Friday, 21 September 2018 03:41

Daily Weather Reports for Koh Tao

Anyone who’s been living in a cave the last week may have missed out on some of the big news stories that have dominated our TV sets recently – extreme weather! 

With hurricane and typhoon season running from June to November in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and also a huge swathe of Asia, this time of year is always an exciting one for us weather watchers. Hurricane Florence is currently busy wrapping up its attempted destruction of North and South Carolina, USA and the other big story is Typhoon Mangkhut which had cut a deadly path through the Philippines, Hong Kong and South-East China, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

 

Luckily here on Koh Tao we don’t really get hurricanes or anything even close to what’s being suffered by those affected by Florence and Mangkhut, and it’s only usually during our monsoon rains (mid-November – December) that we can sometimes suffer from flooding – we had some bad ones in 2016 and again one year later – or the occasional super-cool water spout (thanks for the excellent photo of this beauty last November from Andreas Fiskeseth) that appear on the horizon around that time of year.

 

So how can we find out what the weather is like now anyway?

 

The easiest way to get a daily report of the weather here on Koh Tao from a real person who is actually on the island (that’ll be me) is to click right here where I’ve been reporting not just the weather but also information on wave size in regards to snorkeling and diving here, which are easily the most popular activities on Koh Tao, along with boozing.  I may not be as glamorous as those delectable beauties that are so commonly found on the Mexican news channels (if you don’t believe me just Google ‘Yanet Garcia’) but I’m certainly thorough.

 

If you’re looking to check the weather forecast for the next few days, there’s a glut of apps and websites that are available, and to be perfectly honest with you most of them are absolutely shite – it’s very common for these apps to declare the day as being ‘rainy’ even if it only rains for a few minutes in that day, which is pretty misleading. Here at Big Blue we rely on two in particular that seem to be a lot more accurate than other: ‘Windguru’, and ‘Windy’. By taking the information given from both we can usually predict the weather for the next week very accurately indeed!

 

Oh, and today? Hot, sunny, and another bloody whaleshark at Sail Rock. What a time to be alive!

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

 

Published in September
Monday, 03 September 2018 03:56

Things to Remember - Koh Tao

For those of you visiting Koh Tao for the first time there are a few things to be aware of that will really help you get the most out of your visit, and to make sure the time you spent with us on our little piece of paradise leaves you with nothing but fond memories and hopefully a holiday destination that you'll return to again and again. Here I present to you a few things to consider when here:

  1. This is Thailand

It may seem like Ibiza or Cancun at times to some party-goers, but remember that the Thai people are in general quite reserved, and don’t appreciate people causing too much of a commotion. Try not to get into any arguments or raise your voice if things don’t go your way – it won’t help your case at all, and will often make the person you’re arguing with dig their heels in even more so they don’t lose face.

  1. Drink Responsibly

You’ll no doubt discover that Koh Tao is a great place to dive AND to party, but also be aware of just how strong those alcohol buckets are, and how close to being petrol the ’vodka’ or ‘gin’ is that go into them! The Red Bull used isn’t full of amphetamines as the popular myth goes, but does contain a hell of a lot of taurine and caffeine too, a lot more than we’d get back in our drinks in Europe or the US, for example.

  1. Keep an eye on your Things

Tourists can be seen as an easy target for scumbags (like in most of the countries in SE Asia in my experience) and therefore we should be extra careful with our belongings. A great way to lose your purse or bag is to go swimming naked at night, and use the lockers or safe in your hostel/hotel too – backpackers steal from each other surprisingly often too – my one million pairs of missing flip-flops attest to this, as I’m certain there aren’t many Thais out there with size 47 feet! This of course also mean keeping an eye on your drinks when out partying, don’t accept drinks from strangers and don’t leave them unattended at any time – this goes for everywhere in the world, and both men and women.

  1. Be Extra Careful if You’re Driving

Firstly the roads are Koh Tao are absolutely not suitable for beginners, with large potholes, steep inclines to get to the nicest beaches and a lot of sand and other debris on the roads, making them easy to skid on. There are however a large number of scooter rental places here on Koh Tao, and the majority will happily put you on a bike (regardless of being able to drive or not), take your passport as deposit and send you on your way. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen people pull out from the bike rental to immediately crash, and then comes the extortionate fees: small scratch on the paintwork? 5000 baht! Broken light? 6000 baht! Butterfly wing touched the seat? 1 million baht!

