Koh Tao has a reputation for being a dive and party island. And while both those things are true — and Koh Tao does them proud — there is so much more to this little baby island than that. We’ve got plenty to landlubbers busy during the day: a trapeze school, Muay Thai gyms, a Thai language school, and miles of beautiful marked hiking trails.
Er — okay, well, maybe they aren’t so much trails as dirt paths likely to be washed away at the slightest hint of rain, and maybe they aren’t exactly marked so much as known pretty well among the locals who might draw you a map if you ask nicely, and maybe they aren’t so much beautiful as slightly overgrown and unkempt. But gosh darnit, you can hike. And if you do, you’ll be rewarded — with a great workout, with a look into the raw jungle, with the thrill of being a bit of an explorer, and depending on what path you choose, with a tropical beach or a breathtaking viewpoint awaiting you at the other end. Here’s a look at two of my favorite routes.
The hike to Fraggle Rock is one of the most popular on Koh Tao — it’s a moderate to hard trek, the route is easier than others to follow, and the payoff is spectacular. I’m embarrassed to say that I hiked here for the very first time upon my return to Thailand this fall. After years of staring up at the rock itself from Sairee Beach, I was ready to finally reach it! My friend Anna — who calls me Activities Alex for reasons I simply cannot fathom — and I made a pact to wake up early one Sunday and start the day with our trainers on.
Like with most hiking adventures on Koh Tao, our first step was to find directions. My friend Linzi at Goodtime Adventures knows the route well — they offer rock climbing in the area — and so she gamely drew me the above map. While some of it may be a tad unclear to someone new to Koh Tao, it actually was all we needed to find the way.
To start, leave the main road junction in Sairee and walk up the road past The Brother Restaurant, Banyan Bar, Asia Divers, Roctopus Dive and Koh Tao Gym and Fitness. If you have a bike, you may want to drive as far as the gym, but not much past — the road turns very steep and unpaved soon after. The road will curve and twist and you might be passed by a pickup or two on their way to Hin Wong Bay.
When the road flattens out at the crest of the island, you’ll reach the power station (marked on the above map as “antenna” and signs for Mango Bay. Slow down. You’ll be cutting in to a path to your right, which will lead you on the winding journey to Fraggle Rock! On the way, you’ll pass a turnaround circle for motorbikes (marked by the scribbled dark circle on the map), a concrete building under construction (marked on the map as Mek’s House), and eventually a big rock with a ladder up to a viewpoint over Hin Wong Bay. You’re almost there!
There’s really only one place you can take a wrong turn (marked on the map by despair, uncertainty, etc.).
View over Hin Wong Bay
Along the way we spotted gorgeous wild flowers, brightly colored reptiles and insects, and a whole lot of our own sweat dripping in front of our eyes.
We got 90% of the way there with no issue — but once we arrived at the huge mess of boulders that contains Fraggle Rock, we had a comical misunderstanding of which rock was Fraggle and tried to scramble up the wrong one. Eventually we found our way, and with shorties like us the scrambling was indeed on of the hardest parts — but man, was it worth it.
A look down at Sairee!
We were both blown away. We had fun tracing along the path we’d taken up, looking for each of our bungalows among the colorful roofs below, and profusely congratulating each other on having found such an idyllic slice of paradise to live on.
While everyone goes at their own pace and we certainly took our sweet time with photos and victory high fives at the top, I’d leave at least two hours to get from the main junction in Sairee and back again. If you are parking at the gym, you can lop half an hour or more off that. Hiking on Koh Tao ideally requires an early start in order to beat the mid-day heat. We met at 8am and were feeling the heat on the way back, especially once we got back on the main road, where there is no shade.
It was clear I’d been missing out all these years on Koh Tao — don’t make the same mistake. Fraggle Rock awaits!
Another very popular hike on Koh Tao, due to its easy access from Sairee and the sparkling beach on the other end, is the hike to Laem Tien Bay. One sweltering Saturday, Ian and I decided to dognap our friend Sadie and take her for a nice long walk straight across the island.
This is an incredibly straightforward route to follow, no special map required — as long as you can find the start of the path. Again, starting at Sairee you’ll walk up towards the gym, following the main road up until the first really steep hill. There you’ll find a resort heavy under construction to your right (as of late 2014) — turn right and walk up the road with the construction on your left. Feel free to ask ask “Laem Tien?” with a pointed finger to anyone milling around, but don’t be surprised if you get a blank smile in return.
The road will soon turn from paved to a dirt path, and unlike the route to Fraggle Rock, which is incline all the way, this route will alternate between uphill and downhill sections as it brings you across the width of Koh Tao. I had done this hike once before about a year ago and it was harder than I remembered!
When you get to Laem Tien, kick of those shoes and go for a swim! This quiet bay has just one abandoned resort — which can be a fun to explore — and a popular dive site offshore. Often, you’ll have the place to yourself. While it’s a nice change of pace to be so deep in the jungle along the hike, for me the real reason to pick this route is this — the beach. We had so much fun watching Sadie frolic and play, and cooling off in the ocean. It took us about forty five minutes each way.
There is nowhere to stock up on fresh water along the way, so make sure to bring plenty for a a round trip journey. The beach is also a great place for a picnic — grab sandwiches from Zanzibar before you leave Sairee, and make a day of it! And if you’re going to stick around, you might as well bring a mask and snorkel for a little swim. Ideally if you can find a pup to lead you, that would be a great addition too. Sadie is in pretty high demand for her guiding services.
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You could probably get away with doing either of these hikes — as well as any others on Koh Tao, really — in flip flops, though I wore trainers and was very happy to have done so. As with hiking adventures anywhere in the world, it’s best to let someone know where you are going, and to hike in pairs. Plus it’s more fun!
Hiking on Koh Tao is an incredible way to see the island and work up a sweat (not that you’ll really need help with the last part most of the year, but you catch my drift.) Both these excursions were highlights of my time back in Koh Tao — I hope to share more routes upon my next return.
Have you been hiking in Thailand? Where should I go next?