A majority of the best diving in Thailand is found on the islands in the Andaman Sea and in the Gulf of Thailand. While islands like Phuket and Koh Samui are highly developed others like Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Tao are not.
This means that certain things that you can usually find on the mainland at a decent prize are expensive, and or difficult to find while on these smaller islands. There’s also the issue of shortages due to increased seasonal demand and weather that can affect shipments from the mainland. So the question is, what to bring to the islands in Thailand?
Here is a list of things that I found I needed while doing my divemaster internship on Koh Tao and that were hard to find, and or much more expensive than they would’ve been on the mainland:
1. Sunscreen – Stores on the islands know that they have you in a tight spot when you need sunscreen. Without it your afternoon on the dive boat is going to result in a hilarious wetsuit tan at best, or a crippling sunburn at worst. This results in the price of sunscreen being greater than at stores back on the mainland, with a bottle costing anywhere from 300-900 baht ($10-$30). This also applies to toiletries and bug spray where you can expect a 200-500% markup from the mainland prices.
2. LED Flashlight – Power outages are not uncommon on the smaller islands where one small facility will provide electricity to the island. These facilities are not always of the highest quality and frequently have to be repaired. There are also long stretches of road with no light, making it useful to have a flashlight on you when you are stumbling home after a late night at the bars… I recommend the MagLite LED Flashlight.
3. Backup Cash – There was on week on Koh Tao while I was there where majority of the ATM’s on the island, specifically around the tourist area of Sairee ran out of cash. Back home you could just use your credit card, but there are very few places on these islands other than the dive shops, dive stores and high-end resorts/restaurants that accept them. Even if they do, you can count on there being a processing fee of 3-6% tacked onto the purchase price. When you’re living on a backpacker’s budget eating at small local restaurants and street carts and you don’t have cash, you’re not eating. This is why it’s important that you keep a stash of cash at your place that is enough to buy food with for a few days.
With a little preparation and forethought your stay on the smaller islands can be a great and cheap time. Just remember your sunscreen, a flashlight and your backup cash.