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Koh Tao – Turtle Island

Welcome to Koh Tao

This is my Koh Tao Wiki page and will be updated on a regular basis. If you have something to add please comment at the bottom of the page so everyone can benefit.

The history of Koh Tao (เกาะเต่า) is fascinating. This island wasn’t inhabited for a long time but now there are about 1,500 people who call it home; most of these locals make a living from the estimated 100,000 tourists who visit each year, many of whom come for the famed Koh Tao diving experience while others are here to experience the outstanding Koh Tao weather. Political prisoners were probably the first group to stay on the island full time; it served as a prison for about fourteen years around the time of the Second World War. All of the prisoners were given a pardon and released in 1947. It is hard to imagine that people were once forced to stay on Koh Tao; especially when you consider how hard it is for the foreign visitors to leave.

The name Koh Tao translated means Turtle Island; Tao is Thai for ‘turtle’. It refers to the fact that the waters surrounding the island were once teeming with turtles. The popularity of the island has meant that these are now a rare sight; they have found more peaceful surroundings elsewhere.

Koh Tao is a favorite of divers because there are some great dive areas nearby. It has also become something of a haven for backpackers who feel that the popularity of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan makes them less desirable destinations. Recent years have seen an increase in all types of tourists visiting the island as well as the number of Koh Tao accommodations. Koh Tao is only about 21 kilometers square so there are a lot fewer options here than can be found on Samui and Phangan; for many people this is one of the nice attractions.

Koh Tao Arrivals and Departures
There is no airport on Koh Tao itself, but there are a few options nearby – all of these will involve a boat trip to the island. Koh Samui International is the only airport on any of the local islands. This is a one of the most exotic looking airports in the world, but you pay for the privilege. A cheaper option is to fly into Chumphon or Surat Thani and get a boat from either of these ports.

The closest mainland port to Koh Tao is at Chumphon (ชุมพร). There are a number of
different boats available with the fastest being a Catamaran that can make the trip in one and half hours. There are also slower ferries that take up to six hours from Chumphon. It is also possible to get a boat from Surat Thani (สุราษฎร์ธานี); which takes about eight hours.

The other local islands Samui and Phangan also have a few boats going to Koh Tao. The nearest island is Phangan and boats from there can take about 2 ½ hours to make the crossing. There is an express boat that leaves from Thong Sala every day. There are also speed boats from Phangan that can make the journey in an hour- this is a more expensive option.

There are also a couple of options for people coming from Samui. There is a daily boat from Na Thorn that leaves at 10:30 each day. There are also two daily high speed boat trips from Wat Pra Lan; the last one leaves at 12:30.

A night train from Hua Lamphong Station (สถานีหัวลำโพง) to Chumphon can be a good choice; especially if you get a sleeper carriage. If you do want to travel this way make sure to book in advance as the sleeper carriage fills up quickly. The journey takes about seven hours. It is possible to buy a package that includes the train and boat; you will pick this up at any of the Bangkok travel agents.

This is the cheapest way to get to the islands. If you are in Bangkok you will find many travel agencies on the Khao San Road offering trips to the island. Some people claim that during these bus trips it can feel like you are being herded like cattle; others enjoy the experience. Still this is a popular option and good value for money. You should also be able to arrange a pick-up from your hotel.

Getting Around Koh Tao
Renting a motorbike is a good way to get around Koh Tao, but it is also dangerous for the inexperienced rider. The roads are quite good in the tourist areas, but even experienced riders have had accidents once they left the main road – there really is only one main road on the island. If you are going to rent a motorbike make sure you are never under the influence of alcohol or drugs and always wear a helmet. There is no main hospital on the island and this is a good reason to avoid motorbikes altogether.

A good option for getting around the island is by boat. This will also allow you to visit those areas that are inaccessible by road.

Pick-up Trucks
Pick-up trucks can be found anywhere there are a lot of tourists. You can rent these to take you anywhere that is accessible by road. It is recommended that you always determine the price first.

What to See on Koh Tao
Mae Haad
This will be the first place that most visitors to the Island will see as this is where most boats to the island will dock. This area has seen a lot of development in recent years, but still manages to maintain a lot of its original fishing village charm. This is not only the nearest thing to a town on the island but it is also the home of one the most popular beach to the north of the town. There are many Koh Tao accommodation options here and this is the place to go if you want to stay in one of the more expensive Koh Tao resort type dwellings. All the main Koh Tao dive shops, supermarkets, internet shops, and travel agents can be found here. Many individuals come to Koh Tao because they want the tranquility that they feel has been lost on the other islands; these people will tend not stay in Mae Haad. Mae Haad is not as busy as the tourist towns on Koh Samui or Koh Phangan, but it is heading in that direction.

Sairee Beach
Sairee Beach is only about a ten minute walk away from Mae Haad. Here you will find almost two kilometers of white sandy beach. There are a lot of accommodation options in this area as this is where most visitors to the island choose to stay. Those who do choose this as their base have all the local Sairee bars and restaurants or can take a short walk and enjoy the nightlife of Mae Haad. Despite the fact that it is so popular it is still possible to get a quiet bit of beach all to yourself; although this is getting harder every year.

Sai Daeng Beach
If you were thinking of somewhere peaceful and remote when choosing Koh Tao then Sai Daeng beach might have been just what you had in mind. This beach is isolated from the rest of the island, just like being off the Koh Tao map, and it is easiest to get here by boat. There are only a couple of Koh Tao resorts in the area and this is a great place to go and relax. Sai Daeng is also the closest location to Shark Island which is popular with divers and considered one of the best dive sites in Thailand. The nearby resorts have really done a lot to fit in with the natural surroundings; this has made the area even more appealing for the visitor.

