Tiny “turtle island” Koh Tao is a top destination for scuba divers though even non divers are easily drawn in by the island’s beauty and its inhabitants charm.The tiny island of Koh Tao ("Turtle Island"), 45 km north of Koh Phangan, is one of the top scuba diving destinations in Thailand, if not the world. In fact, only Cairns, Australia issues more PADI certifications than Koh Tao. While some globetrotting SCUBA snobs may express disappointment, the shallow, crystal clear waters of Koh Tao feature abundant marine life and considerable coral that are certain to please both beginners and experienced divers, particularly as the island itself is so spectacular and the atmosphere on Koh Tao is so relaxing. What’s more, the island, which is the site of important breeding grounds for Hawksbill and Green turtles, is now a center for environmentally friendly diving practices, including the reintroduction of hundreds of juvenile turtles to the island's ecosystem and efforts to preserve and grow coral reefs.
Non-divers can appreciate the beauty of Koh Tao, which seems relatively devoid of inhabitants while the majority of visitors are spending their days underwater, by taking a boat trip around the island to visit Koh Tao’s many gorgeous beaches and bays, hiking to the summit of the island, studying yoga, or simply relaxing in a hammock and enjoying the view of nearby Koh Nang Yuan, a spectacular attraction in its own right.
Over the past decade Koh Tao has transformed from a sleepy, yet popular place to get a scuba certification to the second most popular place in the world to do so. Once a destination almost exclusively for scuba divers and those looking to get away from it all, Koh Tao is now also a destination for wild 20-somethings to warm up before or unwind after neighboring Koh Phangan’s Full Moon Party. Fortunately, despite its quite small size, most of the beaches around Koh Tao have retained a charming, laid back atmosphere and bungalows ranging from ultra-basic thatch roof to chic and boutique are available for those on any budget to enjoy the beauty of one of Thailand’s most spectacular islands.
Once on Koh Tao there are a number of ways to get around the island, including songtaew, rental motorbike, bicycle, and the most enjoyable, by long-tail boat.
Getting to and from Ko Tao
- By Train:
Trains stop in Chumphon and Surat Thani from points north and south. It is possible to get a tuk tuk or songtaew to take you from the train station to the appropriate pier provided you give ample time for the transfer –at least one hour in the case of Surat Thani.
- By Air:
There are several airports near Koh Tao, including Koh Samui, Chumphon, and Surat Thani all of which require visitors to transfer to nearby piers to get ferry service to Koh Tao.
Koh Samui is served by both domestic and international airlines, including Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways, Berjaya Air, and Firefly. There are direct flights to Koh Samui from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Krabi, Pattaya (U-Tapao), Phuket, Hong Kong, and Singapore, Penang and Kuala Lumpur.
Chumphon is serviced by Andaman Air and Surat Thani is served by Thai AirAsia; both services are to and from Bangkok.
The fastest way from the mainland to Koh Tao is by high speed catamaran from Chumphon. Lomprayah provides combined bus-boat tickets from near Khao San Road in Bangkok to Koh Tao, including transfer. The overnight voyage from Bangkok takes almost 14 hours, including the 1.5 hour boat ride from Chumphon. If you are already in Chumphon you can take the high speed catamaran or get a slow boat that takes 5 hours to reach the island.
From Surat Thani, there are fewer options for ferry service to Koh Tao, as the town is the primary launching point for boats to Koh Phangan. However, there are a few choices for getting to Koh Tao, including an early morning ferry and an overnight sleeper ferry with very basic facilities.
From Koh Phangan or Koh Samui boat trips take between 1 and 1.5 hours respectively and there are numerous boat options for visitors that leave from various points on Koh Samui.
There are also day trip options including scuba diving and snorkeling charters from Koh Samui, many of which use speed boats that can get to Koh Tao in about an hour.
Getting Around Ko Tao
Getting around the island is either via songtaew (pick-up taxi) or long-tail boat (one way, round trip, half day, or full day). Motorbikes, ATVs, and mountain bikes are also available for rent to explore the island.
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