The little town of Sairee had been swallowed by the trees, a distant grumble of cars and motorbikes. We were on our way to Hin Wong Bay on the far side of Koh Tao, hoping to find a drowsy patch of sand away from the tourist bustle. Our road cut straight across the island, threading a narrow pass between nameless peaks. The climb was hot, sweaty work. Halfway up, we paused for water and I noticed the local power plant.
I decided there was something deeply satisfying about an electric company using rocks and paint for signage. But we quickly moved on, eager to get to our destination before the worst of the midday heat set in.
The higher we climbed, the more the island settled into a buzzing stillness. We were well away from the coastal villages. The few houses looked lush and lazy - good spots for a hammock and a beer. Palm trees waved against the sapphire sky.
The air was wildly humid, but when we finally reached the pass, a crisp breeze cut the temperature to something bearable. Trees blocked a wider view, but I caught glimpses of blue waters and tropical shores below us. The trail down was steep, much steeper than the one we'd just climbed. I didn't envy ourselves the return.
And then abruptly, we were at the bottom. The narrow road leveled among the ghost of a resort. Supposedly, this was Hin Wong Apartments, a thriving business. The fact that it looked dead shouldn't have been a surprise during Koh Tao's off season. Still, I wondered how they managed even in the popular months. The resort was on the backside of the island. The only road in was a rutted mess of cracked pavement, down an incline that sometimes hit 45 degrees. And there wasn't a hint of a market or a pub or anyplace to buy food other than the resort restaurant. Which, at the moment, was thoroughly closed.
But I shook that away. There was a beach somewhere ahead with our names on it. We navigated the darkened houses in search of sand. Eventually, we skirted the restaurant and found a little wooden jetty stretching over jeweled water. The whole structure looked rickety, halfway to tumbling off into the sea.
So of course I had to climb out for some pictures.
In the stillness, I could almost have believed Erin and I had the whole island to ourselves. Even the tumbledown resort added to the charm, like we'd stumbled across a forgotten cove. I paused at the end of the jetty, staring down at water so glittering and chimerical, it looked like an impressionist's painting.
And standing at the end of those fragile wooden boards, I finally saw my beach. It was small and rocky, a dozen meters north of the restaurant. Erin and I circled back through the resort's winding paths until we found a way down. I approached the sand cautiously, on the lookout for surly locals. Or at least, one particular surly local.
I should explain. Hin Wong Bay's beach had been recommended to us, but the rec came with a warning. It was privately owned and covered in signs: "To use beach, please make purchase." Ignore them and the property owner would appear like a furious Thai demon, screaming "DID YOU SEE THE SIGN?!?" until you popped down cash a soda. But the location was rumored to be so beautiful and remote, perfect for snorkeling, that tourists came anyway.
This morning, my caution was unnecessary. No one appeared. The beach was as deserted as the resort. We did see the signs (How could we miss them? They were every five feet!), but there was nothing to buy. We agreed that if anyone showed up to open the facilities, we'd happily make a purchase. Until then, we settled down in a shady spot to enjoy an almost magical silence, and colors so saturated they felt like photoshop.
Eventually, Erin headed into the water. I watched her wade up to her knees, then give a little started yelp.
"A fish nibbled my leg. I was just surprised." She gave another giggling yelp, accompanied by a little splashing jump. Then she turned, eyes shining, and waved at me. "You have to get in here! It's like standing in an aquarium!"
So I hiked up my pants and started to follow. Then froze at the water's edge as I realized all those dark spots were vast, swarming schools of tropical fish.
Eventually, I worked up the courage to go in. We spent the next few hours getting vividly sunburned, distracted by the rainbows swirling around our legs. The water might as well have been glass. It was beautiful and a little unsettling (mostly thanks to a few curious nibblers). I found myself wishing I had a snorkel.
Supposedly, the resort rented snorkeling gear, but by now it was clear they wouldn't open that day. So we contented ourselves with wading. Later, we retired to the beach to dry, and shared a look of wonder.
"So what do you think?" Erin asked. "Is it worth the sweaty climb to get here?"
"Yes. Most definitely yes."
PS: If you'd like to visit Hin Wong Bay, you can either take a cab from Mae Head or Sairee, (500 or 300 baht, respectively, though the road will be VERY bumpy) or you can walk. It's about 2 km from Sairee beach to Hin Wong, though you will be climbing. Here's a basic map of the bay's location.
The snorkeling out there is truly astonishing. And though the beach is small, it's cozy. Here's a google image view of it!