Jenny\'s Southeast Asia/China Adventure

Travel time: February - June 2004  |  by Jenny Chu

Thailand: Ko Tao

My most beautiful sunset on the Island of Ko Tao.

My most beautiful sunset on the Island of Ko Tao.

Monday, 2/16/04
13th Day, On My Way to Paradise

This morning, I have no clue how I managed to get myself out of bed and onto the ferry for the 7 am departure. I took the fast ferry, which took about three and a half hours (400 Baht, ~10$) for me to arrive on the docks of Ko Tao. Upon my arrival, there was a load of men on their motorbikes offering their taxi services. I picked one, jumped on, and off I went zooming through the main road of Ko Tao for about 10 minutes until I arrived at New Way Diving School where Allan recommended for me to finish my PADI course.

For about ten minutes I negotiated my diving prices and settled on a very basic 200B/night bungalow on the dive school premises (the bungalow was small and not on the beach like I had imagined, but nevermind!). I then went to grab lunch at the nearby bakery. Immediately, I felt cultural shock after spending a week in Ban Krut. It was weird to see so many Westerners again walking around wearing only their bikinis and board shorts. I was also suffering price shock after paying 60B (1.5$) for a simple cheese sandwich. Everything on Ko Tao was wayyy more expensive than in both Ban Krut and even Bangkok. For instance, the same bottle of water from 7-Eleven cost almost twice as much on Ko Tao. But, I guess you have to pay for being on paradise!

After chowing down, I got ready for my first underwater dive. To join me was a Dutch couple who were also getting certified. My dive instructor Lea was British, as was the majority of the holiday revelers on the island it seemed! There was also some Japanese, German, and a smattering of other European tourists, most of whom came in groups or were with their partners. I met one American the whole time I was on Ko Tao, and he was a bit annoying as he kept saying how much Ko Tao had changed, etc, etc. It really irks when people give off the been-there-done-that attitude.

My first two dives went without a hitch and I was glad to have gotten a fairly smooth induction into the underwater world. Ko Tao has multiple diving sites (and 40 dive schools! making it the number one diving destination in Thailand; all the schools charge the same for PADI - 8500 Baht, ~215$) and the ones I went to had sparkling clear waters and contained numerous corals teeming with marine life. Diving was certainly a lot less scary than I thought and I was more than ready to go on my final two dives the next day.

After a much needed nap, I had dinner alone at a lovely restaurant called Lotus, situated right on the beach. I must say I did wish I had some company to take in the serene beachy ambience I was experiencing. However, my spirits perked up when I finally ate a vegetarian green curry and a fruit shake for about 100 baht. Surprsingly, the food was really good despite it being a major tourist venue. I would find out later that all the restaurants catering to tourists on Ko Tao actually had really decent food, which is a good thing considering the prices (still cheap by Western standards of course).

I fell asleep quite early that night since I had to wake up at 6:30 to go diving.

Some longtail boat taxis waiting to ferry passengers to other parts of the Island.

Some longtail boat taxis waiting to ferry passengers to other parts of the Island.

Tuesday, 2/17/04
Day Fourteen, Pain in Paradise

Today, the sun was out, but the waters at the first dive site were quite choppy and not very clear. We descended 18 meters down into ocean, exploring bigger more beautiful corals then yesterday and seeing a few more species of fish. I swam by a school of barracudas, which was amazing to say the least, and also saw a few trigger fish, one which almost took a nibble at Lea's fin! On the way back up to the boat, they had to throw a tow line for me cuz I was not strong enough to beat the currents haha. I may be okay at diving, but apparently I lack the good ol arm muscles.

Now, the second dive was where my story takes a turn for the worst. On our last underwater exercise, the dive teacher had us remove our fins to get a feel for what it was like to swim with our bare feet. Right as I took of my right fin, a current pushed me into a current, and then out of nowhere, I felt a sharp pain. I looked down to see what happened, and to my horror, I saw that I had been attacked by a freaking sea urchin! There must have been twenty needles stuck in my foot, making me feel that I had been stung by a swarm of bees. I don't know how I managed to stay calm, but I kept breathing with my regulator, signaled to Lea who pulled a few of the needles out and then assisted me on my ascent to the surface.

On board the ship, the captain took one of my weights from my belt and used it to smash my feet in order to break up the needles into smaller pieces. Yeah. That felt real good. I tried my hardest not to cry, but I think it was shock and self-pity more than anything that led me to shed a few tears. Heading back to shore, one of the guy divers offered to carry me off the boat onto dry land, which was really nice of him. I then hobbled to the nurse, who cleaned and bandaged my wound and told me it would take about 2 weeks to compeltely heal. The only thing I was glad about was that I had completed my final dive, marking my official status as a special person(PADI certified diver).

