Tortoise on the Move

July 2, 2015

Thailand: Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and Railay Beach

Koh Samui

Days 5-8 of a 3-week journey around Thailand, June 20-July 13, 2015

Koh Samui

Koh Samui

Day 5: Krabi to Koh Samui

We had a lazy morning and slept in since our “trek” to Koh Samui didn’t begin until 11. Our one “to do” item for the morning was to locate a supermarket with peanut butter. After making a circle around our block, we found one about one block behind and two blocks down the street from our guesthouse. VICTORY! I’d never been so happy to see a jar of peanut butter, even Skippy. We celebrated our find at U Residence for breakfast. A couple at another table had an entire ice cream cake for the guy’s birthday and shared it with the hotel staff and us.

Our journey to Koh Samui was not as straightforward as we thought it would be. We rode in THREE buses before we even made it to the pier for the 90-minute Sea Tran ferry to Koh Samui. I’m not gonna lie, it was a pretty boring day. We arrived at Nathon Pier and took a taxi to Replay Residence for our second AirBnB stay of the trip. We booked a studio suite, the “highlight” of which was a clear bathroom door. I’m not sure who thought that was a good idea, but it certainly was unique. The complex also had a pool and a fitness center, so we finally got in a good workout for the first time since Australia. After sweating it out in the gym, we had a late dinner at Grass, Replay’s onsite restaurant.

Sairee Beach

Longtail boats at Sairee Beach, Koh Tao

Day 6: Koh Samui / Koh Tao

We began Day 6 with a workout and a big breakfast at Grass. I had fruit, yogurt with granola, and an omelet with bacon. Obviously we can’t eat like that every morning, but if I wish I could! After breakfast, Katie stayed back at the apartment to check out at noon while I took a walk to Bangrak Pier to buy our tickets for an afternoon ferry to Koh Tao. Once I had the tickets in hand, I walked a bit further to check out the island’s Big Buddha and did a bit of souvenir shopping. The Buddha wasn’t as big as the one in Phuket, but it was quite a bit more decorative. Rather than walking back to Replay along the beach the way I came, I walked along the road to check out the shops and food stands. There are actually a surprising number of Italian restaurants on Koh Samui. I picked up a “fruit shake” (aka a Thai smoothie) about halfway back and joined Katie by the pool when I returned.

At 4:30 pm, we boarded the Sea Tran ferry for Koh Tao. After arriving in Koh Tao, I had to go to Big Blue Diving’s main shop at Sairee Beach to check in for our morning dives. I almost made a last minute switch after we chatted with another dive instructor from a different shop but ended up sticking with Big Blue at the recommendation of a college swimming friend who’d been with them. I also briefly considered signing up for an Adventure Diver course or seeing about my Advanced Open Water, but I decided against it so that I could save a bit of money and bring my GoPro on the dives. As we walked around the main town area, we both decided we loved Koh Tao already. It had amazing vibes and was so relaxed. A Yale Swimming alum had commented on one of my Instagram posts about getting “stuck” in Koh Tao when she backpacked through, and I can totally see why. After wandering around for a bit, we headed to Nadapa Resort back by Mae Haad Pier where we’d come in earlier to drop our backpacks and get something to eat. For dinner, I had pad thai (of course) and fresh coconut water. I do like the taste of coconut water, but I also might just like feeling so tropical when I drink straight out of the coconut.

Koh Tao diving

Diving at Hin Wong Bay, Koh Tao

Day 7: Koh Tao

I woke up bright and early at 5:30 am for my morning dives with Big Blue. I taxied over to the dive resort where I met my divemaster (Frank, pretty sure he was German) and boatmaster (Suni, small and sassy 20-something, not sure where she was from). I packed my dive bag for the day (BCD, fins, wetsuit, mask, snorkel) and joined a few others staying at the resort for breakfast. I chatted with a British brother and sister who were there for the brother’s final training dives and an Australian guy just beginning his divemaster training.

