After spending the night on the train and the morning on the ferry we were both exhausted when we finally arrived in Koh Tao.
We spoke to a guy on the boat who recommended a couple of different places to stay and an American girl also mentioned one of the places and confirmed that was where she was headed. It was called Save Bungalows.
As we got off the ferry we had to literally fight our way through the taxi drivers and touts crowding the pier and surrounding roads until we could get some peace and quiet to make our way to the accommodation, which thankfully wasn't far.
We checked out a couple of rooms before deciding which one to rent and then unpacked our stuff before heading out to explore and get some food.
Our first little expedition was a walk to Sairee Beach which is meant to be THE place to stay. The guy at the shop who also owns the bungalows where we stay said it would take ½ an hour to walk and we'd be better hiring a scooter (from him) as it's so hot but the walk only took us 14 minutes at the most! It was hot though!
We had a paddle around in the sea although we were disappointed by how dirty it was with lots of litter lying around. Litter is very common in Southeast Asia. So we headed back to the road to try and find somewhere nicer to stay. Not that where we are staying isn't nice, it's just not amazing. The whole area seemed to be much more expensive though and the cheaper places were really horrible compared to where we are so we decided to stay put for one more night and then hire a scooter tomorrow to get a better look at the whole island.
That night we found a lovely restaurant near where we are staying called Whitening. It was really cool and relaxing with a chilled atmosphere. We had a really nice meal and were sure we would be back! No wonder its mentioned so highly in the Lonely Planet!
After getting up we went and hired a scooter from the guy in the shop outside and set off to do some island exploring. It agreed to hire just one scooter and Sarah would ride on the back because its cheaper.
We had a map that pointed out all the viewpoints and places of interest as well as all the resorts as we were still keen to find somewhere else to stay. Perhaps somewhere where there is a bit more to do. Someone along the way had recommended a resort called Tropicana which is in a village a but further south so we thought we would go and take a look.
The rooms were nice little wooden bungalows right on the beach (a much nicer beach than the last one) and the whole place had a lovely atmosphere so we booked for 3 nights from tomorrow!
Our scooter was really well maintained and very powerful. It clearly wasn't a 50cc moped as it powered up all the hills and dirt tracks with the both of us no problem. We went all over the island as its quite small and visited all the viewpoints we could find although some were pretty obscure. It's a really good, cheap way to get around and the only other vehicles on the island are Hilux's which they call Songathew's because they put bench seats in the back like Tuk Tuk's and use them as taxis.
We dropped the bike back at around 4pm, grabbed something to eat and went to the beach to relax for the afternoon.
The following morning we finished packing all of our stuff and got a Songathew to Tropicana where we checked in and sat on the beach for the afternoon. We were lucky and ended up in the bungalow closest to the beach which was really picturesque. We also booked a snorkelling trip for the next day so that we could see some of the local corals and fish.
This whole area is really big on diving and there are more places that offer you the opportunity to earn your PADI licence than there are hotels but we can't afford it this time. Maybe we'll have to come back!
Anyway the trip started early the next morning so we had an early night as we were both still a bit jet lagged.
Breakfast was at 7.30am and we were picked up at 8.30am. After all the early mornings in Africa you would think this was easy but we really struggled. There were another 5 people from our resort on the tour which was really nice as so far we haven't had much opportunity to meet other people.
We all jumped in a taxi and were taken to the shop to collect our masks and fill in the usual paperwork. Then we had a short walk down to the pier to find our boat. We had to clamber across 3 other boats to get to ours which was interesting and then off we went.
The tour includes 5 stops for the day at various points around the island. Each one has different things to see. Our first stop was in Shark Bay which is well down for its black tipped Reef Sharks and is just around the bay from Tropicana.
We all jumped in the water once the boat was anchored and the guide swam off indicating that we should follow him. It was hard to keep up with him though because he had fins on but no one else did. Both Sarah and myself had issues with our masks and I turned back to go and get another one. Sarah carried on a bit but lost the group when she was trying to get the water out of her mask. She headed back on her own and arrived at around the same time as everyone else but they had all seen lots of sharks but she hadn't seen any and was very disappointed.
For me however, turning back was really lucky. I saw a couple of sharks and a turtle which I followed for 10 minutes or so, it was really graceful underwater. Amazing to see!
We were all called in as we had been in the water for about 40 minutes by this point although we didn't realise it as the time went so fast!
Hin Wong Bay was our next stop and here we saw lots of coral and fish. The guide even said that you can see Nemo here (clown fish from the film) but what he didn't tell us is that it's a different colour here so we were all looking for an orange and white stripey fish and couldn't see it!
Both Sarah and I dived down to about 7 metres to try and get a better look but the water pressure even at that depth was unbelievable and it really hurt our ears so we had to come straight back up.
When we got back on the boat the crew had prepared some fresh pineapple and water melon for us to eat which was really refreshing after all that salt water!
Mango Bay was a bit choppier than the first to stops but there was a lot of fish to see and a few small fish even followed us back to the boat swimming in the shallow water above my back. At one point there were so many fish around us it was hard to swim through them although it turned out that this was because one of the crew was throwing food into the water near us and laughing as the fish swam in our faces or nipped lightly at our skin thinking we were food.
Stop number five was Nang Yon Island which we had already seen from one of the viewpoints on our scooter tour. It was nice to be on the island itself, which is actually 3 islands interconnected by 3 conjoining beaches. We climbed to the viewpoint on the highest of the 3 islands to get some photographs but it was baking hot and we couldn't wait to get back down and into the water again. By this time we were both looking a bit sunburnt on our backs despite all the SPF40 we had been using!
We grabbed an icy drink of water at a bar in the middle of the 3 beaches and then went to find the Japanese Garden which is a local reef that is supposedly very beautiful. By this time we had lost the rest of the group and didn't know where to go so we just splashed around in the warm waters off each beach but didn't find what we were looking for and gave up after about 20 minutes.
When we got back to the boat others told us how they had found it but it was much further off shore than they had expected which explains why we never got there and why we lost them all. I was a bit gutted though as it seems we missed a treat.
Once back on the mainland we headed back to our room to slather on the after sun and had dinner in the resorts restaurant.
The next day we arranged with another couple that we had met on tour to walk back to Shark Bay. They had been before and knew the way which is quite complicated as it involves hiking up into the mountains and then down through a private resort. Their names were Emma and Max and they are from France. Since we have arrived in Thailand we have seen a lot of French people so it must be a really popular destination for them!
We hired some masks and fins from Tropicana and set off on what they told us was only a short hike. It was extremely hot and up in the hills it seems even hotter. It also took a lot longer to get there than they had originally said it would but once there it was worth it as the beach is beautiful.
The first time out in the water we saw about 7 sharks and then Sarah went out again without me and actually stopped counting at 25 as there were so many. She said it was really amazing and you can swim right above them but they completely ignore you like you're not even there.
At around 6pm we headed back and Emma and Max introduced us to the Korean BBQ which is really nice. You cook it yourselves though, the restaurant just gives you the BBQ and everything to go on it.
After dinner we went back to our room to pack as we are getting the ferry to Koh Phangan at 9am tomorrow!