Monday, 12 December 2011

Day 100: Wave Goodbye To Koh Tao

Well, Koh Tao wasn't hell in the end. Just a little boring.

My fears of Full Moon madness weren't realised, for a start. Koh Tao isn't the full moon capital, and so on the night itself the island was pretty quiet - all the revellers had shifted over to the neighbouring Koh Pangang to dance wildly to awful trance and develop their cosmic consciousness, while drinking cheap beer and puking on the sand. This was a big relief and a slight shame - it gave me much less to moan about.

Koh Tao is a little more mature than its neighouring islands, and is effectively a diving resort. This means it has a string of diving shops, bungalow hut residences, small hotels, 7-11s, bars, restaurants, massage shops, and second-hand English bookshops along its narrow beach and main drag. If you like diving or just like drinking beer and looking at some sand, it's lovely. I found it excruciatingly dull.

I have realised on these travels that what usually appeals to me about somewhere I visit is a sense of culture. Culture can come in many forms, be it high-brow or low-brow, and can range from a piano recital in the Opera House to a packed shabby bar in Yangon with a commanding matriarch in charge, but it underpins everything I like in travel. It gives an identity to a place. Koh Tao, though not unpleasant, had no identity. It was bereft of anything approaching culture.

It's a resort, plain and simple, for divers, travellers, and Thai island-hoppers. Its population is itinerant Westerners and Thai shop owners. As I say, for dedicated divers, it's surely wonderful, as it would be for those just wanting a break away from it all. But without any sense of history or culture, and on travels that really are centred around history and culture, I couldn't find it at all interesting.

And like a sulking child, I didn't do much of interest either. I sat about, read some books, planned some of next year's travel, played pool really badly, and ate and drank. After arriving on the island in the tail-end of a cold, feeling knackered, it is good to feel back to health, and it was good to get some time to think and plan next year, but already Koh Tao is slipping into the part of my memory that is filed under "archive". Even Burness felt the same. He tried a couple of dives, but the weather was bad and visibility was low, plus his instructors were both lacklustre. "Disappointing" was his final word on the island.

And so now, I'm on a minibus, wearing two stickers. The first sticker was given to me at a Koh Tao jetty, and allowed me passage on a very choppy boat - in which multiple people were sick, one violently across an aisle - and then a bus. The next sticker seemed to get me on a pick-up truck and now a minibus, and I'm now at the beginning of a four hour journey to a small town called Krabi. The name matches my mood delightfully.

The reason we're going to Krabi is, need you ask, to get to another Thai island, this one called Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Koh-Pee-Pee, a name which neither myself or Burness have yet exploited for comic potential). I'm hoping it's a little more fun than Koh Tao, but aren't optimistic. At least it's the last island we'll be visiting, and in a handful of days we'll be back to Bangkok, to check out (again) the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and then the ruined city of Ayutthaya,

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