Koh Tao – Overview
Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, is the diver’s paradise. It is located between Suratthani and Chumpon provinces and only a 2 hour boat ride north of Koh Samui. It has been voted best diving site in the Gulf of Thailand. Here you will find plenty of lovely bays, white sandy beaches, beautiful coastal cliffs, and crystal clear water – Koh Tao is simply a heaven on earth with an abundance of sea related activities waiting to be discovered by you during your trip to Thailand. You will find many diving schools on the island if you do not know how to dive and want to explore the underwater world, which is said to be the best in the Gulf of Thailand. On land, you can enjoy fresh seafood at the restaurants, drink tropical cocktails in a bar by the beach, or go shopping for some souvenirs. Relax your body and mind at the spa, or try some active sports which are also available for those who want to get the adrenaline running. Koh Tao also offers a wide range of accommodations from budget to luxury, to suit the needs of all types of visitors.
Historically, Koh Tao was once a place for imprisonment of political prisoners similar to Ko Tarutao in the Satun province, but today it is a great place for divers or those wishing to get away from the hustle and bustle of Koh Samui and want more than the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. Koh Tao is perhaps mainly for diving tourists rather than backpackers on a budget. You will not find cheap food stalls here, yet Koh Tao is a great place to learn how to dive. There is almost no current, and a wide variety of dive sites and dive shops, schools, and resorts. Activity options besides diving are expanding, and food and nightlife options are some of the best in the Gulf of Thailand.
Koh Tao is a small island of about 21 square kilometers, and receives over 100,000 visitors a year. To minimize your impact on the ecosystem during your holiday, note that there are no refuse disposal facilities, so anything that cannot be burned has to be taken away. Try to avoid plastic bags that are given with every purchase you make. There is also no department to clean the streets or other public areas, so do not throw your garbage in the open countryside. Moreover, the water is scarce, and electricity expensive, so do not waste them.
High seasons on Koh Tao is from December to March and July to August. It is a very popular destination amongst Thais also, so there is almost fully booked on Thai holidays.
Koh Tao – Getting there
Koh Samui Airport has regular flights from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket, and then there is just a short boat ride to Koh Tao.
The south rail link, departing from Hualumpong Station in Bangkok:
Bangkok – NakhonPathom – Ratchaburi – Phetchaburi – Hua Hin – Prachuap Kiri Khan – Chumphon (Koh Tao) – Samui (to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Krabi, Phuket)
All public southern bus routes that leave from the Southern Bus Terminal (“Sai Dai Mai”) in Bangkok has direct routes to Chumphon.
Koh Tao – Weather
Hot, hotter, hottest … is the best description of the climate here. Like the rest of Thailand, this island has three seasons. Do not let any of them stop you from visiting this magnificent destination during your holiday in Thailand.
In January, the monsoon rains that started in November begin to die out. Days have a lovely freshness to them, and temperatures are in the high 20s. Evenings and nights are nice when the temperature drops to 25 degrees Celsius. The daily temperatures rise steadily until May and gets hot, muggy, and humid, and average temperatures will be about 33 to 36 degrees Celsius every day. A cloud in the sky is a welcome sight, and a rain shower a blessing. Have you ever thought you would look forward to having a cold shower? This is the weather for it. The weather will also give you a beautiful tan, but do not forget SPF 30, especially if you are out on the water! The heat is on.
In October the monsoon is approaching, and birds arrive as omens for the next change of season. The rainy season arrives with temperatures around 24 degrees Celsius. It does not rain every day, and it does not rain all day. But when it does: wow!
The most impressive of all is that Koh Tao is blessed with the most amazing thunderstorms. Bolts of lightning, sheets of lightning, clouds pulsating with light. Appreciate the beauty of it.
Koh Tao is very lucky because of its central gap location. In addition to 6 weeks of wet monsoon rains beginning in November/mid-December, Koh Tao generally has a tropical climate most of the year. The island is occasionally hit by storms that blow in from surrounding countries, but these tend to blow over again within a day or so. In summer, the island is not too hot, but the weather is perfect most of the time.
