Koh Tao – meaning ‘Turtle Island’ – lives up to its name, being the scuba diving destination of choice in Thailand. The perfect white-sand beaches which ring the hilly 21 km² island are surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The vibrant coral reefs there are home to a wide range of exciting and colourful sea creatures, including turtles, naturally. The compact island is 55 km to the north of Koh Samui and 45 kilometers northwest of Ko Pha Ngan.
Koh Tao is located on the east side of the Surat Thani coastline with two neighbouring islands, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. Koh Tao is officially a subdistrict of Koh Phangan in Surat Thani province, and the name, in English, means ‘Turtle Island’ for the island’s connection with its being inhabited by sea turtles. Though they are not as plentiful as in the past, nowadays you can still find green and hawksbill turtles in some areas such as Thian Og Bay. The island’s shape is also thought to resemble a turtle when viewed from Koh Phangan.
The island has been inhabited since 1947 but was only really ‘discovered’ in the early 1980s. Now it supports a varied selection of hotels, from budget guesthouses and beach bungalows all the way up to five-star luxury resorts. The choice of restaurants and nightlife establishments has also been constantly growing, to the point that there is now something for almost every taste. So far from civilisation while still being relatively easily reached, it is the idyllic tropical island paradise. It is an island with lush nature, abundant marine life, beautiful coral reefs in both shallow and deep sea, a variety of colorful fishes, and many white sand beaches for leisure. There are also many diving schools where new divers learning basic skills.
The island’s natural beauty both above and below the water, with its stunning coral reefs and abundant marine life in clear, warm water, bring thousands of visitors here each year making it an unforgettable destination for divers, adventurers and travellers alike. This, combined with the relaxed atmosphere and life style, has been attracting people here for over 40 years and is now a warm second home for many. Koh Tao has developed in many ways, and with its thriving diving industry, is now one of the leading centres for dive education in the world.
Ko Tao attractions
- Haad Tien Commonly known as “Rocky Bay”, this is one of the furthest beaches from Mae Haad, but one of the best. It has the clearest water and the cleanest beach, with only a small selection of quite exclusive resorts there. It is sometimes also called “Shark Bay” for the number of black-tip reef sharks you can snorkel among.
- John-Suwan Viewpoint Right at the southern tip of Koh Tao, the view to the north is spectacular, showing both Chalok Baan Khao Bay and Haad Tien beaches and the hilly interior of the island. There is a 50 baht entrance fee to the viewpoint, as well as a short and relatively easy hike. It is named after the two friends who discovered the view while looking for somewhere to build a house.
- Jor Por Ror Located at the southern end of Sairee Beach is a large rock formation bearing the initials of King Rama V, who visited the island in 1899. Don’t even think about adding your own mark to the highly-revered stone.
- Laem Hin Cho Po Ro is a cape on Sai Ri Beach where the stone inscribed with the royal initials of King Rama V, is located. It is the evidence of a royal marine visit.
- Laem Ta To is a viewpoint on the mountaintop, overlooking the scenery of Ao Thian Ok and Ao Chalok Ban Kao. There are coconut plantations interspersed with rocks.
- Sai Ri Beach is the longest beach of the island. It has white sand and coral reefs along the beach. Probably Koh Tao’s best-known beach, where you will find the majority of the nightlife, including beach bars and restaurants. Despite being the longest beach on the island, it is also one of the busiest, being immediately to the north of Mae Haad and home to a lot of budget accommodation.
- Surrounded by cliffs, Ao Luek is a bay located at the southeast of the island where there are a beautiful rocky cape and a diving site for viewing coral reefs.
- Ko Kong Sai Daeng is a small island with numerous coral reefs and beautiful fish for visitors to see. It is also one of the best scuba-diving spots.
- Ao Loem Thian is a small bay located near a cliff. It is the location of impressive boulders, shallow-water coral reefs, and fish in beautiful colors and with striking stripes.
- Ao Tanot is a bay located at the east of the island. It is a diving spot for coral reefs and has beautiful scenery. There is also a cliff that extends to Laem Thian.
- Kong Hin Chumphon is a pile of underwater rocks located away from Ko Tao towards the direction to Chumphon Province. The boat trip to visit the pile takes about 90 minutes. Coral reefs are found in the sea at a depth of 120 feet where abundance of fish can be seen.
- Kong Hin Khao is a pile of underwater rocks located at the west of the island towards the end of Ko Nang Yuan. Coral reefs can be seen at a depth of 90 feet in the sea. It features giant rocks leaning against each other where with sea anemones and abundant fish can be seen as well.
- Mae Haad Beach The island’s main town, where you will find the pier as well as plenty of guesthouses, shops, bars and other services. Naturally, this beach is among the busiest.
- Tanote Bay The largest of the east-coast beaches, this is the busiest and most populated area on this side of the island.
- Mango Viewpoint Located in the hills in the north of the island, the view of Mae Haad and Sairee Beach is spectacular. It is reached either by taking a long, challenging walk up the hill from the 7-Eleven in Sariee or by motorbike up a steep and risky road. Access to the viewing platform costs 100 baht, with the money supposedly going towards building a better road.
Koh Tao Climate
Koh Tao can be visited all year round, there is always somewhere calm should the weather be windy on one of the coasts.
Conditions are changeable throughout the year, with Koh Tao’s monsoon usually arriving between the end of November and beginning of December. Heavy rain, strong winds and waves are normal at this time, though it only lasts a few weeks. Boat services usually continue even with waves up to 4 metres high, but they can be interrupted if the conditions are too bad.
From October through to March, the tide is high, so it’s better and easier in places for swimming and snorkelling with the beaches and bays full of water. From April through to September, the tide is low during the day making the beaches wider for sunbathing and beach activities. The best travel season is from February to April.
Source: www.kohtaocompleteguide.com, www.kosamui.com