Koh Tao is a small island in the Gulf of Thailand, forming part of the Samui – Chumphon Archipelago.
The island is essentially a giant granite block, 7km long with an area of about 21sq km; Stunning sandy beaches meet palm tree groves, backing onto steep slopes covered in dense jungle. The scenery is spectacular.
The name Koh Tao translates from Thai as ‘Turtle Island’, due to the island’s profile resembling a turtle from certain angles. Plus its common to see Green and Hawkbill turtles whilst scuba diving around Koh Tao.
In past decades Koh Tao was rarely visited, save only by a few fishermen from neighboring islands or the mainland. As the decades passed people gradually settled on Koh Tao, farming coconuts and living from the land. Then during the 1980s the first foreign visitors began making their way to the island. Fringed by coral reefs, submerged pinnacles and amazing marine life, Koh Tao gained a reputation for world class diving and snorkeling.
Koh Tao’s reputation has steadily grown and it is now a popular destination. Yet the remote location and small size mean Koh Tao retains a tropical island charm.
Whilst the early days of tourism in Koh Tao were somewhat rustic, the island is now comfortable and well setup for visitors.
We have 24 hour electricity (almost all the time) and there’s a huge range of accommodation available, from budget backpacker dormitories through to luxury seafront pool villas.
Around the islands there are plenty shops, bars and restaurants offering almost every cuisine conceivable.
Koh Tao’s main village is called Mae Haad, located half way down the island’s west coast. This is where you will arrive, as ferries dock at one of several small piers in Mae Haad. In the village are a collection of shops, restaurants, banks, travel agents and guesthouses.
Sairee Beach is the islands longest stetch of sand, a few minutes stroll north from Mae Haad. This is the main focal point of Koh Tao with the most accommodation and best places to eat and drink. The beach itself is 1.6km of golden sand, fronged by palm trees and laid back beach. It’s a great spot to relax during the evenings, often enjoying amazing sunsets.
The third biggest settlement on Koh Tao is Chalok Ban Khao to the south of the island. This is essentially a smaller, more chilled out version of Sairee with south facing beach.
The east coast of Koh Tao is lined with bays and beaches too. The roads up over the mountain are quite steep, so the east coast remains much quieter and less developed. But it is certainly worth a visit if you’re confident exploring by scooter or bicycle.
Traveling to Koh Tao is straightforward nowadays with good ferry, rail, road and air connections.
The closest useful mainland port is Chumphon, about 70km north of Koh Tao. Ferry crossing takes about 2 hours. This is a good option for getting back and forth from Bangkok. Chumphon has an airport, railway station plus there are regular bus services to Bangkok.
Alternatively about 2 hours to the south by ferry, Koh Samui has a larger airport which offers both domestic and limited international flights.
Plus Suratthani on the mainland – a further hour or so south also has rail station and airport offering both domestic and limited international flights. This can be a good option if you are travelling to/from southern Thailand or Malaysia. There are connections from Suratthani to Krabi, Phuket and Phi Phi.
If you need any guidance on travelling to or from Koh Tao, drop us an email – we’re happy to help.
Scuba diving and snorkeling are by far the most popular activity in Koh Tao. The amazing marine life and close proximity of dive sites make it an ideal spot for underwater exploration.
But scuba diving isn’t the only attraction here – there’s lots else to see and do! A few ideas:
The scenery around Koh Tao is truly amazing. There are countless tracks and trails up through Koh Tao’s jungle covered slopes – and the reward for reaching the summit is often an incredible vista. Pickup one of the many free Koh Tao maps when you arrive and you’ll be able to see all the viewpoints. Notable are John-Suwan Viewpoint, 2 Views, Fraggle Rock and the Mango Bay Viewpoints.
Off the north-western tip of Koh Tao is one of the most amazing sites in all of South-East Asia; Koh Nangyuan. 3 tiny granite islands are joined by a sand bar. Nangyuan is surround by coral reefs and has a viewpoint on top of one of the islands, which makes for an incredible photo.
As discussed above if you’re comfortable on a scooter and have time to spare, its worth exploring the eastern bays of Koh Tao too. Highlights include Aow Leuk, Tanote Bay and Hin Wong. Just to be careful if you rent a scooter though – some of the roads aren’t fantastic.
There are a couple more big attractions in this part of Thailand, which you may want to combine with your visit to Koh Tao.
On neighbouring Koh Phangan the world famous ‘Full Moon Party’ takes place each month. Fire-dancing, beach parties, fluorescent paint, buckets of cheap liquor etc. If that’s your scene and you are here at the right time, its worth stopping by to experience the spectacle.
Also not to be missed, Ang Tong Marine Park. This is the setting / inspiration for Alex Garland’s novel ‘The Beach’, popularized by the DiCaprio movie back in 2000. It’s a marine reserve archipelago over about 25 tiny islands. Most easily Reached from Koh Samui, you can day trip to Ang Thong and even camp overnight on ‘the beach’.
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‘Amazing few days spent at Simple Life Diving school on Ko Tao doing our PADI open water.’
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