Explore Thailand’s unspoilt Koh Tao

Posted on: 03 August 2010 by Mark O'haire

With its secluded beaches and dusty roads, Koh Tao is the nearest travellers will get to a glimpse of how Thailand may have looked before its major tourism boom.

Known as Turtle Island, it’s located near to the eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand. To reach it, my partner, Rich, and I make the two-hour ferry journey from Chumphon which docks at Koh Tao’s only pier.

There are a handful of hawkers crammed around the exit when we arrive, noisily pitching their accommodation or transport services to the new arrivals – but it’s nothing compared to the crowds of sellers I experienced at other tourist destinations in the Land Of Smiles.

A driver from Charm Churee Villa, where we are booked in for the next four nights, meets us and we drive for five minutes along the west side of the island to Jansom Bay.

Nestled into the large mountainous rock formations, in the well-preserved jungle, the resort has been built around its natural surroundings, rather than over it.

It’s spread over 120 acres and the hut-style villas look far from out of place as they seamlessly frame the coastline.

Ours is a spacious wooden, panorama room which boasts a comfortable four-poster king-size bed – and our large balcony overlooks the stunning turquoise sea.

We walk along the winding pathway to discover Charm Churee’s private beach – one of four - a cove of white-golden sand laced with coconut trees and framed by gigantic rocks which meet the calm, crystal-clear ocean.

There are also open-sided huts perched on top of the high rocks where guests can enjoy a traditional Thai massage while listening to the sound of the waves.

You can also order food from the beach restaurant – or dine alfresco under the stars on delicate Thai cuisine at Starlight.

Keen to explore the rest of the island, which is just 21 square kilometres, we hire a moped for 200bt (£4) per day, which is an easy way to sightsee – and it’s relatively safe, as the roads are so quiet.

The island is littered with isolated beaches and coves. Heading south, we find the pristine sands of Chalok Baan Kao, which is surrounded by basic wooden bungalows in which travellers can hide away.

kohatAt the north is Mango Bay, which is great for snorkelling. But for nightlife, bars and restaurants, head east to Sairee Beach – Koh Tao’s longest, and most popular, stretch of sand.

The island’s main attraction is scuba diving holidays – it is mountainous and sits on a ledge of coral reefs so there’s a host of marine life to see in the clear water.

As the destination isn’t included in major holiday packages, it means the prices are cheaper, therefore attracting a younger crowd to the island.

There are numerous dive schools from which to choose, but we decide on Coral Grand, which has a great reputation.

We book the morning trip which gives us two dives. Departing at 06.30 we make the 40-minute boat journey to the Chumphon Pinnacles where we head down to 30 metres.

Here, the underwater world is spectacular – the coral is stunning with schools of barracuda, angelfish fish and grouper gliding along while moray eels and blue spotted stingrays dart in and out of the huge rocks.

Sadly, we don’t see the frequently sighted whale shark, but with such vibrant wildlife, the dive was far from a disappointment.

We head back to Sairee Beach, to the trendy Fizz restaurant which plays funky, chilled out music that we listen to whilst relaxing on bean-bag style chairs and dining on one of the best panang curries I’ve ever tasted.

The atmosphere is laid-back – an apparent theme across the whole island, which has been a popular destination with travellers – rather than holidaymakers – for decades.

We meet some who have been on Koh Tao for years, who have no desire to return to the rat race.  And, with its undeveloped charm, relaxed attitude and stunning habitat, it’s not really that difficult to see why.  

By Carol Driver

Web Links

Travel to Koh Tao, Thailand -

  • Prices start at 2,700Bt (£50) for one night at Charm Churee Villas.
  • Go diving with Coral Grand Divers.
  • EVA Air flies from London Heathrow to Bangkok six times a week. Flights start from £490 return in economy including all taxes.

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