Turtle Island

Trip Start Sep 11, 2010
Trip End Aug 19, 2011

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

The weather was continuously improving as we arrived to Koh Tao. The clouds parted and the sun brightened the views on our approach… it was a little more like the paradise island arrival that dreams are made of.  Tao promised a more genuine island, less developed and less influenced by tourism.  That's not to say the deserted paradise island, it still has plenty resorts, dive schools and places to party just on a different scale to the other islands in the Gulf of Thailand.  I was growing tired of rip off taxis charging ridiculous prices for short rides so decided we should walk from the pier to Sariee beach where we would be picking up a bungalow.  The distance looked like about 1.5km on the map but I’m sure it was at least twice that.  Still we made it without complaint and despite the endless stream of tuk tuks and song taos eager to reach into our pockets.  The recommended bungalows were all full so we got a room in one on the periphery of the village.  It was fine but without charm or character. However it was made a bit more interesting when Pia found a torn up love letter in the drawer which she pieced back together for our amusement while I ran straight out for a dip in the sea.  After getting settled we headed out to explore Sariee village, the apparent place to be on Koh Tao.  There was a nice vibe around, enough tourists but not too many (in island context of course), nice a laid back too. We were already beginning to enjoy

Tao much more than Phangan.  We headed to choppers bar, the most buzzing bar in the village for a cheap happy hour beer.  Shoes were removed before entering and as the place got busy there were hundreds of shoes outside, a funny sight!  For dinner we went to a nice, although expensive, Indian place near the waters side.  It was genuine Indian food, not the crap we get in the west, so it brought me all the way back to Udaipur.  After dinner we chilled at the Lotus bar just beside the restaurant.  There was a fire show on and we got some eyebrow singeing front row seats.  I had seen a fire show too many at that stage so was a little unimpressed to begin with.  However this turned out to be the best of the lot.  4 guys were doing all sorts of tricks walking around the crowd and standing on a table above us all.  They were twirling fire chain maces around people’s heads and even lit a guy’s cigarette with it.  They were not infallible though and it got a bit scary when we saw them fumble sending fire into the crowd.  At one stage it landed about a foot beside me. 

In the morning we moved to a nicer bungalow resort nearby and started the day with a lovely beach side breakfast.  We spent pretty much the whole day lounging on the beach putting in some hard work on our tans.  There is only so much lounging around I can do and the break the monotony I came up with a wacky idea.  I thought about taking a kayak and circumnavigating the island.  Pia thought I was absolutely insane but the more I thought about it the more I got excited and motivated to do it.  With a little bit of convincing Pia agreed to go along with my craziness.  We arranged a two man kayak, snorkels and a dry bag for the next morning.  We got up reasonable early, picked up our gear, and took to the seas.  On the west side of the island the sea was calm making for nice easy paddling.  After about an hour, and crossing a busy ship lane, we arrived to a small island a couple hundred meters of the coast.  The island had a beautiful beach where we rested for a bit before grabbing the snorkels and heading to the shallow waters on the other side of the bay for some snorkeling.  It was like a super highway for the passing by shoals of fish.  There was nothing by way of coral but the abundance of life was something else.  The fish swam right past us and some would even brush off your leg as they pass by, it was awesome.  We then took a short trek up the hill to check out the viewpoint.  There was a wonderful view over the small island and the crystal clear sea below.  As we descended from the viewpoint the skies darkened, the sound of thunder rattled and shortly later the rain poured down.  We sought shelter in the trees but it was raining so hard that this quickly became pointless.  So we ran through the downpour back to the beach… hoping and praying that the open dry bag had escaped a soaking, which it had.  I jumped straight into the warm sea to escape the cold rain.  It was pretty cool actually although a little unnerving watching the forks of lightning.  Luckily the storm quickly moved on and the sun was allowed to shine again so we were able to hit the sea again and continue our adventure.  As we rounded the North West corner of Koh Tao the calm sea turned a little choppy.  We were distracted from our work but lots of big crabs scampering around on the rocks and some birds which apparently were exciting.  It took a good 90 minutes hard paddling before we arrived at our next stop.  It was a beautiful bay on the North coast reachable only by boat.  In spite of its seclusion there were lots of diver boats and leisure speed boats around.  We had an expensive lunch there and enjoyed the view for a while before heading on our way.  After 30 minutes or so fatigue was setting in and as we rounded the North East head I was optimistic that the sea would calm down.  Unfortunately my optimism was misplaced as it turned out that the east side was even worse.  The waves were strong and we were battling hard through them to make progress at a snail’s pace.  I also had a tough job steering us and keeping us a safe distance from the rocks and the crashing waves.  That said I was in control and sure we were safe all the time.  As the rain started coming down it was becoming a real struggle and every time we rounded a head we were hoping to see Tante beach… one, twice, three times I was sure it was just around the next head.  It wasn’t until the fourth that we finally found the place where we would be staying.  Relieved but exhausted we beached and set off looking for a bungalow to rest for the night.  We found a bungalow resort, nothing special but it was more than adequate.  The resort even had an infinity pool and we didn’t waste a moment dropping our stuff and going to relax and let the pain of the day fade away.  The rain came down again but I wasn’t going to let it ruin my moment.  I stayed in to pool gazing out to sea in the pissing rain.  After showering and freshening up we went out to check out the food options in this tiny beach village.  There were a few places but only one had any buzz in it.  We had burgers and chips there… delicious but not so traditional food.  There wasn’t much happening afterwards so we went home for an early night.  We had left the light on outside our bungalow and as a result there was a whole range of insects fighting to get in when we returned, huge crickets, cockroaches, moths.

