Ko Tao Island which means sea turtle island is a relatively small and very pleasant island located on Thailand’s east coast just like its bigger counterparts, Ko Samui and Ko Phangan, only closer to the center of Thailand.
The island is located across from the town of Chumphon which is about a three hour drive from the royal resort city, Hua Hin, which allows for an easy drive between these 2 resorts.
As you may know the weather in the summer (July – August) is much better on the east coast islands than on the west coast. So that the combination between the beaches and large variety of attractions found in Hua Hin, (known for the best summer weather), is ideal for tourists visiting during this season.
Ko Tao is a small island spread over 21 Km. Some say it’s called Ko Tao because of its sea turtle shape (which I find hard to believe) and others say it is because of the many sea turtles which populated the island in the past.
Some of the island’s history: In the past, Ko tao has been a shelter from the storm to the local fishermen. Since 1933 it has been a jail for political prisoners which were all pardoned and released in 1947 and the island was abandoned. Not long after that, 2 fishermen brothers came to live on the island with their families and settled on Sairee beach. They began to develop the island and with time many more of the local people settled here.
Tourists started traveling to the island during the 80’s. First came the backpackers and other tourists who looked for a beautiful low cost place for their holiday. Soon enough it became a popular holiday location for many tourists. In the recent years new hotels and resorts have been built there for higher class tourism. Nowadays about 100,000 tourists a year visit Ko Tao. You can find all kinds of tourists on the island, from backpackers to wealthy families.
General: Ko Tao offers different types of holiday experience; from isolated bays where you’d imagine yourself as Robinson Crusoe to crowded beaches with restaurants, shops and pubs.
The island main beach, Sairee beach is spread out along 2 Km. and next to it is Mae Haad beach where the piers are located. This is a vibrant area with many young tourists, cheap resorts, restaurants, shops, pubs etc.
Another popular tourist area which has been developing in recent years is the island’s south coast with its beautiful bays.
Ko Tao beaches and resorts: enjoying a good holiday depends to a large extent on the right choice of a beautiful beach and a good resort where you can relax. In Ko Tao you can find all kinds of beaches and resorts, from low class beaches and unpleasant resorts to magnificent beaches and great resorts.
My criterion for a good holiday place are:
- A high quality beach with soft white sand and beautiful view
- Water edge resort – it does not have to be fancy but it should be clean with a good atmosphere and great service.
- Preferably not on a very crowded beach or a very isolated beach. It should have shops, restaurants, massages, etc. in a short walking distance.
I must say that it was not easy to find this combination in Ko Tao but at last we found it (see picture on your right.)
When I visited Ko Tao in March 2015 with a couple of friends, we decided not to book a hotel room in advance but rather to study the island, look around and decide on the right place for us. We took a taxi to the first resort on our list. We did not like the first resort and drove on to the second resort on the list which we did not like either. As we were tired and really wanted to find a place to rest and shower, we decided to simply take a hotel which looked great on the advertisement, which is what I always warn other people not to do. We ended up spending the night in pretty bad hotel room. The next morning we decided to dedicate our time to finding the best hotel for our holiday. We paid one of the locals who knows the island well to take us around the island and set off to find the best resort. We had a list of resorts which were recommended by travel agencies and the local guide also recommended a certain resort.
The resorts recommended by travel agencies were disqualified one after the other for different reasons. These resorts were fine but some were very isolated, or without any beach at all and some simply had an unpleasant atmosphere.
Another problem which we discovered is that some of the resorts were located at the edge of a cliff so that every time you will have to go to the pool or dining room you’d end up climbing a steep hill. We finally ended up at the resort our local guide recommended which escaped the travel agencies list somehow. This resort turned out to be a great success. It was simply perfect for us and met all the criteria above. We had a hard time leaving it at the end of our holiday J
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving: I have a lot of experience in Snorkeling in the Thai islands area and not much in scuba diving but I consulted with some experts on the field.
No doubt the best snorkeling and scuba diving areas are located near Thailand’s west coast, Similan Islands, Surin Island, Ko Tachai island, Ko Rok island, Ko Lipe island and others. These are mostly seasonal locations active from November to May, however, many tourists visit Thailand during the summer season (July-August).
When the east islands are considered, there is no doubt that Ko Tao is the best one, much better than its bigger counterparts, Ko Samui and Ko Phangan. Ko Tao’s great reputation as a snorkeling and scuba diving spot is due to the many famous scuba diving and snorkeling schools there, where many tourists come to learn and get an international snorkeling or scuba diving diploma.
Things to do in Ko Tao: There are cruises around the island which offer snorkeling and scuba diving. These cruises include a small island near Ko Tao called Ko Nang Yuan, which in my opinion is too commercialized and crowded in season.
Night life: There are plenty of pubs and parties on the island, although due to a small number of crimes which had a big impact, the night life is not as vibrant as it used to be, but I believe that will soon change.
Apart from the snorkeling and scuba diving Ko Tao island is definitely a lovely place for a relaxing and pleasant holiday on the beach as long as you choose the best resort on the right beach.
How to get to Ko Tao: Ko Tao’s location makes it easily accessible without the need for expensive flights.
Drive and Ferry: some companies (Songserm, Lomprayah, Seatran) offer cruises between Chumphon pier and Ko Tao and some also sell combined drive and cruise tickets from Bangkok and Hua Hin. There are cruises from the morning till midnight and there is also a possibility for a night cruise with sleeping arrangements for an extra cost.
Fly and Cruise: Nok Air offers Fly ‘n’ Ferry operations – flights from Bangkok to Chumphon and a high-speed Catamaran from there to Ko Tao. These flights are much cheaper than the expensive flights to Ko Somui.
Special note: As Ko Tao’s pier at Chumphon is located right in the middle of the way between Hua Hin and the south, and there are many great attractions nearby such as Ao Manao bay, it allows you to combine this beautiful island either in our Combined Quality Tours of the center of Thailand or in one of the Hua Hin district Tours, or you may join us for the ultimate tour of Thailand – our great Coast to Coast Tour. At the end of the tour we can either get you to the ferry or have you stay at a great hotel we found at Chumphon so you enjoy the island right when you wake up in the morning.
Summary: Ko Tao is a lovely small island. It is not too commercialized. It has wonderful relaxing beaches and bays as well as lively nightlife. For these reasons you’ll find all kind of tourists there as each one can find the best spot them on the island.
Ko Tao is great for a good beach holiday with snorkeling and scuba diving and even a scuba diving course to those interested. Its great location and the fact that it is easily accessible without the need for highly expensive flights makes it a great choice for a beach holiday especially in the summer (July-August). In my opinion, the combination between Hua Hin resort town with all its activities and attractions and the relaxing island of Ko Tao is a great combination especially during the summer. Remember: Choosing the best resort on the right beach will greatly determine how you enjoy your holiday.
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- Click here for “TipTop Travel” great Coast to Coast Tour (the ultimate Thailand experience)
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