For the rest of the afternoon, I hobbled down the Ko Tao beach like the Island Gimp on one foot. Anyway, I was determined now to let my island experience go to waste, so I managed to get myself situated at a cafe where I drank a yummy-for-my-tummy mango lassi, which made me feel a bit better. The view of the beautiful ocean also helped alleviate the pain.

After eating dinner alone, yet again, I was happy to run into Daniel, a 23 yr old german guy who had been diving with us that day and who turned out to be staying in the bungalow next to mine. He asked about my foot and we started chatting and decided to get a drink together. He was also traveling on his own, and agreed with me that Ko Tao didn't seem like an easy play to meet fellow travelers, confirming my suspicions that it was in fact, an island full of lovers and groups of friends on holiday together.

We headed to the "Dry Bar", which was just about the most relaxing bar I have ever been to. Right on the beach under a huge tree, the "Dry Bar" consists of rows of the traditional Thai Pillows on some bamboo mats. So, while sipping an island cocktail one can simply lay down completely horizontal, resting their head on a pillow, while enjoying the stars overhead. Ahhhh. Pain in Paradise, was now half as bad.

Daniel, then asked if I wanted to smoke with him, which I was more than happy to do since I figured some good ganja might make my foot feel a little better. It didn't help much, but I did fall asleep nice and sound that night. =)

An unlikely "Dry Bar" patron enjoying the comfy traditional Thai cushion.

An unlikely "Dry Bar" patron enjoying the comfy traditional Thai cushion.

My little private bungalow at "Blue Wind".

My little private bungalow at "Blue Wind".

Wednesday, 2/18/04
Day Fifteen, Still the Island Gimp

To make myself feel a little better, I checked out of my "New Way" bungalow into the "Blue Wind" ones further along the beach, which Steffen recommended. For 100 baht more, I was now a few steps away from the beach in a bungalow twice the size, with a much nicer bathroom that came with a seperate shower area and maybe even more importantly, a decent mosquito net to protect me while asleep. Many of the cheaper places in Thailand have you sit on the toilet while showering, so I appreciated the nicer amenities my new place had to offer.

"Blue Wind" also had its own beach restaurant, so I sat there eating my lunch and enjoying the calm ocean waters while catching up on my diary writing for two hours. I noticed that the waves on Ko Tao are so calm right now, that they don't make their usual crashing sounds that I am used to in California.

For my afternoon activity, I hopped over into town and used the internet for three hours and paid an exhorbitant rate of 120 B/hour (3$). Oh well, I was recording my tales in my travelogue, so it was money well spent. I then ran into Daniel again over at "New Way" (Ko Tao, is afterall, a small small island, and after a few days you get to recognize more than a few faces - in fact, a few people I met, said they saw me hobbling around previously - just grand).

We headed to the beach to catch the last remaining hour of sun, but of course right after we got there the sky turned dark gray - threatening to pour down on us. Fortunately, although the sun went into hiding, it didn't rain as Daniel gave me a quick tour of Ko Tao on the back of his motorbike that he was renting for the day. We went to a nice viewpoint, where I saw the tiny beaches, connected a bit of land right off of Ko Tao, and then headed to the pier to get some cheap din din. In the pier section, which is about a 20 min walk from the main point of Sairee beach, you can get Thai food for half the price. The veggie "pad thai" I had was oh-so-good for only 30 baht.

To top off our satisfying meal, we then headed towards a movie house to catch a pirated film. Ko Tao had about three movie houses (restaurants by day) that showed movies for free as long as you ordered something off their menu. So, for a mere cost of a Coke, one can catch up on all the latest flicks they missed back home. What a fantastic deal, considering I pay freaking 9 dollars these days for a flick.

Anyway, "Runaway Jury", and "Love Actually" were both full, so we ended up watching some bizarre movie with Christian Slater and some other B-List actors in a tale of FBI trainees getting stuck and murdered on an island. For my movie treat, I ordered a fucking-good fried banana with ice cream and for a few hours, I had forgotten about my bad foot.

Ending the night at the "Dry Bar" again, I was glad to have gotten some company while I was coping with my injury. Daniel, despite our problems in communicating at times due to the language barrier, was a real interesting character who studied Indian sprituality, and was one of the few people that venture out from his small Bavarian town to travel the world. He also had already gone to Laos and Cambodia - so was a good source of info for me.

Ko Tao's very own pancake man - who makes his delectable treats with such gusto that I imagine he would beat even the Iron Chefs in a pancake making contest.

