There are two opinions on how the island named Koh Tao got its name. One is that it was named so because it has the shape of a turtle (Tao means turtle). The other is that it got the name because of the abundance of green turtles and hawksbill turtles for which it is the breeding ground. Whichever is true, the name is apt for the island and the turtles are an added attraction to the island’s visitors who find the place captivating because of the great opportunities for scuba diving, snorkelling, and rock climbing.
Location of Koh Tao
Koh Tao, also spelt Ko Tao, is an island in the Chumphon Archipelago and is part of Thailand. It is situated on the shore of the Gulf of Thailand which is a shallow section of the South China Sea. Koh Tao is well-connected to the rest of Thailand. The beautiful island Koh Nang Yuan is on the western side of Koh Tao and the famous Ang Thong National Marine Park is quite near it.
What you can do in Koh Tao
Tourism sustains Koh Tao and tourists come here primarily to dive. Beaches are often deserted because tourists are mainly under the water, either scuba diving or taking photographs.
Though Koh Tao’s main appeal is its wonderful dive sites, diving is not the only activity that the island offers. Those who are not keen on diving have many other things to do. Divers too can indulge in them for a change.
The other options
- With the variety of coral reefs and colourful underwater fauna around Koh Tao, snorkelling is a popular activity.
- There is provision for many water sports including wakeboarding.
- You can take lessons in free diving. (In free diving, a diver does not rely on a breathing apparatus and manages to hold his breath for a while.)
- For golf lovers, there are mini golf courses and leisure centres.
- Expert training is given to interested tourists in flying trapeze activities in which people of all ages can participate.
- For those fond of sea kayaking, kayaks are available for rent.
- Massage courses are offered for people interested Thai body massage.
- Thai cuisine is excellent. You can enjoy the food and get trained in Thai cookery.
- There are volcanic rocks and seaside cliffs suitable for rock climbing.
- Learning ‘tai chi’, a Thai martial art with many health benefits including stress reduction, can be very interesting.
- Learning yoga and other local meditation courses.
- Participating in adventure sports like cliff jumping.
- There are long walking trails across Koh Tao for walking enthusiasts.
- Queen’s Cabaret, a night time show performed by lady-boys, is for night entertainment enthusiasts.
- Besides Queen’s Cabaret, there are beach parties and pubs for those interested in night recreation.
- Learning Thai boxing (Muay Thai) and taking gym lessons are the other options.
Koh Tao restaurants
Restaurants are aplenty in Koh Tao. They serve all types of foods like Thai, Asian, Chinese, Western etc. There are expensive, cheap, as well as mid-range eateries and all of them give good value for the money you spend.
Best time to visit Koh Tao
Ko Tao has no severe winter. As such, all the year is suitable for diving. However, every tourist does not come to dive. Those who come to trek, sunbathe, get massages, enjoy Thai cuisine, or practice mediation may have different choices about the season during which they should visit. Even divers will have preferences for different seasons, based upon what type of critter they want to swim along with.
Koh Tao is quite crowded from July to the beginning of September since the days are sunny and visibility is high enough to make diving a real pleasure. The beaches, especially the Haad Sairee beach, are very active during the winter months starting from Christmas time to the end of February. Weather may fluctuate a bit during this time but is never very bad.
It is quite hot from the month of March till May. With visibility not very high, it may not be the best season to dive, but it is the season when whale sharks make their appearance. They are seen again in September to October as well. June and September-October are also good for diving.
The rainy season sets in from the end of October and continues throughout November. However, it rains generally for just an hour a day, and the sky becomes clear very soon. Further,monsoon patterns are not always steady so that it is best to follow the weather chart to find out if November is going to be rainy or not. Visibility will decrease to around 8 to 12 metres in the rainy season. Another problem is that when waves are big, it is difficult for ferries to function.
Koh Tao is near the island of Ko Pha Ngan, another popular holiday destination for divers. Ko Pha Ngan has many tourist attractions but its fame rests mainly on its full-moon-day parties which are elaborate binges. For a couple of days after these monthly parties the hotels and resorts of Koh Tao are fully booked, especially after the parties in January, February, July, August, and December. If you are planning to visit around any of these days, it is safer to book sufficiently early.
Diving season in Koh Tao
Since there is limited seasonal variation, all the year is suitable for diving.
