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Maybe I would have felt differently about Koh Tao had I not been sick. But maybe not.
Sairee beach on Koh Tao was the first place I stayed in Thailand that lived up to the bad stereotypes. It was overrun with young, drunk teenage backpackers, tourist bars blaring annoying pop music, rotten-smelling streets that were strewn with rubbish, and locals that were less than friendly and frankly, quite scammy (I also came across some lovely locals in Sairee beach, there just seemed to be more assholes than other Thai destinations I had been to).
I do think that had I been able to explore and stay in quieter spots on the island, I could have quite enjoyed Koh Tao so I am certainly not writing it off entirely, but as far as Sairee beach goes, I wasn’t a big fan. Hell – I wasn’t a fan at all.
I arrived late, on the ferry from Surat Thani. As soon as I stepped off the boat on Koh Tao at Mae Haad, aggressive taxi drivers were shoving themselves in front of me, trying to rip me off for the short distance to Sairee beach. Despite the late hour and the fact that I wasn’t feeling great, I started walking.
Three kilometers wasn’t a long way but with no street lights or footpaths, it was starting to feel like a danger-filled adventure. I didn’t feel safe.
When I was about halfway there I hailed a cab. It wasn’t worth the risk of being hit by a car in the dark.
Amelie, my French friend whom I met when I was traveling in Hawaii last year, was waiting for me in a hotel we had booked on the main street of Sairee Beach. By the time I got to the hotel, I was really not feeling good.
We both hadn’t eaten so we went for a walk around town and grabbed dinner at a nondescript restaurant off the main street. After quiet Tonsai, it was like going to the circus.
There were drunk teenagers everywhere, wearing matching pub crawl shirts and throwing up on each other. Urgh. It was even more overwhelming because I wasn’t feeling well.
And I felt even worse when I woke up the next morning. My whole body ached, I struggled to breathe without coughing violently, and I felt weak and nauseous. It was the pits.
I stayed in bed until we had to check out of the hotel then it was time to find somewhere new to stay. The hotel was out of our price range for a longer stay and I wanted to escape the busy town center of Sairee beach.
We walked down to the beach. It was the first time I had seen it in the daylight. I loved the giant smooth boulders jutting out of the emerald sea but the water wasn’t very clear and the beach was almost non-existent at high tide, just a thin strip of brownish sand.
It wasn’t horrible by any means, I was just generally underwhelmed.
We managed to find a beach bungalow that was in our price range, although it was double the price I had paid for a much nicer one at Koh Lanta. It was right on the beach with two beds and a colony of mold growing all over the ceiling.
I was pleased to be away from the town centre. It was a lot more peaceful on the beach where we were staying, and as the beachside restaurants were reasonably priced, we didn’t need to go back into town if we didn’t want to.
The next few days on Koh Tao entailed me spending a lot of time in bed, reading, and sleeping. I made it out for meals (surprise, surprise – even when I’m sick I still have an appetite) and for a daily swim to cool down, but I didn’t do much else.
My favorite place to eat on Koh Tao was Fizz Beach Lounge. There were comfortable bean bags on a large patio, looking out to sea. They played chill-out sounds and it had a relaxing atmosphere. The gorgonzola and pesto pasta was incredibly good, even more so because I hadn’t had pasta for over a month.
We talked of renting scooters for when I started to feel better but Amelie hadn’t done it before and because we had met a few people who had had accidents on the bumpy dirt roads of the island, we ended up deciding against it. I didn’t get better during the four days I was in Koh Tao anyway. I ended up staying sick for over a week.
I’m not the best at being sick and after a couple of days of lying around I was bored. I convinced myself I was feeling better and we headed out on a short hike up to a viewpoint behind Sairee beach. It turned out to be a really bad idea.
It started out OK, with deliciously cold coconut smoothies in hand, we wandered up the road toward where the trail started. Despite waiting till the afternoon, it was still very hot and I quickly started to overheat.
The trail was anything but clear cut so we ended up wandering back and forth on a dirt pathway, not really knowing where to go. We took a spur trail that was partially overgrown but seemed to be heading in the right direction. We reached the ruins of a house with a partial coast view then shortly after that the trail ended.
I was wheezing and a painful heat-related headache was making my head throb. I was not in a good way.
We gave up and turned back. It took me the rest of the evening to recover but at least we were treated to a gorgeous sunset when we arrived back at the beach.
A Day Trip to Koh Nang Yuan
One afternoon I was feeling much better, so we took a half day trip to the small island of Koh Nang Yuan, adjacent to Koh Tao.
The afternoon I spent on beautiful Koh Nang Yuan ended up being the biggest highlight of the time I spent on Koh Tao, and we weren’t even actually on Koh Tao. Now that’s saying something.
Koh Nang Yuan is actually three small islands, connected by a sand bar that is underwater at high tide. At the highest point of the three islands, there is a viewpoint that is reached by a short but steep hike.
It only took 10-15 minutes to get up there and the view over Koh Nang Yuan was definitely worth it as it is over the other two islands and the sand bar that links them.
Koh Nang Yuan was just a short boat ride away from Koh Tao but the beach was stunning, with bleached white sand and swimming pool waters. It was so different from Sairee beach.
It was also quite unique as the thin sand bar means you can swim immediately behind you or in front of you as there is water on both sides. I lay in the shallows for ages, watching the curious fish swimming around me.
I wish I could have stayed on Koh Nang Yuan but as the sun began to get low in the sky, it was time to return to Koh Tao.
Lasting Impressions of Koh Tao
So would I go back to Koh Tao in the future? I honestly don’t know. I’m really in no hurry to unless I decide to take advantage of cheap diving in the future. I do know that if I do return, it won’t be to stay in Sairee Beach.
It just wasn’t my jam.
But I would return to Koh Nang Yuan in a heartbeat.
Have you been to Koh Tao or Koh Nang Yuan?
If you liked this post, why not check out some more of my Thailand posts:
- Don’t Miss Koh Libong: One of Thailand’s Most Authentic Local Islands
- Why You Shouldn’t Just Visit Koh Kradan on a Day Trip
- Fun Things To Do in Koh Lanta For Budget Travelers
- Thong Nai Pan: A Quieter Side to Koh Phangan
- Koh Phi Phi Island Tour: A Day at ‘The Beach’
- One Week Koh Lanta Guide: The Imperfect Island of my Dreams
- Koh Lipe Snorkeling and Island-Hopping Tour
- Things To Do in Koh Lipe: A Real Thai Paradise
- Falling in Love with Pai
- A Fun Thai Adventure: Exploring and Rock Climbing in Railay Bay
- Temple Hopping and Stuffing my Face in Chiang Mai