Saturday, May 25, 2013

Koh Tao

After three hectic nights in Bangkok, we decided it was time to head to the islands for some R and R, and set our sights on Koh Tao. We had heard that it was a tropical paradise, known for diving and snorkeling, and that it had fewer people (and we assumed less touristy stuff) than many of Thailand's other beachy islands. And what we found was that all of that was somewhat true.

We bought an overnight train-bus-ferry combo ticket at the Bangkok train station for about $50 US each, which is quite a lot of transit for the money! And if you read my last blog entry, you know how the train went! When we arrived in Chumphon at 4:30am after a fitful night of sleep (between the nagging fear that you're going to miss your 4:30am stop, and the drunk men singing, it can be tough to sleep!), we waited for our bus on the train platform with about 30 or so backpackers in their early 20's waiting to go to Koh Tao. That should have been a sign that maybe it wasn't the right island for us. 

There are two companies that provide train/bus/ferry combo tickets, and we apparently chose the discount company. We did save a few bucks, but when we saw the other company's shiny AC filled bus and pretty catamaran, and compared it with our chicken bus (yeah, there was actually a chicken sleeping on the roof when the bus arrived) and our in-danger-of-sinnking ferry (just kidding, Elaine, it wasn't THAT bad!), we were pretty sure we should have spent the extra money. A couple of hours later and we were on Koh Tao. 

In the pick-up truck taxi
On first glance, it was a beautiful, lush, green island with sandy beaches and palm tree-filled jungles all the way from the top of the peak to the water. In our attempt to avoid the touristy backpacker hostel main pier area, we booked at the secluded Montalay Beach Resort, on the southeast side of the island. Someone from the hotel was waiting to take us from the pier, which was a nice surprise. Also a surprise was that our chariot was a bench in the back bed of a pickup truck. Well this is an adventure!!

We hopped in for the 10 minute drive to the other side of the island, straight over the peak on a crazy steep dirt road. The resort was beautiful, though certainly secluded. Other than the hotel restaurant, there were two other restaurants that we could walk to, and we soon learned that if we wanted to take a taxi to the main town area, it would cost about $12 US per person, round trip (more than the meal we would buy once we got to town!). I quickly found that Thailand is not as cheap as I had come to believe (ok, it's not exactly pricey, but Koh Tao has such a tourist presence - and not much of a local presence that we could find - that prices were quite high on the island). Granted, our beautiful resort on the beach was only $30 per night, but if wanted to have AC, that would cost another $30 per night (we elected to melt under the fan instead partly because of the budget, and partly because of the principle of the thing!). 

Diving in to island life!
Once we (ok, I) decided to enjoy our resort and stop bitching about the budget (to be fair, Cory told me I had to stop bitching and enjoy the best way possible of course!) we had a great time! The pool was stunning, overlooking the peaceful Tanote Bay, we went for three amazing snorkeling trips right off the beach, and from the comfort of our room, we enjoyed one of the best thunder and lightening storms I have ever witnessed!

View of the pool and beach at Montalay
We elected not to rent an underwater camera (you know, the budget and all) and I figured I could just google pictures of the fish we saw to show on the blog. But either my googling skills are out of practice, or people just don't post the fish we saw, so words will have to work. 

When I was a little girl, we used to go to the Steinhardt Aquarium on Sunday afternoons. All of you young San Franciscans in the mid-late 80's will remember the magic of the Fish Roundabout, an aquarium where you the kid were in the middle while the fish swam around you in magical circles. Snorkeling in Tanote Bay brought me back to that magical place. I should share here that I'm terrified of fish swimming with me (especially when I can't see them) so snorkeling is something I love doing, but freaks me out pretty sufficiently. And in Tanote Bay, there were massive numbers of fish! We swam with schools of tiny, sparkly fish (just like in Finding Nemo, but I thought they might decide to spell out "Thailand is for Lovers"), beautiful oval fish in colors that looked like they were headed out to the 80's dance at their sorority, schools of long, pointy nosed fish that swam along the top of the water. Swimming hand in hand through the tropical water, it felt like we were on a honeymoon (not our honeymoon, because we had a perfect cold two weeks in Canada, but it certainly felt like someone's honeymoon).

Five nights of seclusion was lovely but enough, and it was time to start looking for our next home away from home. We met a lovely couple who are also traveling the world, who recommended Koh Samui, another island with some more to do, and we thought, "what the heck! Let's go!" But that story is for another time...

Pretty pictures of us enjoying paradise

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