Thailand will always hold a special place in my heart…. i planned to stay for a couple of months and ended up spending 5 fantastic years !!! There are many areas in Thailand to explore but for this, i will be giving you some inside information on the islands located in the Gulf of Thailand (South East of Bangkok). Tucked away from the mainland of Thailand are 3 tropical islands know as Koh Samui, Koh Phangan & Koh Tao!! Koh Tao back in the day was an island where they sent prisoners of Thailand, today if you heard the word prison and saw Koh Tao you would think quite the opposite. The 3 islands are for sure some of the hot spots of what is known as the backpacking route through Thailand and Asia…. each island feeling different to next with each having plenty to offer (depending on what you are after of course).
Thailand & these islands in particular are not short of tourists and have not been for quite some years. The locals like most areas/countries in the world relying on tourism mainly for income. On all 3 islands there is plenty of infrastructure and on Koh Samui is an airport which means you can fly direct from Bangkok in 1 hour.
The Thai people in my experience i have found to be incredibly friendly, respectful happy people. As these islands have had such a volume of tourists passing through most locals English are very good.
Living on the Islands
Well lets just say life is good in the Gulf of Thailand!! If you choose to visit this lovely part of the world then you are just left with the dilemma of which island to stay on and where about to stay. I am not going to go into huge detail of accommodation etc as you can quite easily look that up online already, but i will give you an overview of each island with some areas to head to and you should be able to roughly choose which island ticks the boxes for you by the end.
Koh Samui – The largest out of the 3 islands and if you dont get the bus down for Bangkok then you will certainly be flying into here. The island is big and therefore has different areas to it but plenty on offer. My favourite area is on the NE around Bophut also know as fisherman’s village, which is filled with local and western cafe’s, restaurants and a couple of nice bars also. A nice quiet side to Koh Samui with some nice resorts or smaller hotels you can stay at with a few minutes walk to the local beach. If its not quiet you are after then a 20 minute drive from there over to the west side and Chaweng is where you will find the main tourist hub…. filled with restaurants, bars, go-go bars, clubs, strip clubs, night clubs, day clubs, anytime of anyday clubs…… filled with tourists enjoying Thailand to the full!!
Koh Phangan – Which is the second largest Island & is 30 minutes on a boat from Koh Samui… while this island has many beautiful spots to it, offering retreats and yoga/meditational sanctuaries….. it is known by most as the island where they have the full moon party every month…. as well as black moon, no moon, half moon, quarter moon parties also!!! In my time in the gulf i did a couple of these and quite the spectacle but is just 10’s of thousands of tourists getting annihilated on drink and drugs on Haad Rin beach…. if thats you thing then you will have an awesome evening!!! As i already mentioned though there are some beautiful spots where people head for quite the opposite experience of the full moon party for yoga and meditation….. well and truly the ying and yang on one island… the choice is yours!!
Koh Tao – The smallest of the 3 islands and this was my home for almost 5 years. Koh Tao has over 60 dive schools on it and 3 of the largest in the world based on certifications per year. The diving can be world class in season, where i dived with whalesharks, bull sharks, turtles and an abundance of fish of all varieties. Or in monsoon season the diving can be awful with 1 metres visability!! …. the island is split into 3 main areas;
- Chalok (the south) which is tucked out the way of the main hustle and bustle of the tourist area….. still plenty of nice resorts, hotels and cafe’s, restaurants where you can crack on with work in a nice environment.
- Mae Haad (the middle…ish) this is where you will land once getting off the boat. You will instantly see 2 main streets, technically referred to as the up and down road (as its one way… kind of ) which are filled with shops, bars, cafe’s, restaurants, places to stay, dive shops, equipment shops, the island banks etc… this area is the hub of Koh Tao.
- Sairee Beach (north of the middle section) this was and in general is most peoples favourite area of the island…… one long strip that runs up the beach filled with shops, restaurants, dive shops, bars, clubs etc…. plenty of areas and spots here if you were to live that you could find to get your daily work done and then enjoy the rest of your time on the islannd.
