Is Koh Tao Safe for Backpackers?

Scuba Dive, Koh Tao, Thailand, travel

Sod the Scuba…..

YES. Of course it is.

I am going to apologise to anyone in advance if you have reached your limit on me gushing about ‘when I lived in Koh Tao’ because, yes, this is gonna be one of those posts.

If you follow me on Snapchat >> @wanderluceblog << you may have seen my snapping away about the Channel Four Documentary that aired last night. Murder in Paradise was primarily about the murder of the two British backpackers in 2014 and the investigation thereafter. The main points being the sketchy nature of the initial investigation (Koh Tao is a tiny island with minimal resources) and the so-called Koh Tao ‘mafia’. Various people were interviews, including Alexandra Baackes (Alex in Wanderland) who has been on and off the island for years, alongside a few (emphasis on the few) others. It was clear to see what the angle was — Koh Tao is a lawless island, inhabited by angry Thai mafia, abused Burmese migrants, and vulnerable young tourists, and that didn’t surprise me — I presume that would be the vibe of the doc. But I can’t help feeling that it’s so incredibly irresponsible. A few families were featured, as well as the police and a member of the ‘mafia’ too. My fear is that anyone watching this may change their plans and avoid Koh Tao because of how frightening it appeared to be — if I didn’t know the island, I wouldn’t have been frightened of it — I just would have thought it was a bit, well……crap. A fair few interesting ‘truths’ were talked about as though they were facts….and that frustrated me. I have such mega love for Koh Tao. I got engaged there, I discovered a love for writing, photography, scuba diving (okay — that one took a while) and got my first freelance breaks there. I got engaged there, learned to drive a scooter and discovered a deep love for 7-11 toasties. I learned a bit of Thai, I made Thai friends and I realised that I adore Isaan Thai food, but hate Pad Thai. I had regular eateries, favourite beach spots and more hiking opportunities than I’ve ever had before — and I loved every second. Okay not every second, as this post highlights…..but 90% of it anyway.

Is Koh Tao safe for backpackers? Thailand, Backpacking, Travel, Travelling | https://lucylucraft.com | beauty, travel, lifestyle blog

Every damn sunset, all the San Miguel lights, and all the shots at Banyan — those memories are some of my most precious. When I think of Koh Tao, I feel deliriously happy and wistful that I no longer call it my home. I am happy where I am, but those are the emotions you have when you love a place right? I think I’ll go back one day, but I’m not in any hurry right now. But you should go…..if you want to, not because I’ve just told you to — and you should absolutely never worry that it is an ‘unsafe’ place to travel to. I have been to plenty of places where I felt less safe, and most of those were in Europe. Yes, five tourists died in Koh Tao in a year……but the other 500,ooo odd tourists leave the island a-okay, maybe a little hungover with a Koh Tao tattoo (a bike crash scar).

What I didn’t see covered is what I want to say here, on my little space of the internet is tourist responsibility. Thailand is a Buddhist country, and they are incredibly tolerant (nobody bats an eyelid at a ladyboy) but it is not really part of Thai culture to drink heavily, take drugs and generally be loud and rude. But still, locals don’t get cross at tourists stealing tuk tuks drunk, gathering at 7-11 to shovel toasties at 2am and PDA to their hearts content. To be honest, it never failed to make me cringe when I saw a tourist behaving badly, then heard the unmistakeable British accent. It made me feel ashamed, and embarrassed because I knew that while no Thai would be rude to me just because I was a Brit, they would often be a little surprised if I said a few words in Thai or wasn’t a complete douche-bag.

Is Koh Tao safe for backpackers? Thailand, Backpacking, Travel, Travelling | https://lucylucraft.com | beauty, travel, lifestyle blog

This isn’t the first place in the world I have been where young backpackers run rife, and headlines place blame with the native countrymen — Laos is a perfect example of that. Tubing hit the headlines a few years ago because so many tourists died when holidaying in Vang Vieng. But what the headlines can’t say (because the headline would be ridiculously long) is that they were doing CRAZY things — drinking, taking drugs and swinging from bungee ropes into a shallow river. That is retarded. You would 100% NEVER do that in your own home country and expect to come out alive or with no scrapes….so why on earth would you do it in a foreign country, where you don’t know what the hospital’s are going to be like? And FYI — why would you ever take drugs in a country where it’s punishment by DEATH? Have you not seen Banged Up Abroad?!! Anyway, I digress.

All of this is just to simply say, that Koh Yao is VERY safe, it is incredibly beautiful and you are highly unlikely to come to any harm when you are there. Just be sensible, do your research, be respectful and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home. And yeah — that means no driving home drunk, and no drugs. Also – do me a favour, and don’t pay any credence to any shit you read about the ‘mafia’ either. Okay, there are a few families on the island who own a lot…..but you’re not gonna wake up with a horses head in your bed if you cross them. So calm down, and carry on with your travels.