Ko Tao's very own pancake man - who makes his delectable treats with such gusto that I imagine he would beat even the Iron Chefs in a pancake making contest.

Thursday, 2/19/04
Day Sixteen, Stranded

I was thinking that my time on Ko Tao was nearing its end. As lovely as it was, with my inability to really enjoy all that it had to offer, I was ready to go. However, without having a crazy night out yet, I thought I better stay for a hill-top party that was going to feature some live Dj's and a chance for me to get my groove on (or at least try to).

During the day, I pretty much did what I did yesterday, a bit of internet, journal, eating, and then going to the nurse, who told me that my foot was now infected! Just what I needed to hear. She suggested I go on a five day oral antibiotics, which I didn't like the sound of as I hate medicines, esp anti-biotics. But what's a girl with
sea-urchin needles decomposing in her foot to do?
I then went back to watch a nice sunset, while noticing some European ladies were topless. One was even posing in the waters with a white, wet t-shirt while her boyfriend was firing away shots. She then took off her bikini top and was laying in the water like she was in a Sports Illustrated photo-shoot. While slightly amusing, I couldn't believe that the topless girls were so disrespectful of the Thai customs. Thai women dress very modestly, and even skimpy tank tops are frowned upon let alone showing off your titties. Leave that for you own country in Europe, sheeesh.

After eating dinner, I dropped by Daniel's to see if he was going to the party as well. He wasn't there, but I ran into him at the "Dry Bar", surprise, surprise. We headed up the hill, having to pay 40B, to share a pick-up truck with a bunch of other party-goers. As I walked up the steep hill, I was getting excited as I heard the beats of the house music drifting down from above.

When we finally got there, it was quite a scene. There was a good group of people on the dance floors, and even more people laying down on the Thai pillows (yes, they are everywhere) and having a drink/getting high. At one point, I heard a guy speaking Spanish, and with a few Chang beers down my throat, I somehow got the courage to muster a "Tu Hablas Espanol?". Fortunately, Ricardo, who was from Mexico City and out on Ko Tao to become a dive master spoke perfect english - allowing me to stop massacring his beautiful language.

Ricardo, then introduced us to his English friend Amanda, and the four of us hung out for a bit, dancing and chilling out. I was having a good time, and I was actually able to dance - I was however, afraid my foot would swell up to a basketball the next day tho.

Finally, at four - Daniel and I decided it was time to go home. We tried to catch a taxi back, but the guy was a real bastard (the first one I met in Thailand) and would not bring us unless we found more poeple. No one wanted to go, and we were not willing to pay the 250 (~6$) that he wanted to charge us. It was finally five in the morning, when Daniel convinced someone else to drive us back to our bungalows for 100b. By the time I reached "Blue Wind", I was so tired I crashed right then and there on my bed.

Daniel, Amanda and Ricardo enjoying the night at the Sairee Hill Party.

Daniel, Amanda and Ricardo enjoying the night at the Sairee Hill Party.

Friday, 2/20/04
Day 20, It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Well, today actually turned out to be my favorite day on
Ko Tao, so I was glad that I stayed an extra day. After waking up well-rested from the night before, I headed down to the beach to get some food and do some sun-tanning finally. On my way, I ran into Svenne and Sandra, a really nice Dutch couple that I went diving with. I had been hanging out with them here and there, so I asked if I could join them.
Ahhh - It felt so nice to have the sun shining down on me. There was not a cloud in sight, and the temperature was perfect. With a bit of good company (Daniel, later found us and joined us too), I was truly enjoying myself.

A shade darker, I then left to book my ferry/bus ticket back to Bangkok. Originally, I wanted to go to Ko Phan Ngan, but with my injury, there was no point really. So, I decided to make my way up to Northern Thailand to Chiang Mai with a stopover in Bangkok. For 500 baht, I was to leave the next day on a ferry and VIP bus (catering to tourists only). Later, Daniel and I had some dinner and then headed to the "Dry Bar" one last time. Unfortunately, I didn't get to check out any of the bars that were too far to walk to with my foot. But, "Dry Bar" was nothing to complain about. I also had one more pancake to end the night from the pancake man who parks himself in front of the 7-Eleven, making thick crepes filled with five different choices of filling. I had nutella with banana for 25 baht. yum yum.

Ready to explore the North, I was a bit sad to leave Ko-Tao as I fell asleep in my bed that night.

© Jenny Chu, 2004
You are here : Overview Asia Thailand Ko Tao
The trip
Follow my travels through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and China..........
Start of journey: Feb 02, 2004
Duration: 4 months
End of journey: Jun 02, 2004
Travelled countries: Asia
The Author
Jenny Chu is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 20 years.
Picture of author