When I saw the height of the winding red dirt track we were going to have to traverse, I threw down my pack in despair.
That was December, and not unusually for the time of year, the water was too rough to take a longtail to the bay from Mae Hat, where boats from Chumphon, Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan land. As taxi-drivers and motorcyclists generally retain too great a portion of their sanity to attempt the pothole-ridden road, walking is theonly option. I thought a second option might simply be staying somewhere on this side of the hill, but my partner was determined.
He arrived back with cool water, and we trudged off and up… and up. Upon reaching the summit we were rewarded with a cool breeze and a hint of the view that was to be enjoyed once we were there. Heartened, we headed down… and down.
In less than half-an-hour overall – unfit people can be melodramatic about physical activity – we arrived to a warm welcome at Hin Wong Bungalows. To our delight we discovered we’d be the only guests, and had our choice of one of their eight basic wooden bungalows that go for 100 baht a night, a fact which dispelled the myth of it being difficult to find a piece of quite paradise to yourself on Ko Tao– afterall, it’s now busier per square metre than Ko Samui.
While the western side of Ko Tao contains great stretches of smooth white sand, it also features a great number of dive shops, which, depending on your appreciation of peacefulness, are not so lovely. Hin Wong is markedly different. Giant round boulders have collected in the bay over the millennia, and form what may well become a beach – in a few millennia more. For the moment, however, the steep and lush green hills on either side of the bay give way to wild-looking boulders and then the deep blue Gulf of Thailand. And there’s not a dive shop in sight.
We strung up our hammocks, relaxed, and enjoyed the view. The wind picked up, and as the white-capped waves pummelled the rocks ferociously, our hopes of snorkelling within the near future were dashed. It’s difficult to remain distressed about small disappointments in such a pretty place, however, so we consoled ourselves with a trip to the restaurant.
The food complemented the view, and considering the hassle of lugging supplies to Hin Wong in such weather, it’s competently priced as well. In fact, the food, the view, a couple of good books and conversing with the family who run Hin Wong was enough to keep us satisfied for the three days we had to wait for the weather to settle down sufficiently to go for a snorkel.
Finally we were able to plunge into the water. Within a couple of seconds I spotted one of the largest groupers I have ever seen, along with parrot fish, damsel fish and an array of stunning coral. It was astounding. Why bother going to the hassle and expense of scuba diving when there’s so much to enjoy just below the surface?
With time ticking away, we decided to continue our search for out-of-the-way resorts. We found ourselves at Ao Thian Nok, a small beach located on the southeast of the island. Far more tranquil than the nearby Ao Chalok Ban Kao or Hat Sairee, there’s only one resort – and one dive shop – so you’re more than likely to find a piece of quiet beach to yourself to relax on.
We settled in to a white-stuccoed bungalow at Rocky Resort, rather pricey at 350 baht per night, but with a faultless view of the beach and two friendly large blue geckos in the bathroom we were content. With white bed linen, white walls, wooden shutters, and a view of the sunset literally from the bed, I couldn’t help but consider for a moment whether I might not be on Italy’s Isle of Capri. A trip to the restaurant, of course, fixed that.
Our hill-climbing days on Ko Tao were far from over – with the John Suwan viewpoint a mere half-hour’s walk away, it had to be done. By the state of the track, it became quite clear that bushwalking is not generally a second sport favoured by divers! We met not a soul clammering to the peak giving a breathtaking view back over the peninsula, nor on our return. If you can drag yourself from the beach, the viewpoint is highly recommended, particularly in the early morning.
You may, in fact, develop a taste for hiking up hills while on Ko Tao. We took the obligatory day trip to Ko Nang Yuan, famed for being the only place in the world where three islands are joined by beaches. The walk to the viewpoint here is clearly more popular than that of John Suwan’s – cement steps led all the way to the summit! Yet again, we found we had the top of the world to ourselves, and as we took in the only view of its type in the world, we realised the sweat and swearing was all worthwhile.
So when your boat pulls in to Mae Hat and you’re approached by touts from fifteen different dive shops at once, don’t despair – just tell them where to stick their O2 tanks! Then take a deep breath, make sure your shoes are comfortable, and get away from it all. And if you’re heading to Hin Wong, remember a bottle of water.
The most ideal time of the year to travel to Hin Wong is May through to July, when the weather is reliably calm and snorkelling is the daily activity.
At Hin Wong, masks, snorkels and fins can be hired, but it’s recommended that you take your own, both to save some extra cash, and to be assured that you’ll get the quality you’re used to.