Ko Tao is a tiny island of just 21 square kilometres, and is part of the Chumphon Archipelago located on Southern Thailand’s central Gulf Coast. Fewer than 1,500 people live on the island, but it receives well over 100,000 visitors every year. For decades, Ko Tao has been a popular spot for diving enthusiasts, thanks to its variety of marine life, calm waters, high visibility, and ease of diving. Selected by us as one of the Worlds best islands.
Where to Go Koh Tao Island
The two main tourist areas are Sairee and Chalok Baan Khao. While the latter tends to be the place where people go to escape the crowds in Sairee, Chalok Baan Khao is itself becoming a very popular place for visitors. Sairee’s most popular attraction is its white-sanded beach, which stretches along 1.7 kilometres of coastline, and is where many of the island’s larger resorts and hotels can be found.The central and south stretches of Sairee Beach are the place to go for those wanting to experience island life at night, with several restaurants and bars, and a nightclub or two in this area.
While most package holidays in Ko Tao tend to include resort or hotel accommodation, it’s also possible to find package deals that include luxury or villa-style accommodation. The options for luxury holidays in Ko Tao may seem limited—due to the island’s small size, low population, and relative newness as a tourism destination—but they are definitely there. Rather than large resorts, most of the island’s luxury accommodation takes the form of small boutique hotels that can accommodate a small number of couples or families, as well as private residences suitable for villa holidays in Ko Tao.
Tourism, and scuba diving in particular, is integral to the island’s economy. Most people who visit the island do so to take part in this activity, although increasingly, people who previously visited to dive are now returning for family holidays in Ko Tao. In English, Ko Tao means “turtle island,” and as you might expect, it’s a great place to spot turtles while diving, along with plenty of fish, reef sharks, and stingrays. Along with diving, other popular outdoor activities include rock climbing and bouldering, as well as hiking.
What to See and Do
- Diving is the activity du jour on Ko Tao, and is the main reason for its growing popularity as a holiday destination. Most of the island’s tourists visit for the diving, as there are more than a dozen excellent diving spots with calm water and high visibility almost all year round.
- There are many freediving and scuba diving training schools on Ko Tao, which provide lessons and certification for all skill ranges, from beginners through to professional instructors. As well as local schools and shops there are nearly a dozen SSI dive centres.
- While most water activities centre around diving, there are some other options, including sailing, cliff-diving, and ocean-going day trips.
- Many beaches and other sites for day trips are accessible overland or by boat, including beaches such as Mango Bay, Laem Thian, Hin Wong Bay, and Freedom Beach. If travelling by scooter, note that some routes are very challenging, and likely to be difficult even for experienced riders.
- Hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing are popular activities, with opportunities for both beginners and those who are more experienced.
- Explore other nearby islands via the ferry which travels regularly between Ko Tao, Ko Nang Yuan, Ko Phangan, and the main tourist island of Ko Samui.
Need to Know Info for Koh Tao Island and Thailand
The currency of Thailand is the Thai baht, and the official language is Thai, although there are also many people who speak Thai dialects, as well as other languages such as Malay and Cantonese. While it’s not uncommon to find English speaking locals in the larger cities, on Ko Tao it’s not something that should be taken for granted. Practising the language, and bringing a guidebook, is advised.
Ko Tao is usually warm and sunny for most of the year, with very little seasonal variation. Year round, the temperature typically ranges from the mid 20s to mid 30s, and is slightly cooler in the rainy monsoon season. The main climatic variation is in terms of rainfall, which is higher between May and October.
Ko Tao does not have its own airport; instead, travellers can fly to nearby Ko Samui, or the city of Chumphon on the mainland. From either of these locations, Ko Tao can be reached by boat. It’s typically faster to fly to Chumphon, as from there a high-speed ferry can be taken to the island.
A visa is not required for entry into Thailand for a stay of up to 30 days if entering by air, and 14 days if entering over the land border. For stays of more than 30 days, a visa is required. A passport is required for a stay of any length. Officially, visitors who enter the country must also provide proof of onward transit, although this requirement is not always checked by immigration and customs officials.
Travelling on Ko Tao can be difficult, as the island does not have a public transport system. Taxis are available in larger villages such as Sairee and Mae Haad, and 4WD taxis can be hired for travelling to off-road locations. Currently it’s not possible to rent cars on Ko Tao, but motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles can be rented. Note also that most roads are in very poor condition, and can be difficult to navigate for inexperienced drivers. Some roads are very steep and badly-maintained, and some have been eroded as a result of heavy rainfall, and it’s important to drive cautiously and attentively.
Preservation of local ecosystems is of great importance to the island and its residents, particularly as the increasing numbers of tourists the island receives are beginning to have a greater impact on the island environment. Of particular importance is the fact that there are no disposal sites for rubbish on the island, which means it’s vital for visitors to minimize the amount of rubbish they generate.