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.
What to do on Koh Tao? Snorkeling trips from ฿500 or rent a motorcycle for as little as ฿150.
*Make sure you have insurance & wear a helmet pic.twitter.com/TsQlvpzWwP
Koh Tao is famous for scuba diving. It is one of the most certified dive islands in the world. Every 2nd tourist seems to be doing a course pic.twitter.com/SFvkucNcNQ
Drone photo from the Southern end of Sairee Beach looking towards Mae Haad Bay on Koh Tao. This is where boats from Samui & Koh Phangan dock pic.twitter.com/nwScDycsx8
Good to see so many Thais & foreigners out for the beach clean up on Koh Tao today. In particular kids. This is a regular event now pic.twitter.com/ABwUpy653D
It's not just about these people cleaning up beaches in one place. It's about inspiring others to do the same wherever they are in the world pic.twitter.com/w2oTGsjyHi
It's good to see Ban's Diving Resort & other hotels on Koh Tao doing their part in sustainable tourism & reducing impact on the environment pic.twitter.com/OiyYzM6QPq
They recycle everything in the resort. Also make compost, grow vegetables, make cleaning products & use treated waste water in the gardens pic.twitter.com/X1Y00owWpl
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.
Good morning from Koh Tao in Southern Thailand. Mostly cloudy at the moment but no rain forecasted. Should be a great day with a max of 31°C pic.twitter.com/N29xEtDJEg
A long-tailed boat capsized around here last week. The family only survived without injury because they were all wearing life jackets https://t.co/IwwlNytIEi
A popular boat trip from Koh Tao is to Koh Nang Yuan. The entrance fee is 100B. Best to go early if you can.
It's quite a climb to the viewpoint on Koh Nang Yuan, but it's well worth it for the panoramic view. Good shoes & mosquito repellent a bonus pic.twitter.com/qbJJPBCZj2
You are not allowed to fly drones on Koh Nang Yuan. (My friend was fined 1,000B for flying in a national park.) But we have permission today pic.twitter.com/sW37kOsTbi
Drone photos of Koh Nang Yuan, near Koh Tao #Thailand.
* Please note, you are not allowed to fly drones on this island. I had permission. pic.twitter.com/QMkMVaqMaS
Time to leave Koh Tao, but not before paying respects to fellow Brits Hannah Witheridge & David Miller who were brutally murdered in 2014 pic.twitter.com/xSoiJCLvhW
I'm told Koh Tao has 40 regular police. The army are also here in a supervisory role. But govt needs to find budget for more tourist police https://t.co/CDaqOmO3kR
On my way now from Koh Tao to Koh Phangan. One night there and then ferry to Samui on Sunday and flight back to Bangkok pic.twitter.com/jE83OIAd4M
Drone photos looking down on Koh Raham Restaurant on Koh Phangan
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.
Good morning from Koh Phangan in Southern Thailand. A lovely sea breeze this morning. Hopefully no rain today pic.twitter.com/DbUjnfCSPV
Whenever you see photos of Haad Rin, the full moon party beach on Koh Phangan, it's always covered in rubbish. But the reality is different pic.twitter.com/PGsmAM3lRG
And you know why Haad Rin Beach is always so clean? The local business association clean the beach 3 times a day. Not the government pic.twitter.com/q3Spt9LynA
Koh Phangan is not just about full moon parties. Other activities include yoga, tie-dye cloth making, coconut plantation & adventure sports pic.twitter.com/1EEIpbjMFV
If you have an hour to spare on Koh Samui while waiting for your flight, Wat Plai Laem is worth visiting.