Sep 06 2012

Living on Ko Tao

Published by at 1:26 pm under Ko Tao

When asked to write about life on Ko Tao from a longterm stayers point of view, all I could think about were the three biggest lies told on the island. I’ll leave you to ponder the other two but the biggest, without a doubt is, “I’m leaving tomorrow.”

View from your front room.

This is not used to wheedle one last fling out of the bronzed beauty from your holiday romance but rather genuinely meant as a statement of fact. Similar to the island in the TV series Lost, Ko Tao gets a strange hold on you, making departure near impossible. Round the world flight tickets seem to terminate in Ko Tao, no matter if you have only taken your first flight. I often warn people that arriving here without a plan to leave often means you never do. Many of my friends who have been here years arrived just like that, with plans to stay a few days and move on, which of course they never did. Those of us who do manage to leave inevitably return and return again.

It’s difficult to pin down why though. It’s true, life is good here and it mostly revolves around diving and socialising — whether that’s dancing till the sun comes up or chilling by the beach is up to you. If you dive, then the sites are close by and the conditions most of the year are not taxing. The reef is in good condition and the fish are brilliant in colour. It’s a great place to train to professional levels of diving due to the abundance of divers and experienced instructors. This is how most people start their long-term love affair with Ko Tao.

It’s a holiday destination, so there’s always plenty to do and a neverending stream of new people to meet. You don’t need to stay here long before you melt seamlessly into the longterm community and its way of life. You’ll quickly nestle into a Ko Tao family and feel like you have been here for years.

The simple things in life.

While it’s true that Thailand is not as cheap as it once was, it’s still easier to get by here than Europe and life is just simpler. I was listening to one of my colleagues recently complain about how busy a particular road gets in the morning at rush hour with taxis and deliveries and how much longer it took to get to work. For a moment I found myself agreeing that the extra few minutes’ delay in a 10-minute journey to work was indeed tiresome, then I remembered rush hour traffic on any motorway back in the UK. I know where I would rather be.

There are no monstrous supermarkets involving a chicane inspired car-parking experience, crime is comparatively low and the sun shines. Ko Tao seems to exist in its own little bubble and the outside world, its politics and strife has little impact here. I often think we would be blissfully unaware of World War III starting until the cargo boats stopped and the beer ran out.

Rush hour?

Life can be quite random though and you’ll often be thrown into situations you could never have imagined at home. I remember the first time I was driving home and confronted with large buffaloes blocking my route; but this is all normal to me now and I’m quite adept at moving them out of my way.

There are downsides of course. Island time is one of them, which perpetually slows inversely to your anticipated speed. Never bank on anything going according to plan either, particularly when it’s crucial. Opening and working hours are not the same thing and they can vary immensely, the post office rules seem to vary depending on who is working, getting an empty gas bottle replaced can feel like an uphill struggle, understanding where to find and pay what bill and when can seem very complicated — but like any of these thimgs, once you know how it’s easy.

Living on any island that doesn’t have an airport can leave you at the mercy of the weather. Boats don’t arrive in high seas which mean neither do supplies. Anyone who has been here a few years has experienced this. Fresh fruit and vegetables disappear, fuel runs startlingly low, yet somehow we never seem to run out of beer. This is when the island community pulls together and you are grateful for your Ko Tao family.

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6 Responses to “Living on Ko Tao” ...

  1. Pauloon 07 Sep 2012 at 8:50 am

    Two years of backpacking in Asia and Koh Tao stands out as the worst place I went to. Maybe once it was tranquil, but it’s obvious that this island is on a fast track to becoming just another concreted over, over developed island.

    It was the place where locals seemed most tired of foreigners. After becoming so used to good heartedness in Asia and the rest of Thailand, I was shocked by hardness of the people. Foreign business owners, whilst bringing comforts and luxury to visitors, have no doubt eroded the spirit of the place.

    I have rarely liked places with long term visitors who believe they are somehow different from other foreigners. The Thais dont see them any differently and no doubt dislike the invasion.

    When it came to accomodation, my guide book prices, 2 year’s out of date, suggested prices had gone up about 500% on average and I checked alot of places.

    In short it was a a bit like the south of Spain. Good for some but what a shame.

    It is definitely a bubble though – a bubble of developement surrounded by a more real and beautiful Thailand that a lot of visitors don’t see.

    The simple life? Not any more.

  2. Danny Nationon 01 Apr 2013 at 9:26 pm

    Sorry, but Paulo is so far off the mark here, I think he might have hit another island. Lost? Possibly! lol

    Concreted over, over developed? Where?? We still don’t have proper roads, unlike the south of Spain, as referenced, let alone any over-development!

    Here’s a recent ariel view of the island:

    Koh Tao Island, has 3 small Thai villages. All connected by one (bumpy) little road. Without the road and a few low-level hotels, where would the likes of Paulo stay, without mentioning where the local dive instructors and workers of all kinds might live.

    Thais and foreigners alike love the visitors, as long as they are honest, responsible, friendly, open and respect local traditions and the Thai culture.

    Most foreigners living long-term on Koh Tao usually have a Thai partner, and nearly always a Thai business partner. There is a lot of love amongst the mixed nationalities.

    Guidebook prices are just that… GUIDE-book… clue in the name.
    Always check online at websites and forums, for an up-to-date average on prices.
    Also take into consideration the time of year, High-Mid-Low-Peak seasons vary, a lot!

    Koh Tao is a bubble. A bubble of sea, sand, sunshine, and smiles, on a daily basis.
    It’s often referred to as “Shutter Island”, and there is a very good reason I tagged it that, some years ago now.

    It’s an incredible, ans yet very special island, with hidden beaches and bays all over, along with some of the most amazing views, the most incredible sunsets, anywhere!

    Visitors are always welcome, just don’t forget your smiles and a little common sense. :)

  3. […] them in a state of trance similar to a snake charmer working their craft.  An article written on Travelfish by a long-term traveler neatly sums up this […]

  4. Anthonyon 23 Jul 2013 at 7:38 pm


    Well according to the first post Koh Tao sounds exactly like I remembered it back 2004. Chilled out and a lazy laid back lifestyle. I am thinking of visiting for a few months at the end of the year.

    Paulo has got my alarm bells ringing, but I will find out for myself. I am intrigued to see how much this place has changed since I was last there.

  5. Claireon 31 May 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Would love suggestions on places to stay that are less resorty!

  6. Lucyon 20 Jun 2014 at 2:50 am

    I’ve been in Koh Tao for about 2 weeks now….only meant to stay a few days, ha. We are planning on moving here in January, to train as a dive instructor (Oli) and probably waitress (me) and I can’t wait.

    I understand the travel snobbery about most Thai Islands, the volume of English gap years bothered me at first, but once I gave the island a chance — I fell in love!

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