It’s a tiny island – only 21 square kilometres – but Koh Tao sure is big on experience. And that starts with the journey there, as this far-flung gem is quite a ride across the turquoise waters of the Bay of Siam, taking around two and a half hours by ferry from Koh Samui. But let’s face it, when you’re journeying down the road less travelled, that’s a short hop in the grand scheme of things!
Koh Tao certainly rewards your determination to visit it. This is Robinson Crusoe territory, a rocky, jungle-covered island blessed with superb bays and beaches and surrounded by teeming marine life.
Do remember, though, this is a remote island and even the best of the Koh Tao hotels are not in the same league as Koh Samui’s uber luxurious designer hotels. That’s the charm of the place, after all. And thanks to Yonder, you will have a reliable guide to the pick of the Koh Tao hotels.
Koh Tao gets its name from the hawksbill and green turtles for whom it is an important breeding ground. Scuba divers flock here, not least for the opportunity to swim with the largest fish in the seas, the beautiful and docile whale sharks, undoubtedly one of the ultimate bucket list experiences. And even just stepping from the beach into the warm waters of some of the island’s delightful bays, you can be surrounded by curious and colourful tropical fish.
Of course, there is so much more to Koh Tao than its wondrous marine life. It was only really discovered in the 1990s as a holiday paradise and remains far less developed than Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. Nevertheless, the island’s quiet charm is so addictive, many who first discovered it as backpackers in the past are now returning with their families to enjoy the scattering of hotels that the island now offers.
Sairee on the west coast has a white sandy beach of 1.7 km interrupted only by a few huge boulders and a few resorts and restaurants. There is a lively night scene here too. The south of the island, around Chalok Baan Khao, is increasingly popular as an alternative for those wishing to escape the more popular spots.
If the scuba diving tempts you, the island is one of the world’s top places to learn, while the competition among dive shops has also made it one of the cheapest. If you’re new to the sport, you can sign up to get your PADI or SSI Open Water certification. This usually takes four days, and includes four ocean dives to a maximum depth of 18 metres.
If you’re already certified, you can take advanced courses in diving at night diving, wreck diving, shark diving or Nitrox diving, or just jump on any of the tens of boats heading out every day. Because it has to be said, diving is widespread around Koh Tao. Find a quiet cove and the chances are you will be sharing it with a dive boat or two and a handful of wetsuit wearers.
If, like us, you prefer your marine life on a plate, there is no shortage of good fresh seafood on the island. And afterwards, there’s the soft white sand of a tropical beach where those footprints down by the water’s edge may just belong to Man Friday…
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If you only do three things in Koh Tao…
Go on a night dive. Plunging into the inky water takes nerves but once you’re in you’ll find it mesmerising as the underwater world goes about its night time business.
The picture postcard interconnected islands of Koh Nang Yuan are just 10 minutes by longtail boat. Spend a fun afternoon snorkeling in the crystal water with spectacular fan corals easily visible from the surface.
Sairee beach is one of the last bastions of the old unpretentious Thailand that we love. Fall into a beanbag on the sand at a beach bar as the sun sets and cradle a Singha beer.