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My number one favorite activity in Koh Tao is taking a longtail trip around the circumference of the island, beach hopping and snorkeling along the way. I would recommendation the trip to anyone as Koh Tao’s number one activity. (After diving, of course!) Unfortunately, a longtail boat isn’t the most hearty means of transportation, and at the time Koh Tao was experiencing some uncooperative weather. On the day after Christmas we were met with cloudy weather, high tides, and rough seas.

Koh Tao Longtail Trip

Without many bad weather alternatives, we decided to go ahead with our longtail plans anyway. No boatman would take us to the East side of the island, so we were restricted to the South and to the West, from where we started.

Koh Tao Longtail Trip

Our spirits lifted by a quick appearance of sunshine, Mark and I devised a quick plan to hit up our favorite southern-facing beach, Freedom Beach. Unfortunately when we arrived we found not the scene below (a photo taken on a different day) but instead a completely washed out beach- high tides were striking here as well as the rest of the island. On this day the water level was high above the trees. Undeterred, we went to Plan B- hike to the Freedom Beach viewpoint.

Freedom Beach, Koh Tao

Mark and I had hiked to this viewpoint once before and knew the vistas were spectacular. While the trail isn’t particularly well-marked or maintained, it’s a fairly easy walk, exertion-wise.  The majority of Koh Tao is covered in dense jungle and this is a rare opportunity to get a chance to walk through an untouched portion of it without serious hiking and navigational gear. It is deliciously rustic, and leaves me feeling like I’m walking into a scene from Lost.

John Suwan Rock, Koh Tao

You will know you are at the end of the trail when you reach a massive boulder- John Suwan Rock. By scrambling up that rock (sans safety rails and stairs, of course) you have reached the viewpoint. To your left in Chalok Bay, and to your right, Thain Og Bay and Shark Island. In all directions: unbelievable beauty.

John Suwan Rock, Koh Tao

One of my favorite things about this spot is all three times I have been here, I have had the rock to myself for at least a portion of the time. Even in Thailand, with its 20 million visitors per year, it’s possible to have moments of solitude, if you’re willing to do a bit of exploring.

John Suwan Rock, Koh Tao

Even on a cloudy and gray day, I felt proud standing up there and showing off the beauty of my adopted home island to my family and friends.

John Suwan Rock, Koh Tao

If you are in Koh Tao and interested in finding this viewpoint for yourself reference the map found here, or consult the Koh Tao Info booklet found all over the island. I’ve been to about half the viewpoints marked on the map. I’d love to see them all someday!

John Suwan Rock, Koh Tao

After we made our way back to the flooded beach, we hopped back into the longtail to attempt some snorkeling. We asked to go to Tah Toh Rock, a shallow nearby dive site, hopping it would provide some colorful coral and fish.

Snorkeling in Koh Tao

Unfortunately the kind of weather we were experiencing tends to bring poor visibility and diving/snorkeling conditions as well. We weren’t that impressed when we jumped in to check the site, but we doubted there were better alternatives. I convinced myself that yet another aspect of our day was ruined.Freedom Beach, Koh Tao

As usual I was fretting unnecessarily. Everyone relaxed and enjoyed being out at sea. And as it was their first dip in the Gulf of Thailand, Steffi and Anton didn’t seem to bothered by the bad conditions- they were too busy throwing sea cucumbers at one another.

Freedom Beach, Koh Tao

When our skin was pruned and wrinkled we made for our last stop of the day- Banana Bar.  Banana Bar is located between Sai Nuan Beach and Sai Nuan Bay on Koh Tao’s Southwest coast and is  accessible either by boat or by a long, unpaved, steep and treacherous motorbike ride. That is to say, it’s fairly isolated.

 

Banana Bar, Koh Tao

You would think that would mean small crowds and speedy service, but you’d be wrong on both fronts. Banana Bar still manages to draw (relative) crowds thanks to its scenic location, unique construction, and most prominently its ganja-friendly, eyeliner-wearing, dreadlocked Thai hippie owner. I know what you’re thinking: that sounds like an excellent place to bring one’s parents! Luckily it takes a lot to scandalize my folks.

