Surat Thani to Koh Tao
31.01.2013 - 04.02.2013
We were on our way to country number 6 (7 for me!)... Thailand woop woop!
Our flights from Vientiene to Bangkok and then on to Surat Thani were uneventful, apart from the novelty of having a meatball sub at Bangkok airport! We arrived at Surat Thani airport in the evening and got a ticket from a taxi counter into the town for 100 baht each which was a lot cheaper than what we had read online. This was probably because the taxi was in fact a minivan and they could get about 10 people in. We d pre booked a room at Tapee hotel and were dropped off almost outside. Everyone seems to have a big downer on Surat Thani with reviews complaining how unfriendly people are and how grotty it is. To be fair we only saw the place for one night but this wasn't our experience, so we were pleasantly surprised by how friendly the hotel staff were and how huge our room was! Literally you could swing a few tigers around in here let alone cats!
It was only a five minute wander down to the harbour so we went to see if we could work out the ferry to Koh Tao for the next day as we thought it might be cheaper to get the ticket there rather than through the hotel. The night boats to the islands lined the dock with several stands with people selling tickets but we couldn't find any for the next day. We had already decided not to take the overnight boat as this is really a cargo boat and you sleep on mats on the floor crammed in like sardines for 8 hours, not ideal when you d been ill the night before! Groups of travellers were sitting at the outside bars with beers and their bags waiting for the boats to leave at 11pm. There is also a night market which is meant to have great food but I still couldn't even cope with the smell of all the food. With no obvious place to get tickets we decided just to go with the bus & boat option through the hotel although we felt that paying for a bus to take us only a short way down the road was not really worth it.
It turns out it was a good job we did as we had been looking at the wrong pier!! The day ferries actually go from Don Sak pier which was over an hour bus ride from Surat Thani town so that bus part of the ticket was definitely worthwhile!
At the right pier we lead the way to the ferry to get some seats as we wanted to be closer to the back as I wasn't sure of my sea legs! It was funny to see how everyone rushed space on the sun deck but we were happy to be in the shade there was plenty of time to be in the sun.
The boat was to stop at Koh Samui and then Koh Phangan where we would then change on to another boat to get to our final destination of Koh Tao so we wouldn't arrive till the afternoon. The first boat was fine if not a bit chilly as we were sat right next to the air con but the second boat was so fumey it made the final part of the journey not that pleasant.
We had changed our original travel plans to skip Northern Thailand as I had travelled there before and instead head straight to Koh Tao to focus on getting our scuba diving certification. We had decided to have a couple of days of luxury before we started diving and had booked a couple of nights at Aminjirah resort which is at the north of Sairee beach up on the hillside www.aminjirah.com
We were not disappointed! Our room was amazing with our own balcony and a great view of the sea.
To top it all off there was an infinity pool!
The next morning we dragged ourselves away from the pool and rented a bike to check out dive schools to book our open water course.
Koh Tao is renowned as a great place to learn to dive as well as being one of the cheapest places in the world to do so. The island is rammed with dive schools and we were keen to avoid some of the larger 'factory' style schools on Sairee beach which churn out loads of people a day...I think we heard that the record for one school is having over 100 people become qualified on the same day!
We were looking for a more personal touch had heard great things about a small diving school called Alvaro which was on Chalok beach on the south of the island so made our way there first.
We loved the vibe of the place straight away as they are located on their own little stretch of beach on the west side of the bay only accessible by a walkway over the water. We were greeted by Bruno who took us through our options and we also chatted with two brits Steve (who would end up being our instructor) and Dean who was completing his Dive Master course. We were soon booked on our SSI open water course, we didn't need to go and look anywhere else. Five days accomodation in Taraporn bungalows next door was included in the cost (9000 baht each), bargain, and we would be starting in a couple of days time! EEK!
So tell me true. Are you guys for Scuba?
YES WE ARE!!!!
With that sorted we made our way back to Aminjirah stopping off in Sairee beach for Dan to catch up on the rugby and get some sunglasses as he had left his in Laos! It was all sorted and we could relax...but when we got to Aminjirah and started to get our tan on we found out that there was a double booking and we would need to find somewhere else to stay the next night! The hotel were helpful and spoke to the resort just down the hill but the room they had was more than we wanted to pay. We started to search for places online but anything that looked remotely good in the area was way out of our price range, we were already pushing the boat out of our backpacker budget at £50 a night! Dan jumped on the bike to check out some places but again too expensive or building work going on. In the end we decided just to pay out for the room in the resort below ours, the sun was already going down and we didn't want to look anymore.
It was a short walk down the hill in the morning to our replacement resort. It turns out that it took up most of the hillside below Aminjirah all the way to the beach at the bottom.
The hill was really steep and we got taken in a small golf buggy down to our room, I'm surprised it didn't flip over given the angle the road was at! The room wasn't as nice as Aminjirah and we were surprised that it was nearly 1000 baht more expensive! Bemused by the decor and frustrated that there was only a handful of sunloungers that weren't broken so we couldn't relax by the pool we were stumped as to what we were paying extra for.
Fortunately for us the friendly manager at Aminjirah said that we were welcome to spend the day back at their resort! phew!
At one point a huge storm cloud came over and it chucked it down. It didn't matter though as it was still warm and was quite fun to be in the pool with the rain drops splashing up around us as we watched the cloud move over the island. The sun was back in no time
Back at our resort we had some cocktails and watched the sun go down, excited to be moving to Chalok beach in the morning and start our scuba adventure!