John-Suwan Viewpoint – The Best View On Koh Tao

OUR ADVENTURES AROUND THE SOUTHERN TIP OF THE ISLAND

The view from John-Suwan

On Koh Tao, the biggest tourism lure is scuba diving. You get the chance to see an incredible array of fish, coral, and various sea critters. However, there’s another fantastic reward if you reverse the verticality and climb above sea level.

We stayed at The Place, which was a solid, uphill walk from Sairee Beach on the west coast of the island. On our last full day on the island, we wanted to explore the southern region of the island. We took a taxi down to Chalok Baan Kao Bay and were met with gorgeous water that was the perfect temperature. We could have spent the day here, but we were on a mission today…

We strolled down the road, heading further south, passing a bunch of tourist-centric businesses – dive shops and English-language restaurants, until we got to Freedom Beach. There wasn’t an entrance fee, but you are expected to buy a drink from the bar. This may have been due to us arriving in the shoulder season.

The walk up/down had plenty of great views.

After taking a dip in the water and toweling off, we made our way up to the destination-of-the-day, the John-Suwan Viewpoint. As you approach the trail up, there will be someone sitting in a shack to take your 50 baht (~$1.60) entrance fee. The walk itself is about 20 minutes, winding through a jungle of trees, with a few beautiful vistas you can see through the trunks. Once you near the top, there will be ropes you can use to pull yourself up on top of boulders with.

The final stretch requires a little bit of climbing, being especially easier with a second person that can take your belongings while you ascend the rocks. What you’re rewarded with at the end is, in my opinion, the best view on the whole island.

We took a few minutes to take in our panoramic view of the island and surrounding water, before swapping pictures with a German couple that had arrived shortly after us.

*Top Tip: Wear comfortable shoes. Uncomfortable flipflops or going barefoot isn’t the best choice, in my opinion.*

The journey back down was leisurely; we stopped at a few lower viewpoints to enjoy some different vantage points. Once we were back down to street level, we decided to keep going around the island to see Aow Luk Bay (I’ve seen this spelled a million different ways.) This required backtracking a little on the street, allowing us to stop at one of the restaurants and get some noodles and coconuts to nourish us after a day at the beach and mountain.

The walk turned out to be a lot longer than we expected, leading to “I told you” stares from Rachel and “We’re almost there, just a little longer” responses from me. We eventually reached a sign for the location and after a sigh of relief, we started down the hill. We had made it! Or so we thought…

As we reached the bottom of the hill and realized there was still a significant walk ahead of us, a pickup truck comes rolling by and urges us to hop on. We did, and he drove us the rest of the way down to the parking lot for a resort where you have to pay 100 baht (~$3) to enter (they included a drink for us both in the price.)

Sidenote: All of the beaches on Koh Tao are public and free. Any entrance fees you are met with are to walk across resort property to get to them.

This was the busiest beach of the day, but I only use “busiest” for lack of a better term. There were only a handful of groups there, with the largest being a group of young guys and girls playing badminton. We had borrowed snorkel gear from The Place and wanted to see what we could find.

We swam out and took a look around the water, seeing a vast array of fish swimming around the rocks on the side, including a dozen or so rainbow-colored fish that were the highlight. Swimming between the two sides wasn’t as enjoyable. There was a small, but noticeable, accumulation of trash and fish poop that we had to swim through. Due to the time of day, the tide was rocking everything around as well.

All of the water movement and waves led Rachel to hitting her foot off of a rock and cutting it open. We immediately got out of the water (1- to treat the cut, 2- the area is known for small sharks being in the area.)

Like some sort of scene from a medical tv drama, she started ordering me through a variety of processes:

Get the small travel towel.

“Grab my hairtie from the bag. No, the other one.”

“Hold this here, while I wrap it.”

I felt like the significant other of Drs. Gregory House or Meredith Grey on vacation.

Shark Island, aptly named for its doresl fin appearance.