Food on the Islands
This as well as the beautiful locations & people is one of the main things i miss the most. The food in Thailand, whether it be street food in Bangkok or eating a Tom Yum Soup at a local restaurant on a beach in Koh Samui is incredible!!
Work Spots on the Islands
I am going to talk quite generally about all 3 islands with some specifics however they are so close together by boat and the tourism route passes through all 3 of the islands that when it comes to finding spots for work you will not struggle. All of the islands have plenty of spots that are filled with cafe’s, restaurants, bars where you can easily use their free, good, fast wifi if you buy a drink or snack.
Arrival & Visas
Check out the link below…. As always whichever country you travel to work out what you need to enter and how long you can stay there for.
Transportation to, from & on the Islands
Surprisingly enough with each location being an island, unless you are a very good swimmer you are going to need to get boats inbetween the 3. There are 2 main companies providing many boats to and from each island throughout the day, every day…. prices usually around £10 depending on your destination and the boat journey will take between 1 – 2 hours.
Once on the islands you will need to get a motorbike or car or a taxi from the boat to whichever area or location you will be in. Lomprayah (the link above) do arrange transfers on boats, taxi, airport pick up and drop off services so definitely check out their website. Taxis (especially on Koh Tao) cant be expensive…. up to £15 for a 5 minute drive. Motorbike rental is available but be careful as most places will take your passport as a security deposit. Make sure you fully examine and photograph the bike as they will try and charge you a lot for damage that was already there. In my time on Koh Tao i saw many cases of travellers being ripped off by the locals because once they have your passport there is nothing you can do but pay….as the police will be on their side also.
If you are already settled in areas on these islands where there is plenty going on my advice is just to walk from a to b…. in my time on these islands i also saw alot of motorbike accidents due to drink driving and also the condition of the roads can be challenging. So explore these beautiful islands, but carefully!!
With these islands being tucked away from the mainland and such a tourist spot, you will find the prices here in comparison to the north of Thailand much more expensive with very little room for bartering.
- ACCOMODATION – £200 – £1200 a month…. from a very basic room to quite alot of villa opportunities & small resort complexes with spare rooms
- SIM CARD – £5 & £5 for 1 month data package
- CAR – £10 (not really available/needed on Koh Tao)
- SCOOTER – £5 a day (but as said above, be careful, as they like to charge cheap in the beginning and charge large in the end, for damage you didnt do).
- TAXIS – try to organise shuttle services depending on where you are staying. Excluding Koh Tao (which is crazily high) taxis’ will be around £1 a minute.
- BREAKFAST – £3 to £15
- LUNCH – £2 to £10 depending if you go for some lovely street food or western
- DINNER – £4 to £15
- WATER – £0.80 for bottle of water for the shop. £1.50 if from a restaurant
- BEER – £1 a bottle or £2 at most restaurants
- WINE – not very nice and well over priced
- COCKTAILS – all cocktails ranging from £2 to £7
Sim card in Thailand
Nice and easy for getting a simcard in Thailand….. when you land in Bangkok or fly through to another airport you will see plenty of phone simcard stands. For the cost of £5 for the card and £5 for the data this will last you a month of high speed data that will work anywhere on any of the islands.
When to visit the Islands
In the many years i lived there the ‘monsoon’ season did vary in timings alittle and also in intensity. But below i have given some rough timings of when to avoid the islands in the gulf…. however i am not a weatherman and even if i was, we are usually wrong anyway.
Dec/September – With occasional exception, blue and sunny skies
Oct/November – ‘Monsoon’ season and when it rains it rains hard and non stop for days. If you still find yourself in Thailand this time of year and need a break then head over to the west side where the weather will be much better i.e go to Phuket or Koh Phi Phi
Final Tips & Recommendations
- Be very careful when you rent a motorbike….be sure to check for damage and take photos… especially on Koh Tao… as they take your passport as a deposit they will charge whatever they want for you to get it back
- Stay away from ‘High Bars’ selling you know what…. quite often undercover police will come in just to look for westerners and again you will be looking at alot of money to make the problem go away