Ko Tao, literally Turtle Island, is an island off the Central Gulf Coast of Southern Thailand. Historically, Ko Tao was once a detention place for political prisoners similar to Ko Tarutao of Satun Province, but today it is a great place for divers or anybody who wants to get away from the hustle and bustle of Ko Samui and want more than the Full Moon Party on Ko Pha Ngan. The island is geared towards diving tourists more than backpackers on a budget. Ko Tao is a great place to learn how to dive. There are hardly any currents and a wide selection of dive sites and dive shops, schools and resorts. Activity options are growing outside of diving and the food and nightlife options are some of the best in the Gulf of Thailand. Ko Tao is a small island of approximately 21² km and receives over a 100,000 visitors per year. To minimize your impact on the eco-system, notice that there are no garbage disposal facilities, so everything that can't be burned has to be taken away. Try to avoid plastic bags that are given out for every purchase you make. There is also no department to clean the roads or other public areas, so don't dump your waste on the open landscape. Water is scarce and electricity expensive, so don't waste them. Peak seasons in Ko Tao are from December to March and July to August. It is a quite popular destination among Thais also, so it can be nearly fully booked on Thai holidays.
Scuba diving is still the biggest attraction on Ko Tao. Diving in Ko Tao is easy, fun, and you can see turtles, stingrays, barracudas, lots of small fish, reef sharks and there is a very small chance of seeing a whale shark.
At Chumphon Pinnacle you are likely to see juvenile bull sharks which have, until recently, been misidentified as grey reef sharks. Caution: the bulls are curious and very aggressive though for many years thousands of people have dived this site without a single shark-related incident.
Nearly any time of the year except November is good diving weather in Ko Tao and visibility can exceed 40 m. Average visibility is around 15-20 m, which in November is reduced to 5 m and the seas are choppy.
It is possible and perfectly comfortable to swim and dive without a wetsuit year round. However, as with most diving a wetsuit is recommended to help reduce risk of cuts or injury. Avoid contact with coral reefs.
Various dive locations around Ko Tao are:
At the southern tip of the island, Chalok Ban Khao is a beautiful stretch of golden sand and certainly less crowded than Sairee. Longtails are dotted around the bay and can ferry you around the waters.
Hin Wong bay is a relatively large area most popular for diving and snorkeling. There is very little sand to relax on so if water activity is your desire, there is a lot to see and explore. It is recommended that visitors rent a kayak because the rocky terrain makes land exploration too difficult to maneuver. The bay usually has crystal clear waters making snorkeling here a must while the depths of the bay can exceed 30 meters allowing some bigger fish to make themselves seen. There are a couple of resorts with restaurants at the bay where one can quench a thirst and satisfy an appetite.
is one of the most private and deserted beach spots on the island. There are currently no resorts nor restaurants in this area so if complete seclusion is what you are after this may be the place. The area is mostly rock formations with a small sandy beach patch. It is a beautiful spot for snorkelling as the waters surrounding are quite deep allowing for some of the bigger fish to make themselves seen. The beaches seclusion has also allowed for turtles to return to this natural habitat and lay thier eggs during season. In addition to snorkeling, Laem Thian has a foot track that when followed leads to an exciting rock jumping spot on the other side of the cape. If you use caution and good judgement when cliff jumping and always have a buddy with you, a day at this beach can be an exciting adventure.
Aow Leuk bay is a wonderfully calm and private beach located in the south of Koh Tao. The beach is pristine with white sand, turquoise waters and coral reefs lining both sides of the bay. There is a sandy bottom in the water making swimming very comfortable, and the coral lined bay makes it a fantastic snorkeling and dive training destination.
Access to Aow Leuk bay can be challenging due to steep roads which are now mostly paved. For the novice motorbike rider it is recommended to park the bike where the road gets tricky and hike down to the beach by foot. Long tail taxi boat can also be chartered from Sairee beach or Mae Haad shores for a quick drop off. The bay has a couple of shaded restaurants, and a small range of bungalows for rental. Fins, masks, snorkels, and kayaks are available for hire here. The coral is beautiful both in appearance and colour due to the shallower depths of the inner bay. The sun at Aow Leuk bay tends to dip behind the rocks quite early, so if you want a day of tanning arrive early.
is one of the most beautiful and popular snorkeling spots on the island. The sand is soft and white and the waters turquoise and calm. Schools of fish can be spotted around the rocky walls of the bay and many divers come to this location for beginner training. The bottom of the water is sandy allowing for a most pleasurable swimming experience and the seclusion lets one feel they are on a tropical paradise that can only be imagined. Access to Mango bay can be challenging and it is recommended that either a boat taxi, or 4x4 land taxi is hired for the journey. There is a concrete road leading to the beach but it is extremely steep and should only be attempted by an experienced rider on a reliable bike.
Sairee Beach located in the west of the island is the largest and most popular beach stretch in Koh Tao. Access is very easy and restaurants, resorts, bars, and dive shops line the entire waterfront. Many holiday makers are sunbathing, playing beach volleyball, kayaking, dining and enjoying the social and lively atmosphere. The sand is soft and the water clear, but one must swim out quite a distance to experience some good snorkeling activity. Sairee beach also is largely affected by the tide. At times it seems like the sand stretches out forever, whereas other times it doesn't leave much space on the beach for lounging. The water is mostly still and shallow and is great for families with young children.
In the evening Sairee beach becomes a magical place with the breathtaking sunsets. Many visitors and locals alike enjoy a happy hour evening drink while staring out at the magnificent colours of the sky. Restaurants and bars come to life with fun music and the later it gets, the wilder the beach party can become. Even if one is not staying in Sairee during their holiday, it would be hard to miss this 1.5 km beach stretch with sunsets that need to be seen to be believed.
The John Suwan Mountain Viewpoint located at Chalok Baan Kao. It is a viewpoint that most tourists won't miss when they have chance to visit Koh Tao as from here they can see the very impressive scenery of Chalok Baan Kao Bay and Thian Og Bay. John Suwan is named after two friends, Mr. John and Mr. Suwan, who found a viewpoint overlooking two beaches curving into each other. The viewpoint is located on a mountain ridge, at Chalok Baan Kao beach to the south of the island. It takes about 15 minutes of moderate trek over a distance of about 400 meters to reach the viewpoint. The spot offers a sweeping view of the bay. If the weather is clear, you may catch a glimpse of Phangan or Samui Island as well as the Ang Thong archipelago further away.