After all the sunsets I had seen in Thailand I realized that I never had seen the sunrise.  Well waking up on the east coast of an island was the perfect opportunity to set that one straight.  It was a bit of a cloudy morning so it wasn’t exactly the postcard kind of sunrise but still it was lovely to witness the birth of a new day over the ocean.  We wasted no time in checking out of the bungalow and were back paddling again by about 7.  We didn’t realize when leaving from the shore but as soon as we were in open water it was clear that the winds were strong and the waves were high, like 2 or 3 meters.  It wasn’t scary it was just very hard work, more challenging that the previous days paddling.  After an hour or more we arrived to Ao Luk bay where we would be having breakfast.  The narrow bay seemed to funnel in the waves    adding to their intensity.  It was a lot of fun paddling with them up onto the shore.  The bay was beautiful and much more secluded then where we had stayed the previous night.  It seemed to be still asleep when we arrived with just one or two early bird tourists taking photos.  We had a little breakfast in one of the resorts looking over looking the sea.  While there the sea was beginning to look rougher and rougher.  We relaxed, gave it an hour and hoped that it would calm down.  It didn’t get too much worse 'but didn’t get any better either.   We decided to attempt a launch.  Our first attempt was pitiful we didn’t get any more then a few feet from the beach before turning off center, being caught by a wave, capsized and spat back onto the beach.  I sat for 15 minutes or so gazing at the waves trying to feel the rhythm and plot a course through them.  We made a second attempt and this time managed to make some progress.  We were paddling hard and I was really battling to keep us straight.  In spite of our effort we were moving about 3 inches per second and it was only a matter of time before our nose was pushed slightly off center by one wave, turned sideways but a second and upturned and spat back onto the beach by a third.  This time all the gear also fell out of the boat and we had to drag up the kayak and then frantically grab all our stuff before it was swallowed up by the sea.  It was becoming obvious that we would not be able to launch into these waves.  Still I sat there for an hour staring at the breaking waves trying to fid a way through.  I knew if we could just get off the beach it would be calmer after the cresting waves.  It was not to be… Pia was patient knowing that I couldn’t admit defeat too quickly.  Eventually there was no option and we ended up having to call a pickup truck to bring us, our kayak and all our gear back to Sariee beach.  To add insult to injury it also turned out that we lost the snorkels we rented and would have to pay 1100 baht each for them.  The whole kayaking idea turned out to be an expensive failure.  I was a bit deflated by it… but looking back now I don’t regret it one bit.  It was an awesome adventure and part of my whole trip that I will remember forever.  We redeemed the evening by getting a bottle of wine and some fancy chocolate which we had on the beach as the sun set.  We stayed there until late into the night and ended up going skinny dipping in the same sea that defeated us a few hours earlier…. Another experience that I won’t forget.

We were leaving Koh Tao the next day.  Our boat wasn’t until late in the evening.  We decided to make the most of the day by renting a motor bike to explore the parts of the island we didn’t make it too in the kayak.  With a subtle twist of the wrist it was certainly an easier mode of transport.  We got in some hiking to view points and some of the most interesting snorkeling that I have done.  It was a nice way to complete my memories of the paradise island experience.  In the evening there was one thing which I had wanted to do.  Something I had thought of for many months and made certain in my mind before taking the plunge.  I wanted to get a tattoo.  I didn’t want it to be just anything, but rather something meaningful for my trip.  Something which unifies my three volunteering bases and has a deeper personal meaning too.  I decided on the ‘Buda eyes’, something I had seen all the way through Nepal and India and to a lesser extent Thailand.  I really like the philosophy of Buddhism… the detachment from material items and the realization the all you need is within you.  Lessons which I have learned massively on my travels.  Furthermore looking at my travel map I have realized that it looks a lot like the path of Buda… Starting in Nepal heading through India and onto to Thailand, Myanmar, Laos etc.  I wanted it to be a piece of me too, so instead of printing the design off the net, or picking one from a catalog I brought along my sketchpad drawing and got the tattooist to copy that exactly.  It turned out that he emphasized my mistake of not making the eyes perfectly symmetric, rather making it look like one brow is raised.  I didn’t like that at first but now it adds another meaning to the tat… imperfection, of my drawing skills, myself and of everything in this world.  Its part of me now and I have grown to love it.  It is behind my left shoulder so I, or anybody, will almost never see it.
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Mam on

Wow I am blown away by this blog. I admire your courage in kayaking the rough sea, but very glad i didn't know anything about it. I would have been worried sick. Love your tattoo and the fact that you are embracing the ideology of Buddism. It amazes and pleases me greatly how much you are learning on this adventure of a lifetime. Well done !!!

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