This article is an insight into island life in Thailand based on my experience on Koh Tao. When you live on a tropical island, there are a whole lot of things you didn’t expect or think would be a part of daily life.. Koh Tao is well established on the South East Asia backpacker trail and very busy with tourists for most of the year. Used as an escape from Koh Pha-Ngan full moon antics or as a base for getting scuba certified, the island is a great place to chill for a few weeks while in Thailand.
The essential mode of transport for getting around on the islands and in the majority of Asia for that matter is via scooter. Little 100/125cc Honda waves buzz around and to be honest, this deserves a post of its own. Most people will rent a scooter for the first time ever in Thailand and expect to be able to handle the roads no bother. Every day you see fresh bandages on girls and guys alike. They hang their head in shame as everybody knows that they came off their scooter. The best advice is don’t get one. But in reality, you probably will! My first time ever to drive a scooter was in Koh Tao in 2011. I had a little bit of NSR80 fun when I was 18 so figured i would be fine. Watch out for dodgy drunk drivers, they are everywhere.
The island roads are not as well maintained as the mainlands. In fact, they can be horrendous. After a bad rain, half of the road can be washed away! When driving you need to be observant for random pot holes, steel wire sticking out of the road, sudden change from road to off-road, dogs, dodgy drivers, sand patches (very dangerous if you do not have the good grip tyres).. So make sure to get a scooter with the big grip tyres and be on the look out.
Prepare to have all of your clothes destroyed. Sun cream, coconut oil, after sun, dark sand, dirt, bugs, partying, spillage… All of these things contribute to systematically destroying you new clothes while on the islands. Whites are pointless to buy as they are the first to go. I arrived in Koh Tao with 5 new white t-shirts and left with zero. Your clothes will not survive.
This again relates to the scooters. For some reason, it seems to be a perfectly logical thing to do while on holidays in Thailand to drive a scooter or motorbike after drinking all day. No helmet, no actual motorbike license, no experience..
God forbid you might have to walk for 10 minutes to get somewhere. The mentality seems to be “its completely unacceptable, sure bring the scooter, drink Chang and Samsong all day and you will be fine to drive home at 3am from Lotus Bar’… People wonder why they get busted, crash and end up in the medical centre on Koh Samui..
There can be a lot of drunken idiots around the Lotus bar. My friend got a punch in the face for someone trying it on with his girlfriend of 10 years and him telling him to bugger off. As in all places where buckets are full of M150 and cheap Thai whisky, there is always a risk of bumping into some drunken idiots who just want to cause trouble.
Ya I said it! That is what they are called by anyone who is not doing a dive master or PADI corse. The scuba steves have an aura of self-entitlement as if they own the fucking island and the bars because they live and work there for bananas and toast in a save labour type of arrangement. They can be seen frequenting the local bars, tops off, trying hard to get into the knickers of new arrivals. Usually travel in scuba packs and do not associate with outsiders unless they are Swedish backpacking ladies.
Staying on a tropical island means you have to put up with a variety of bugs. It becomes a daily ritual to spray nasty chemicals all over your body to try to prevent a dose of Dengue and itchy bites. As far as I experienced, mosquitos and tiny little black flies where the worst. The small black flies will go for any open cut, scratch or even just the juice on your eyeball!
The incurable problem associated with tropical destinations! You will find ants in the bathroom, on your floor, on the mat you are lying on, in your clothes and crawling on you all the time. The black ants are fine and do not pack punch but the red fire ants hurt when they bite and it burns for a while! Everybody reacts differently and some people get all swollen up from ant bites. Cover your cuts with plasters and bandages or you will get infected cuts, which brings me to the next topic…
Everyone who goes to the islands will leave a semi-professional doctor. Yup, you will wake up and do the morning cleaning ritual for minor feet surgery. Whether it is trying to pry out a piece of glass from dancing on the beach the previous night, pouring iodine solution into your shredded foot thanks to the coral that looks so beautiful but is actually a disguised nemesis that will cut you like a razor with the slightest of touches. I would estimate that 4/10 people who rent a scooter will of course come off. This means cuts, abrasions, bandages and plasters that need to be cleaned and changed daily or after swimming. Hilarious to see all the people outside their room in the mornings re-applying bandages.
If you get a bad doing, then you will be making daily trips to the medical centre and forking out 150THB to have the nurses clean your wounds and dress the bandages for you.
Travel Insurance is essential for these situations. I use World Nomads because they were the only company who would insure me for my trip to Thailand,while I was living in New Zealand. Most companies will only insure when you are flying out from your home country.
Dengue fever is a common tropical disease on the islands and in Thailand now. I won;t get into the gritty details but it is passed on via mosquitos and will land you in hospital for a few days where you will be sick to your bones. It sounds horrible. So, try to avoid getting bitten, wear long pants, repellent and avoid sitting outside at dusk & dawn. I met five people who has it at some stage during their travels and heard of many more.
Without getting to descriptive, there was a lot of people getting sick from an island ‘bug’.. Lets put it this way, you will be afraid to do a fart for fear of shitting yourself and you will not go further that 20 metres from a toilet for fear of the same. Drink plenty of water, don’t take Imodium as this is your body’s way of dealing with the virus/bacteria and it need to be flushed out not plugged up. There are lots of electrolyte powders available also and try to eat something bland like crackers of crisps. Just chill out and fight it off. It will pass after 2-3 days and you will be back to normal craving a massive feed.
Cats and Dogs
There is a huge number of stray dogs on Koh Tao and throughout Thailand for that matter. They roam in packs and scavenge what they can from bins and people. Personally I wont go near them. Two of my friends have been bitten outside 7-11 on Koh Tao and had to get rabies injections (which are crazy expensive, so you better have insurance)… The cats are just a part of life. In the hostel you would find them in your bed, bringing gifts of cockroaches to the deck or just chilling around the place. The dogs were not aggressive, just scavengers.
Other Random Animals
Frogs, geckos, chickens, roosters and lizards. Expect to be woken up early by a cock-a-doodle do. Once the roosters start at sunrise, they don’t let up!
Toilets are not all indoor western style with flushing capabilities. Dream on! They can be outside with a bucket and a container of water to flush it with yourself. At first this seems weird but after a few days you get used to putting used toilet paper in a basket (which the ants love) and flushing the toilet by scooping water out of a bucket and pouring down the toilet. There will not be a roof, there will not be toilet paper (always bring your own), and there will probably be something trying to bite you!
It All Has To End One Day!…
One day you will have to make a decision and finally leave your little paradise island in the sun. I was booked to leave one night but decided to stay on for another few days. It is hard to leave a tropical paradise when you don’t exactly ‘have’ to go. I could stay in Koh Tao and live there for the unforeseeable future but that would not be very wise from a business point of view. To much partying, drinking, socialising, beaching, more drinking. I had not seen some of my friends in four years and was having a great time being back with all the lads, but one day you must pack up your stuff and leave the island… Leave behind the hammocks, snorkelling, lazy days, scooter rides, palm trees, sunset BBQ’s and never-ending partying that comes with the islands along the backpacker trail of South East Asia.
I shot this video with my new favourite travel toy, my GoPro, to give an insight as to what an average day on Koh Tao looked like.