Thursday, December 5, 2013

Life on Koh Tao

Rheta and I stayed on Koh Tao for two weeks. Her primary reason for being there was to visit with her son Darius. Mine was to learn scuba diving. But I had a cold. For some bizarre reason, the dive teachers frown on sneezing into the masks. So all I got to do was snorkel and do touristy things.

One of the finest touristy things to do is get a massage. Thai women are famous for their massage technique, and certainly there is a pattern and series of moves that distinguish Thai massage from other forms. 

The massage was done over a cotton shirt and pair of pants. We had to lie on a soft bed, and be mashed and pushed, prodded and poked until it hurt so good!

They start with the left foot and work up the leg, then do the other leg. Each hand and arm gets worked over before the groin, armpits, and finally, the back. 

"Madam? Madam? Turn over please.......Madam?" 

Barely able to open my eyes, those insistent women wanted me to rise up and rotate. It took all my will power to get those uber-relaxed limbs to respond.  

All I wanted to do was relax into oblivion.

We did this again and again. It was heaven, and for about $16 a pop, we could afford to have many over the course of two weeks. 

The island is fairly small, we circumnavigated it in a couple of hours on a snorkeling trip, stopping for half hour stints at various bays and reefs. I had heard it was volcanic, but the boulders that had tumbled into the ocean looked more like very weathered granite. The highest peak is only about 1000 feet (300 meters). Most of the roads were dirt or gravel. The main road between Mae Haad and Sairee Beach was paved. One disastrous road goes up over the mountain, through a saddle and down to the other side where there is an abandoned resort. Rheta and I attempted the hike twice, in the coolish early morning. The first day we decided our shoes weren't the best and bagged it about half way up. The second day, we could see the saddle but we could also see five vicious dogs, two of which were intent on rushing us. We would need to hire a long tail boat to take us around the island to the abandoned resort, if we were that intent on seeing it. We weren't. 

Nasty road up over the mountain

Staying in a place for a while allows the visitor to get to know some of the politics and the problems people face on a daily basis.

For instance, about the only zoning on the island is a law that no building can be taller than a coconut tree. But coconut trees can get really tall, taller than a standard 3 story building. So some buildings, especially those in the resorts are very tall and probably block the views of the neighbors. There is little or no concern for "green" building. Everything is concrete and fairly simple construction. 

Billboard showing the new resort

There is however a big concern about water. In the tropics it rains a lot. But it doesn't rain consistently. The island drains off all rainwater directly into the ocean, with almost none of it soaking in, filling up aquifers. As a result there isn't enough fresh water to fill all the swimming pools or to flush all those hotel toilets. People collect rainwater off roofs and fill giant concrete cisterns. People who collect all the rainwater from many houses sell it to users downhill. Even so, there is sometimes a serious shortage. 

Needless to say, a giant resort under construction is a very unpopular project. A billboard in front of it shows a design with at least five swimming pools. Other smaller private pools will be built for special suites. Once it comes online, the water situation on the island could become critical. There isn't a strong enough government to stem the tide of construction or slow down the number of people coming to visit Koh Tao. It's a place that may ultimately be destroyed by its own popularity. 

Typical resort cascading down a hill