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A Trip to "Turtle Island"

HotelThis is a great time to start planning a year end holiday. How about going to the beach? Imagine a few days of swimming and snorkeling, good food and relaxing in the sand on a small island in the Gulf of Thailand. Making a quick get-away to one of these islands has just gotten easier.

Air Andaman recently introduced flights from Bangkok to Chumpon province, the launching point to Koh Tao, or "Turtle Island". This small island resort village just a 75 minute speedboat ride away from Ko Samui has been receiving beach lovers since the 1980s. While Koh Tao is technically located in Surat Thani province, it"s only a 3 hour and 15 minute boat ride from Chumpon. From Surat Thani it takes 8 hours, so visitors in Surat Thani often opt for Ko Samui or Koh Pa Ngan for convenience sake.

OUR TRIP

On a Friday afternoon we left Bangkok for a 70 minute flight on Air Andaman Fokker 50 and arrived in Chumpon around 4 p.m. The airport is located in Pratew District about 28 kms. from Chumpon City and the Chumphon Cabana.

The Chumphon Cabana has 130 rooms in the hotel and 30 individual bungalows, each with air conditioning and private bathroom. There"s an open-air restaurant facing the beach, and guests can swim in a large swimming pool or walk 2 minutes to the beach. It"s a nearly private beach since Chumpon Cabana is the only resort there. Visitors won"t get bored though. Within easy walking there are several beachside open air restaurants with various types of Thai food.

The Chumpon Cabana also offers 2 unique opportunities for visitors to enjoy nature. The first is to board an evening fishing boat to catch squid at Baht 400 per person. The second tour is to see a natural nesting area of fireflies. It"s claimed the trees are lit like festive Christmas trees. Of course, during the fruit harvest season visitors can go to orchards and pick their own fruit.

After a wonderful dinner we walked back to our guest house about 500 meters for some exercise. The road was very quiet. We saw millions of stars and the planets were shinning ever so brightly. It would have been an excellent night for star gazing through a telescope.

The next morning we were up early to catch the express boat to Koh Tao Island. Most of us in the group didn"t know anything about this island. We arrived at the Ekawin pier at 7 a.m. to catch the express ferry. It"s a pleasant 3 hour and 15 minute ride, and we brought a lunch box from the hotel so we had something to eat during the trip. At the ferry departure, there is also a snack shop to buy tuna or chicken sandwiches, as well as bakery items. We could also view a movie during the trip.

The BoatThe boat set out through a long canal to the ocean, where we saw many fishermen unloading their daily catch. Fishing boats were parked at ice factories loading up on ice for storage for the next fishing trip. We soon reached the large manmade stone breakaway and were officially out to sea. There were several small islands along the way, a few of which had private houses on them. The sight brought on romantic fantasies of living on a small island.

As we approached Koh Tao, our eyes lit up. We could see all styles of bungalows on the beach and climbing up the mountains. Koh Tao is developed, but not with overwhelming facilities. It did indeed look like a beach place for all pocket books to enjoy. The huge majestic boulders on the right end of the beach caught everyone"s eyes. It was Jansom Bay, complete with an isolated cove of white sand. I was secretly hoping to stay at a resort there, and what great news it was to know that our reservation at Charm Churee Villa was indeed on that site.

We reached the island just after lunch. And, typical when a flock of visitors arrives, there were many people standing at the departure area waving their guest house/tour/spa brochures, trying to persuade us to follow them. Everyone was enthusiastic but polite.

We left the dock village of small wooden and cement buildings for our lodgings via "songthaew" (a pick-up truck with or without a roof), winding up and down the hillsides. It was good news to find out the guest relations was from Chiangmai. He went to Koh Tao to work on a western TV program and ended up staying for a while, attracted by the sea such as we were.

We climbed down the hillside on terraced steps to the bungalows, which had wonderful views of the bay and village coast line. We were so pleased with these accommodations. The Charm Churee Villa has 3 suites, 2 panorama views, and 1 honeymoon suite in addition to 30 bungalows spread over the hillside. Each bungalow has air conditioning, refrigerator, and a very spacious bathroom with a hot water shower. Private electricity service is provided between 4:30 p.m. to 9:00 a.m.

BungalowWe showered, put on our bathing suits, and had lunch at the restaurant overlooking the cliffs and boulders. The setting was sublime. Then we walked to the private beach. We really didn"t have to go far to see tropical fish. We could toss in fish food and the fish swarmed immediately for the food. We saw parrot and zebra fish, then boarded a boat to Ao Mango Bay.

For 30 minutes we admired the beautiful bungalows built up the sides of the island, and when we got to the bay, we put on our snorkeling equipment. We fed the fish once again and swam to admire the coral growths about a 50-meter swim from the beach. There were facsinating shapes of coral some like cabbages and others smooth and round with marks like cactus. A few of the coral growths were colored vivid greens and purples, but no coral in the Gulf of Thailand is as colorful as that in the Andaman Sea.

Back on the boat we stopped at Koh Nang Yuan Bay, which consists of two main pinnacles and got back around 3 p.m. on big swells. But no harm done. It"s all part of the adventure.

The heat of the sun and the swimming and boating had drawn out our energy, so when we returned to the bungalow, the front terrace with its comfortable triangle pillows and mats looked absolutely irresistible. It was a great place to enjoy the view and warm breezes, and we were lulled to sleep.

Evening came, sunset was appearing. The lights of the village sparkled. It was dinner time.

The next morning, Sunday, we had a leisurely breakfast and set off for the pier to return to Chumpon. We managed to squeeze in a quick visit to view other beaches. Two resorts that caught our eye were Bow Thong Bungalows and attractive Koh Tao Coral Grand Resort. Both were located right on Sairee Beach.

Again, Air Adaman took us from Chumpon airport in the late aftertoon back to Bangkok by early evening. Later we conveniently flew back to Chiangmai. Our holiday trip requred 3 days and 2 nights.

HOW TO GET THERE

The quickest way is to fly from Bangkok on the days that Air Andaman flies to Chumpon.

If you have time to spare, be creative and take the 8 hour train ride from Bangkok. Three overnight trains leave Bangkok between 7:00 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. and arrive at Chumpon station between 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. the next morning. A 24-hour train trip starting in Chiangmai is also possible. You could leave Chiangmai in the morning and arrive in Chumpon the following morning after transferring at Bangkok station. Tour company van services are available from the Chumpon railway station to the pier. However, most backpackers travel from Bangkok to Chumpon by tour bus.

Another option is to take the 10 hour cruise from Bangkok to Chumpon to Koh Tao. Stay overnight in Chumpon either in the city or at the Chumpon Cabana. Rise early the next day to get the express boat at Ekawin Pier at 7 am. Return from Koh Tao on a ferry.

It"s a good time to visit Koh Tao from December to mid-September. So plan your next new year or songkran holiday in the sun at Koh Tao. You can make arrangements in Chiangmai through the Air Andaman office or at Transworld Travel, Global Union Express, Chutuporn Tour & Travel, Sea Travel, STT, Standard Tour, Manit Travel or in Chiangrai at Chiang Rai Air Tour and PB Travel Agency Ltd.


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