Koh Tao otherwise known as Turtle island is the third island to make up the Chumpon archipelago along the western coastline of the gulf of Thailand, is the less populated of its sister islands of Koh Samui, and Koh Phangan. It is said that the name Turtle island comes either from the island being largely populated by turtles back in the day, or by the fact that the island is shaped like a turtle when viewed from a certain perspective. From my personal experience of meeting the island, however, it brought me two turtle sightings in my very first week! Even if not as many as there used to be, there are still turtles lurking around!
Koh Tao is a diving haven, a diving mecca of Thailand. With a large number of popular dive sites surrounding the island, Koh Tao has over 60 dive schools, with competitive prices, and is one of the cheapest places in the world to go diving. Yet, if it isn’t diving you arrive here for – There is still so much on offer. The island is speckled with lazy beaches, isolated bay’s, and crystal clear waters, and plenty of thriving marine life, for those snorkel fanatics. It is also covered in palm trees, mountains and lush rainforest, with a number of popular walking trails with lookout points, decked out with shops and markets for those wanting a wander, plenty of restaurants, as well as coming alive with parties and fire twirlers in the evenings. The famous and stunningly photographic Koh Nuang Yuan, 3 islands connected by a blindingly white strip of sand, lies only a 10 minute longtail ride from Koh Tao and is the perfect place for a day trip.
Arriving in Koh Tao you will most likely be dropped at Mae Haad, the ferry stop. Mae Haad has shops, restaurants, and bars, and from here has easy access to Sairee, the main beach town of Koh Tao. The beach lies in front of Sairee’s “Yellow Brick Road” or alleyway of market stalls and restaurants, which lie back from the beach. The island is quite mountainous, so if you are planning to visit any of the other beaches, or have a look around the island, your best way to get around will be by scooter, or motorbike. There are taxi’s on the island, but they are very overpriced, and the long tails, will also charge a hefty fee to get around. There is a number of beaches worth visiting, each with their own character and each their own secret getaway – Chalok Bay, Koh Nang Yuan, Shark Bay, Mango Bay, Freedom Beach, Ao Leuk Bay, Tanote Bay, Hin Wong Bay. Many of the beaches on Koh Tao have a 100 Baht entry fee to get in. Water in Koh Tao is around 30 degrees all year round. If you are up for a look out point, Mango Bay Viewpoint, and Fraggle Rock Boulder, offer stunning views.
Sairee, one of the main beaches of Koh Tao is surrounded by shops and restaurants, offers a stunning sunset, before coming alive with beach parties in the evenings. Busy with action, Sairee also has a heap of dive sites not far from the beach.
Shark Bay / Thian Og Bay
Shark Bay is a white strip of pure sandy beach covered in little trees Pemphis Acudula, or giant bonsai’s known as “Thian” trees by the locals, which like out of a fairytale, are scattered with illuminated soft apple green butterlies flitting around in attempt convince you, just incase you weren’t quite sure if you had made it to paradise or not. Plenty of space put aside for swimming (rather than boats) and lazy spots to lie on the sand, with a peaceful resort which rolls out behind it. Black tipped reef sharks are known to lurk around here, so it is the perfect spot for a relaxing day of snorkeling.
Ao Leuk Bay
Hidden and quiet beach good for swimming – One of the few beaches on Koh Tao where there is sand rather than coral surrounding the coastline, perfect place to relax, not too busy or over run by tourists, and also a good spot for snorkeling. The bay is down a steep hill so access to the beach is best via taxi, but well worth the trip!
Chalok bay, the gentle little seaside bay – Known as the home to many of the Koh Tao expats, with windy green, lush, rainforesty hills that lay behind, along with plenty of shops and cafes, Chalok Bay is a beautiful picturesque little strip of beach just a short distance over from Mae Haad.
A gorgeous isolated little bay with great snorkeling, and a perfect “jump rock” for those into a bit of adventure. At Tanote you are able to snorkel the whole bay, which goes quite deep, with a large number of tropical fish surrounding big coral patches.