As the boat pulled into Koh Tao, it was clear that our second island was going to be wholly different from the first. Whereas Samui was all about big hotels with even bigger pools and the noise of the streets beckoning you out from your room to party, Koh Tao is much less developed and you find the party yourself, rather than seeing a truck go past urging you to jump on for the chance to watch Muay Thai boxing or to huddle in the Ice Bar. Instead, this new island is largely about nature and relaxation, with prime diving sites on your doorstep, postcard-worthy views around every corner and lush greenery topping it all off.
Our hotel, the Charm Churee, is a brilliant example of a more nature-focused environment, as it's set into the hillside and overlooks a private beach, Jansom Bay, that is peppered with coral. Each room has its individual quirks but always includes gorgeous and very green views, as well as some all-important eco-friendly policies to keep the island looking its best, with minimal electricity and water wastage. On Jansom Bay, as with many places on Koh Tao, it's advised that divers don't use their fins as it can damage the coral, and everyone is happy to oblige.
As we head off on our snorkelling adventure for the day, it's clear that the environment is really important to locals and businesses here. Our snorkel guide tells us not to apply sunscreen just before we jump in the water, as it will rub off and leave a deposit on the coral which will then block sunlight from being absorbed - something that had never even crossed my mind before! He then points out the two people in a kayak as we make our way round the island; they're taking part in a gruelling 12 hour sponsored race to raise support and awareness for the sharks that live in these waters. They look pretty tired from where I'm sitting, but I'm told they have a lot of people backing them. Marine conservation is really crucial to keeping Koh Tao pure and sustainable, so it's great to see how they're keeping the issue in people's minds.
Our last stop on the snorkelling tour is the tiny island of Nangyuan, which looks like it should be snapped up by Hollywood for its insanely good panoramic views (once you climb the 347 steps up to the rocks at the highest point here - it's worth it, by the way). When you arrive at Nangyuan you can't bring any plastic bottles or cans with you, so it's a completely unspoilt paradise where appreciating nature is the ultimate goal. Little huts have been built into gaps in the trees, almost camouflaged, and you can't help but wish your house had these kind of surroundings back home. It would certainly be an easy sell for an estate agent...
As we leave Koh Tao, I feel like we're a million miles away from the urban sprawl of Koh Samui. I've loved each island in its own way, but it's been really interesting to see the contrasts and I've appreciated the greenery that bit more. Koh Tao is definitely set to make waves as an eco-friendly destination.
By Polly Allen
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