If you can drive then stick to one of the reputable companies if you’re planning to explore the island by bike (Oli’s, RPM, Island Travel, Koh Tao GoRent, KP Travel) and if can’t…then don’t try to learn here for your own safety and the health of your bank balance too!

 

  1. Drug Use

Most Thailand backpackers will be well aware of the drug scene in the country, in particular smoking the Bob Marley cigarettes, as me Mam would call them. They’re also usually aware that things like ‘Reggae Bar’, ‘Rasta Bar’ or any establishment with the word ‘High’ in their name is often an elaborate code name for the ganja, but remember this does not mean that they’re above the law. If you really must have a bit of a smoke then even if the place you bought it from seems to be untouchable by the local law enforcement, the patrons definitely are NOT. If you get caught with something, you’ll be facing a court case, a large fine and of course the chance of prison time, which is no fairy-tale! In addition no matter how nice it seems to have a wee smoke on the beach, it’s really not worth the risk of being busted so use common sense and simply don’t take the chance in public at all.

 

  1. Getting Home at Night

Treat your journeys home in Thailand (especially after dark) just as you would back in the real world – get a taxi, or walk/get a lift with friends.  I’m sure not many of you would jump on some random strangers bike and let them drive you God knows where, and here shouldn’t be any different. Yes, the taxis are expensive here but safety when travelling should always be at the forefront of your mind, especially when alone in an unfamiliar place and certainly when you’ve had a few drinks too. Bite the bullet and get that bloody taxi, or team with up friends for the stroll home.

 

 

All in all, Koh Tao can be a truly wonderful place if you show respect, exercise common sense and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in your home countries, no matter how laidback this extraordinary island appears – by following these guidelines you’ll be assured that your trip to Koh Tao will leave you with nothing but happy memories that’ll last a lifetime.

 

Welcome to our home, Koh Tao!

Published in September
Friday, 31 August 2018 03:34

5 Things to do in Pai

Pai is undoubtedly one of the most popular towns for tourists to visit in Thailand, and is usually to be found on people’s itineraries when heading north. Set in a picturesque valley 3 hours from Chiang Mai (the famous drive of 762 curves) Pai is a chilled out town with a lovely river and fabulous picturesque countryside around it, making it a firm favourite with the stoner and hippy travellers that Thailand attracts by the bucket load.

Here we’ll look at what I think are the best 5 things to do when you’ve summoned up the willpower to eventually leave the hammock:

 

Pai Canyon

Probably the most beautiful place in Pai is the Pai Canyon (Kong Lan in Thai). This natural wonder is about 8km away from the centre on the road towards Chiang Mai, and is a favourite amongst travellers looking for those classic Thai sunset/sunrise photos and those looking to explore some of the great walking trails in the area.

You should try to head out trekking early morning or late afternoon before it gets too hot, and definitely wear decent shoes if planning to do some of the walks at the Canyon - there’s often narrow elevated paths flanked by 20-30 metre drops, some climbing on all fours needed, and not a single safety barrier to be seen!

 

 

Pam Bok waterfall

This is arguably the most beautiful waterfall in the Pai area, and a little less touristy than the others too. After a five minute stroll through the forest you’ll find this lovely waterfall, which also offers the opportunity to cool off with a nice relaxing swim if you clamber over the rocks a little. If you’re feeling more adventurous there is also a small dirt track that leads to a spot where you can jump from, though in the dry season there’s a good chance you’ll plummet to your death – this does not get my recommendation.

 

 

Yun Lai View Point

This is found around 5km from Pai town, above the Chinese village of Santichon, and offers a beautiful panoramic view over the Pai landscape. Entrance fee is 20 Baht, which also gets you a deliciously refreshing pot of Chinese green tea, served in an ornate teapot and little china cups. There is also a ‘romantic’ wishing tree (one for the girls I imagine) where you can buy a little ceramic heart to make a wish and hang in its branches. Best visited for sunrise, before the Chinese tour groups arrive – weekends in particular can get a little crowded with them and their ubiquitous selfie-sticks!

 

 

 

Explore Pai River

Coming from a city dominated by its river, I’m always a sucker for exploring the rivers and all going on around them, and this one is exactly what I’m looking for – hardly any other tourists at all, a few rustic bamboo bungalows lining the banks and local fisherman at work with their nets trying to pull in something to sell at the market later on. It’s possible to cross the river via some rickety-looking bamboo bridges to explore both sides, and daydream about all the river has seen on its journey down from the mountains of the Daen Lao Range…

 

Tha Pai Hot Spring

When you find yourself wanting a relaxing soak there’s no better place than the Tha Pai Hot Springs. A 7km drive from the town, a cold-water stream flows over boiling-hot rocks to create a soothing, heated pool surrounded by lush scenery – highly recommended in the winter months when the temperatures can drop a fair bit! Entry costs 300 baht, and it’s open from 07.00- 18.00.

