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.”
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.
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.
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.
By Ayesha Cantrell
Last updated on 6th September, 2012.