Our guide to visiting Koh Tao sets sail for a destination two and half hours north of Koh Samui, to explore one of the best kept secrets in the glittering Gulf of Thailand.
Koh Tao – the name translates to ‘turtle island’ – is still relatively untouched, and its biggest draw is undoubtedly its unspoilt natural beauty. As its name suggests, Koh Tao’s human inhabitants share the island with a considerable turtle population. Long popular with backpackers seeking an off the beaten track island escape, it’s now home to a sprinkling of higher end luxury resorts.
Any guide to visiting Koh Tao will tell you that if you’ve been to the island and haven’t tried the local dive scene, you haven’t really been to the island. And while Koh Samui has something for everyone, it’d be a shame to visit its sparkling shores without taking the plunge at least once.
Originally attracted by its vibrant coral reef, divers have been visiting Koh Tao for decades, and it’s now home to a whole host of diving schools. If you’re a diving newbie, you’ll find qualified and instructors ready to guide you through your first steps – or perhaps strokes – in conditions perfect for beginners.
More experienced divers will soon find that Koh Tao’s waters are something of an underwater playground. You’ll find hundreds of species of sea life, from colourful tropical fish to otherworldly coral species. If you’re lucky, there’s even the chance of a rare turtle sighting.
With a choice of excellent and reasonably priced diving instruction, why not make this the trip that you try something new? If you’re a scuba diver by habit, you might want to consider trying your hand at free diving for a change – or vice versa. Or just grab a snorkel and dive right in, for an underwater experience you won’t forget.
All that adventure worked up an appetite? Let us guide you through Koh Tao’s selection of tempting restaurants and eateries, serving up everything from traditional Thai cuisine to world class hamburgers.
Well worth a visit is The Gallery, offering authentic Thai food that’s made it a firm favourite on the island – affordable and atmospheric, book to avoid disappointment. Bang Burgers is an unassuming but deservedly popular establishment delivering delicious hamburgers with a twist. Then there’s Viewpoint, with an upmarket international menu and – as you may have guessed – one incredible view.
While Koh Tao’s beauty is unspoilt, the island has just the right amount of buzz for those looking to party after the sun goes down. Those seeking a nightlife scene will find it chilled out and upbeat at one of the relaxed and welcoming Sairee beach bars.
No guide to visiting Koh Tao would be complete without a quick tour of its beaches. In short, they’re outstanding. On the west coast of the island, the impossibly soft white sands of Sairee beach stretch out for over one and half kilometres, giving you a taste of paradise by day and a picture perfect view of the breathtaking sunset.
Further north, Sai Nuan beach is another essential stop on your island tour. More secluded than Sairee, its pristine shores overlook clear turquoise waters that just seem to invite you to dive right in. Whether you go on foot or catch a ride on a water taxi, this unmissable beach is a true gem.
Just off the coast, the paradise island of Koh Nang Yuan is just a stone’s throw away. Nang Yuan is actually three tiny islands linked by a strip of flawless golden beach, and visitors to Koh Tao are ideally situated for a day trip by boat. Grab your camera and head to the top of the mountain for the view of a lifetime – they don’t make ’em like that anywhere else.
Feeling the call? Visiting Koh Tao is easy – and getting there is half the fun. There’s no airport on the island, so you’ll need to take a ferry from one of the other islands nearby – no hardship, when your location is as picture perfect as this one. As a guide, the trip takes around two and a half hours from Koh Samui, or half that if your island hopping adventures are first taking you to Koh Phangan.