It a lovely drive into the springs, and can be a popular spot with backpackers in Pai so if you’re looking to meet some new travel buddies then it’s absolutely somewhere to put on your list of places not to miss.

 

 

 

 

Published in August
Monday, 20 August 2018 04:57

Ethical Elephants in Thailand

For the majority of visitors to Thailand a trip to see the country’s national animal (the elephant, if you hadn’t figured it out) is high up on the list of things to do whilst exploring this incredible country, yet finding ethical ways to see these creatures in all their glory is becoming harder and harder.

So why the big fuss about the elephant parks here?

Elephants and humans have worked together here in Thailand for centuries now, where they were used for logging, war, farming, ceremonial stuff and cruising the streets looking for girls. In 1989 the Thai government banned this, leaving thousands of elephants out of work and trying to master the complicated unemployment benefits system.  

Most of them found themselves and their handlers (mahouts) working with illegal logging or simply begging for change on the streets, but then with the tourism boom of these years a new opportunity arose; elephant parks, where they were used to carry around tourists, perform tricks, and more importantly support the mahout and their family with an income.

Nowadays people have wised up about the conditions these captive elephants are subjected to, and no longer wish to support the chains, beatings and breaking of the young animal’s will that are necessary for the elephant to accept being used as a vehicle, or to make it perform the tricks the tourists wanted to see.

Unfortunately most of the elephant parks realised that a new type of eco-minded tourist was looking for an ethical experience, and these parks suddenly became ‘sanctuaries’, ‘eco parks’ and other wonderfully named creations which played up to the new, wiser tourist but simply went about their business exactly how they used to, with chained elephants and vicious beatings a daily occurrence.

So how do we know which parks are ethical?

 The simple answer is research, and a lot of it. Luckily for you I’ve done it all for you, and here you’ll find my list of elephant sanctuaries and parks where you can see these majestic beasts in all their glory, without a savage beating in sight:

 

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

The largest elephant park in the Chiang Mai area (it’s approximately 60km from the city centre), there are around 30 elephants living and thriving here. All of them were rescued from a life of torture and misery to be brought to this sanctuary, and to see them frolic and play seemingly without a care in the world is simply incredible. Providing a natural environment for these rescue elephants (as well as cats, dogs, and buffalo) it’s also possible to volunteer your services here if you’d like to spend more time with your new friends in a more intimate setting. No elephant riding allowed, obviously!

 

https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

 

 

 

Elephant Hills, Khao Sok

Not far from the edge of the Khao Sao National Park lies ‘Elephant Hills’, a luxurious tented camp which has 11 rescued elephants wandering round the grounds. Whether you choose to spend 1, 2 or 3 days touring through the park, you get the opportunity to bathe, feed and walk with these gentle giants without the disgusting treatment that so many other so-called ‘sanctuaries’ try to hide from you.  They are very strictly a ‘no riding’ elephant park!

 

https://www.elephanthills.com/

 

 

 

Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary (BEES), Chiang Mai

 

Another park for old, injured or retired elephants, this refuge is just over a 2 hour drive south of Chiang Mai, and well worth the visit even just for the scenery alone – flanked by the mountains ad greenery the north is famous for, the elephants have definitely lucked out here! With possibilities to bathe, feed and walk with the elephants (no riding, obviously) as well as cooking classes, handicrafts and some good old conservation work there’s plenty to keep you occupied whether you choose to come for their 3 day or 1 week programs – they don’t offer day visits and bookings are essential!

 

http://www.bees-elesanctuary.org/

 

 

 

Ethical Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai

This great family-run sanctuary works alongside the Karen hill tribes in the Chiang Mai area, and of course is very much anti-riding. Being involved in the care of elephants for generations, they pride themselves as being there not for the money but for the good of the Karen community and the elephants that they obviously love so much. Currently with 5 ex-worker elephants housed here, they like to keep the groups of tourists small and as well as the standard bathing, feeding and walking with the elephants. Those staying overnight also get to explore the local waterfalls, meet the Karen villagers and do a bit of trekking around the sanctuary. Half and full day excursions available, as well as longer options.