In the past few weeks, I’ve considered continuing on with my dive training. Some days, I think “WOW this is great, I should totally make a goal to become a divemaster.” Other days, I remember that boats make me feel like my life is going to end via seasickness and think that an Advanced Open Water (aka a 2-3 day course) would be a fine goal. This day was a little bit of both. The ride out to Hin Wong Pinnacle was a bit rough, and I was glad to have my ginger tablets with me. But as soon as we hit the water, I forgot all about it. Our first dive went down to 18-meters, and we saw plenty of fish and fan corals. Frank tried pointing out some smaller animals to our group that we might otherwise have missed. The water was quite warm, so I was diving without a wetsuit for the first time. I tried to readjust my weights accordingly before the dive but the weights were smaller than I thought so I struggled to maintain my depth toward the end of the dive as my tank got lighter. We clocked in at 53 minutes at Hin Wong Pinnacle, my longest dive so far by about 15 minutes.

After our hour-long surface interval, we jumped back in at Hin Wong Bay. The visibility was awesome toward the beginning of our dive, and we descended right in the middle of a school of small fish. Aside from that, we didn’t see as many fish on the second dive but the coral was definitely better. We also did a swim through – diving through a “tunnel” in one of the underwater pinnacles. My claustrophobic self almost chickened out, but not being able to voice my fears underwater seems to help me just get on with it and go for it. Our second dive lasted 52 minutes, and I had the BCD under my arm to show for it.

I had a great time on both my dives but was a bit disappointed I wasn’t able to go to the quintessential Koh Tao sites: Chumphon Pinnacle and Sail Rock. With such a condensed schedule for our three weeks in Thailand, it was a bit unlucky that the weather was slightly off that day and that Big Blue wasn’t running their full day boat to Sail Rock until two days later. Koh Tao definitely left me wanting more, and next time, I’ll plan to stay much longer than a day and a half. After such long morning dives, I was wiped so Katie and I had a very chilled out afternoon. We indulged in a great spinach pizza at a nearby Italian place for dinner and finished it off with some gelato. We packed up and turned in early to get some sleep before our 6 am ferry.

Railay Beach

Railay Beach

Day 8: Koh Tao to Krabi/Railay Beach

The day began on a sour note: I discovered I had sea lice (or some other sort of micro-jelly) stings all up and down my arms. For those who haven’t had the joy of sea lice in their lives, they’re like mosquito bites, except ten times itchier and they last significantly longer. The first leg of the Lomprayah fast ferry didn’t make things any better. Katie and I were just glad we hadn’t eaten anything substantial yet. Thankfully, the ride smoothed out past Koh Phangan and Koh Samui, all the way back to the mainland. After we docked at Donsak Pier, we boarded a large bus headed back to Krabi. We snagged the front row on the top level of the bus, so we had tons of legroom and a great view. We paid a bit more for the Lomprayah service on the way back than we did to originally get to Koh Samui, but it was well worth it (in my opinion) to not have to jump between three buses on the way home.

Back in Krabi, we dumped our backpacks back at Chanchalay where we’d left our big suitcases and grabbed lunch at U Residence. Then we made our way to the riverside pier and boarded a longtail boat to Railay Beach. It was a HOT afternoon, so the beach was a great place to be. We laid out on the beach near the Phranang Caves, taking note of two coves on the beach decorated with phallic statues. Yup, you read that right. Apparently, some local fishermen once thought it would bring them luck to offer something to the “womb” of the Phranang Caves, hence the cave of penises. Aside from that, the beach was incredibly scenic. The vertical cliff faces of the small offshore islands were very striking. The hills and mountains in Thailand are unlike any I’ve seen and certainly added to the tropical beauty of the landscape. After getting our tan on for a few hours, we jumped back on a longtail to Krabi at 5, when the last boats return to the town. We headed for the market, only to find that it wasn’t happening, so we stopped at a café on the way back to Chanchalay for burgers (and Oreo cheesecake….). We’d gotten up early for the ferry, so we were both pretty tired and returned to the guesthouse a bit early to pack up our things for our flight to Chiang Mai in the morning.


  1. Gallery: Thailand - Tortoise on the Move - […] July 13, 2015. For more on my trip, check out these posts about the islands (Andaman coast and Gulf coast), …

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