From Bangkok, Koh Tao is a 15 hour journey away. Harmony and I were travelling with a company called Lomprayah, who's office was right next to where we stayed (Green House on Rambuttri Road). We got our tickets at 8pm for the 9pm bus and were told to go to the departure point. Then, there was a long wait as the bus was half an hour late. When it finally turned up, we found our seat, sat down and soon realised how uncomfortable the journey was going to be. After travelling on a VIP bus to Chiang Mai, nothing was going to compare to it or even come close. There were no usb charging ports, entertainment systems or large, leather chairs on this bus. On the other hand, we were just happy that there was a toilet on board.
It was an eight hour journey to Chumphon, with freezing air conditioning and a thin blanket. Surprisingly, I would've slept right through the night if it weren't for the rest stop along the way. It actually flew by! At 5am, the bus pulled up at the pier and thus begun our two hour wait for the ferry. Luckily, there was a restaurant that did good coffee and a delicious breakfast. Those couple of hours flew by to, and then it was time to get in the long queue and make our way down the long pier. The three floored, high speed catamaran was very impressive. Most people slept through the boat ride to Koh Tao, but Harmony and I got talking to a South African couple about scuba diving - there was going to be a lot of that to come!
When we arrived on the island, it surprised us by how big it is. Most of it is covered in a flourishing jungle, whilst a built up community functions at the water's edge. The island honestly looked fake - a collection of big boulders topped with trees, and surrounded by beautiful, blue water. Sure there was a bit of rubbish by the roadsides, but that's Asia for you. It was still a divers paradise, with the many boats and beaches. It was also hard to believe that we were staying somewhere so nice - Ban's Diving Resort. My parents put us up there and treated us to a bit of luxury, as they were staying there to for Christmas, my birthday and New Year's Eve!
The weather was perfect almost all of the time, so we were mostly in and around the swimming pool. However, we also made sure to explore the area a little. On our first evening, after watching the most amazing sunset from our balcony, we followed the beach down and did a bit of shopping. There were clothing shops, convenience shops and dive shops, as well as other hotels, hostels, bars and restaurants. We also found more of a beachy area further down, whereas the area opposite the resort is sometimes lost to the tide. Before dinner, we all treated ourselves to banana and chocolate pancakes from a street vendor for 50 Baht. The food at the resort was delicious, but the service honestly wasn't the best. Nevertheless, we ate so much that we all went into a food coma!
That next morning, we were afforded a lie in but, by midday, we had to be ready for the afternoon dive boat. Diving with Ban's only cost about £15-£25 per dive depending on how many we did and Ban's is supposedly the biggest dive school in the world so we were in safe hands. The equipment was mostly nice and new and the dive masters were professional and showed us lots of cool stuff. The first place we were taken was Mango Bay, where we saw lots of cool coral (colourless but covered in giant clams and "christmas tree worms") and a few big fish! The second dive was at Sairee Reef, just off of Sairee Beach. It was very similar here (which isn't a bad thing!) and we got to see a shoal of 200-something parrotfish swim past.
We did two more days worth of diving with a few different dive masters. We were taken to a site called White Rock a couple of times, where the conditions weren't great but it was still a fantastic amount of fun. We also got to dive at what's known as The Junk Yard, where a car, some exercise equipment and some other random stuff was placed seven years ago to create more coral and fish habitats. Here, we saw some big pufferfish, triggerfish and filefish to name a few. My favourite dive was at a site called Hin Peewee, because we saw a whale shark!
For my birthday, we all went on a snorkelling trip around the island. I don't know how much it was but it was cheap, with lunch and equipment included! We were taken to Taa Cha Bay, where we saw a turtle, and then to Freedom Beach, where my sister saw a small reef shark! We were also taken to a spot near June Juea Beach, but I slept on the top deck whilst the sun shone down. All of the spots that we were shown continued to convince us that we were in paradise! After we ate lunch and I was surprised with a birthday cake, we were taken to Koh Nang Yuan - a group of three small islands that are connected via a tidal beach. It's also a national park and it's beauty has made it a very popular place. It costs 100 Baht to go there, which isn't much and is totally worth it for the viewpoint alone. However, it has to be said that you'll be contending with the selfie sticks, selfish crowds and lack of safety. The stairs are steep and narrow and there are minimal handrails to. The same goes for the sketchy, wooden walkways that lead you around the islands. We were there for two hours and in that time I got to climb to the highest possible point and got to have a short swim at the beach.
Generally speaking, the mosquitos are huge in Thailand but, on Koh Tao, they are particularly persistent. When I finally got round to taking some sunset photos, it was important to cover myself in repellent. I headed to the north of the resort, but couldn't find very many shots. Then, I found a spot by Leo Bar, where I was happy with what I was capturing. It was just a bit of a shame there wasn't much of a sunset. The following day, the sunset got a bit more colourful, so I headed to another spot further south (near the King Rama statue). Here, I found plenty of rocks to use for foreground interest and even captured my favourite shot of the whole SE-Asia trip!