In January, the sea is calm, days are bright, and visibility is around 10 to 15 metres while in February visibility increases and will be around 20 metres. May-June are the months of strong winds but many sites of Koh Tao are still good for diving but some others may not be equally good. Visibility increases further from July onwards and may cross 30 metres by September.
Weather is good in September and it is the season when plenty of pelagic fishes – those living in open seas – occupy the waters. October is not a month during which divers choose to visit even though many dive sites are quite sound and safe through this period as well. Those who have free time only in the rainy months can still visit and have good dives.
El Nino Effect
One of Koh Tao greatest changes in recent years has been the marine life. Possibly due to the El Nino effect, Koh Tao now has more reported shark sightings than ever before, bull and White tip reef sharks being commonly seen at the deeper sites.
Previously unheard of fish have been spotted this year, such as frog fish, pipe fish and the Picasso trigger fish, along with Koh Tao’s ‘trademark’, the beautiful Whale shark. These can be sighted in February, June and August and also in November. Koh Tao is now one of the top spots in the world for sighting the world’s largest fish!
Accommodation choices in Koh Tao
There is no dearth of accommodation in Koh Tao. Accommodations range over a wide spectrum, with luxury resorts at one end and cheap lodgings for backpackers at the other end.
Most dive schools now have bungalows attached at a variety of prices which can be booked along with your dives. Electricity is still supplied as it was years ago, by individual generators, thus not all bungalows have electricity 24 hours a day, but plans and lines are in place for government supplied electricity in the near future.
Spreading out over its western coast, Sairee Beach is the most active beach in Koh Tao. It is fringed with restaurants, dive centres, shops, resorts, nurseries, and bars. A 10-minute walk from Sairee Beach will take you to the town of Mae Haad. Given below is a list of good resorts in the Sairee Beach area.
The Rocks Luxury Villas
These are boutique villas that provide dazzling sea-views while remaining surrounded with jungles on its other sides. The complete privacy that the resort offers, its infinity pools, and its proximity to the beach have made it a favourite of tourists, especially honeymooners.
The Place Villas
The Place luxury villas have a large balcony, infinity pool, private sundeck, and spacious bedroom. The villas stand on the hills rising above Sairee Beach. The height at which they are placed makes the villas airy and gives the visitors excellent views of the beach. At the same time, the villas are close enough to the beach for customers to have easy access to shops, bars, and restaurants.
This one is set in the middle of coconut palms and other tropical trees and consists of six villas. The setting offers a lot of privacy but at the same time the resort is quite close to the main road where there are grocery shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, meditation centres, and anything and everything that you may require. The resort is run by a family.
Anankhira Boutique Resort
Constructed in Balinese style with large, open spaces, Anankhira has honeymoon packages for different durations. The resort consists of four luxury villas with a great sea-view, and has all comforts like plunge pool, air-conditioning, coffee-making facility, wireless internet, TV, DVD player etc.
Koh Tao Coral Grand Resort (3 star)
The resort is a set of wooden cottages plus a set of dive accommodations. The dive centre at Coral Grand is a PADI-licensed centre and offers diving lessons as well as diving packages to visitors.
Ban’s Diving Resort (4 star)
Ban’s Diving Resort is an example of local hospitality with every facility like a dive centre, spa, salon, jacuzzi, two swimming pools (one for children), internet, laundry service, and kayak rentals.
Sairee Hut Resort (3 star)
These cottages are located quite near the pier, and have spacious rooms and two outdoor pools. There are enough restaurants, shops, and bars within easily accessible distance.
Stairs from Sairee Beach lead to the Thipwimarn Resort located at a slight elevation from the beach. The location gives the villas good breeze and a lot of privacy. Various rejuvenation facilities like sauna, jacuzzi, foot massage, and other therapies are offered at the resort.
Koh Tao Cabana Resort (3 star)
This one has rooms and cottages to suit all pockets. It has a spa where you can get traditional massages using scented oil, an open air restaurant with wonderful seafood, and local and western cuisine. Its honeymoon villas may be expensive but excellent!
At Aminjirah, the prices of rooms vary over a wide spectrum. There are budget rooms (cost about $45) from where there is no ocean view or sunset view, and splendid villas and rooms with amazing views (up to $160) and having private plunge pools and fancy names like ‘ocean oasis’, ‘moon dazzle’, ‘garden oasis’, ‘ocean infinity’, and ‘moon ocean pool’.
