Before we get into the nitty gritty and I give you a bunch of reasons to choose a different island to visit for your holiday, let me first say that if you come to Koh Tao to learn how to dive, you won’t be disappointed.
Koh Tao is the diving island. There are an infinite amount of diving schools on the island, all with varied focuses such as free diving, try-it-out-diving, diving with whale sharks, diving for native French speakers… and the list goes on. The prices for diving excursions are cheap here as well, with the average cost of a full certification (which includes 2-3 dives) at just over 8,000 baht or about 250 USD.
That being said, if diving is not your main reason for visiting the island, I highly recommend going to a different Thai island.
1) Roads/ Accessibility
The roads on Koh Tao are some of the absolute worst I have ever seen in Thailand, and that’s saying a lot. The streets are literally cracked everywhere, and pot holes the size of elephant footprints are every couple of feet. It’s as if a methed out Gallagher came to Koh Tao and rampaged his fruit hammer into every chunk of asphalt on the island.
As if that weren’t bad enough, there are patches of loose gravel and sand lying on every road. Oh, and newsflash– it rains all the time on the Thai islands, which makes the sediment patches kind of like the bananas in Mario Kart.
I have driven in the hills of Pai, the roads of Koh Chang, and even the traffic of Hua Hin, and none of it compares to Koh Tao.
I did rent a motorbike on Koh Tao, and thankfully I never crashed. However, because the roads were so terrible, there were a lot of places that Krissy and I just couldn’t drive to. We were pretty much locked into a small strand of the island.
There were a couple of times we even ditched our bike mid-excursion because walking was easier than driving.
There are a couple of places that will rent out dirt bikes and 4x4s. While renting these vehicles will definitely suit you to the terrain better, the roads are still very dangerous, and you should proceed with caution.
There are taxis are available on the island, but they charge astronomical prices, and are few and far between at nighttime.
If you do decide to rent a motorbike here are a couple of stand by tips to help you avoid trouble.
Tips for renting a motorbike or taxi
- Lots of motorbike renters on the island ask for your passport as a deposit. Do not under any circumstances deposit your passport. There have been plenty of scam stories from people who have had their passports taken hostage for hefty fees on damage that they never caused.
- Always take pictures of the bike you are renting before you leave the renter’s shop. This way, if someone accuses you of doing damage to the vehicle that you know you didn’t do, you have time-stamped proof in your favor.
- Don’t drive on Koh Tao unless you have experience driving a motorbike.
- Always agree the price of a taxi ride before you get in.
2) Poor Attitude of the Island Inhabitants
By the way, the guy who rented us our motorbike was a super aggressive douche-ball. Actually, almost everyone we met who lived on the island was very direct, cold, and stand-offish.
It was such a weird thing! I mean you’re on a tropical island, lighten the fuck up, no?
Honestly, my number one favorite thing about traveling is meeting new people. I consider myself a very amiable, social person, and if you take a look at some of my other blogs, you’ll see tons of pictures of me smiling with strangers, and meeting awesome new people. But other than a handful of travelers passing through the island on holiday, pretty much everyone seemed to have sand in their you-know-what’s.
I spent four days on the island, and the irritable asshole theme became abundantly apparent after the second day. I racked my brain running through every distasteful interaction I had experienced thus far, from the rude usher at the hotel, to the pushy group of stand-offish dive instructors at the bar, and even the aggressive motorbike rental guy, and for the life of me I just couldn’t figure out why everyone was so damn mean.
One night walking home from the nightlife area in Sairee Beach, my girlfriend and I even watched a taxi driver and his patron have a blood curdling scream match in the middle of the street, arguing over some disagreement in price. It was 1 o clock in the morning; I’m sure the 100 baht probably wasn’t worth the scene.
I came up with a million different hypothesis, and worried that maybe I was the one who was being disagreeable, and people were simply responding to my poor attitude.But after having some really pleasant conversations with a handful of passing travelers, I noticed a running similarity…
All of the mean spirited people I had met so far, were people who lived on the island! DUNdunDUN!
3) Everyone’s a Dive Instructor
Literally. Pretty much everyone on the island who isn’t a Thai worker is a dive instructor. Now at first glance I thought that being a dive instructor would be awesome.
You have to love diving to be an instructor, right? So you’re always doing something you love. You also work in a beautiful setting, and you get to meet lots of new people…
But the island is a difficult place to live. The rainy season floods the streets and shops, and makes life a wet soppy hell for everyone. But not only is it a difficult place to live, it’s an even more difficult place to work, especially for foreigners who want to be dive instructors.
Foreign dive instructors aren’t able to get a Thai Work Permit, which means that all of the money they earn has to be under the table, and that makes the banking process much more difficult. In addition, if you are not on a work permit, or non-immigrant B visa, you have to legally leave the country every thirty days for a border run, or face a fine if the authorities decide to flex their power.
