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How is Ko Tarutao not more popular?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a massive part of me that definitely doesn’t want it to become more popular. What makes it so amazing, in fact, is that it is not very popular. It is remote, beautiful, and wild, and I absolutely love it.
So returning after thirteen years, you might think there’d be a bit of bad feeling about the changes? Not at all. The moment the boat turned the corner around the cliffs, the huge, white beach stretched in front of us and I was instantly transported back in time. The beach has not changed. Not one bit. And long may it remain like this. A National Park it should be protected from development like this.
Our stay in Tarutao was not as smooth as perhaps I would have liked. In fact, on our first night we were bitten to death by bedbugs (I had over 70 bites, our family total was over 300); as a result we ended up moving out of our rather nice looking bungalow into tents (where there were no bedbugs, but also no refund for us); then I had to return to the mainland for follow up treatment for an ear infection; just as we were getting into the swing of things Tettie had a bike crash (see Me and My Lucky Landings); it was only really during the last few days of our 10 day stay that we managed to have some proper ‘island chill out time’!
Despite all this, Ko Tarutao has always been, and remains, a very special place for me. I can’t quite put my finger on why. It’s somewhere in the shade of blue that deepens towards the horizon, the contrast with the white of the sand, and the complete lack of any buildings of any kind on the coastline. The eagles and other birds of prey soaring overhead, the wild boar, the monitor lizards and the call of the crickets, plus of course, our trusty hammock, all just seem to combine into some kind of island perfection that I find irresistible.
We left today. But I already know I’ll be back.
It’s taken a while, but finally we’re here. We’ve travelled for well over a week from Laos to get to this island off the Andaman Coast (although admittedly with a few stop, first to get Scarlett’s cast removed, then to idle in Prachuap Khiri Khan), but now we’re ready to start our two month, 300-mile, island-hopping tour down to Malaysia. The island is Koh Chang, the northern-most island on the West coast (not to be confused with the more famous Koh Chang on the Gulf of Thailand).
As I write, I am lying in the Mexican hammock my dad bought me before my first backpacking trip in 1999, a brilliant present that proved invaluable to loafing around Thailand then and is just as seductively comfortable now as it was all those years ago (provided that three 8-year olds aren’t also trying to fit into it – fortunately they’re all now asleep). The day’s two-hours-per-day of electricity are over and, as the waves lap around three sides of our bungalow that hovers over the bay on stilts, I can either look across the sea to uninhabited, jungley Burmese islands, with fewer lights than any country I‘ve ever known, or up, to see more stars than are ever visible at home. This finally feels like being in the Tropics. This is the first time I’ve strung it in all the places we’ve visited this time. Finally I feel like I’m back to the Thailand I once knew.
I’d begun to think that this Thailand had vanished. In 1999, Janet and I backpacked for a year around Thailand. We never booked ahead. And we mostly paid £2-3 a night for flimsy bamboo bungalows, and maybe 30-40p for meals.
Even then the bamboo beach hits were fast disappearing in Koh Samui but it seems now that they are relics of a bygone age. And we find ourselves rarely spending less that £20 for a room nowadays (and nearer £2 each for food). Sure, we need spacier accommodation with 5 of us to squeeze in, but Thailand has moved on in 15 years. There are a lot more tourists, Thais are wealthier and the bungalow operations realise they can get a lot more for their beachfronts.
Still, the places we’ve visited have perhaps not been representative. Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Pattaya, Hua Hin: we’ve somehow made our first month and more a tour of the most developed resorts in the whole country. And, Koh Tao apart, these aren’t the kind of places we dreamt of revisiting.
But now… little Koh Chang. No bamboo beach huts, perhaps, but hammocks, lapping waves, sunsets, starlight, no electricity; just cheap food, warm seas and wonderful beaches. This is the Thailand I loved.
I hope the next two months can live up to its promise.
Although we’ve only done a little island hopping before going back to the mainland, I have experienced a lot. In going from one island, Koh Samui, to another island, Koh Tao, my opinion has changed to think that island hopping is great (apart from the bumpy ferries).
I like it because of the quiet little bungalows next to the beach so we can go in the sea every day. These bungalows are nearly always on the edge of a small group of shops and ATMs so we can get new money out easily and spend it in the shops.
This is so different to Nepal because Nepal, with its stinky smell and gardenless hotels is not inviting (the mountains are an exception), whereas here I feel free. Nepal’s towering mountains are not as beautiful as the sea and you can’t go swimming in them!
We spent New Year’s Eve in Koh Tao. Unluckily, I fell asleep for the fireworks.