Koh Tao – Beaches
Different people have different ideas of the perfect beach. For some, pebbles in Brighton mean pure joy, for others windswept sand dunes in southwest France are a delight. Koh Tao’s beaches can be described as populist notions of paradise. Imagine fine white sand under a deep blue sky and the clear warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand washes up on the beach. A number of coconut trees provide welcome shade from the strong sun. A beach bar built from the same trees and covered with banana tree leaves serves cold beer. Sound good?
Koh Tao is blessed with some of Thailand’s most spectacular beaches and coves. Despite its popularity among divers the water around the island remains crystal clear and ideal for swimming and snorkeling.
Mae Haad Beach
“Capital” on Koh Tao, Mae Haad is the most developed area on the island with plenty of shops, bars, restaurants, banks, and internet shops. All you need is located here!
Sairee Beach is the most famous of Koh Tao’s beaches and is home to several beach bars, nightlife, and some excellent restaurants. Always seems to be busy!
Chalok Ban Khao
At the southern tip of the island you will find Chalok Ban Khao, a beautiful stretch of golden sand and definitely less crowded than Sairee. Longtail boats are scattered around the bay and can ship you around on the water.
Haad Thien (“Rocky Bay”)
Koh Tao’s best beach, without a doubt. Commonly known as Rocky Bay, the water here is very clear and the beach is lined with coconut palms. Surprisingly few people, probably due to the beach being located quite a way from the main town. Perfect!
On the eastern side, quiet AoLeuk is a great place to relax and find peace and quiet. The beach is beautiful and the water is ideal for snorkeling, but not so good for swimming.
Lined with large boulders, which gives Tanote Bay its unique appearance. It lies just north of AoLeuk and the conditions here are very similar, and taxi boats can bring you from one to the other.
Koh Tao – Attractions
What else could you possibly want besides deserted white sandy beaches and sparkling azure sea, during your trip to Thailand? Try to spend the afternoon on Koh Tao Bowling & Mini Golf. It is ten pin bowling, but not as we know it. Primitive, but a bit more up to date than the Flintstones …
A golf course on Koh Tao? 18 holes on a small scale. More mini than small indeed. Do you feel still energetic? Would you like to run around the jungle, crawling through the undergrowth, playing with your friends? Try paintball, as there is a new business on Koh Tao offering this.
A snorkeling trip round the island is a must. Longtail boats and larger fishing boat trips are available from many tour agencies. Would you like a plate of fish? It is an island. Of course it is available.
Are water sports for you?
Wakeboarding, wakeskating, water skis , tube rides, sailing, kayaking, and surfing can all be arranged on Koh Tao.
Are you on vacation to relax?
Thai massage, oil massage, Swedish massage, foot massage, aromatherapy massage, manicure, beauty treatments, hatha yoga, Ashtanga yoga, all of which are available in several places throughout the island.
Relaxation for body and mind. An ice cold draft of Guiness has arrived. Where else than the Irish bar?
Koh Tao is unique in many ways and not just because it has the best diving in the Gulf of Thailand. Conveniently small, with a real international community, great cuisine at reasonable prices, fantastic nightlife, exciting activities, and spectacular views, Koh Tao is really full of surprises! No matter what you’re looking for during your holiday, you can probably find it on this lovely island.
Koh Tao – Shopping
Don’t be afraid, there may be a few Western luxury items missing, but the essentials can be found all around the island. Supermarkets are open from early morning to early evening. But that’s not all!
From scuba diving and snorkeling equipment to stylish, unique beach clothes, there are a lot of shops providing quality brand products at discounted prices.
Original ethnic souvenirs made of ceramic, coconut shells, or bamboo and unique jewelry made of silver, leather and precious stones are offered in several shops as well as from vendors on the roads.
There are also plenty of small shops that seem to have specialized in only one thing: to have everything! Hawaiian shirts, sarongs, hammocks, postcards, coconut oil, flip-flops, used books, fire crackers, the list is endless.
Just look around and you are sure to find something you really need right now.
Aside from the big stores, prices are open to discussion as long as you remain friendly and reasonable.
Koh Tao – Restaurants
Koh Tao has come a long way from the earlier days of bad food, few opportunities and supply problems. You can now find high-quality international cuisine along with excellent Thai food and exquisite specialties. Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Italian, German, Mexican, British, French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean , Burmese, and Indian are just some of the offers. Vegetarian, seafood, meats, and so much more… Prices range from around 150 THB per person for (say) Chinese up to 2,500 THB for a dining experience at the tapas bar. Be prepared to awaken your taste buds with truly fantastic dining options.