Chalok Baan Kao Beach
After Sairee beach it is Chalok Baan Kao that is the next most popular beach; it is located to the South of the island. It is not as developed as Sairee but it seems to be catching up; it can get quite busy here during the high season. The area surrounding the beach is quite breathtaking and this is what really makes it so special. The beach itself is curved with a cape at each end. Some people say that the swimming is not as good here as elsewhere on the island, but this doesn’t stop most visitors from spending a lot of time in the water. At Chalok Baan Kao you will find plenty of bars, restaurants, shops, and all the other things that tourists find useful.

Mango Bay
Mango Bay is another very secluded area; in fact you can only get there by boat. The beach here is tiny, but the surrounding sea is a great area for snorkeling. There are only a couple of Koh Tao resort options nearby, so a good choice if you want tranquil surroundings. For those who want to stay somewhere with a bit more natural life this is still somewhere that they might like to visit.

Rocky Bay
Rocky Bay is a becoming a popular destination for most visitors to Koh Tao and many claim that it is the best beach on the island. This is a good choice for swimming or just lounging around on the beach and admiring the stunning scenery. Even though this is a well liked spot for tourists it rarely gets overcrowded.

What to Do on Koh Tao
Considering the size of the island there are a surprising number of things to do on Koh Tao. The main reason why people came here previously was because for the local dive sites, but there is a lot more on offer than just this.

It doesn’t matter if you are an experienced or beginner diver you will find that Koh Tao is a great place to enjoy Scuba diving. Some of the local dive sites are among the best in the world, and many people travel to Thailand specifically to experience these. There are many dive shops on Koh Tao; especially in areas like Mae Haad, Sairee, and Chalok Baan Kao. In fact chances are that if you threw a stone anywhere on the island you would likely hit a dive shop – well maybe it’s not quite that bad. There are a lot of options though when it comes to Koh Tao diving and it is worth shopping around to get the best deals and service – you should always put safety before value for money though. In recent years there has been a move towards a standardized price for all the diving shops.

If you have never tried Scuba diving previously you can begin your journey into the hobby here. Some people like it so much that they decide to turn it into their profession. On Koh Tao you will find all the courses you need to get your basic license all the way up to a dive master and a teaching qualification. If you are only interested in experiencing a single dive you can go on the introduction course. If you have the time though you will probably want to do your Open Water. This is the course you do to get your first diving license. It takes about three days usually; one day in the classroom, one practicing in a swimming pool, and finally at one of the dive sites. Once you have your license you will then be free to dive elsewhere or try for higher courses. Be warned though, once you have done your first dive you will be changed forever.

If spending time deep under the water doesn’t appeal to you then you might want to consider snorkeling. You won’t see as much of the marine life as you would scuba diving but you can still see a lot. A good idea is to go on one of the snorkeling tours of the island; that way you will get to see the best of the marine life.

Thai Massage
Koh Tao is a relaxing place but you can increase the effect by putting yourself into the care of a Thai masseuse. This traditional form of massage is renowned around the world for its wonderful medicinal benefits. Once you have experienced a traditional Thai massage you will really feel the benefit afterwards; your body feels stress free and your step is lighter for hours afterwards.

Meditation/ Tai-Chi/Yoga
There are also a few places on Koh Tao where you can learn meditation, yoga, or even Tai-Chi. These practices are very useful to learn; you may be able to take a bit of the peace of Koh Tao back with you to your otherwise stressful life. Some of these courses are provided by westerners so there should be no worries about a communication barrier.

Off the Beaten Track in Koh Tao
Koh Tao is a small island so going off the beaten track is not as easy as on the bigger islands like Samui or Phangan. Despite this there are a few places that visitors tend to miss.

Heading Inland to the Koh Tao Jungle
Most visitors to Koh Tao will spend their time on the coast but there is also a lot to see inland. There are many paths through the jungle and exploring on a motorbike can be fun; just be careful though because the roads can be treacherous. Near the central east side of the island is ‘Mount Koh Tao’ and here you will get to experience some stunning views of the rest of the island.

Long Boat Tour
If you want to see a different side of the Koh Tao then a long boat tour is a great idea. You can spend the day traveling around the island and visiting small beaches and snorkeling areas that are inaccessible by land.

Koh Nang Yuan
Koh Nang Yuan is actually another island but it is close enough to Koh Tao for it to be a great place to visit. This is considered a place of exceptional beauty and is actually made up of three small islands that are connected by a sandbank. Nang Yuan is only a short boat ride away from Koh Tao it costs about 100 THB round trip. There is one only one resort on Nang Yuan and this can fill up quickly so make sure you book ahead if you want to stay here. Food and drinks are a lot more expensive on this island than the bigger islands.

Emergencies on Koh Tao
If you become seriously ill on Koh Tao then the nearest big hospital is on Koh Samui or back on the mainland at Chumphon. There is a large clinic near Sairee beach and this can deal with most accidents; there are also smaller clinics spread around the island. If you are the victim of a crime the emergency number for the tourist police is 1155.

Highlights of Koh Tao
– The nightlife around Sairee beach
– A peaceful afternoon on Sai Daeng beach away from it all
– A trip to Koh Nang Yuan

Where to Next?
Koh Phangan is to the south of Koh Tao. It is a bigger island and home of the famous full-moon parties. If the party scene on Koh Tao is not enough for you then you might want to consider Phangan.
Koh Samui is a boat ride away from Koh Tao and is one of the most popular travel destinations in Thailand. The nightlife here can be extreme, but there is something on the island to suit every taste.
Pai (ปาย) in Northern Thailand. This has been described as paradise in the mountains and a place that people like to go to chill out. If you want a change from the islands but a similar vibe then this would be a good choice.