Aminjirah is situated on a small hill and access to it is through a winding path. There are also steps for those who prefer to climb and not drive up. The place is away from the noise and bustle of Sairee Beach but close enough to it to make shopping and other activities easy. Pickup, transfer, and drop-off of guests are arranged by the resort.
Thalassa is a three-storey hotel with 20 rooms and it has boutique rooms as well as budget rooms. It is located close to the beach and its front desk operates 24 hours of the day. The staff of the hotel is ever-ready to provide guidance on sight-seeing tours and entertainment options in Koh Tao.
VillaLipanaa is within walking distance of the shops and restaurants of Sairee Beach. The two-bedroom villas with private pool and pool terrace are suitable for families as well as people travelling as a group.
These villas have two bedrooms and every villa is surrounded by a garden. The bigger bedroom has a bathroom that is open to a view of the sea, a private terrace, and all amenities like TV and DVD player.
Koh Tao Star Villa
Conventional Thai architectural principles and modern utility standards blend seamlessly in the construction of Koh Tao Star Villa. It is a luxury villa with 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, and a spacious terrace. The games room has darts board, pool table, and many board games. It is located on a hill, with steps leading to it from below.
Monkey Flower Villas
Monkey Flower Villas is among the earliest resorts that sprang up in Koh Tao. It nestles on the slope of a small hill and Sairee Beach is accessible at the end of a short walk from there. The villas have all the amenities including infinity pools and are popular for the relaxed and friendly ambience they provide.
Mae Haad Town
Mae Haad is the most important town in Koh Tao and the location of its government offices, pier, and transport centres. Much of the town is a long and beautiful beach, and it has restaurants, party centres, boutiques, clubs, shopping centres, and night entertainment venues. On the southern side of Mae Haad there are many good resorts. The old and the new, as well as nature’s bounty and technology, mingle and fuse delightfully in this beautiful town.
Given below is a list of resorts in the town of Mae Haad.
Sensi Paradise (3 star)
Sensi Paradise stands on a slope, slightly above the beach. It offers the guests plenty of choices between villas, bungalows, and houses, each type with different views like pool view and sea view, and differentiated as royal villa, family sea front, romantic suite etc., based on location and amenities. All units are made of wood as traditionally done in Thailand.
Sensi Paradise makes arrangements for the pickup, transfer, and return of their customers from the nearest boat station or mainland as required.
Koh Tao Royal Resort (3 star)
This one is located just 30 metres away from the beach of Mae Haad. The resort is a collection of bungalows, made of wood and set in a lush tropical background. Its beach bar and beachfront restaurant are added attractions.
Koh Tao Montra Resort (4 star)
Koh Tao Montra is a beachfront resort on Koh Tao’s western side, with spacious rooms and a large swimming pool. It offers all amenities like jacuzzi, spa, restaurant, pool, bar, and conference room. There are special packages for those who prefer to stay for comparatively longer periods.
Blue Diamond Resort (3 star)
Blue Diamond Resort is in the heart of Mae Haad Beach. Built by incorporating the principles of Thai architecture, the resort’s bungalows are roomy and well-ventilated. There are larger bungalows that can accommodate 6 people and smaller ones suitable for two or three people.
Chalok Baan Kao
Chalok Baan Kao beach is the third in size in Koh Tao and the most-visited southern beach. It is quiet compared to Sairee Beach but still offers plenty of accommodation choices, and has got good restaurants and night entertainment centres.
The lure of Chalok Baan Kao is enhanced by the fact that it is fringed by the lagoon TaaToh on its eastern side. On its west is the beach Saan Jao. Another attraction of the area is a group of rocks that together resembles the Buddha in a seated position. Given below is a list of hotels and resorts around Chalok Baan Kao.
Ko Tao Resort (3 star)
Variety is the essence of Ko Tao Resort, which is also known as Ko Tao Cottage. ‘Paradise zone’ cottages are situated amidst palm gardens, ‘pool side’ apartment has two spacious bedrooms that make it suitable for a large family or two couples, ‘luxury’ apartment has a lounge room like a gazebo, and ‘beach front’ rooms have glass walls. The resort has well-stocked bars.
Chintakiri Resort (3 star)
Chintakiri Resort is a hotel surrounded by landscaped grounds. It has two types of rooms, namely Deluxe Pavilion that can accommodate 3 people and Superior Pavilion that can accommodate 2 people. It has an outdoor pool and a total of 19 rooms.