Banana Bar, Koh Tao

Aside from don’t-bring-super-conservative-relatives-here, I have one more tip: don’t order food. We waited hours for dishes that never showed up. Our tummies beyond rumbling, we eventually made a run for it after leaving the money for our drinks, ensuring that I can never go to Banana Bar ever again. So if you go, forgo food and stick to Changs and Singhas instead.

Banana Bar, Koh Tao

Despite Mother Nature’s best efforts, we managed to have a lovely day on the water in Koh Tao. As I’m learning every day, travel is less about checking things off my Excel-organized to-do list and more about making the most of the hand your dealt when it comes to weather, luck, and a whole host of other factors. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a great group by your side, figuring it out with you.

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16 Comments...
  • Anton
    March 7 2012

    Wooo!!! Made it to the blog.

    Note to self: Tan and get a haircut before going on my next vacation.

    Nice work Alex!

    • Alex
      March 8 2012

      This won’t be your last appearance here Anton! And yes, when friends with a blogger one quickly learns to step up their personal maintenance or suffer the wrath of the internet.

  • Justin
    August 31 2015

    We loved this viewpoint. When we hiked it in June there was a cleanup crew that had recently cleared the trail so the trail wasn’t that pretty. It looked like they were making some iproveents though. They were putting up some rail fences and steps and making the path wider. We stayed in PD resort on june juea beach so it was fun to see where we were staying from another perspective. And wow, what an amazing view!

    You’re from the states. Have you ever been snorkeling in key largo Florida at the ‘John Pennekhamp’ national marine park? I’d like to know how it compares to Him Ao leuk or Wong bay on ko Tao.

    One more thing, my wife and I snorkeled from the beach at Nang yuan. My wife went out for about 15 minutes along the south shore of the big island along the rocks under the fan bungalows. She saw nothing but fish. I had better luck. I went out along the north shore of the middle island, the one with the resort on it. All I saw was fish. Then I swam out to the big rock that sticks up in the bay. I swam around that rock and saw a bunch of fish some sea urchins and some coral on the rock. It was pretty cool but a huge disappointment after just doing ao leuk, hin Wong and light house earlier that day on our snorkel tour. I was out about 20 minutes snorkeling at bang yuan. Did we snorkel in the wrong place or is that all there is to see?

    • Alex
      September 9 2015

      Sadly I’ve never been south of Miami in Florida! One of these days I’m dying to get to the Keys. As for Koh Nang Yuan, what were you hoping to see other than fish? Coral formations?

  • Justin
    September 9 2015

    Yes, I was expecting to see more coral formations. Was I snorkeling in the wrong place?

    • Alex
      September 10 2015

      To be honest it’s been a long time since I’ve been snorkeling there. I have great memories of loving it, but can’t remember exactly what I saw! Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

  • Jael
    October 24 2015

    Is it safe to hike up John Suwan in the dark? I have this mad desire to catch sunrise up here but don’t want to stumble across weed-addled folks and get mugged on the way up.

    • Alex
      October 25 2015

      Hey Jael, I’ve never done the hike other than in bright daylight. I would feel safe doing so, as long as I wasn’t alone. Enjoy!

      • Jael
        October 26 2015

        Takes a lot of courage (and foolishness) to hike alone in a remote area in the dark! Nope. Will be going in a small group. Might abandon the idea if conditions doesn’t seem right when I’m actually there, but that’s going in on my checklist for now!

  • Lewy
    June 28 2016

    Great write up mate. John Suwan is incredible isnt’t it.

    • Alex
      June 29 2016

      Indeed! Going to have to add it to my hiking series one of these days!

  • Julia Nix
    July 9 2016

    even your dad has been to KOH TAO. he is a cool one. it must have been a bit strange when you arrived at that bar with your family.

    • Alex
      July 10 2016

      Not really 🙂 Lots of expats ring their families to visit and show them all around the island!

  • Matt
    March 25 2018

    Great article!
    I was lucky enough to visit Koh Tao, Koh Samui, and Koh Phangan last year!
    If you like scuba diving, you must go here!!

    • Alex
      March 26 2018

      Agreed! Sounds like a great trip!

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