Read my Koh Tao posts here > https://lucylucraft.com/tag/koh-tao/

Have you been to Koh Tao? And did you see the C4 documentary about it? If so, let me know what you thought in the comments box below 🙂

L x

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8 Comments

  1. Catherine
    25th April 2016 / 3:13 am

    I’ve been to Koh Tao several times. It is one of my favorite islands. Very chill, beautiful beach, great food, wonderful people…I’ll keep going back, no worries here! My thought is that bad things can happen anywhere, and just keep your wits about you, no matter where you are. Nice write-up 🙂

    • Lucy
      Author
      26th April 2016 / 6:48 pm

      Thanks for your comment Catherine, and I completely agree with you — if you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it in a foreign country! Glad you’ll still be bouncing back to the rock 🙂

      • Lucy
        Author
        4th July 2017 / 2:21 pm

        I would suggest that most places in the world are home to dangerous individuals. It’s about perspective though. In the article you’ve cited – Mike ends it by saying he doesn’t think Koh Tao is any more dangerous than anywhere else. He urges people to read up on Thai history and culture and points out you should take the same precautions you would when visiting any country.

  2. 30th May 2016 / 4:03 pm

    Hi ,I went through your blog and must say its quite useful for all travelers.I choose Thailand for my vacation.I had visited in Thailand with my friends. We all enjoyed a lot.In this journey I took the help from Heybnb as they have rentals from local people who helped me a lot to explore the place.I had an awesome time to relax.

    • Lucy
      Author
      3rd June 2016 / 6:26 pm

      Hi Priya, I also use AirBnB and have always loved it 🙂

  3. Claire Ullah
    3rd July 2016 / 7:13 pm

    Hi Lucy,

    I just came across your blog post about Koh Tao after watching the C4 documentary and I thought it was very accurate.

    I’ve literally just returned from a 2week stay on the island. My partner and I visited for the first time last September, and after spending months obsessing about returning we travelled back again to this magical little island to celebrate my 30th.

    Although we are not expats living on the island, I would say we have spent a fair amount of time there getting to know the island & immersing ourselves into life there and definitely experiencing a sense of the community.

    We came across local people we’d met the previous year who even remembered us! Which was really special.

    We stayed in Sairee for our first week, and definitely witnessed the younger hedonistic culture here, the cliquey diving schools and fresh out of college backpackers. Affectionaly nicknamed the ‘sairee douchebags’ we definitely did notice some westerners rude behaviour towards the Thais and Burmese, in particular the way that they tried to communicate with them, which we found embarrassing – but put this down to age and naivity.

    During both our trips, we came across very few locals who didn’t speak some English and we never really struggled to communicate – we always found this quite a fun and endearing experience as we smiled and laughed with the locals at our lack of Thai – but we always got there in the end!! Knowing the odd Thai word definitely goes a long way!

    I couldn’t agree more with your comment about Thais and Burmese being surprised at our polite manner. I truly believe that if you are respectful and kind, this behaviour goes such a long way in Koh Tao. So that would be key advise to any potential traveller.

    During our stay this year they held the Koh Tao Festival, where locals and expats get together to celebrate their beautiful island and engage in activities such as releasing baby turtles into the sea and rubbish clean ups of the beaches and the surrounding reefs. Island dwellers genuinely love and care about this place, and that they treat the island not just as a money-making tourist hub – but as their home. So treat it, and it’s people with respect.

    After watching the documentary, I was really sad because I don’t feel that it represents Koh Tao in its true light.

    Without doubt, these events are shocking and spine chilling. I’m not 100% convinced by the investigation into deaths but putting that aside, Koh Tao is a beautiful island and it shouldn’t put you off visiting.

    In a way, there are many dangers on Koh Tao but it’s not as chilling as its being made out to be.

    It is not a package holiday destination. At the end of the day, you are staying on a relatively undeveloped tropical island. It’s rustic and rough around the edges, you will feel free from rules and regulations, but don’t abuse it!

    Infrastructure is limited, and there is a very good chance of tourists getting into accidental troubles…

    Getting caught out at sea in a kayak in stormy windy weather, exploring steep and dangerous rocks on snorkeling expeditions, renting a bike (and crashing), getting drunk and then sick from dehydration, steep and dangerous jungle hikes – even around your resort hotel! Coral grazes, jelly fish, sharks, mosquito bites, sunburn, pick-up truck taxis, broken down longtail boats, rough ferry crossings…

    But don’t let this put you off!

    Be aware of yourself, be on your best behaviour, do your research, read tripadvisor, and pack your bags.

    Koh Tao is an adventure of a place that will make you feel more alive than ever!

    • Lucy
      Author
      16th July 2016 / 4:41 pm

      Thanks of your beautiful comments Claire, I completely agree with what you’ve said and you have made me feel very homesick for my gorgeous little island 🙂 Also, I LOVE the Koh Tao festival, the first year – I was staying pretty much next door, so it was pretty bonkers. The turtle releasing ceremony blessed by monks is amazing right? L xx

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