ThianOg Bay is a beautiful private bay. It is called Rocky Bay and also Shark Bay because of the presence of reef sharks in abundance. Though a storm destroyed a lot of corals, the bay has plenty of green turtles and a variety of fishes like barracuda, parrotfish, triggerfish etc. There is spa, yoga retreat, kayak rentals, restaurants, and massage services at the beach.
Jamahkiri Resort & Spa (5 star)
Jamahkiri Resort nestles on the southern side of Koh Tao and offers stunning views of the sea around. It is an environment-friendly building with a restaurant made of wood, and has a fitness centre, spa, and PADI diving centre. It offers plenty of options for recreation.
The Haad Tien Beach Resort (4 star)
This one is a luxury resort with a 380 metres-long private beach. It is a collection of many types of villas, variously named Hideaway Villa, Getaway Villa, Castaway Beach Family Villa, Haadtien Pool Villa, Getaway Family Pool Villa, etc. There are a total of 70 villas and the land area in which they are set is 45 acres. The resort is located towards Koh Tao’s southern end.
Beach Club by Haadtien
This is also near the southern end of Koh Tao and within walking distance of Haad Sai Daeng Beach. It is located on 3 floors, has 62 rooms, and has a spa, souvenir shop, and laundry service. Its front desk remains open round the clock.
Located on Koh Tao’s eastern side, Tanote Bay is fringed by a beautiful beach of shining white sand. It has excellent sites for scuba diving and snorkelling, and also 5 good resorts.
Nangyuan Island is a quiet place with beautiful, silvery beaches and a good dive resort. Three sandbars meet at the beach of this island, thereby creating a unique beach with a triple link.
Nangyuan Island Dive Resort (3 star)
This is the lone dive resort in Nangyuan Island and it provides all diving equipment necessary for the visitors and gives training to divers. The resort has big and small bungalows with varying amenities so that there is something here to suit every pocket. Its restaurant offers a range of excellent Thai dishes.
Jansom Bay is a small private bay that is perfect for snorkelling.Titan triggerfish, sweetlips, octopus, porcupine pufferfish, and yellow boxfish are some of the interesting critters found in Jansom Bay. Listed below are some of the good hotels in and around Jansom Bay beach.
Charm Churee Villa (3 star)
Charm Churee Villa is situated on a sprawling 120-acre estate. It has a spa, massage centre, good restaurants which serve local as well as western food, expensive as well as budget accommodation, and all provisions for those who like to conduct their wedding near Jansom Bay.
Koh Tao Bamboo Huts (3 stars)
There are altogether 19 huts, ranging in size from 50 sq m to 180 sq m. Three of these huts have jacuzzi, sun loungers, and a swimming pool. The resort offers all facilities for diving, and there are night entertainment venues and shopping centres within easily accessible distance.
June Juea Bay
June Juea is a gorgeous bay with a beach from where you can have breathtakingly beautiful views of the sunset. The beach is not too crowded and there is a steep road leading to the bay. Alternatively, you can access it by walking, by starting at Chalok Baan Kao, and continuing down the shore. There is a luxury hotel and a couple of resorts in the area.
Pinnacle Koh Tao Dive Resort (3 star)
This resort has rooms of varying price ranges with all amenities like TV, Wi-Fi, bar, and a safe box for keeping valuables. It is suitable for divers as well as nature lovers.
Taa Then Bay
A small Bay with a wide beach, Taa Then Bay is an adorable bay that attracts a lot of tourists to its beaches and waters. There are a few good hotels near its beach.
DusitBuncha Resort (3 star)
DusitBuncha Resort is perched on the northern tip of Koh Tao, overlooking the bright blue sea. The classic architecture of the building and its position crown the timeless beauty of the point where the sea and the land meet. The resort has 30 rooms that are of 8 different types.
Sai Daeng Beach
Sai Daeng Beach is about 160 metres in length and considered quite safe even for children as there are no rocks around. At high tide, the sea rushes in and creates a pond near the beach. Shark Island, which has many popular diving and snorkelling sites, is near the beach of Sai Daeng.
Cape Shark Villas (4 star)
Villas of Cape Shark have a private beach and an outdoor pool. Other amenities are parking space, shuttle service, TV, Wi-Fi, laundry service, bar, and a well-equipped kitchen in some villas. Attractive nightlife venues are just a ten-minute drive away from the place.
