TH - Koh Tao - An overview and sample itinerary



Currency
The currency in Thailand is called Baht. It is often written as THB or a B with lines through it-similar to the dollar sign $. At the time of this writing the current transfer rate is .03$ USD = 1THB.
The best rates are likely to be at the bank ATM's, but check around to be sure. I did mine at the airport and got an OK rate, but I also had trouble getting my card to work at any ATM. Also in Koh Tao when I went, the island hadn't had their phone lines fixed for 5 weeks. Phone lines, credit card readers and most WiFi was down. Just be aware this can happen when you're so far from the main land. 



Language
Thai is the main language but I got around easily on English. It's also polite and easy to learn to say hello and thank you in the native language. As a female, you would greet with "Sawatdee kha", to me it sounds like "swa-dee-kha". Males would say khrap rather than kha. Thank you is also gender specific, "Khup kun kha" being the female and "Khup kun khrap" for male. 



King/Leadership
In 2016 Bhumibol passed away. He was a beloved king and as of February 2017 shrines to him were all over. Be respectful near shrines. His son Vajiralongkom ascended the throne and is the current king. 



Climate/best time to visit
February thru May is pre-monsoon or summer and an ideal time to visit Koh Tao. Diving is open year round because even during Monsoon season there are sunny days and it is generally still warm. Feb-May is hot and dryer. Heat can reach 104°F.
Koh Tao does not really experience a down season, but you may find better deals in the season with more rains. Try looking at October to February. 



Transport/flight
I landed in Bangkok and booked a deal for an overnight train/bus/ferry combo to Koh Tao round trip. Based on this route the highest prices are December thru January and are fairly static at a medium price until February. March is the cheapest (just on first glance I'm seeing flights for 541$). There is a spike if prices in June and July likely because it is a common vacation time.
It is possible to fly to closer airports like Ko Samui and catch a ferry over but the flights are nearly double what I paid to land in Bangkok. It's about how much time you're willing to sacrifice to pay less though. Time is literally money. I find the overnight train from Bangkok helped me be refreshed when I woke up at Chumphon. You can book it through Lompraya.
Once you're on the island you can rent a motorbike (not my style but it's an option), get a taxi or walk. The island is small so you can get most places walking.
If you're landing in Bangkok, the airport train will get you from the airport to right next to the actually train to Chumphon. It uses tokens which you can purchase from a machine or from a booth serviced by a person. I find the machines fairly easy to use. There are also prepay passes available depending on what you prefer. Single trips run for various amounts under 50thb. The day pass was 130thb last time I checked. 



Religion
Thailand is about 94% Buddhist, 5% Muslim and 1% Christian according to statistics done in 2015. Be prorated for this mindset and know that conservative dressing is better in big cities. Koh Tao is laid back and beach minded so upon arrival you can feel comfortable wearing beach attire. 



Food
Jasmine rice is a staple of the Thai diet, along with ingredients like garlic, fresh fruits, and fish sauces. You will not be bored with the variety of spicy and sweet flavors. There are plenty of other options if you find yourself craving other ethnic foods. I was able to find a french cafe, a vegetarian-friendly salad place, sushi options, and things like baked fresh caught fish. Don't forget Thai tea either, it is a must try when you're in Thailand. 



Muay Thai
This sport originated in Thailand, and thus it makes sense that it is the most popular. Trucks often drive around the island blaring loudspeakers with information about the upcoming shows. I personally wasn't interested and couldn't figure out if the practice was ethical (such as fair pay for fighters), so I didn't support it. You may want to do your own research. You can also take classes in Muay Thai at a few places on the island if you are so inclined.



WiFi/Staying connected
Many places have free WiFi across the island. It's even used as a point of advertisement in some places. Its not incredibly reliable though.. the lines had been down 5 weeks when I got there and there was only 2-3 spots I had a reasonable connection on the island. There are shops that offer internet and computers for a relatively low cost, but I have not tried one personally. The laundry shop I used had this option.



Power
I did not run into anything that wasn't 220v. A universal adapter should keep you all set just in case you encounter a weird one off.




Timezone
GMT+7 meaning 10 hours ahead of the east coast of the US.




Visa
US arrivals will be given a free 30 day visa upon arrival. That's more than enough time for a quality vacation, but I've heard renewals can be offered at the embassy.



Accommodation
We purchased a package deal with diving and all accommodation included, the whole deal was around 275$US but has gone up since 2017 a bit. The island has plenty of cheap hostel options. A quick search shows anything from 6$ per night to 40$ if you're looking for more amenities. You can find those easily by searching for "Koh Tao hostels".




Safety
Koh Tao is a fairly safe place. Be respectful of the culture and always be kind to the locals. You'll get more out of your experience and won't be treated badly.
Stay away from drugs, don't drink things offered by people you don't know if you attend parties. Drugs are a big issue in Thailand especially on the island parties. One of my diving buddies got mixed up with a bucket of drugs and didn't even know his own name. He didn't even really know what he was drinking, it was just offered. There are heavy fines and even death penalty for drug use, so just steer clear.
And combining these two tips, don't go around deliberately wasted on alcohol either. If you're alone and drunk you're risking your safety because you're an easy target for robbery. Just be smart and you'll be safe. This doesn't just apply to Thailand, but is a general safety rule set I follow. 



Sample itinerary to Koh Tao

Day 1 (and potentially two depending how far you have to travel)
Transportation in route to destination.
Options: flight, train, ferry to island round trip all, settling into hostel/accommodation
Cost: Roughly 800$

Day 2
Options: Diving classes (375$), fun dives (20-30$ per dive), snorkeling (rental equip can be up to 30$), beach exploration and hiking (free), checking out shops/haggling on the main street (free if you're window shopping), trying various restaurants and foods (I'd set aside 10$ for this, I don't buy big meals though)

Day 3
Options: Massage (up to 20$), bar hopping (beers are around 1-2$ depending on your preference for brand), beach exploration and hiking (free),  Beach party on Sairee beach (safety advised, as always), Cooking lessons (you can find some on Sairee beach also (45$, expect to spend 3-4 hours there)

Day 4-6
I would just cycle through any of the before mentioned things that I hadn't already gotten to, especially snorkeling or diving because you can do that for several days.

Day 7/8
Traveling home- ferry, bus or train, airport. (Included in original 800$)

Overall costs: 1165$-1500$

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