We’d just finished eating sushi for dinner (happy hour, buy two get one free – very tasty) and were walking down the street towards Sairee Beach when a notification pinged on my phone – “King Bhumibol of Thailand dies at 88”. Wow. This was going to be an historic day in Thai history.
Although many tourists were clearly still in the dark, Thais huddled around TVs in shops, bars and supermarkets watching the state broadcast images of the King’s life. This was certainly going to be an interesting time to be in the country and we went to sleep pondering the travel and safety implications for the coming days and weeks (Thailand is still officially under military rule since a 2014 coup).
We awoke to news that the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, scheduled for the following Monday (17th) had been cancelled as well as an announcement that all entertainment and social events should be ‘toned down’ during a month of governmental mourning. This was somewhat of a spanner in the works for us as we had planned the first few weeks of our trip solely around the Full Moon Party date.
Next morning, despite being in a dense tourist area, many people (local and foreign) were wearing black as a show of respect and the mood was decidedly sombre although people were going about their business in the usual way. Particularly curious to us was the fact that all TV channels had been (forcibly) taken over by the state broadcaster NTB and were showing only their broadcast, celebrating the life of the King. I think there’d be a lot of angry people demanding their Jeremy Kyle fix back home!
We’d previously booked ourselves on a snorkelling tour for the day and wondered if maybe it’d be cancelled but we were picked up as expected and headed to Mae Haad pier to board the boat and head to our first stop at Shark Bay. The snorkelling here was a little disappointing with mostly dead coral and few fish but was made up for by the second and third stops at Ao Leuk and Hin Wong where we saw hundreds of colourful fish (I don’t think zebra fish and bluey-purple ones are strictly their correct names but there were lots of them nonetheless!) and big beautiful coral. I had a particularly memorable encounter with a HUUUGE fish that started to swim towards me baring it’s gigantic teeth after I had the temerity to observe it trying to eat a piece of coral. I very calmly moved out of it’s territory and carried on my way (read: flapped in a panic trying to swim away until it turned around). Our fourth stop was supposed to be Mango Bay but as the waves were too high, they took us to Lighthouse Bay instead with the typical Thai comment “same same”. (Tessa: I think the Thai’s understanding of the word ‘same’ is a little bit different to anybody else around the world. “Are these spring rolls vegetarian or are they filled with fish?” “Yes, same same.” Thank you very much…)
Our final stop on our tour was Koh Nang Yuan, just off the northern shore of Koh Tao. Koh Nang Yuan is actually three small islands connected by a sandbar and the biggest of the three has a viewpoint at it’s summit offering spectacular views across the bay and over to Koh Tao. It was on the walkway to the viewpoint that Tessa provided probably my favourite moment of our trip so far.
The wooden walkway was elevated about six feet (1.83 metres for our German readers) off the beach and was comfortable under barefoot so we carried our flip-flops in hand. As we stopped to take a selfie at a particularly nice spot looking over to Koh Tao, Tessa, for reasons only known to herself, decided to forcefully throw her flip-flops to the ground. (Tessa: I followed Tom’s example and threw them gently!) I’m sure you can guess what is coming – her flip-flop fell off the side of the walkway! So Tessa now has to climb down, over wet rocks, to retrieve her stranded flip-flop sitting a perilous 1.83 metres below us (I did offer to get it, honest). And again, I’m sure you can see what is coming but NO, you’d be wrong dear reader. Tessa very skillfully climbed down the treacherous rocks to her stricken flip-flop and went to pass it back up to me before climbing back but, unfortunately, the gap was a little too big and so she decided to the throw the flip-flop up to me. However, as men the world over can attest; girls can’t throw. Instead of throwing it directly upwards to my waiting hand, Tessa threw the flip-flop into the wooden walkway which the flip-flop clearly didn’t appreciate as it bounced straight back and hit her in the face! (Tessa: Head! It ‘only just’ hit my head!) Of course, I took the situation very seriously and checked on Tessa’s wellbeing (read: howled with laughter). (Tessa: Schadenfreude ist die schönste Freude;))
After getting to the top of the viewpoint and taking the obligatory selfies, we headed back down and had a drink in the bar overlooking the bay between the two largest Nang Yuan islands – a real paradise.
We spent our final evening on Koh Tao with a couple of drinks at a bar on the Sairee Beach overlooking the sea. Many restaurants and bars had closed for the weekend due to the King’s death and the weekly Koh Tao Pub Crawl which we planned to go on that evening was also cancelled. We wondered what future issues we may encounter as we prepared to set off to our next destination: Koh Samui.