Koh Tao is one of Thailand's most beautiful islands. Koh Tao is located in the Gulf of Thailand just a 2 hour ferry ride from Koh Samui. Koh Tao is only a very small island though has so much to offer. Stunning white sandy beaches, very relaxing beach resorts and some of the most amazing snorkeling and scuba diving in the world.
Koh Tao in the Thai language means Turtle Island. The island was named as there were many turtles to be found in the waters around Koh Tao. Koh Tao was uninhabited until 1943. Only fishing boats travelled to the island before this time. There is a large rock formations at the southern end of Mae Haad Bay which has been named King Rama V rock and is visited by many Thai people. On 18th June 1899, His Majesty King Chulalongkorn – Rama V (1868 – 1910) visited Koh Tao and carved his name on this rock formation.
Sairee Beach Koh Tao
Sairee Beach on Koh Tao is a long stretch of white sandy beach located on the western coast of Koh Tao. Sairee Beach is the most populated area of Koh Tao with many beach resorts lining the beach and cheaper accommodation located inland on the hills overlooking the sea.
You can walk along Sairee Beach on Koh Tao in front of all the resorts. Most have a restaurant out the front and there are a few very cool bars with music at night time and fire dancers out the front entertaining the crowd for tips. The bars and the beach resorts along Sairee Beach are also great for sitting back in the later afternoon and watching the amazing sunsets Koh Tao has.
Mae Haad Bay on Koh Tao
Mae Haad Bay is located just south of Sairee Beach. Mae Haad Bay is where the ferry ports are with a number of different ferry services available on and off Koh Tao. At the southern end of Mae Haad Bay is a shipwreck which sunk in 1962.
Koh Yang Nuan off Koh Tao
Just off the coast of Koh Tao, close to the northern end of Sairee Beach is the small island of Koh Yang Nuan which has some great spots of snorkeling and scuba diving. The best spot is called the Japanese Gardens and has some great sections of coral and amazing sealife.
When you arrive on Koh Yang Nuan you have to pay 100 Baht admission fee which is used for conservation on the island. There are a few small hotels on the island. There is also a bar serving cold drinks and food.
Good places for snorkeling around Koh Tao
If you have never done a scuba diving course and just want to do some snorkelling then you will find some excellent spots around Koh Tao. Snorkeling requires calm, shallow waters. Here are the best spots on Koh Tao for snorkelling:
Aow Muang (Mango Bay) located at the northern tip of Koh Tao. The water in Aow Muang is calm and clear and with a mostly white sandy bottom gives great visibility while snorkelling to take in all the marine life and many different colour fish. Aow Muang does not have a decent road connecting it to the other areas of Koh Tao. Best way to reach Aow Muang is by boat or a good solid walk on a trail through the forest. You can hire a 4WD taxi to get you there as well. There are steep sections of basic road so if going by motorbike take care and travel slow up and down the hills.
Freedom Beach, right on the south coast of Koh Tao, at the spot of the Rama V rock formation, has a beautiful white fine sand beach. The enclosed bay around Freedom Beach offers calm, clear waters. There is a shallow coral reef not too far a swim from the beach.
Shark Island is located 800 meters of southern tip of Koh Tao. On the northeast coast of Shark Island is some shallow water. Other parts of Shark Island has deeper waters which is ideal for scuba diving. You can hire a boat to go over to Shark Island or you can rent a kayak. A kayak paddle over to Shark Island should take around 15 minutes though beware of strong currents that often occur between Shark Island and Koh Tao.
Mae Haad Bay – the shipwreck found in the southern part of Koh Tao offers good snorkelling conditions as the wreck is not too deep and plenty of marine life hand around the wreck.
Getting to Koh Tao Thailand
The only way to get to Koh Tao is by boat. There are direct ferry services to Koh Tao from Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Surat Thani and Chumphong.
Ferry Koh Tao to Surat Thani on the mainland of Thailand takes over 6 hours. You do not spend the entire 6 hours on 1 ferry but you catch one ferry from Koh Tao to Koh Phangan which takes around 1.5 hours, get off wait 30 minutes to 1 hour for the next ferry which then takes you to Donsak pier (this takes around 2.5 hours and then you get off the ferry and onto buses. The bus takes around 1 hour from Donsak pier to a bus terminal on the outskirts of town. You then get a minibus for around 20 minutes to Surat Thani Town. Total trip can take over 7 hours. The ferry leaves Koh Tao at 10am and is supposed to get to Surat Thani at 4pm though rarely does.
From the bus terminal at Surat Thani you can get a connecting minibus to Bangkok which travels overnight and gets into Bangkok around 5am.
Read more information about getting from Bangkok to Koh Tao.
Foreign Exchange and ATMs on Koh Tao
There are a few ATMs on Koh Tao to withdrawer money from your VISA, Mastercard or Cirrus activated card. Some of the machines are a bit unreliable and often run out of money. The ATMs on Koh Tao charge 150 Baht for international withdrawals.
Dangers and Annoyances in Koh Tao
Annoyances- Mosquitoes - bring some mosquito repellent if you are visiting Koh Tao. Late afternoon, around the sunset and the early evening there are plenty of mosquitoes around that will bite away at you. Most hotels sell mosquito repellent and after sting cream to soothe the icky mozzie bites you may get.
Where to stay in Koh Tao
There are plenty of hotels to stay in on Koh Tao. From luxury beach resorts to plenty of cheap accomodation.
The most popular places to stay on Koh Tao island, with the most hotels, restaurants activities are:
Sairee Beach is the most popular place to stay on Koh Tao. Just along from the main ferry peir on Koh Tao, Sairee Beach has a load of beach resorts to stay along the long stretch of beach front.
Check out the Koh Tao Hotel Guide.