 

https://www.ethicalelephantsanctuary.com/

Published in August
Friday, 10 August 2018 08:55

The Monsoons of Thailand

I’d go as far to say that everyone is obsessed with the weather when backpacking Thailand. Everyone seems to want the same thing – sun, blue skies, hot and tropical, just like in the brochures and websites we’ve all been religiously studying since we first booked the trip.

A trawl through the many online forums dedicated to SE Asia and Thailand in particular will, again and again, have the same questions and more often than not the same incorrect and badly researched replies –

How’s the weather in Thailand in August?”

Monsoon!”

 

In fact, this is absolutely not the case for the whole country!

 

Thailand has 3 distinct seasons compared to the 4 most of us are used to: hot, cool and wet. The hottest and driest months of the year are usually April and May, while the monsoon rains (and rough seas) that hit the country every year actually depend on what side of the country you’re on. We’ll look at it in more detail here:

 

The Gulf Islands of Koh Tao, Koh Samui, and Koh Phangan       

Ah, the lovely Gulf Islands. Three tiny little specks on the world map that we at Big Blue call home, these beautiful islands have been popular with visitors all year round for over 20 years now, and it looks like that will continue for many years to come.   

The monsoon season on these islands differs greatly from the rest of the country, with it coming much later in the year – the rains tend to come in early November, reach their peak towards the end of the month and generally subsiding around Christmas. It’s still hot (it’s very rarely cold here) and if you’re into frogs it’s a marvelous time to visit Koh Tao, but if it’s the promise of days and days of blue skies that brings you here then it may not be the best time to visit us. It doesn’t rain every day, but pack a raincoat if you are heading over then. Diving is still possible, with 5 or 6 of our dive sites sheltered by the island from the big waves that accompany the storms that pepper us during these monsoon months

 

 

The Andaman side, South-West Thailand

On this side of the country (Phuket/Koh Phi Phi/Krabi etc) the monsoon sweeps a continual stream of moist air from the Indian Ocean sometimes as early as April/May, but starting in earnest in June and continuing usually until October. This brings with it the excellent tropical storms that show you the real power of nature, with big waves and heavy rain being the norm. September tends to be the wettest of these months, and you’ll find a lot of island resorts will actually close down completely during the monsoon season here. Boat trips will also be susceptible to cancellations due to bad weather, and any that do still go out may get a little…bumpy!

 

Chiang Mai and the North

Increasing in popularity over the years, Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai in the north of the country are always busy with travelers no matter what time of year you visit, but for those wanting that tropical shit again it’s a good idea to avoid the monsoon periods, which tend to be a little longer than in the rest of the country. The monsoon usually starts in May, reaches its peak in July/August and can continue all the way up to November. The trekking, rafting and hiking that’s so popular in the north is obviously affected a lot, but for those looking for the waterfalls at their fullest there’s no better time to visit – bring a good sturdy pair of walking boots if that’s the case, it gets very muddy. Also please try to stay out of those bloody caves too, okay?

 

The Eastern Islands – Koh Chang, Koh Kood, Koh Mak

Some of my favourite islands to visit in Thailand, the monsoon unfortunately hits this trio of islands pretty hard. Starting around May, it reaches its crescendo of downpours in July/August/September and winds up around the beginning of November. The seas get very rough during this time making swimming and any other ocean-based activities dangerous at times, with tourist drownings not an uncommon occurrence unfortunately.

 

Of course with the monsoon rains come some really good bargains to be had with accommodation options, with my last trip to Koh Chang costing me just 200 baht per night for a simple bamboo bungalow during August and September, after a fair bit of haggling.

 

 It did nearly blow away, but that’s beside the point…

 

Ultimately, the weather in Thailand can be pretty unpredictable. There have been years when the Koh Tao monsoon lasted a couple of weeks, other times when it’s still been in full swing all the way into January. I’ve had beach holidays on the islands of Koh Lanta and Koh Phayam on the Andaman side of the country smack bang in the peak of their monsoon and had nothing but blue skies, and have been nearly washed away by rains in Bangkok’s supposedly driest months.

The secret is to pack a rain-jacket, enjoy the rain when it comes – it may last a few hours, or just a few minutes. To watch the storms approach is something really awesome, with electrical storms on the horizon a sight that really blows you away if you’re lucky enough to witness them…and when it all starts getting a bit too much for you get yourself underwater where it never rains!

 

 

Published in August
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