From stunning coast line to a generous smattering of tropical islands, Thailand has long been a behemoth contender in the exotic destinations arena. Many a backpacker has plodded their flip flop on a Thai sandy beach, revelling in the best the world can offer in cultural, lively and picturesque travel. It’s brilliant for backpackers from a budgetary angle, allowing you to find cheap holidays around a relatively large country, making the many attractions around Thailand easily accessible. But this presents a problem, with so much on offer you may find yourself a little swamped when it comes to planning your itinerary.
For the party and hedonistic scene, Ko Pha Ngan and its full moon party or Ko Samui will be pushing for your money, with Chiang Mai or Ayuthaya being contenders to satisfy your desire for experiencing a bit of culture. But if you really want to tap into the laid back, beach living lifestyle whilst still being spoilt for choice for beach front restaurants cafes and bars, Ko Tao is a fantastic option. The island manages to strike a happy medium between keeping you entertained at night without preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep, whilst also creating a relaxing and picturesque scene during the day.
A lot of this is due to Ko Tao managing to maintain a low profile in terms of development. You won’t find the travelling grumblers moaning about it being ruined in the same ilk that other locations such as Phuket in Thailand have been. This is partly thanks to its small size, you can pretty much see the entire Island’s profile in the ferry approach, and there aren’t that many roads on the island. The infrastructure is all pretty basic, and the best way to get around is often strolling along the beach front at Sairee or hiring a mountain bike.
Ko Tao is in the Gulf of Thailand and is well connected to the ferry routes servicing Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan, two islands that feature in many travellers Thailand holidays. You can get here easily by bus, plane and train from Bangkok, and its proximity to the other two islands makes it incredibly easy to factor it into your trip.
Sitting in the shadows of Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Samui has actually worked wonders for Ko Tao, as these two islands more than satisfy the local need to party loud and late. Ko Tao therefore has resisted the urge to become just another party destination in Thailand, so if you’re looking to avoid this or nurse your resulting hangover, it’s a great place to head over to.
Claim to fame
The small island first became known as a mecca for diving enthusiasts and beginners with its shallow shores and nearby reefs. Learning to scuba dive may be out of many backpackers’ budgets, but it is worthwhile bearing in mind that this is one of the cheapest locations in the world to get your diving certificate. Because it started as a diving location, it isn’t awash with cheap food stalls or provisions for budget backpackers, but as it is now a popular location for this type of traveller you can easily find a cheap drink and place to stay.
Food and Nightlife
The lack of the nearby hustle and bustle on other islands has allowed a laid back beach front scene to develop. You will not be pushed to find a place on a sun warmed bit of decking where you can order typical delicious Thai food whilst gazing out to sea with the odd long boat spluttering about. This means that you never feel rushed in the restaurants by a demand for places, thus creating the perfect opportunity to order a long drink and chat or wile away the day and late afternoon. It’s also a great location for the sea foodie, as obviously being an island this is a particular specialty here.
As the day gives way to the night scene, there’s no apparent change in set up along the beaches apart from the appearance of fire dancers and extra cushions outside the bars on the beaches. This gives a slower more relaxed feel to the night, as it isn’t overrun by crushed buckets and swathes of dancing revellers. This does not make it entirely quiet though, the fire dancers create the excitement and there are still a few larger bars along Sairee and Mai Haad beaches offering the usual dance steps, beach area and late night tunes.
Being so small Ko Tao keeps it simple when it comes to beaches. This size makes it perfect for hiring a long boat if you’re looking to pick out the smaller and more isolated bays which are mainly along the East coast. The West Coast is dominated by Sairee beach, which runs the majority of the length of the island. It is a beautiful crescent shape, offering views at both ends of headland jutting out. It’s also where you’ll find the majority of the islands restaurants and nightlife, as well as accommodation and dive schools. You can check out this all out in the view offered by the approaching ferry and jetty you offload onto.
The island of Ko Nang Yuan is very close to the shore and creates an interesting focal point on Ko Tao. It is a snorkelling and diving hotspot, as well as a unique beach location that can only be accessed by boat taxi from Ko Tao. If you’re looking for truly impressive photos, then this is the spot to head to!
Author Bio – Matthew has been travel blogging since the end of a RTW trip in 2011. Thailand was one of his favourites, and he has now booked his Flights to Australia to continue his travelling later this year.