This all makes living and working on Koh Tao less and less fun. Also, with so many diving schools on the island, and the rainy season discouraging visitors for a good chunk of the year, competition for business is fierce.
Almost every time we met a dive instructor on the island they would start pushing their school on us, telling us why we need to take classes with them, and even asking us why we came to Koh Tao if we didn’t plan on diving. As if wanting to chill out on a beach, and snorkel at our own leisure wasn’t a good enough reason.
Now please don’t get it twisted. I love everybody, and that includes dive instructors. I have nothing against any dive instructor that I meet, and my future dive instructing acquaintances need not worry, for my opinion of them is not tarnished.
All I’m saying is, you can feel the struggle on Koh Tao. Many of the instructors I met there were irritable, pushy, and arrogant. The majority of the Thai people on island also seemed very irritable, which is something I didn’t experience on Koh Phi Phi, or Koh Chang.
Maybe it’s one of those Carl Jung group subconscious things, but the stank-attitude on Koh Tao is fo’ real.
This is where Koh Tao really lost a lot of points with me.
Krissy and I stayed on Sairee Beach, which is supposed to be where the bulk of the nightlife is. While there was a strip of different bars to choose from, we found the nightlife on Koh Tao to be lackluster at best.
Unlike Lonely Beach on Koh Chang which stayed open and lively until 2 and 3 in the morning, and Koh Phi Phi, which was raging all night long, by 1 o clock we were walking around quiet deserted streets, shrugging our shoulders and giving up to go back to our hotel.
There is a pub crawl on Koh Tao that starts at one of the bigger bars on the island, Choppers, and then winds around to hit a couple of the other bars. However you have to pay a fee to join in the pub crawl, and stand in line for registration. You do get free drinks and a t-shirt for joining however.
Krissy and I had no idea about the pub crawl, and we rolled into Choppers bar. We heard a lot of noise coming from the upstairs area, so we tried to go see what was going on.
The bartenders told us we weren’t allowed to go upstairs and talk with any of the patrons there, because they were on the pub crawl and we were not.
The whole thing seemed a little ridiculous to me. I felt that even though I was not registered for the pub crawl, I should be allowed to socialize with the people who are partaking. Charge me a higher price for drinks, I don’t give a shit, but don’t say I can’t socialize with the other people in the bar…end rant.
Like most of the Thai islands, fire dancers were along the beach everywhere, but the productions seemed much smaller scale than on Koh Chang or Koh Phi Phi. To be honest, the whole of nightlife on Sairee Beach just seemed run down, and like it wasn’t putting forth a huge effort to party-rock.
But the worst thing though, was that we just happened to be on Koh Tao during the full moon. Now I know that Koh Phangan is the go to Koh for full moon madness, but we figured that at least the bars on Koh Tao would be pretty filled up. Nope, almost every bar in Sairee beach was closed, shut down completely.
Sairee beach was silent for the full moon.
5) Koh Tao is dirty.
That’s right I said it. Don’t get me wrong either, I can handle dirty. I like dirty. But what I don’t like is when you can tell people don’t take care of their things.
Almost every building on Koh Tao looks like it has been through the gamut of natural disasters. I understand that the islands take a beating every rainy season, but there are nice looking places on the island that have adapted to the temperamental weather.The Koh Tao Cabana and Kustos in Sairee Beach, The Earth House in Mae Haad, these places have been on Tao for some time, and they look nice.
But trying to find a single pool table that didn’t have a tear down the felt, or metal makeshift pockets is near impossible. The pool tables and pool sticks, the chairs, the restaurants, they all look like no one gives a single shit them.
Koh Phi Phi was the victim of a huge tsunami, and has had to be rebuilt from the sand up, and it still looks better than Koh Tao.
Krissy went into one of the bathrooms at one of the more popular bars on the island (I don’t want to give away the name because I don’t want to offend anyone), and every toilet was clogged with shit, the sink in the men’s bathroom didn’t work, and the scent lingered in the building like some silent unwanted stranger at a party. But the employees simply walked around ignoring the smell and the obvious discomfort of the patrons.
With the exception of some of the nicer resorts, the island looks like shit. Even sailboat rock, one of the major snorkeling and diving spots just off the island, has trash floating everywhere in the water.
So there you have it, all the reasons why Koh Tao is my least favorite Thai island. However, because life is not back and white, and things are never 100% good or bad, I wanted to tell you guys about the things I did like about Koh Tao.
So look for my coming post Koh Tao- The Good Stuff, coming later this week.
Or check out my post on Koh Chang, Elephants on Pancake Island, and find out why I absolutely love it there.
As always, comment below if you feel inclined! I’d love to hear from you.
Happy Travels 🙂