Within the borders of Thailand, in the wide expanse of the Gulf of Thailand are 3 sibling islands. Two rose to fame decades ago, while the runt of the litter remained largely uninhabited until relatively recently. One of the last tropical gems of Thailand that has escaped much notice by the rest of the world, Koh Tao is the smallest and northern-most of the major islands within the Gulf and is, now, a thriving and vibrant home to the greatest diversity of marine wildlife in the Gulf. Unlike its larger brothers, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan which are known for their night life and waterfalls, life on the island revolves very specifically around a central theme: the golden sands that give way to the brilliant blue waters, and the rainbow of life beneath those waves.
Juvenile Blue Ringed Angelfish
Those with even the slightest intrigue are likely to be rewarded with an unforgettable time. A significant presence of conservation and preservation has allowed for the natural world, from the trees to the fantastic coral reefs, to thrive on the island. With over 40 dive schools, it is well suited to novice divers and seasoned regulars, with something for everyone. Wreck enthusiasts can check out the HTMS Sattakut naval warship and the RMS trident liveaboard wrecks. Reef enthusiasts and snorkellers can visit one of the many healthy reefs, several artificial reef dive sites and the three great pinnacles of the Gulf of Thailand, Southwest, Chumphon and Sail Rock, which are all in the vicinity of Koh Tao.
The pinnacle of seaside luxury, adventure and activity combined with an affinity for yoga and sustainability have made the island stand out considerably. Koh Tao is an ideal destination for backpackers and luxury holiday-makers, divers or land-lovers; all are welcome. Island life itself is highly variable with regards to costs. While luxurious resorts are available, you can get comfortable accommodation between 400-600 Baht per person per night. All accommodation on the island tends to be an easy walk to (if not directly on) the beach given the size of the island and you’re never more than a few meters from somewhere to eat.
What else can you do?
The island itself is divided into 3 small ‘towns’, though these are very small and are more akin to settlements. The northernmost part of the Island, Sairee, is by far the busiest and most touristy part of the island with an active night-life and many of the largest restaurants. In the central west is Mae Haad, where you will find many restaurants, the shopping district and the main piers of the island. The south of the island known as Chalok, and in stark contrast with the north, is considerably more chilled out, often seemingly rural and peaceful, though not without its fair share of beach bars and eateries. An ideal visit would involve everything the island has to offer and that could take between 1 and 2 weeks, though many would argue as to why you would ever leave at all.
The busiest times are between June and August, which largely coincide with the best water clarity and December to February for those keen on starting and ending the year with something special.
Koh Tao is easily accessible from the capital, Bangkok. The simplest route involves a flight to Koh Samui and an hour's journey by boat to the island. For those who want to save a bit of cash for the island itself, a train from the capital to the city of Chumphon takes between 7-8 hours and costs between 300 and 1,300 Baht, from where a 2-hour boat journey must be taken costing approximately 600 Baht.