A gourmet ‘s paradise!
Fresh markets offer all kinds of tropical fruits and also the preparation of them on the spot for a shake of your choice.
With all these foreign dishes on offer you should never forget where you are. Authentic Thai food can be bought anywhere, from simple street stalls and nightly barbecues to classic Thai cuisine and breezy seafood restaurants.
Cafe Del Sol Steak House, Restaurant & Pizzeria – Mae Haad
Authentic French and Italian cuisine, homemade pasta and pizza, smoked salmon & first choice steaks, excellent selection of wines. Free Wi-Fi for customers.
DEE DA Bakery & Restaurant –
Chalok road on Leelavadee across Buddha View IDC
Fresh bread, cake and pastry. Check it out for coffee, caramel, or brownies.
DDHUTS Restaurant – hill between Mae Haad and Sairee Beach
Charming restaurant with dishes from around the world: Thai, Mexican, Italian, Indian, and European. Pool table and movies daily.
FARANGO Pizzeria & Steak House – (estimated 1996) – Mae Haad Pier Road & Sairee Village
Koh Taos first pizzeria. Latino atmosphere, excellent Italian and Mediterranean specialties, homemade pasta, prime beef, duck, and lamb.
TASTE Cafe & Eatery – South Mae Haad – across Songserm Pier
Mouthwatering Thai cuisine and international dishes. Homemade pizza. Eat in the garden, sit comfortably in beanbag chairs, or relax in the lounge area.
1 MILLION CANDY – Sairee Plaza
Imported brand name candy, homemade pickles and jams, on request Swedish delicacies (Smörgåstårta/Falukorv), vodka candy, etc. Treat yourself!
Paprika Restaurant & Lounge – Mae Haad on Divepoint
A very tasty selection of western delicacies and a wide selection of original Thai dishes prepared with genuine passion and finesse. BBQ, fish or meat buffets. Fabulous desserts.
Zest Coffee House & Bakery – Mae Haad & Sairee Village
Popular street cafe with a wide selection of coffees and teas, excellent breakfast and sandwiches, great homemade bread, pastry, and ice cream, cakes to order.
Whitening Bar & Restaurant – Mae Haad – beachfront
Romantic, yet with stylish surroundings, offering a delicious mix of International fusion food and Thai cuisine. Soothing sounds and Latin rhythms. Occasional theme parties.
STAR Snax – Mae Haad post office road at Twin Stars Travel
The total snaxperience, burgers, sandwiches, German sausages, toasts, you name it. Also a selection of fine international cuisine and weekly specials. Delivery and takeaway.
Zorba’s Greek Restaurant – The Road to Chalok – Koh Tao Mini Golf
Mediterranean restaurant surrounded by lush gardens and ponds. This restaurant offers delicious Greek delicacies such as tzaziki, dolmades, souvlaki, fried feta, grill platters, and more.
Jamahkiri Spa Resort & Restaurant – East Thian and Bay
Extraordinary place with hillside location, spectacular views, and superb atmosphere. Enjoy a great selection of fantastic Thai cuisine in a relaxed environment. Pick-up service.
KOPPEE Bakery & INTERNET CAFE – central Chalok Baan Kao, OPP. New Heaven dive shop
Fresh coffee, herbal teas, health drinks and smoothies, homemade bread, cakes and pastries, pancakes, sandwiches, ice cream, Wi-Fi and ADSL Internet.
New Heaven Resort & Restaurant – East Chalok
Stunning sea views from a relaxing hilltop terrace, easy to reach. Delicious seafood, Western and Thai cuisine. Homemade bread and pastries, fresh coffee, and breakfast.
Choppers Bar & Grill – Sairee village near 7-Eleven
Huge 2-story venue with live music and live sports action. (2 x 150″ screens and 12 LCD TVs). Aussie pub, imported beer, billiards, and cinema room.
Morava Restaurant & Lounge – SaireeVillage
Modern Asian design, deli-style day menu: wraps, bagels, health smoothies, etc. Exquisite dinner from 4 PM, and sushi bar. Large selection of wines.
