Location: Koh Tao, April 16th - 23rd
Leaving days of rain in Samui was not hard to do. Off I went happily on a ferry to Koh Tao Thursday morning. I boarded the boat, flashed some deuces to Samui as to say thanks for Songkran, a ton of rain and the time to read my first "real" book (not 50 Shades, Divergent, Twilight or The Hunger Games) in years.
Two hours later, pulling up to the port in Koh Tao I was greeted by a guy who held a Scuba Junction chalkboard that said my name. First stop, my scuba school. I only later realized that this guy is one of the most well known and famous fire dancers on the island. We rolled up to Scuba Junction and Pick Thai, my scuba school and bungalow home respectively. I thought I was only go to be there for about three days... I ended up staying a week.
So, a quick note on my budget parameters. Shocker, I tend to want to lean towards a high budget versus a low. If given the choice, tell me who wouldn't? If Conde Nast Traveler tells me it is a trip of a lifetime or a recent inductee into the Leading Hotels of The World - who doesn't want to head there? But, if I am actually going to do this, really do this and travel for what I hope is many months, a high budget lean needs to quickly become a balancing act that includes both medium for sanity and low for saving. Koh Tao, I decided was the time to dapple in the low end of accommodations - I mean, it's Thailand... isn't this the home of beach bungalows that only cost a dollar?
So, if you were really broke and had to pinch every penny that was rattling around in your pockets you actually COULD find a place for $10 a day. Now, in this place there will be no electricity or at least no reliable electricity. You likely will have or be sharing a cold shower and you will not have a real toilet. You, son, will have a hole in the ground. For a price increase to about $25 a day, you get electricity, a bathroom with cold water and a fan. For $40, you can get AC and hot water. This was where I began. And, I am sure if you actually go to the bungalow prior without an advanced reservation, you can negotiate these prices down.
Bungalows tend to resemble camp. Very Parent Trap-like. Of, if you spent summers like I did in my youth, very Red Pine Camp for Girls. But, rather than Haley Mills and friends sharing a bungalow, clearly, it is just you.
After a few days I moved to a beach bungalow, also at Pick Thai, for a whopping $60 a night where I had a pet, a cat who lived on the front porch who wanted to sit on my lap every morning. It was a slight upgrade, with a mini fridge, provided toilet paper (BYO in the lesser bungalows) and in the bathroom, there was a tile scape of a topless Thai girl. It is unclear who felt that this flair was a design improvement. But, it was great. What's not to love when you can sit on your porch and watch the sunset? $2 big beers and a short walk down the beach you can eat pad thai while perched on a bean bag for $3 or find something fancier for $12. If you strike at 2-for-1 happy hour, you can drink and eat for next to nothing.
There was a bungalow next door to mine, we shared bamboo loungers and I could very easily imagine the awesomeness if only my friends were here with me to drink too much cheap beer and laugh. Kids, Koh Tao has got the Hamptons beat. Unfortunately getting here requires more than a jitney.
Getting Scuba Certified
In any event, I got my open water PADI license at Scuba Junction which was right next door to my bungalow - supremely helpful for the 6:45 dive call times on certain days. I was lead by Emma, hailing from a mosh of England and South Africa, and learning along side a gent named Tom from Australia. After the 3.5 days it takes to get your basic certification, I actually chose to stay on longer for my advanced level, where you do a night dive, check out a sunken wreck a la James Cameron, and swim through cubes/hoops trying to not touch anything and control your breathing and buoyancy. It was wonderful and if you head to Koh Tao I hope Emma is still there and can show you the ropes. This school has small - max 4 person - classes and on Trip Advisor someone wrote that a negative about Scuba Junction it is that they were really focused on you "learning the rules" and also that the "gear was properly cleaned." Obviously, that closed the deal.
Overall, diving was a stellar way to spend time as a solo traveler. Also worth a note, diving here comes at a SIGNIFICANT price decrease versus the rest the world. It was moving and inspiring to see the slew of people who stepped on Koh Tao for a few days and had simply, never left. Or, they came for their basic scuba licensing and were about to finish their Dive Master. It can be done my friends, we can all be island people if we want to.
Koh Tao has a lot happening for it. A lot of people talk about some of the Thai islands as being overly developed - a result of looking for tourist dollars at the expense of island preservation or even, maintenance. But, I thought Koh Tao was wonderful, not falling victim to this like others (Phuket) have. As I stayed near dive school, I was on Sairee Beach - where the backpackers also are. It is a smattering of normal international people, hippies hoola hooping and walking on tree tightropes (who invented that, seriously) and every now and then, dudes who look as if they are the off the Black Pearl in Pirates of the Caribbean. Yikes.
I would love, love love to go back. The water is about 85 degrees and if you are trying to get your rage on, there are island pub crawls every M, W, and F. That scene drew up distinct flashbacks to Montauk's Memory Motel. Here, just like the rest of Thailand, you can have your cocktails served in a bucket, a sure way you make some excellently bad decisions. There are other beaches that might be better for the honeymoon set but honestly, I want to go back to Sairee - watch the fire dancers, live in a bungalow with a tile scape and just be. Maybe in June? (Cabe! How about it!!)