Koh Tao

Posted on December 9, 2018

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The reputation of Koh Tao is not rose tinted. It’s been plagued with negative headlines following a number of high profile crimes including the murder of two 20-something British backpackers in 2014. They were bludgeoned to death. There was a messy public trial under the eyes of the international media, where two Burmese migrants were found guilty. Many say they were scapegoated to try to further avoid ruining Thailand’s image.

This year an arrest warrant was issued for a Thai national who runs a news website on Koh Samui for allegedly printing a highly defamatory story about an incident that happened on Koh Tao. Police say they found no evidence that the said story, was true. One local told me “it’s to drive tourism away from us towards Koh Samui. Those stories are intentionally pushed towards the international media.”. He suggests tourism sabotage.

Despite this spat and a tarnished image, tourists still arrive in their droves. The ferry is rammed and will only get busier as the weeks towards Xmas and NY push on. The millennial generation are quick to forget, easily distracted and short on cash. They want, sun, sea and cheap fun!

It did not put me off visiting and deciding to stay. I’ve been in far hairier places where during the day you can sense the edginess of a place. The Thais are very kind and respectful people. Tourist trade on all islands are geared towards “partying”. It’s meant to evoke hedonism. Heavy drinking and taking a smorgasbord of narcotics leaves you exposed to all kind of risks anywhere in the world. This is not endemic to Thai islands. It could happen in your own backyard. That’s the work of opportunist scumbags not a nation that worship Buddha.

Koh Tao is a beautiful island. It’s white sandy beach is the first thing you see when you disembark from the ferry. Mae Haad is mainly made up of a series of streets stuffed full of massage parlours, dive shops, restaurants and cute boutiques. One street is called Up Road and the other is Down Road, in reference to the traffic direction. Most things wrap up early doors in this neighbourhood.

Sairee Beach is a nice 3km walk and is the “livelier” part of Koh Tao with late night bars, lady boys and more tattoo parlours than you can shake a stick at. It’s all based along the coastline.

People come to Koh Tao for diving. The busiest dive school in the world is based here. Why? It’s cheap. The sheer number of people visiting and wanting to dive means the pricing can be lower. It’s half the price of the caribbean. The reef however has changed a lot in six years and not for the best sadly. It’s still enjoyable if you know no different, but it’s not how I remember it.

I’ve found a yoga studio which is half an hour’s walk away from where I am temporarily staying, in an area called Chalok. It’s a bohemian neighbourhood with more local eateries and a few coffee bars. There are two instructors. An American girl with Nigerian heritage and a Turkish girl from Ankara. We’ve already spoken a smattering of lingo to each other. Makes me miss my Turkish friends. They are very good yoga practitioners with clear direction, focussing on breath and good alignment with positive energy. I’d love to go everyday but the new dive internship I’ve signed up to means I usually have a late finish most days. My plan is to try to go four days a week.

Food here is off the charts good. I’ll never be able to eat Thai food in London or anywhere else for that matter without comparing. The flavours are sublime. I’ve already got two local places I regularly visit in the space of one week in. Both are adorned with bare tables, plastic or wooden chairs; a simple menu and cheap as chips. I’ve drunk Tom Yum everyday and each time I eat one more of the many fiery hot, red chillies, floating in my warm soup. Those fellas are dangerous. Once or twice I’ve been left with watering eyes and my nose streaming and then the following day a rumbling tummy!

I’m here for six weeks and aim to rack up as many divers as possible who I have certified under my instructor number, to make me more employable. Another unpaid placement. But short term pain, long term gain. I’m with a school with a very good reputation and a platinum rating. Crystal Dive Koh Tao. One week in and I’m impressed.

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