On the East side of Southern Thailand are the three idyllic islands of Samui, Phangan and Tao. These islands are known for their palm-treed beaches, rocky coves, and mountain interiors with high waterfalls. The perfect group of islands for our next week.
The trip from Phuket to Samui was a lot longer than we anticipated. It began at 8:00 with a minibus pick up from our hotel. From there we switched minibuses 3 times over the next 4 hours. We finally arrived at what we thought was the boat dock, only to find a run-down cafeteria where we had to wait for one hour while fending off the various touts. From there we had another one-hour drive in a very rickety bus. It was a complete rust bucket. The driver could hardly close the door because it was so bent out of shape. Inside, half of the bus seats were wet due to a leaking roof. Walking down the aisle to find a seat, our feet almost went through a huge hole in the floor. We finally found dry seats, but Richard’s was not bolted to the floor and when the bus turned a corner, his seat lifted off the floor. We finally arrived safely at the real boat dock, but the driver still required of one of the passengers to push the door open from the inside! Thankfully, the ferry was in good condition and the boat ride went without incident.
It had been storming on Samui for over a week before we arrived. As a result, many of the streets and sidewalks were flooded. We were worried what our next few days would bring, but awoke the next morning to a beautiful sky. There are many waterfalls on the island. We spent the morning hiking up to Namuang Waterfall. Because of all the rain, the waterfall was actually three waterfalls, powerfully cascading through a dense jungle. It was a great setting and worth the hike.
We spent the afternoon near our hotel, on Lamai beach. It’s a long sandy beach with rocky outcrops defining its two ends making for really nice pictures. The sea was turbulent that day bringing huge waves up on to the beach.
The next day we went to the neighbouring beach, Chaweng. It’s an even longer beach, but much narrower. Waves come up to the edge of the hotels and restaurants at times or where there is sand, it leaves only a narrow strip. Taking full advantage of this unique setting, we had a beer at a beach side ‘pub’ with the waves literally breaking at our feet.
The next island, Koh Phangan, was an hour ferry ride north. Every month for the full moon this island hosts one of the biggest parties in Thailand. Any other time of the month, it is a laid-back, peaceful retreat. Thankfully, we chose to be here a week after the full moon. The island is 14 km in circumference and has 30 sandy beaches. Our hotel was a 5-minute walk from 3 of those beaches, each more beautiful than the other. Sunrise beach is the largest beach and much like the ones on Koh Samui, it is book-ended by huge rocky outcrops and the beach is long and narrow with large waves crashing up to shore.
The other two beaches, Sunset and Leela are on the west side and have much calmer water. We spent our days here lounging on one of the beaches, playing in the other and then finishing our day at our hotel pool. Life on Koh Phangan was pretty stress-free.
On our last night, we saw a beautiful sunset on Sunset beach.
The smallest of the three islands, Koh Tao is a rocky-shored majestic beauty.
The island is well known for its scuba diving and snorkeling sites, so we were really excited to arrive. We dove 2 days on Tao and it was some of the best diving we’ve had. The first day we did two dives at a site called Japanese Garden. It is an incredible area with huge boulder sized mounds of red and blue coral spread over a large area. You swim between and around the boulders and through narrow passages and caves created when three or four are stacked up on each other.
The colours of the coral and the small Christmas Tree Worms, Nudibranch and other bright fish make this area unbelievably beautiful.
The next day we went to a dive site called, Chumphon. Supposedly a whale shark had been seen in the area, but they aren’t very common at this time of year, so we didn’t expect much. Two minutes into our dive we looked to our left and a huge 7 meter-long whale shark swam by, not more than 10 m away. It was so magical and peaceful. Our presence didn’t seem to affect the whale shark, it just went on its way. We saw the same one 4 times over the next 40 minutes. Apparently, they will often swim by multiple times, as they are also curious about us. This area is also amazing for other reasons, mostly because there are so many fish. At one point I looked beside me, and Richard was swimming in the middle of a school of a thousand or more small fish. I wish I had a camera to capture this moment.
In the afternoon we rented a kayak and paddled for half an hour until we found an area to snorkel. We stopped on the rocky shore unsure of what we’d see, but were surprised by another large coral garden and many fish, including a stingray. This island has so many hidden gems like this around its coast. With sites like these and the water temperature between 28 and 30°C, it’s a perfect place to spend the day in the water.