With a week to spend, and having seen much of Koh Phangan from my previous visits (as well as the last 10 days here), I decided to take the ferry up to Koh Tao, a smaller island about an hour north. Guidebooks and websites describe Koh Phangan as being ‘party central’, with the Full Moon Parties each month and thousands of drunk backpackers prowling the bars and streets, while Koh Tao is known as a snorkelers’ and divers’ paradise. It’s also reputed to have the laid back factor of Koh Samui, combined with budget accommodations like Koh Phangan.
I woke up a little late and hustled to pack my bags and get the front desk to call me a cab to the ferry. Since Songkran (Thai New Year) starts in two days, I had been warned that I needed to hustle to get the earliest ferry to find good accommodations, as pretty much all the island can get booked out. However, the front desk said they could not get me a cab at that hour, so I had to walk up to the main road and try to find a tuktuk or scooter.
Funny think about scooters is that there is no real way to tell the ones that are cabs from people just riding their own bikes. Sometimes the scooter cabs have an extra helmet hanging conspicuously, but for the most part, they are invisible. So I stood there for about a half hour, hoping a scooter would stop and say “where to?’ But it never happened, and I was watching my window of time closing down.
Suddenly a tuktuk appeared, going in the opposite direction. I flagged him down and told him I needed to catch the 8am Koh Tao ferry. He said it would be close, but for 300B he would take me and not stop for any other riders. The normal fare is 100-150B, and I had been charged the exorbitant rate of 200B to get do Had Rin, but I was desperate so I agreed, with the caveat that I’d only give him 100B if I missed the ferry.
Well, that was motivation enough. He flew down that road like an ambulance….cutting corners, passing on hills, triple passing, cutting off cycles. In the end, the ferry was late anyway so I made it with PLENTY of time to spare, but wow….what a ride.
Landing in Koh Tao was an eye opener. The ferry dock was buzzing….thousands of backpackers in various stages of undress, dreadlocks, tattoos, nose rings, dirty feet, torn clothing; hawkers with hotel signs whistling and calling; tuktuk drivers doing the hard sell; clueless tourists walking around in a daze. My first instinct was “I don’t belong here’, so I rented a scooter and got right out of town.
I expected to have do some driving on twisty roads through forests to different sections of the island, but I was surprised to see that the busy part of town just never ended. It was just one big stretch of urban sprawl of cheap bars, dingy hotels, shiny dive resorts, and people. Lots of people.
The general lay of the island (which is about 1/3 the size of Phangan) is that the western side has the big beaches….hence is crammed wall to wall with beach resorts. The NW side has the ‘backpacker bungalows’, hence it is crammed wall to wall with backpackers…it felt like a college town full of Freshmen about to flunk out. The eastern side has the best diving and snorkeling, and the resorts are scattered about. However, there are no good roads to the east….most of the resorts are down long, twisty dirt roads that plunge precipitously down hills and are definitely not for the faint-hearted scooter driver. Many of them bring in their guests on longtail boats, and most likely their supplies also.
I checked out a couple of huts, but the problem was that they were all perched high up on hills, overlooking rocky shorelines. No good access to snorkel or swim. Eventually, I made my way to one tiny little beach with a nice (expensive) resort, and a bunch of cheaper bungalows right on the sand beach.
By this point, I had decided to head back to Koh Phangan the next day, but I still needed a place to stay. I checked the beach bungalows out, and they looked pretty sweet, but none had air conditioning. I decided to try out one with a fan, as I had been staying in AC cottages all week and wondered if it was really worth the extra expense.
Then I went up to the expensive resort, had a few beers and borrowed their wifi. I had a message from Hollie, who was getting bored with Siem Reap and getting ready to travel south to Thailand and wanted my advice of a good place with beach bungalows where she and her daughter (and her daughters friend) could do some snorkeling. I said, ‘Hey, why not come join me on Koh Phangan” and she agreed….so yay, i get to travel with a friend again.
That night solidified my decision about AC. The little beach bungalow was HOT all night long, the fan only blew the hot, sticky beach air over me, the sand fleas ate me alive, and the thump-thump-thump from the disco next door was agonizing. So now I know….AC is a necessity.
The next morning, I caught a ferry back to Phangan, rented a scooter, and checked back in to the Blue Marine hotel. My plan for the next day was to explore the island and find a nice beach bungalow village for the four of us.
What a challenge THAT turned out to be!