After nearly a week on Ko Tao and having spent a fair amount of time being flabbergasted by the beauty of its coral and reefs and to a lesser extent its narrow beaches, I can understand why so many people come to the island and indeed come to Thailand (around 10 or so million per year).
Still, there is something uncomfortable about being on a Thai island like Ko Tao and feeling like I am on a tourist resort located in a western country where all the holiday makers are white and all the service providers from taxi drivers to bartenders to masseurs to cooks to prostitutes are imported labour from an asian country. I even get the occasional surprised stare from tourists (usually young) as I sit in a bar or a restaurant.
I’m not entirely why that is the case. It could be that the island’s prices are the main barrier to the locals from enjoying its beauty. It could be that the locals are not terribly interested in the backpacker party scene (which is actually not that bad – I’ve seen much worse in Darwin and far north Queensland) and have better things to do with their time. Or it could be that the locals find it uncomfortable being in a place in their own country where the main language spoken is not theirs, the culture is markedly different and where they are an obvious minority.