Couchfish Diversion 1: Ko Taen, Thailand

Couchfish Diversion 1: Ko Taen, Thailand


As this is the first issue of Couchfish Diversion, a quick word on what it is.

Sometimes you’re in a well travelled spot and you're looking for something a bit different. Perhaps just for a night, perhaps for 10 nights ...

Couchfish Diversion is all about this. Each Tuesday at 5pm GMT+8 I’ll send paid and free subscribers to Couchfish a piece that takes a popular spot in Southeast Asia and recommends a diversion.

Let's gets diverted!

Ko Samui has been on the mass tourism dance card for decades. It was the first Thai island I ever visited. I lazed away on what was then low-key Lamai Beach. Back then, a beachfront shack with a shared bathroom at Amity Bungalows cost 60 baht. Really. This was, by the way, just after the dinosaurs left the face of the earth (so yeah, 1993).

Early morning on Ko Taen. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

I’ve been back many times since, but on the way to my preferred Ko Pha Ngan. Most times, Samui is little more than a stopover. Straight off the south coast of Samui though, lies Ko Taen, and if you’re looking for a diversion, this is it.

I ask the round-island songthaew driver to drop me at Thong Krut on Samui’s south coast. This was once a fishing village, but like much of the island, much has moved over to tourism. The coastline is lined with a gaggle of bars and restaurants, some stilted, to take in the sunset. But just past the breakwater and across the sea lies my destination.

Island bound. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

There are no public ferries—it's close enough that you could kayak there ... though there's no way I would. Instead, I charter a longtail, paying what turns out to be an inflated 1,500 baht for the return trip. The boatman will drop me there and when I want to come back all I need do is call him.

“One night, one year, no problem,” he says.

We slide across the smooth morning waters in his longtail. In the still air, spray is light, and 30 minutes later his engine burps and chortles as he navigates the shallows. He tosses an anchor out to sea then needles the prow softly against the crescent shaped yellow sand beach.


Thankfully it wasn’t low tide when I arrived. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

I’d called the guesthouse ahead of time to snare a room. The guy who answered laughed, and sure enough, I’m the only guest at Koh Tan Village Bungalows.

The owner is off somewhere, so a friendly young woman who doubles as cook, cleaner and boat meeter, walks me up the sand to my beachfront room. I’d expected bamboo and thatch—instead I have polished concrete with tri-coloured stained glass windows. There’s a deck (though no hammock) and the bathroom, is, well okay. For 1,000 baht a night I’ve seen much worse!

Later, the owner surfaces. Meesak is a third-generation islander. His parents were born on the island and so was he, he says. Like so many island people in the region, being born on the island matters. He’s an affable guy and we chat for a bit as he makes himself comfortable on my sole veranda chair.

My humble abode. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Meesak explains how the island tried to become an eco-destination, but that didn’t work out. Over time the full-time population dwindled from a few hundred families to just 27 permanent residents. I don’t bother asking why the lock on my door doesn’t work as, well, I guess Meesak knows all 27 people on the island.

I swim and laze around for a significant part of the day. Day trippers come and go from Samui—there are a couple of other places to stay—yet nobody stays. Crazy.

Around four in the afternoon, Meesak suggests I walk over to the other side of the island for sunset. I oblige—it isn’t like I have any other pressing engagements.

My own personal sunset. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

A cement-paved road (I turn right at the pig monument and so should you) leads the entire way. On the southwest coast, it winds out through a mass of mangroves, finishing at a dead end by the sea. The sun sets almost right in front of me, yet I feel like I’m the only person on the planet. The air is still, crabs scrabble in the mangroves and I watch the rich green of their leaves fade to black.

I am the only man on earth.

I walk back (sans torch, a major error I should say) and have a seafood dinner back at the guesthouse. This was the only sting of the stay, with the price well higher than I expected. When you’re the only guest on an entire island, though, what's a fair price?

The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.