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I spent 20 years punching a time clock... then decided there had to be another way. Right now I'm sitting in a comfortable chair on a beautiful beach. There's a sweet, soft breeze in the air. In front of me, on the clear blue water, a boat drifts by. Maybe I'll go snorkeling this afternoon, or work on my tan. This is my kind of tropical paradise... cheap and unspoiled!
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Koh Tao - Thai Island    

By Ken Silver About Asia
6286 Views | 0 Comments | 3/7/2011 12:15:57 AM
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First the bad news about the Gulf of Thailand island called Koh Tao. There are all of 3 bar girls on the entire island, and two of them are men. That’s about the whole downside, folks.

The upside is the usual “bordering on the spectacular” - long, very nice sandy beaches, secluded coves, nice green hills speckled with rock, a cornucopia of fine shore and boat based snorkeling, lots of respectable beach bars, excellent cheap scuba diving, lots of jungle exploring leading inevitably to the above mentioned clear water swimming coves.

Days end in red fireball fire cloud sunsets.

Then the island really gets busy!

The basically very young crowd hits the sand and the concrete and goes out drinking. Fueled by Happy Hours beyond counting, they mingle and marvel at each other. Slightly older types like me just grab a beach cushion and watch the fire baton twirler acts.

And, thanks to clever travel agents, you can stay here forever till a crowd of cheerful drunken well wishers throw your beer sodden ashes into the sea. There are easy “visa runs” back to the mainland and across the Burmese border, then on board a boat back to the island before you can shout “Wild Turkey!”

(Remember this - one of the great and beautiful things about Thailand, and more and more the rest of Southeast Asia - is that from the travel agency window you are staring into you can get to Absolutely Anywhere you would reasonably care to go. They have your travel path set up and are eager to sell your ticket.)

Remarkably cheap, also!

Koh Tao means “turtle island” in Thai, but really the spiny backbone range of green hills in the distance, descending abruptly to the wilder east coast, resembles a sea serpent more than anything. Most of tourist friendly civilization is on the beaches of the west side.

The business of Koh Tao, besides selling alcoholic beverages, is scuba diver certification courses. There are just absurd numbers of “authorized to authorize you as a diver (choose categories)” dive shops on Koh Tao. The standard price of $270 has to be at least half of what it goes for in the first world.

Its a very professional 4 day basic course. Our beautiful instructor, Susan, led us through a gauntlet of scuba skills, including mask cleaning, looking cool while seasick, and that most advanced skill of all - overcoming years of fascist toilet training in order to urinate into your borrowed wetsuit. Where else but 50 feet underwater, half way through a 40 minute dive, would this be a respectable social skill?

I had hoped we would also cover nibbling Susan’s cute little toes while underwater, but I guess that is in the advanced class.

The party line here is that the underwater realms off of Koh Tao are a first class wonderland. Well, I can’t testify to that, but I can report that the water is clean, clear, and warm; with plenty of fish left to eat.

You can get to Koh Tao from Bangkok easily on one of those admirable train/boat combo tickets. Check for weather conditions first. Overnight bus/boat tickets are the rage, but insist on the overnight train where you get a really comfortable sleeping compartment.

Be prepared, coming from Bangkok, for the unfamiliar. The experience of actually seeing a good number of stars in the tropical night sky.

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