She eventually finished and showed a make-shift compression bandage and what she used to clean up the initial cut. We took a taxi back to our room where they had an actual first-aid kit for us to get it disinfected and re-wrapped. The rest of the evening was for relaxing before we flew off to Chiang Mai the next day.

How To Stay In Luxury On A Budget In Koh Tao, Thailand

The smallest of the three islands in the Koh Samui Archipelago, Koh Tao, isn’t as popular as its larger neighbors in terms of partying and vacationing, but it one of the most popular spots in the world for obtaining your scuba licensing.

The island was, for the most part, abandoned until the 1980s-90s, meaning its infrastructure isn’t quite capable of handling much in the way of a luxury vacation or holiday.

Unless you know where to look.

The Place was only a brief walk from fresh coconuts.

When we arrived on Koh Tao and were met by Lamai at the pier, we hopped into the back of a pickup truck and were driven past Sairee beach and the roads that ran parallel. We ascended a few steep roads and as we rounded a corner, we saw the gate to The Place.

This was a ridiculously steep hill that started its incline almost immediately (we would workout our leg muscles a few times climbing the adjacent stairs over the next couple days) until we plateaued and were met by a dozen or so employees who clapped at our arrival. We were greeted with hot towels dipped in lemongrass water. Honestly, we were pretty awkward in our reception. Why are people being so kind and hospitable to us, like who are we to deserve such special treatment?

We approached the gate to our villa and saw an entrance sign with our names on it (this was a really nice touch), opened the gate and were met with one of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. All of those hills we climbed put us above the tree canopies and gave us a gorgeous view of the Gulf of Thailand.

Our view of the Gulf of Thailand.

We toured around our villa, were given a cellphone preprogramed with a few convenient phone numbers and a giant basket of food and goodies, shown how to use all of the amenities, asked if we needed anything, and left to enjoy our mini life of luxury.

Some of the highlights are straightforward from the pictures, but there were so many extra services that we really appreciated:

📱 The preprogrammed cellphone gave us instant access to Mr. Bear, a local taxi driver with incredible timing and solid rates.

🚲 Free access to bicycles which we never used for some reason that escapes me still.

🤿 Free use of snorkel equipment that we took out on Aow Leuk Bay.

🧺 A laundry service. When you’re traveling more than one to two-ish weeks, these services help you cut down on your packing list. They use line drying as part of their commitment to Save Koh Tao and eco-friendly practices.

The inside had a long, stretching couch with a bagillion comfy pillows to lounge on, a full kitchen along with some food staples including a delicious banana jam that we crushed. The large bed sat elevated from the rest of the floor, enclosed in a mosquito net with some entertainment options (I took a nap to Casino Royale in our comfy, included robes while Rachel was sorting through some things one day. When I woke up, she had passed out too from the comfort.) The best part, however, was the bathroom – the glass ceiling, the stone pathway, and the numerous plants making it look like we were bathing in a tropical jungle rather than a bathroom.

My favorite bathroom ever.

Once we stepped outside the floor length sliding doors, we were met by plenty of lounge, bean bags, and chaise chairs. Seriously, we could have sat on a new chair every day for over a week. There is a bamboo fence around your deck that provides plenty of privacy from the neighboring villas. But the number one feature was the infinity pool that we got to hop in and take in the view. It’s not heated, so the water was fairly cool when we went during shoulder season in October. We also only used it at sunrise or sunset, so the middle of the day may have been better, too.

The Place is currently priced at $450 for two nights (prices went up ฿1000/night after we went), but when you compare that to a stay at a traditional hotel on a beach in the US, you’re looking at a great deal for all of the added luxuries that you get.

A little souvenir that now sits on our travel wall at home.

Is Koh Tao on your bucket list? Let me know if you’d stay at The Place or if you’d rather find a budget hostel in the comments below.

