Aah, yes, island life…
Clear waters, colourful fish and sand sharks – those schools of businesses that prey on your wallet like it was a fat little seal wondering into its feeding zone, ignorant of the dangers that lurk between the advertising boards and their “terms and conditions”.
Shark spotting takes some skill and local knowledge. One island’s great white is another’s black tip or whale shark. And you have to be a curious like clown fish to know the difference.
On Koh Tao you would think the obvious predator would be the dive schools. But this is not the case. Koh Tao is known for being one of the cheapest places to do dive course and most of the schools have very competitive dive/accommodation packages for these. As for the fun dives, they cost 1000 baht ($30) for one dive and get cheaper every dive after that. This is the total cost of your morning and includes all equipment, the boat trip to two dive sites (you can choose only one dive and stay on the boat), free tea coffee and fruit and free luggage storage. Standard basics for sure, but what stands out for me is that there aren’t all these optional extras that suddenly get forced on you when you are tired and weak. They leave you alone. Plus, they allow you to bring someone along for the ride, free of charge. So while I was diving my mom was enjoying tea and biscuits on deck reading her book and also got to go on a free boat tour around the island and see a few dive sites. That’s a nice extra in my books. Hire a long tail boat for a few hours and you wont pay less than 1800 baht, even if you only go to one area.
So who are the real sharks on Koh Tao then? The transport guys, especially the taxis, which are really just 4×4 (some 2×4) trucks. You hop on the back and they charge you a standard 400 baht ($12), be it 2km down the road or 10km up and down steep hills. It feels like you are just hitching a ride with a local and paying for the displeasure. Even the semi permanents (the foreign dive instructors, long term beach leeches etc) feel hostage to it. They just shrug their shoulders and say there’s nothing you can do about it. And yet, just an island hope away to Koh Phangan and it’s a cheaper story.
This inevitably drives more people to hire motorbikes (150 baht a day) and lift their friends on an island that requires some level of skill to negotiate the steep hills and sharp curves. At least 50% of the people on the road shouldn’t be there, myself included. It’s a cse of thinking it will be cheaper but realising the real cost a little to late. Either when you are forking out extras for the bike repairs or having to pay for extra comforts and transport now that you have injured yourself.
I fell into this cheaper transport trap and on the road. I was lifting my mum and didn’t have the horsepower or skill to get us up the hill safely. So we went off the road, just a little. And then somehow I managed to skid on the flat part on my own and grazed my ankle and knee just to remind me of my stupidity every time I enter the salt water. Luckily the bike scrapes were minor and a good pair of leggings can cover up just about any scrape. (IF I HAD A MOTORBIKE RENTAL SHOP… I would check the driver for scrapes, not the bike.)
At 300 baht ($10) a class, I would put yoga in the shark tank along with the transport guys. That’s more than what I would pay for a drop in class at home. And it’s not usually a dedicated studio. Just a basic room and not always with a view. So not sure what the spiritual premium is here? All karma to you man.
Basic island rules:
- Expect to pay a beachfront premium on food and drink. If you want it cheaper, you need to walk a few streets inland.
- The more remote, the higher the prices, for absolutely everything from the price of water and food to the more essential items like cold beer and filter coffee. So make sure you have a motorbike to keep your options open.
Top Koh Tao Tips:
- You can buy (cheaper) cold beer from the Seven 11 and they will open it for you on site if you need.
- Bring a book (from home or Bangkok). The choices on the island aren’t great (Sydney Sheldon and Danielle Steel are on a retro tour around the island) and expensive for their content and condition (200-300 baht)
- Instead of hiring a long tail taxi and doing a private tour around the island (around 2 000 baht or more), join a snorkel tour which will take you to all the snorkel sites around the island (so you get the tour) and give you lunch and snacks for 750 baht ($25).
- If you can drive a motorbike or just want to stay on a quiet bay away from it all with good snorkelling and good food, stay at Sai Nuan beach 1 or 2. Less than a handful of accommodation options with basic huts overlooking the water starting 500 baht ($15). It offers real privacy and real prices.
- Bring a mask and snorkel. Best fun with your clothes on. although in expect it would be even better with your clothes on the shore
Musing on a beach over a sunset under a palm tree. Just because today I can.