Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, lies a fair distance from the mainland and the nearest airport, but that is part of what makes it so special. This internationally-renowned divers’ paradise is approximately an hour-and-a-half ferry from neighbouring Koh Phangan, and two hours from Koh Samui. If you want to charter a yacht in Koh Tao then you might find the selection better in Koh Phangan or Samui and sailing to Koh Tao.
What it lacks in size compared to its sister islands Koh Phangan and Koh Samui, Koh Tao makes up for in natural beauty. The island is home to some of Thailand’s most beautiful beaches, with silky white sand flanked by giant boulders that give the island a land before time-type feel. But Koh Tao’s delights go beyond the beach as well. Unlike most of Thailand’s bleaching coral reefs, Koh Tao’s reefs remain vibrant with colour and exotic sealife. This, combined with its crystal clear waters, makes the island an ideal destination for snorkelers and divers alike.
Boats will most likely dock at Mae Haad, the port town that retains something of a traditional Thai feel. From there, social butterflies will want to head on to Haad Sairee, the island’s most popular beach, full of beachfront resorts, restaurants and bars. Mango Bay, named for its abundance of the sweet yellow fruits hanging from trees along the shore, is popular amongst beginner snorkelers. For a truly brilliant beachside experience, visitors to Koh Tao are encouraged to visit Ao Luk, which is well worth its 100 baht entrance fee. Once through the paid gates to this stunning enclave, visitors will come upon a series of wooden loungers with thatched umbrellas for shade, and may also rent snorkeling equipment to explore the jaw-dropping action in the underwater world that lies just off shore.
Of course, the main reason to visit Koh Tao is its world-class diving. Because of its easily-accessible and impressive diving sites, Koh Tao is dense with dive resorts that offer packages from beginner to advanced at competitive rates. Diving destinations should be carefully chosen according to the divers’ skill level. For example, famed Sail Rock, two hours’ boat ride from the island, offers top-notch diving for all skill levels. However, the closer and equally-impressive Chumphon Pinnacle, just a 45-minute cruise off Haad Sairee, is best suited for advanced divers. Even closer to shore is White Rock, a mere 10 minutes from Koh Tao, arguably the island’s most visited dive site, particularly popular for night dives. This location is ideal for those holding an Open Water certificate.
Under water is not the only place the action is on Koh Tao. Land-based attractions include jungle hikes from Haad Sairee to viewpoints including Two View Crossroads, Tanote Peak, and West Coast Viewpoint, which offer magnificent, uninterrupted views of the gulf. Lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of its exotic wildlife ranging from its diversity of birds to its two types of turtles (green and hawksbill), fruit bats and flying foxes. Other fun, adrenaline-inducing activities include the adrenaline-inducing ‘flying trapeze’, cliff jumping, rock climbing and mountain biking.
There’s a quieter vacation waiting for those interested in fishing in Koh Tao. The abundance of big game fish makes a catch a near certainty even if you’re not the world’s most experienced angler.