Love and Loathing in Koh Tao
// January 4th, 2011 // Thailand
After my volunteer project in Sangkhlaburi, I stayed with a friend in Bangkok for the night before heading south to reunite with Lauren. After a stressful day of missed transport and a bit of bad luck, we arrived in Koh Tao the next morning. The ferry ride was sunny and we were excited to hit the beach.
We found a place to stay in Hat Sai Ree and then ventured out to walk down the brick path through the village. That was a mistake, as we were greeted by a torrential downpour which soaked my running shoes. Worried that I wouldn’t be able to run the next day, Lauren rigged up a drying line in our hut!
We spent the next couple of days lounging. Lauren did some scuba diving while I read and lounged on the beach. Needing a bit of adventure, we decided to explore the northern part of the island and go snorkeling in Mango Bay. We had a map, which showed a clear route to get there. It looked as if it went between two mountainous areas, so it should be a leisurely, flat stroll. Yeahhh, so much for assumption. We started walking east of Hat Sai Ree. It was uphill, but we needed the exercise. When we turned to head north it suddenly became extremely steep. We figured once we got to the top of this steep hike it would flatten out and start to descend. What followed was a series of steep hills. The map was clearly wrong!
We didn’t realize we had set off on a trek…
We took breaks and at one point stopped and sat down. We were not prepared at all for a steep hike. We would not have set out in the middle of the day in 100 degree weather had we known what we were in for. We finally reached the highest point of the mountain where there was a little shop and a gorgeous overlook. It was such a relief and a nice little break. The descent to Mango Bay was so steep that at some points we had to zigzag to avoid tumbling down. We both agreed that there was no way we were going to hike back up this (hint: never use the words ‘no way’). We would either find a flatter route or hire a boat taxi to take us back. We laughed about how ridiculous it would be to turn around and trek back up the mountain and how the current terrain was so steep it would be horrible to hike back up.
No boat taxis?!
We finally made it to the north side Koh Tao where we passed the only other person on foot. She said that Mango Bay was just another 10 minutes down lots of steps. However, both resorts there were closed for renovation, she didn’t see any boats, and it would be getting dark soon. Uh oh. Lauren and I both agreed that there was no way we would make it back up and down the mountain before dark so the best plan was to continue on down the several hundred steps and check it out (let me repeat: never use the words ‘no way’). Screw snorkeling, we just wanted to make it back before dark! We had very little drinking water left. We spotted a few workers at the restaurant. “Excuse me,” I said. “Are there any boat taxis around here?” They told me there was not since the resorts were closed at the moment. Beginning to feel desperate, I said, “Well, could you please call someone you know to take us back to Hat Sai Ree?” As luck would have it, the phone lines were down and there is no cell phone reception on this side of the island. Panic sets in.
New Plan? Pull out Survivor tactics…
We walked down to the dock to hatch a plan. It didn’t look like you could walk the coastline because it was full of boulders. We spotted a little boat coming into the edge of the bay. The plan was for me to swim out to them and see if we could catch a ride. It felt a bit like Survivor (insert dramatic flair here). I got in the water in my snorkel gear, and it was immediately a large dropoff. The water was rough and it was pounding against the dock. As a former swim instructor, I didn’t doubt my swimming capabilities. But I suddenly realized just how far away the boat was and the fact that if something were to happen, there’s no phone. I swam about 15 meters out, turned around, and climbed back on the dock. Bad plan.
The boat left the bay in the opposite direction anyhow, so it wouldn’t have worked. We had no choice but to start hiking. I got dressed and we started walking. We saw a worker leaving and a truck at the top of the steps. Lauren ran after him, but it turns out he only had a motorbike. We searched for the owner of the truck but didn’t find him. We just had to face the facts, suck it up, and go. We took lots of breaks and spoke very little. I think I would have sat down and cried in desperation had I been alone. With only two steep hills left to the top, I sat down, out of water, and completely depleted by the heat. Lauren offered me the last gulp of water she had- one of the happiest moments of my life (okay, a little dramatic again). We did make it to the top, sat down at the little shop, and gulped cold water.
Literally, we were dripping sweat. As in,we wrung out our shirts and shorts. It was absolutely disgusting. We laughed giddily on the way down because it felt like a miracle that we had survived and that we would make it back before dark. I’m a huge fan of hiking, but this was not my day. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t so ridiculously hot and we had gone prepared. On the way back to our bungalow, we jumped in the ocean, giving a much needed relief to our sore muscles. It was one of the best swims of my life, as I watched the sunset and looked back at the mountain that nearly killed me!