RIM LAE Restaurant – North Sairee end of Koh Tao Cabana Resort
This restaurant has the most romantic setting and serves authentic Thai seafood dishes, international cuisine, and seafood BBQ grill. Perfect place to hang out and relax. Free Wi-Fi.
FIZZ Beach Lounge – North Sairee (former Dry Bar)
Trendy, cool and cozy beach place that serves tasty food, lovely drinks and fresh, funky sounds. Check posters for special events.
Noori India – Sairee beach next to the Lotus Bar
Branch of the famous sister restaurant on Samui, using imported ingredients. Huge selection of vegetarian, seafood, and meat dishes, bread, and rice.
BIG BLUE East Restaurant & Beach Bar – North Sairee
Welcoming beachfront restaurant, BBQ, pizza, pasta, and Thai food. Adjacent cozy terrace bar with layered cushion zones. Swedish management.
VICTORIA Scandinavian Steakhouse – Sairee village, main road
The Swedish chef offers a selection of extraordinary dishes and you can make your own charcoal-grilled meal from a large variety of foods.
HIPPO Bar & Grill – Sairee village (next to Petrol Station)
A local favorite with focus on good food and low prices. Incredible steaks, burgers, and salads. Funky retro setting. Good cocktails and music, pool table.
Shalimar Indian Restaurant – Sairee village
The Indian chef and his authentic spices guarantee a delicious treat at reasonable prices. Indian inspired tropical garden with shisha and cocktail lounge.
PAPA’s Tapas Bar & Restaurant – Sairee Beach by Siam Scuba
Sophisticated atmosphere with exceptional cuisine. Set menus for the perfect dining experience. Garden Grill, amazing cocktails, genuine Absinthe, and Cuban cigars.
LUNG PAE Restaurant – on Apiporn (hilltop behind power plant)
Mountain-facing terrace with a truly stunning panorama of the southern area of the island and the Angthong Marine Park. Serves classic Thai cuisine and BBQ.
Pranee’s Kitchen – north side of Mae Haad behind Dive Supply
Family run restaurant serving authentic Thai and international dishes and breakfast. Salsa-style dining with padded video zone showing the latest films.
SensiParadise Restaurant – South end of Mae Haad bay
Ideal location for a sunset dinner with a spectacular view of the western bay, excellent Thai and Western dishes served at a traditional beach terrace.
Starlight Restaurant – Woodlawn Villas, Jansom Bay
Enjoy a romantic dinner with great Thai, Western, and Asian cuisine and magnificent views across the bay, especially at sunset.
ELVIS Restaurant & Beach Bar – Woodlawn Villas, Jansom Bay
Located on the beautiful secluded bay, settled in a tropical garden with a spa. Excellent cuisine, delicious snacks, and delicious shakes and cocktails.
Koh Tao – Nearby
Koh Samui is the third largest island in Thailand after Phuket and Koh Chang. Samui has everything to offer, from relaxation on white sand beaches to pristine jungles to a vibrant nightlife. It has different beaches of different landscapes and characteristics but the popular ones are Chaweng, Lamai, Bo Phut, and Mae Nam. Good facilities and a wide range of accommodations, from cabins to 5 star resorts ensure that there is something suitable for all budgets. A variety of restaurants offering all flavors and cuisines invites you in for delicious dinner. Those who enjoy pampering and rejuvenating will find that Samui is a paradise of spa and massage. There are plenty of possibilities to relax, have an adventure, or enjoy some quality family time with some of Koh Samui’s many activities such as elephant trekking, sailing, diving, or golfing. Sightseeing activities are also many, just to name a few, the island has waterfalls, temples, a butterfly garden, zoo, and a monkey theater, all just waiting to be experienced.
Another island located in the Gulf of Thailand is internationally known for the Full Moon Party at Haad Rin, which attracts more than 10,000 party goers each month to experience the wild nights. Koh Phangan covers 168 square kilometers, and is located about 100 kilometers from Suratthani on the mainland. It can be reached by the boat from Suratthani in 2.5 hours, or Koh Samui in 45 minutes. The island is buzzing with natural beauty: fine, white sandy beaches fringed by coconut trees around the island. Since a large development potential has been brought to the island, there is a good selection of amenities, restaurants, and accommodation that offers a wide range of choices from very primitive huts to 5-star resorts.
