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Koh Tao

Tezza's Thai Islands and Beaches Travel Bits

April 27, 2006

[Note: If you have any questions or comments to make on the content of this page - or to see what others have said, please visit this thread on the talesofasia forum.]

Wow, how things change! Although I was on Ko Nangyuan (that gorgeous little satellite island) two years ago, I haven’t been on Tao proper since 1997. The main town with the piers, Mae Hat is no longer a small village with a limited range of services. Sairee Beach to the north, which had lots of open space and a half dozen elcheapo places is now fully built up with a really big range of accommodation from better budget thru to midrange+, plus heaps of restaurants, bars, shops etc. It’s not too far off becoming another Chaweng, for better or worse. The road down to popular Chalok Ban Kao on the south coast is paved rather than the dirt track which at one stage worked its way along a running creek bed for 70m. Ban Kao itself, which was a jumble of budget and dive resorts, looks much more orderly and attractive, with more midrange stuff and a good range of services. Like Sairee, the beach is pretty nice (they have cleaned out the boat junk and starter-mangroves), but both places get REAL shallow at low tide.

The really good thing for old timers is that there are still some very laid back places where you can get away from the hassle and crowds - for instance, just about any of the east coast bays.

I hired a bicycle and checked out Ao Hin Wong first. It is on the northern half of the east coast and is accessed by a relatively short mainly dirt road from Sairee village. This has some killer slopes and very rough sections so be very careful if you are on a motorcycle. I saw a local and his passenger have a small come-off here. The bay itself is relatively small with two bungalow operations, both of which had elevated restaurants and bungalows. I bought a super-cold beer off the friendly folk at Green Trees which had bungalows for 200 baht. The other place looked a bit further upmarket, but not super flash. There is no beach here, but heaps of big granite rocks for sunning and the bay itself is great for swimming (I didn’t have my snorkel gear or lap-swimming goggles but the underwater scene appeared to have lots of interesting rocks and sections of coral for snorkelers). The water is deep at all tides. There was only a handful of people in the restaurants and sunning/swimming - the perfect get away from it place.

More busy and commercial, but still pretty relaxed was Ao Tanote, a slightly bigger bay more central to the east coast and accessed from a similar type of track south of Mae Hat. Tanote Bay Resort seems to take up most of the northern headland here and has a heap of bungalows from flash to basic. The top, most seaward ones had fabulous views both over the bay and northward up the coast. There is a nice smallish beach which had about 20 people sunning, a dive class doing theory and another 20 or so in the water swimming and snorkeling. There were some smaller bungalow outfits on the other side of the bay, plus some nicely positioned ones dispersed along the steep hillside above the approach road as it descended the mountainside.

A side road heading south off the Tanote track takes you to Ao Leuk, a cross between Hin Wong and Ao Tanote in that it was very compact with just two places, but had a nice little beach. I had a super hot papaya salad in Ao Leuk Bungalow’s beachside restaurant. They told me their bungalows started at 300.

A couple of years back some Brits told me of an idyllic stay they had in one of the several small bays in the south west corner of the island - the area south of the main town. So I spent the best part of a day exploring this on foot. The place which appealed most to me here was the area around Sunset and Moondance bungalows, because it had the nicest section of beach, some funky looking inexpensive bungalows with ocean views, could be accessed by a fairly flat rough dirt road from near Chalok Ban Kao (some of these bays are best accessed by long tail which can get expensive) and was populated by a handful of those Euro young couples and families who seem to specialise in finding out of the way locations.

Further south on this track I found the best positioned restaurant in Tao This belonged to Viewpoint Bungalows and was one of these places built on stilts over the seaside rocks with the water actually sloshing below at high tide. It is right on the western end of the south coast, with fabulous views of Ban Kao’s beach, headland and the surrounding hills and mountains. Viewpoint is more a flashpacker place with good looking seaside bungalows at 800 baht and a nice little section of sand, but despite being a bit upmarket, I had the best value (and tastiest) meal of my whole LOS trip here, a sweet and sour chicken with rice (yeah, I know, it’s not Thai) for 60baht.

You can also reach Viewpoint off the beach at Ban Kao by taking the concrete footbridge across the rocks to Taraporn’s restaurant (good views here too, but not as good as Viewpoint) and continue thru another 300m to Viewpoint. Taraporn has some attractive rockside bungalows too, which were 400 when I asked.

So which of these places did I stay at? None.

Sitting on Ko Nangyuan previous visits I’ve always thought the bungalows built high on the steep slopes north of Sairee Beach on Tao’s west coast looked pretty good and would have killer views. So when I got off the “new” night vehicle-ferry from Chumpon (which looks a recycled WW2 US Navy landing barge with a funky dorm behind the bridge containing about 30 mattresses) I went up and got me one, at Silver Cliff Bunglows. 300 baht for a wooden bungalow, attached bathroom with mirror, clean, solid, just enough room for two and their gear, comfortable double bed with good mosquito net. The big verandah had a hammock and a great 100 degree tree and rock framed view of the ocean, as did the small restaurant, but my favourite viewing spot was on top of a nearby huge granite boulder, the perfect sunset location with a bottle of Chang or Mae Khong. The restaurant meals were pretty good with an astounding variety and some of the cheapest prices all trip. Their sweet and sour was a bit ordinary after Viewpoint’s however. There is a track to the seaside rocks way down there and the snorkeling is quite interesting right off the rocks but even more so about 40m out where the fringing coral reef is located. The restaurant hires snorkeling gear.

Silver Cliff only has about 10 bungalows (some are bigger with aircon) but there are two similar places adjacent to the north, Sun Sea and Sun Lord, which seemed to have a bigger range of bungalows., including down close to the water. A group of Brits were having great late afternoon fun down there with crazy diving contests off a big granite boulder and fanging around in a small rowboat.

These places are about 10 minutes walk downhill to the closest part of Sairee beach and a good 40 minutes into central Mae Hat and the piers. No problems with a bicycle or motorcycle. 50 baht by motorbike taxi, 100 by car from town.

If you head the other way as far north as possible (gets a bit steep in parts but the road is paved) you can head down a short track to another place I liked, CFT Here and Now Bungalows, which had a terrific rainforest restaurant with a cutout through the canopy for great views of Ko Nangyuan and some pretty rustic looking bungalows scattered down in the jungle. This place seemed to attract the granola munching types. I had to have a sunset beer here, and the guy told me they had some 100 baht bungalows (share bathrooms). And meditation classes! Sounds like just the place for the Prof.

From the personalities point of view, Tao is of course the haunt of the diver, and it’s real interesting how they get that ‘special group’ swagger when walking around bungalow restaurants and beaches with their wet suits rolled down to hip level. Hell, if I was paying all that money for a course or a series of dives, I’d bung on a swagger too.

Another interesting group seen on Tao more than other islands is the dirt biker. These guys don’t hire 100 cc Honda Dreams, they blat up and down the ridiculous slopes at death defying speed on big 500+ dirt bashers. It’s a bit disconcerting walking your bicycle down a dangerously rutted dirt slope to suddenly find one of these things flying past at head height nudging 80 kmh.

And yeah, after my multiple end-over-ender on Ko Jum, I got sensible and walked my hire-a-wreck Cannondale down the steepest, most rutted and rocky sections. Well, not too sensible. I have a rather immature show-off streak and on the less dangerous downhill sections got great satisfaction overtaking a few motorcycles. However I should mention it is not such a good idea to enter the upper reaches of Sairee village at warp speed if a dog runs out in front of you.

Some more info on Koh Nangyuan: http//www.nangyuan.com

Tezza's Thai Islands and Beaches Travel Bits

THAILAND

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