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Until the mid of the 20th century Koh Tao was an unknown and uninhabited island offside the most ship routes. Sea turtles were nesting their eggs in the white coral sands. This gave the island the name Turtle Island. Then the first fishermen settled and built simple huts on the long Sairee beach. But until the late 80s Koh Tao was still an absolutely unknown place. Only some few backpackers made the trip by longtail fisherboats, coming from Koh Phangan. They discovered a true island jewel, which surpasses the paradise dreams of the South Sea. Since the mid 90s the informations about Koh Tao spread around the world and more and more travelers came in small boats for diving and snorkeling. The turtles therefore disappeared and didn´t come back.
Entering the new millennium, investors discovered Koh Tao and a massive construction boom began. Today plenty of cheap bungalow resorts, diving schools, hotels, restaurants and shops are available for the needs of backpackers and diving tourists. Meanwhile, also luxury hotel resorts emerged or are under construction. Koh Tao remains still a pure island for finest diving and snorkeling in the Gulf of Thailand.
The island is small, the north and east coasts have beautiful beaches with crystal clear water. Some places can only be reached by boat or on breakneck slopes though the mountains. This needs some good experiences in driving motorbikes. The most guests stay at the west coast and in the bays of the south. The most beautiful beach is the northern part of Sairee Beach. Some of the best bungalow resorts are located there.
At the south of Sairee Beach, the capital village, Ban Mae Haad is located with the pier and all banks and shops. There one can buy everything for daily needs and do banking transactions or eat and drink in simple restaurants or bars. The only paved road linking the south with the north-west. There are two beautiful beaches in the south of Tao: Chalok Ban Kao Beach with some hotel resorts and the undeveloped and protected beach in the Shark Bay. For several years construction of houses, shops and hotels increased, seemingly without end. The first bungalows are already built on the slopes of the rainforest-covered mountains. On Beach Sairee, no gap has been left for nature. The small village of Ban Sairee, which had consisted only of a few house a few years ago, is now a rowing village with bars, motorbike rental shops and internet and diving shops. Four wheel drive Quads are coming up more and more to manage the steep roads across the island with more safety and fun.
In the northern part, which is more rocky and mountainious, new high-quality resorts are under construction for the rising demand. These hotels do not have sandy beaches, but offer bungalows directly on the rocky shore with spectacular views and sea feelings.
The small village of Mae Haad is bursting and expending its borders. Koh Tao is not a secret anymore. Especially very young tourists from England, Germany and Scandinavia spend their days and nights at the beaches. Corresponding noise from loud techno music can be a side effect during high season.
On Koh Tao you can also still really get off and find your hideaway - at least for a limited time. Bungalows away from the beaches are available for 4500 baht per month.
Main place for diving is Sairee Beach, where numerous bungalow resorts with diving schools are located and offer both, diving courses and tours and cheap bungalows. The prices for diving beginners are still cheap.
A good choice to see Koh tao is to rent a longtail boat for some hours and cruise around the island to see the bays and beaches on the northen and eastern coast. On individual stops one can take the chance to snorkel in wonderful clear waters with plenty of coral fishes to watch. Mango Bay in the north or Hin Wong Bay in the east are very good places for snorkeling, but sometimes very crowded by tourists.
The bungalow resort on the offshore island of Ko Nang Yuan is located very beautifully. The island is also good for snorkeling and sunbathing. Longtail boats connect Koh Tao with Nang Yuan by individual needs. Since February 2003, Koh Nang Yuan is a protected island. Day-trippers therefore have to pay an admission fee. The resort's restaurant has become a fast-food restaurant for the masses of tourists that arrive daily, esp. on holidays. Then it is full and noisy and the visit is not really worthwhile as it was in the past.
Another annoying side-effect of the daily tourism to Nang Yuan are the many longtail boats with their loud truck engines. Especially in the afternoon from 3 pm till sunset, when all tourists come back from snorkeling.
However, Ko Tao is still a beautiful tropical island, and the evenings at Sairee Beach are a real romantic pleasure.
By bus from the southern bus terminal in Bangkok or from Khao San Road every morning in 7-8 hours to Chumphon. You can stay overnight and take the express boat to Ko Tao the next morning or take the Lomprayah Catamaran directly the same day, if you buy the combined bus-boat ticket from Lomprayah.
Daily speed and express boats arrive from Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. The boats are fast and often quite full, so you should book in time. A good choice are Lomprayah catamarans, which are also safe and fast in bad weather conditions.
There are now many bungalow resorts of different classes of service and comfort, from the simple straw hut to expensive airconditioned hotelrooms and beach bungalows. Resorts in the south are larger and have bigger restaurants. At Sairee beach one can find bungalows with nice sunsets, walking and jogging and candle light dinners on the beach. Many cheaper resorts include diving courses in their bungalow offers.
We recommend the comfortable bungalow resorts Koh Tao Cabana, Bow Thong and Coral Grand Resort on the northern Sairee beach. Koh Tao Cabana is located on the spectacular hill side with great views over Sairee bay.
Very modern in architecture is Jamahkiri Resort in the south at shark bay. On that beautiful beach Haad Tien Beach Resort is a good choice. At Chalok Ban Khao Beach in the south, Koh Tao Resort is the first address.
See detailed beach map of Koh Tao with mouseover:Sairee Beach