Koh Tao

Ko Tao (also often Koh Tao, Thai: เกาะเต่า, Thai pronunciation: [kɔ̀ʔ tàw], lit. “Turtle Island”) is an island in Thailand located near the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand. It covers an area of about 21 km².  As at end 2006 its official population is 1382.  The economy of the island is almost exclusively centered around tourism, especially scuba diving.  Ko Tao was named by its first settlers for the island’s turtle-like geographic shape.

Initially the island was not inhabited, there was only the occasional fisherman from the neighboring islands, looking for shelter in a storm or just taking a break before continuing his tiresome journey.

In 1933 the island started to be used as a political prison. In 1947 a royal pardon for all prisoners on the island was given.  Everybody was taken to the shore of Surat Thani and Ko Tao was abandoned again.

In the 1980s the first travelers discovered Ko Tao and their special backpacker network quickly made it widely known and a popular destination. As a consequence, bigger, faster and safer boats were used to allow easier access to Ko Tao. In the 1990s the island finally became known as a diving site.

The island is well-known for scuba diving and snorkeling, and also offers some hiking. The most popular place for tourists is Sairee on the West coast, which has a white sandy beach of 1.7 km interrupted only by a few huge boulders and a scattering of medium budget resorts and restaurants. Chalok Baan Khao, to the south of the island is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative for those wishing to escape the crowds. A multitude of beautiful granite boulders, which nestle both in the forests and on the beaches of Ko Tao, attract a growing number of climbers who visit each year to enjoy the adventurous aspect of their sport.

Ko Tao is less developed than Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan, but has become increasingly popular especially with the mid-20’s backpacker crowd in search of relatively inexpensive scuba diving certification.

As of December 2005, Ko Tao had about 150 resorts offering accommodation and approximately 50 bars/clubs. Most of the resorts are still bungalow-style, not hotel/resort style. As of 2007 there is a trend to more upmarket resorts which do not concentrate singularly on diving. Free WiFi is provided in increasing numbers and even the first sailing charter company on Ko Tao has opened.

Diving conditions have improved dramatically in the past few years with the continuing education of locals by the dive community. The El Nino weather pattern of 1997 caused a warming of the waters which resulted in the loss of a great deal of the shallow corals near the island. Since then, the recovery has been swift and dramatic with the help from island conservation groups like our very own Bans Eco and groups like Save Koh Tao.

Chumpon Pinnacle, a dive site to the west of the island has a reputation for divers in search of both whale sharks and bull sharks.  How ever, because of the warmer water temperatures the Bull Sharks have migrated into cooler waters at least for a time.

Koh Tao is very lucky due to its centralised gulf location. Besides a 6 week wet monsoon period starting round Novemeber into mid December, Koh Tao generally has a great tropical climate most of the year. The island does get hit occasionally with storms that are blown in from surrounding countries but these tend to blow themselves out within a day or so. In summer time the island does get really hot but most of the time the weather is perfect if slightly on the humid side. Click on the link to read more about Koh Tao’s climate.

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