We're going to end my Thailand series by discussing the photo worthy Thai islands. There are over a thousand islands in Thailand, and even though Phuket is probably the most famous, there are two other Thai islands that I visited on my trip. Those two islands are Koh Samui and Koh Tao. I never heard of these two islands until I started researching my trip. If you're reading this, you've probably never heard of them either or you are trying to decide whether they are worth a visit. I'm going to give you 3 reasons why I chose these two islands, and my overall impression of them.
1. I was looking to relax instead of party
Whenever I heard about Phuket, everyone talked about how great of a partying town it was. It was also relatively more expensive than the other islands since it was such a hot tourist spot. Well, I wasn't really looking to party but to relax on the beach and take it easy. I was doing a lot of sightseeing and country hopping so the possibility of doing nothing for a few days sounded incredibly appealing. I also wanted to save some money since I was fresh out of grad school, broke, and trying to stretch my money over 6 weeks of travel. I also read that Phuket had become overrated and Koh Samui and Koh Tao would give you more of a local experience. Since I travel to gain a cultural experience as opposed to hanging out with other Westerners, this alternative appealed to me. Another option I considered was Koh Pha-Ngan for the Full Moon party. Apparently, this party on the beach is legendary and a must do. However, as a Black traveler, I felt that those reviews weren't really directed at me since the atmosphere centered around electronic/house music as opposed to R&B and rap. It's probably a must do for someone into those type of parties, but since I wasn't, I decided to pass.
2. It's easy to travel between the two islands
I love being able to see more of a country as opposed to less if possible. With Koh Samui and Koh Tao, the islands were close enough where I could visit both and not lose significant travel time. It's approximately a 1.5 hour ferry ride between the two piers. This was convenient to get a taste of both islands and feel like I was seeing more of Thailand. I used this boat company.
3. I wanted to learn how to scuba dive
The main reason why I chose Koh Tao was because it's regarded as one of the best places to learn how to scuba dive. It's always been a dream of mine to discover the world underwater, and I was tempted by the opportunity to learn in 3 days. I even chose what was considered the best school and stayed in their arranged accommodation. Unfortunately, I was unable to progress with being certified as I couldn't stop myself from panicking whenever my mask came off. I don't blame the program, as they were very patient with me and even gave me a second chance to learn. However, it would not have been safe for me to go deep into the ocean if I was prone to panicking. Because of the pressure experienced during descent, the risk of your mask falling off is real and if you come up too quickly, you can harm or even kill yourself. The school did refund my money for the portion of the program that I did not complete. As far as the arranged accommodation, I chose to leave a day early and stay in a 5-star hotel to soothe the wound of not learning how to scuba dive. The arranged accommodation wasn't fancy at all, had a weird smell, and there were critters that I just didn't want to deal with. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the luxury hotel because I only stayed for one night, paid cash, and it was a last minute decision; sorry!
Honestly, my main incentive for visiting Koh Tao was to learn how to scuba dive, and I added Koh Samui since it was so close. However, since my attempt to scuba dive was a fail, I probably could have skipped Koh Tao. It was beautiful, but there wasn't anything really too special about it. I will admit I didn't really give it much of a chance once the scuba plans fell through and left a day early. So maybe I would have felt differently if I visited without the sole goal of becoming certified. I do wish someone told me it wasn't easy for everyone to become certified in only 3 days. I would have reconsidered spending the money if I truly understood the process.
On the other hand, I truly enjoyed my time in Koh Samui, as I spent my days walking on the beach, gazing at the ocean in lounge chairs, and getting a massage by the water. The scenery was breathtaking with the mountains jutting out from the water, and I loved my hotel. It was affordable and slightly eccentric, yet clean and spacious. It was also a welcome retreat from staying in hostels. Another amazing experience I had in Koh Samui was attending a live Muay Thai match, which is traditional Thai boxing. Since I grew up in the Karate world and am a black belt, I appreciated seeing this part of Thai culture up close and in person.
I would say in general, visit a Thai island because they are beautiful and will offer some serenity to your trip. However, unless you are already certified to scuba dive, maybe you don't need to go to Koh Tao since that's what it's known for. I don't think you can go wrong with any island, though. It's personal preference and whichever one pulls you!
xoxo, Global Midwife