictures though; cameras weren’t allowed by the ring (even though most people took photos and even videoed whole rounds of the fights on phone cameras..)
So there we go, we had a lovely last day in this crazy city, looking forward to coming back here soon, but now we’re off to Koh Tao!
This relatively short stretch of road is of course most famous from The Beach – a movie about a twenty something American backpacker who on his visit to Thailand comes in the possession of a map that leads him to a secret island community.
Khao San Road now is a Mekka for all travellers passing through Bangkok. If you are a tourist you will be forced to pass by as tourist buses and excursions insist on either starting from here or dropping you here at the end of your trip (even though there are no train or metro stations anywhere near).
Khao San Road itself is busy, loud, bright, with the usual market stalls geared towards backpackers, amazing street food, massage parlours, the occasional sexy shops, and heaps of cool bars full of fellow travellers from all corners of the world. It’s really good fun to visit here once or twice, all the while keeping in mind that this all exists for tourists and real Bangkok lies just round the corner.
We came here after our day out the the Amphawa floating market. We had a walk along this famous road, had some lovely food, ate some Nutella-banana pancakes, sat in a nice bar with some cold beer and had our poor, over-walked feet massaged by two very capable, sweet ladies in a massage parlour. (Of course Adam will tell you a different story when asked about his Khao San Road feet massage – he will tell you his feet were massaged by a tall man with bright red lippy on, and while he was enjoying the massage, his experience would have been improved upon greatly if only he had one of the lovely delicate, ladies massaging his feet, just like everyone else..)