18.7953° N, 98.9986° E
After spending a week in Cambodia hanging out in Siem Reap and visiting Angkor Wat, we finally hit Thailand.
I say finally, because after almost 2 months of non-stop travel through the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia we finally hit a spot to call “home” for the next 2 1/2 months before heading off to Europe to visit Scotland, Amsterdam, Ireland, Italy, Croatia, and Iceland.
We spent a brief 2 days in Bangkok, taking just enough time to patch up some dying electronics at MBK and meet up with some work colleagues of Tom’s before heading off to the islands. We missed the backpacker area of Khao San Road, but we did make it to Soi Cowboy to take in more than a lifetime’s worth of ladyboys and other forms of entertainment.
Our first stop was in the Thai islands was Koh Tao. 2 islands north of the popular destination Koh Samui, we picked Koh Tao off of recommendations from friends and from pictures of Koh Nang Yuan off of pinterest. To get to Koh Tao from Bangkok, we booked a flight/ferry joint ticket from Nok Air, which I highly recommend. I don’t think it could have been any easier or cheaper!
Koh Tao is known for being the cheapest place in the world to learn how to dive. We debated back and forth about whether or not to get our Padi cert and ultimately decided it just wasn’t the right time for us.
Instead of diving we opted instead to put ourselves through what we like to call Morkes’ Family fat camp. We spent our 15 days on the island eating lean, drinking water, water, and coffee instead of Chang Beer, training at the local Muay Thai gym, taking 2 hour yoga classes each morning, and watching the fat literally melt off our bodies on the 30 min uphill walk to our hotel every time we headed into town.
This may sound miserable, but it was just what we needed after being nomads for 18 months.
We quickly learned the Thai islands are much pricer than anywhere else in SE Asia. We scoured Sairee Beach and were coming up pretty short as anything with Aircon was running at $40+ a night. That may seem cheap, but in SE Asia for $40 we had high hopes for more. Deciding we wouldn’t give up until we had seen every option, we finally found the Thipwimarn Resort up the hill on the north end of the island.
With their partial view rooms running at the same price you could get a dilapidated bungalow for in town, we quickly threw down a weeks worth of money and gladly accepted the free shuttle to get our bags from our shanty accommodations at Mr. J’s. (In our experience it’s better to find accommodations once you arrive to avoid paying more than the going rate, but in this case the hills and our 8pm arrival had us crashing in a bit of a pit.) That being said, if you are in the market for homemade condoms, Mr. J is your man. A couple minutes into our first night’s stay revealed some interesting things that Mr. J has to offer–No we didn’t experience and of this first hand, but there are many signs.
We loved our stay at the Thipwimarn. I felt like a spoiled little kid hopping into our cliff side infinity pool. The buffet breakfast was spectacular with it’s made to order eggs, individual french press coffee, and selection of fresh fruit and 5 types of granola. We loved chilling in our ice cold aircon room with fast WIFI in between treks into town.
I say treks into town, because it was literally an uphill walk both ways! The main area of Koh Tao on Sairee Beach may be fairly flat, but everything to the north, south, and east is up crazy hills. Many opt to rent motorbikes, but Tom’s and my fear of motorbikes and our stubborn pride against paying $10 for the 5 minute ride into town left us on foot. The walk home you obviously have to do out of necessity, but I will admit I spent far too much time in our air-conditioned bungalow to avoid the 127 steps to get to the road…yes I counted them!
Tom and I quickly settled into a quick routine of grabbing breakfast around 7. We’d head into town at 10 so I could do yoga, while Tom posted up at a beach front cafe or air-conditioned coffee shop to do work. Following yoga we’d grab lunch at Su Chilli, the best Thai food we found on the island. We’d make the trek back up the hill after lunch, heading back around 4 to meet with our personal Muay Thai trainers at Island Muay Thai, before heading either back to Su Chilli for dinner or switching it up and heading to Bang Burger if we were Thai fooded out.
Having later spent time in Haad Tien on Koh Phangan, I can now say Koh Tao wasn’t my island my favorite island (seriously the hills killed it for me!); but we sought out what we needed and it was the perfect place for Tom and I to detox after 18 months of travel.
Koh Tao does have some hidden gems. Here are the things we couldn’t have lived without during our time on Koh Tao.
Island Muay Thai
I seriously can not say enough good things about Island Muay Thai. For $10 (Even cheaper if you buy a package!) you can pay to have your booty handed to you in a sweaty mess by your own personal Muay Thai fighter. They work with all levels and after 7 sessions I felt like I was packing a crazy strong kick! If working out isn’t your thing I highly recommend attending a fight if you are in town during a fight night.
As I said before, we ate there 1 if not 2x a day our entire 2 week stay. Their Cashew Nut Chicken and Fresh Spring Rolls were our personal favorites, but everything we ordered was delicious!
Koh Nang Yuan
A half day trip is all you need, but the view at the top of Koh Nang Yuan is probably the most spectacular ocean view I’ve ever seen. Rent some snorkel gear and enjoy the colorful schools of fish swimming feet off the beach!
To get to Koh Nang Yuan you need to rent a water taxi and it will cost about 300 Baht or $10 per person round trip. You can spend the night on the island, but the only hotel is very overpriced. We opted to do what most do and headed over via water taxi to influx those who do pay the premium for the quiet retreat. If you do choose to stay at the remote island, be prepared for the TONS of tours who come in to lay on the sand and snorkel off the shore for the day.
I bought a package at Shambhala Yoga which is right off the main road. Their 2 hour Hatha classes were a nice change to the the more physical type of yoga I typically do. As I mentioned before Koh Tao’s hills had me feeling a little lazy so I didn’t venture from my routine, but I wish I had tried Grounded as I’ve heard amazing things about their shala and their variety in yoga offerings.
Sunsets on the Beach
Following our evening Muay Thai Training sessions, we always headed straight to the beach to catch Sunset. Sairee Beach faces due west and rarely was there one that wasn’t picture perfect. We broke our cleanse one night to plop in one of the brightly colored green bean bag seats to enjoy happy hour and I’m happy to say we weren’t missing much. Even at Happy Hour we found the cocktails to be over priced and nothing amazing, but the view was spectacular!
The Sunset View Restaurant
We weren’t quite sure where all the motor bikes kept going past the Thipwimarn, but a short walk further revealed one last hotel down the main road.
I don’t know much about the hotel and we only bought coconuts at the restaurant, but just beyond it is an amazing view point of Koh Nang Yuan. The resort rents snorkel gear and this is definitely a great hidden gem to take in the sunset or snorkel without a huge mob of people!
Let us know what you think of Koh Tao!
Leave us a comment below! 🙂