Koh Tao – Article
Triggerfish and Turtles
Koh Tao, Thailand
I’m 28 years old in the year of Our Lord and I can say that very rarely do I finish a day on this lonely planet with a smile on my face the size of China. Yesterday I ate my evening meal whilst grinning from cheek to cheek. Why? Because I had become a scuba diver! Koh Tao, about 50 km from the east coast port of Chumphong in the Gulf of Thailand was the location for my first experiences under the sea. Tao is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. Resident population 2000, 21 km square, main industries: diving, fishing, diving, growing coconuts and er, diving.
Rich with turtles (Koh Tao = Turtle Island) the flat sea around this utopia shimmers with a thousand shades of blue which change as the ever-present sun drenches the white beaches. Once a political prison and for a long time uninhabited, Tao seems like a place not long-discovered and now exploding into a Mecca for self-indulgent divers. Few laws govern this totally chilled environment but no buildings higher than the ubiquitous palm trees are allowed. Under royal patronage, the island’s only tourist attraction is a large rock inscribed with the late monarch’s initials. The Thai population is trying to maintain it’s roots whilst welcoming tourist dollars by accommodating westerners with European cuisine. Hollywood blockbusters and the latest Fat Boy sounds in bars and the 2 clubs mix with the tinkling tunes of the waves on the shore in the evening. In all, a pleasant sense of harmony prevails and I felt as though I had found a special place.
The best was yet to come. Day one of our 4 day PADI Open Water diving course brought us to Ao Chalok Ban Kao, a secluded bay on the southwestern shores of Tao. We dived to a shallow 2m and completed the first job any diver must do- breathe! Taking off our respirators and masks underwater and then replacing them was quite a frightening experience as we felt like humans out of this world instead of fish out of water. And it is another world. Until this week I had only seen the amazing life that flourishes in tropical waters in tanks. In their own environment and illuminated by glowing sunlight, fish all sorts of sea life seem to emanate a beautiful aura which is difficult to describe.
Dives 2 and 3 brought me more confidence in my equipment and abilities underwater until I felt as though I could fly. Adding the 3rd (vertical) dimension reminded me flying and I immersed myself in the joys of swooping up and down from 5 to 10 metres, aiming for stunning coral then chasing my bubbles up towards the bright surface. Looking at my friend Paul, we made our “OK” signals every 2 minutes- as much wanting him to know I was not drowning as much as seeing that he was alright. As our minutes under water stacked up we soon started feeling like Jaques Custeau. We saw a stingray, which expertly dashed away from us when we disturbed it and a couple of triggerfish. These 40cm long fellas are common to Tao and are known for their ferocious defence of their territory. Once a pair of triggerfish (who are monogamous for life) nest, they create a conical exclusion zone with the base of the cone where they spawn and the large circle on the surface. The tactic of the sentinel male is to front you out until you leave his territory. A diver had 4 stitches in his forehead last week as he tried to stand up to the Daddy triggerfish. Happily, the 2 that we saw were happy enough to let us swim on by unheeded.
Our last dive led us to 18 metres and we played football with a rock surrounded by an audience of unbelievable coral, stingrays and Everton mint fish (?) Paul scored an amazing goal with a logic-defying overhead kick which beat the keeper in extra time. I sat on the marine subs bench feeling rather left out. On our way back to the dive boat we saw the captain of our boat with his harpoon in hand and tattoos over every part of his skin. At the surface he was proud to show off a red fish which was easily 2 foot long and would no doubt pay for his family to do whatever Thais do on a Saturday night.
On Thursday night, myself, Paul and 4 assorted Brits (90% of westerners in October are apparently British with the majority becoming French in April!?) took a 4 X 4 roller coaster ride to the top of one of Tao’s two peaks. Venus Park is a nightclub on a cliff face-come-jungle which is as close to Enid Blyton’s Land of the Faraway Tree as I can imagine. Try and imagine this: 1000 westerners and Thais full of cheer dancing until dawn. It was: EXTREME!
And so we had to leave Koh Tao. It was too fun. It was so beautiful. It has captured me and I will return. For now, we have continued on our way to the next adventure.