India and Nepal left us a bit disheveled. Well, mostly it was just India, but we never had the chance to catch up on comfort and relaxation while trekking in Nepal. So we made a beeline for a beach in Thailand. We needed a major recharging of our batteries so that we could genuinely enjoy what Southeast Asia has to offer during our last three months of travel.
There are hundreds of mainland beaches and islands in Thailand, so we sought some advice from fellow travelers who have traveled there often. In the end, we chose to book a few days in a bungalow on the island of Koh Tao, on the Gulf of Thailand. You may have heard of its more famous neighbors Koh Samui (whose overdevelopment was quite negatively portrayed in the movie The Beach) and Koh Phangan, best known for its insane full-moon parties attended by thousands every month. Koh Tao is the smallest of the three, and is popular for divers: it issues the largest number of Open Water diving certificates in the world. So we picked a bungalow near the water, and spent a few days doing not much at all.
I hadn't realized that there are not that many actual stretches of sand on the island, but it didn't matter too much. We were generally lazy, but we did manage to take a kayak out to the neighboring bay, which had a great stretch of sand and okay snorkeling, and I also did two dives. We learned quickly that these islands are pretty overdeveloped, obvious by the large piles of plastic water bottles that have nowhere to go, and the alarming amount of rubbish in the water, floating in the bays and washing up on our resort's tiny beach area (you'll have to take my word for it, because I did not take photos of that). From the little I've seen and read, it seems that beach development in Thailand has gotten out of control, and there doesn't seem to be much, if any, trend towards sustainable tourism in certain parts. Many of Thailand's beaches and islands are even designated as National Parks, but this seems to make little difference and development still runs rampant; the authorities seem to look the other way. Koh Tao itself looks lovely from afar, covered in dense jungle, with rocky bays and little coves, and narrow stretches of white sand fringed with palm trees. It's just too bad that when you look closely, it appears to be in major need of a clean-up day and a reality check on the seemingly unchecked development.
- We stayed in Chalok Baan Kao Bay, on the south end of the island. While the beaches were nothing special, if you find yourself in that area of the island, make sure to check out Babaloo (an incredibly chill and awesomely decorated beach bar), Alvaro's Diving School, and Taraporn Restaurant (legitimately delicious sandwiches on brown bread, along with the usual Thai dishes). The beach at Thian Og (the next bay over, where Haad Thien resort is located) is one of the nicest stretches of sand on the island.