How To Arrive In Thailand

Using every form of transportation to get to Koh Tao

When you fly into Suvarnabhumi airport (BKK), it will most likely be a late night flight, having you land sometime near midnight. Despite the influx of international flights, getting through customs is fairly quick. We chose a taxi because our hotel wasn’t close to any train stops, but it was somewhat close to the train station we needed to use the next day. Rachel had sent an email to the hotel letting them know of our late night arrival. Our taxi driver didn’t know any English, but we had an app that translated our hotel’s address to Thai. I had my Apple Maps up and when we got close, I told the taxi driver he could drop us off and we’d walk the rest of the way, but he insisted on driving us to the front door, which took us around several more blocks to get there.

When we found the front door, it was gated shut, presumably closed but there was a door bell. *Ring ring ring* *Ring ring ring.* Nobody came, we sat on the stoop for a solid twenty minutes pressing the door bell and waiting. Nothing. Rachel checked her email and looked at me… Because it was so close to midnight, she had told them we’d be arriving the next day, by mistake. Nobody was going to answer our door bell ringing. So here we are… In hot Bangkok at midnight, with no place to go.

Waiting for the train.

We started to walk towards the Hua Lamphong train station, where we were headed to the next day, fully prepared to sleep on a bench in or right outside of the station. Luck would have it, as we were strolling down the block, a guy was walking towards us on the same sidewalk and entered a door right before we passed. It was a hostel.

“Excuse me,” I quickly interjected before the door closed, noticing that he worked there rather than being a guest. “Do you have any rooms available right now?”

He very politely got us set up with a room and some bath towels for what equated to $11/each (the towels were a deposit that we got back). He showed us to our room, and we hit the sack. When we woke up, Rachel went to take a shower. Somebody had knocked the sink handle off in the girl’s bathroom and it was spraying water everywhere. The water had flooded the entire floor and began seeping into our dorm room. She had run down to inform the front desk and it seemed like they didn’t understand, because nobody responded. She came back up to the room and let me know. I went in and shut off the quarter-turn valve to keep the water from spraying anymore, but it was still enough to continue flooding the entire floor.

She finished her shower and I took one in the somehow dry men’s side. When we went to check out, the desk attendants presented us with a delicious breakfast of soup and fruit. We had some time to explore the local area and found a bright, llama themed café and a bookstore that doubled as a pad thai shop where we got our first dose of mango sticky rice.

The greatest culinary invention ever – mango sticky rice.

The agency we bought tickets through was right across the street from the train station, so we picked them up, enjoyed a beer across the street, and got ready to board our train. Sleeper trains are a great way to save money in Thailand. You get a ride and accommodation all in one. You fall asleep in one place and wake up in another. That is, if you can get any sleep. Our seats turned into bunks that just happened to be right beside the loudest sliding door that led to the restroom. So all night, the door wooshed open and closed three feet from our pillows. I was fully awake at least an hour before we reached our final station. Everyone creeped out of the train, dragging from half-sleeps and crowded around some benches for the next hour while we waited for a bus to arrive. I managed to grab some shut eye here before arriving at the dock in Surat Thani around dawn.

Boarding the ferry was a waiting game, first for our boat to arrive then to actually take off. The water wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t calm either. We took some dramamine and quickly nodded off from continued exhaustion.

The Gulf of Thailand

It was either the ocean air or the excitement of finally arriving at our destination that woke us up with energy. Koh Tao was the last island in the Chumphon Archipelago that the ferry would go to, so our anticipation was building greater and greater.

When we finally docked at Koh Tao, we hopped off the boat and were met with some craziness. There are tons of people there – some awaiting friends, some trying to sell you rides across the island, some waiting to get on the ferry back the way from which we came – but it’s a relatively linear path to exit the dock area.

We made it under a canopy when Lamai met us with a sign that had our names. We introduced ourselves and she led us out to the parking lot where we hopped in the back of a pickup truck and drove into the island, following streets that had a visible incline, until we reached our home for the next few nights – The Place.