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Koh Tao: From a backpackers’ paradise to an upscale resort island

June 29, 2013 Destination Thailand, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59In the connection of a Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Familiarization Trip to Koh Tao or Turtle Island on June 18-20, it was possible to catch a glimpse of one of the most beautiful island worlds in the Gulf of Thailand.

Situated some 70 km east of the southern mainland between Chumporn and Surat Thani, the island forms a small about 20 square kilometers big archipelago together with Koh Nang Yuan. The time for the visit was rightly chosen, as there was the 10th Annual Koh Tao Festival celebrated on the island. 250x250

Early in the morning, a group of six people under the leadership of TAT’s Mrs Vilasinee Sharp boarded the first Bangkok Airways flight from BangkokSuvarnabhumi Airport to the popular island of Koh Samui. After arrival on the island, we straight headed to the Menam Beach and took the 8.00 o’clocklarge Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran to Koh Tao (600Baht a person). The boat was full of backpackers, mostly Westerners, who headed to Koh Tao for a holiday. After a ride of nearly two hours, we stopped at the small island of Koh Nang Yuan, where most of the people disembarked to stay on this small island, which is praised as one of the last paradises on earth. The rest headed on to Ban Hat Pier at Koh Tao that we reached at around 10.00 o’clock.

We were accompanied by a local guide and checked in at Ben’s Diving Resort located right in the centre of Sairee Beach. After that we were brought to the nearby Jor Por Ror Cliff to participate at the opening ceremony of the two-day Koh Tao Festival presided over by the Commander of the Thai Navy Region 2, who cut the ribbon to start an island parade along with cyclists to raise awareness on reducing the use of plastic, Styrofoam and other rubbish on the island.

Very important to note is that King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) had visited the then not inhabited island on June 18, 1899 and left as evidence his monogram on a huge boulder. Nowadays the king’s statue marks the place and we had a local lunch served there. In the afternoon there were some seminars held concerning some environmental conservation activities. Later, I explored the village of Ban Sairee – even a 7/11 shop is there – and took an open-air massage at the beach by a Grand Master from the Wat Pho School in Bangkok called Somsak (for 500Baht). The dinner we had at the new and splendid Darawan Restaurant, where nice and spicy food was served, organized by the local TAT from Koh Samui.

After dinner we proceeded by car on the narrow island road to the festival ground, where local people and a lot of tourists roamed around the many stalls. The highlight of the musical performances was the southern classical Manorah Dance with some colorfully decorated young women. Manorah is a type of drama. The musical ensemble consists of a pair of hand cymbals, a pair of small knobbed gongs, a pair of wooden sticks, a barrel-shaped drum, a reed instrument, and a vase-shaped single headed drum.

Actually, Koh Tao was only discovered as a beach destination in the 80ties and rumors spread quickly in Bangkok’s Khao San Road that its marine life and coral reefs are outstanding. Today, Koh Tao became one of the major dive sites in Thailand, attracting beginners as well as professionals alike. The local businesses expanded and comfortable restaurants or mushrooming dive schools can be met at every corner. Lately, some luxury resorts sprung up and cater for an upscale clientele, as the island still remains an absolute paradise when compared with Phuket or Samui.

We used the second day of our trip to ascend to the highest viewpoint of the island (some 300 meters high) to marvel at secluded bays and stunning beaches. We could see towards the neighboring island of Koh Phangan and towards the shady outcrops of Ang Thong National Marine Park. Also, we inspected the upscale hotel complexes of Koh Tao Resort owned by an industrious woman from Uttaradit and nearby Jamahkiri Resort and Spa, built between huge boulders in the south of the island and where we had an excellent pasta lunch.

In the afternoon we planned to go by a local boat to Koh Nang Yuan for swimming, fishing and snorkeling, but the trip was cancelled because of high waves and bad whether warnings. Like in all Thailand, the best time to visit Koh Tao is in the high season from November to April, when it is difficult to find accommodation on the island. Because of the cancellation, I had the opportunity for another health massage at Sairee Beach before dinner. We also had a last night’s sleep and missed the Save Koh Tao Contest at the festival ground.

Next morning, we took the Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran on 9.30 o’clock back to Koh Samui. This time most of the passengers disembarked at the pier of Koh Phangan to go and attend the upcoming monthly Full Moon Party. Back at Menam Beach in Koh Samui, we inspected the nearby Saree Samui, a kind of escapist family hotel, from whose swimming pool you have a full view of distant Koh Phangan. After lunch in a local restaurant, we were driven on the island’s ring road to Nathon, where the car ferries from Surat Thani arrive, and continued our inspections at the well-hidden Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary and Holistic Spa with its fantastic recreation, restoration and inspiration facilities. Well received are the over 30 healthy cuisine recipes from the Kamalaya kitchen.

Last not least, by passing the popular Lamai and Chaweng beaches, we ended up at the exclusive Six Senses Samui property, where we had a long walk through a man-made creation of slow life. GM David Ashworth was personally at hand to greet us at the spa compound of the resort with some special fruit cocktails and bade us farewell on the way back to the airport. At 19.15 o’clock, Bangkok Airways flew us back to busy Bangkok, but the good memories from the islands will linger on, especially from Koh Tao.

Written by : Reinhard Hohler

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