How to reach Koh Tao
The airports of Chumphon, Surat Thani, and Koh Samui are the airports nearest to Koh Tao. Nok Air runs flights connecting Chumphon Airport and Don Mueang International Airport (Bangkok International Airport). Surat Thani is connected to Bangkok and other cities within Thailand and AirAsia runs a Surat Thani-Kuala Lumpur international flight.
Samui International Airport (Koh Samui Airport) receives domestic and international flights. Bangkok Airways runs many daily flights to Koh Samui from Bangkok and the flight duration is about 45 minutes.
From Chumphon, Surat Thani, and Koh Samui, there are high speed ferry services that will take you to Koh Tao. You can get the boat tickets at the airport itself. Alternatively, you can cover part of the distance by road. From Surat Thani you can travel to the ferry terminal in Don Sak by bus and then take a ferry. The buses have VIP coaches and will take the passengers directly to the ferries that are leaving for Koh Tao.
Whatever method you choose, the final leg of the journey will be through a water route. The main company that runs ferry services as well as road transport services is Lomprayah. Their tickets do not come cheap but their speed and services are considered the best. Another company that provides similar services is Songserm, and a third one is Seatran. All companies operate two ferry services daily, the first one generally before the sun heats up and the other in the afternoon. Sometimes they run extra trips as well.
Nok Air and AirAsia offer an Air-cum-Sea ticket, which will take the ticket-holder from Bangkok to Koh Tao.
Travelling by train in Thailand is easy on the pocket but you are not likely to save anything by way of time. From Chumphon you can travel by train to the ferry station from where boats leave for Koh Tao. Ferry tickets can be purchased at the Bangkok train station or Chumphon train station. You can travel at night by First Class if you prefer that, and reach the ferry station by morning to start your boat journey to Koh Tao.
Surat Thani – Koh Tao journey
From Surat Thani there is a convenient night boat leaving for Koh Tao. For those who do not like to travel by boat at night, there is a day boat that takes about 6 hours to cover the distance.
Koh Pha Ngan – Koh Tao journey
Ferries that leave Samui will invariably halt at Koh Pha Ngan to collect travellers who want to go to Koh Tao. Tickets are available online or can be purchased through the travel agencies in Koh Pha Ngan.
The number of visitors grows every year as facilities improve and travelling to and from the island gets easier. These days you can choose to arrive by speed boat, express boat, high speed catamaran or slow boat from a variety of destinations. Samui airport has flights all day to and from destinations such as Phuket, Bangkok, Pattaya and Singapore and the newly established Andaman Airlines flies from Bangkok to Chumphon. Night trains and buses run North to South and East to West across Thailand, making this now one the easiest places to travel in Southeast Asia.
Getting around in Koh Tao
Taxis are aplenty in Koh Tao. Car taxis, larger pickup-truck taxis, and motorbike taxis are on hand near the pier where passengers get down. Motorbike taxis are found near the 7-Eleven convenience stores as well.
You can hire a big or small boat depending upon the size of your group. They generally depart from Chalok Ban Kao, near Vibe Bar in Sairee Beach, and Mae Hat.
Renting a motorbike
Ordinary scooters and off-road bigger bikes are available for hire. These can be hired without any difficulty because having a driving licence or proving driving experience is not necessary for renting a motorbike. However, if the bike gets damaged, the repair charges could be quite high since these bikes are usually not insured. When you rent a motorbike, you are often asked to leave your passport there as surety, and you will get the passport back only after you get the repairs done.
You must check the vehicle well for any dent or scratch before hiring it to ensure that you will not be asked to pay repair charges for it later. It is also important to go through the rental agreement carefully.
There are Quad bikes for hire and these are more suitable for the road conditions of Koh Tao and are not likely to be damaged easily. However, many roads of Koh Tao are unpaved, and you may unexpectedly come across mounds or pits, especially while driving through gravel paths. Therefore, unless you are a very confident driver, it is best not to venture out on your own on a motorbike in Koh Tao.
Sairee does have a recompression chamber for treating diving-related disorders but it is not equipped to treat serious cases. There is a well-equipped recompression facility in nearby Koh Samui and in case of an emergency it is easy to shift the patient there. However, since serious cases of decompression sickness rarely occur, there is nothing much to worry on this front.
Scuba Diving in Koh Tao?
Check out our Koh Tao dive guide and start planning your next dive trip!