Four Day trip to Koh Tao and Koh Phangan

Over the long weekend, a group of us were invited by the TAT to visit Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui in Southern Thailand. The purpose of the 4-day trip was to see the efforts by local tourism businesses on how they try to minimize their environmental impact. These days it is all about sustainable tourism. And this concept is of particular importance on islands where everything has to be shipped in and waste shipped out. We visited several hotels to see how they saved money and helped the environment at the same time. We also met up with local businesses that were doing their part in keeping the environment clean and available for the next generation of tourists. This ranged from organizing beach and reef clean-ups to schemes where people are offered free drinking water refills if they didn’t use plastic bottles.

I was also personally interested in visiting Koh Tao  due to its “Death Island” reputation. I have been reporting on twitter from afar for the past few years about the murders and other mysterious deaths on the island. And so I wanted to go and see for myself as to whether it deserved this tagline. All I had been hearing lately were the views of some keyboard warriors who probably have never been to Koh Tao and certainly weren’t writing from there. I felt it was important for me to go and talk to local people and to see the place for myself in order to get a balanced opinion. The following photos were all tweeted live during my trip.

DAY ONE: There are numerous ways of reaching Koh Tao from Bangkok. You can either go by train or bus to Surat Thani and then take the boat via Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. Or you can take the bus to Chumphon and catch a boat to the islands from there bypassing Samui. We flew to Samui on Bangkok Air which saved us some time. But, they are not cheap. The flight time in the prop plane was one hour and twenty minutes. The boat transfer then took another one hour and forty five minutes to Koh Tao. So, if you leave Bangkok first thing in the morning, you can be on Koh Tao by lunch time. 

DAY TWO: We spent most of the day exploring the island. If you didn’t know already, Koh Tao is famous for scuba diving and people come here from all around the world to do training courses. To put it in perspective, out of the 500,000 tourists that visited this small island last year, an incredible 100,000 of them became certified divers. But there are also some good beaches here if you just want to work on your sun tan or go snorkeling. Some people also hire motorbikes. But please make sure you have a license, insurance and wear a safety helmet. Also be aware that some places might try to scam you so NEVER give your passport to them. A copy will be fine. Also take pictures of any scratches on the bike. During the day, we also joined in with the regular beach clean up on the island. Both Thai and foreigners help with this which was great to see. We also learned more about how local hotels minimize their impact by recycling and reusing their waste products. For example, the one we visited were making their own soap and washing detergent from waste products. As this is chemical free it is doubly good for the environment. They also grow their own fruit and vegetables, and sort and recycle everything. Waste water is also treated and used on the gardens. 

DAY THREE: This was our last day on Koh Tao. It’s not really my kind of place. I won’t be rushing to come back. But I have plenty of friends who return here often. One in particular returned to the island only a few weeks after the murder of the two British backpackers in 2014. At that time I was tweeting a lot about the case and I asked her if she was sure she would be safe. She just replied by saying that she had made a lot of friends with Thais and expats in the local community when she was doing her diving course and that she felt perfectly safe. I must say that I didn’t have a bad vibe about the place. It was clean and orderly and the local people friendly. But, if you’re not interested in scuba diving, then there are plenty of other places to visit. I tweeted during the trip about my concern that there are only two tourist police on this island. Which seems strange. I know they have a police force of forty, but they should have more tourist police. If anything to do regular patrols in the tourist area. But I guess it comes down to budget. I was also concerned that when we went on a speedboat tour that we weren’t offered any lifejackets. I thought that was compulsory. I know that many Westerners refuse to wear them, but it is nice to have them at hand even if you don’t put on straight away. The weather out at sea can change very quickly. So, please, the next time you go on a boat trip, ask them for the lifejackets.

DAY FOUR: We spent two nights on Koh Tao and then the third night on Koh Phangan. If Koh Tao is the scuba diving island, then Koh Phangan is the party island. Well, to be precise, the Full Moon Party island. The main location is Haad Rin beach, but other parties are held else where. And not just on the full moon. One of the places that we visited today was Haad Rin. It wasn’t on our schedule but as it was near our hotel, I wanted to take a quick look. I think we were all impressed on how clean they keep it. But that is no thanks to the local government. It is actually the local business association that pays for the beach to be cleaned three times a day. And I think it is the only beach I’ve seen with trash cans all along the beach. We were shown around today by a couple of tour guides who knew the island well. They both actually come from Bangkok but they came to Koh Phangan years ago and just never went home. They wanted to show us that the island wasn’t just about parties. There are also other things you can do like adventure sport, yoga, tie-die and a lot more. In the afternoon we caught the ferry back to Samui and then a flight back to Bangkok.

One thought on “Four Day trip to Koh Tao and Koh Phangan

  • August 6, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    I’ve never been to these islands, but I almost feel that I know them. A friend and ex colleague retired to LoS a year after me. He spends a lot of time on Kho Tao as an open water instructor.

    The first two friends I made in our small town were a Swiss ex-hippy, who lived on Kho Phangan for years on a pittance, and a London fly boy who spent years in England making, and losing fortunes, with a lot of the money going up his nose. He went to Kho Phangan to get off drugs! Bought a patch of land with no access road rather cheap. He has two kids and has struggled for years, having to work back in England for most of the year. He finally got an access road built and has just sold the land for silly money. We now go out to proper motorbike shops in the cities looking for real bikes, (because I was struggling as well, but I’ve just sold my little house in England).


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