Koh Tao – meaning ‘Turtle Island’ – lives up to its name, being the scuba diving destination of choice in Thailand. The perfect white-sand beaches which ring the hilly 21 km² island are surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The vibrant coral reefs there are home to a wide range of exciting and colourful sea creatures, including turtles, naturally.
The compact island is 55 km to the north of Koh Samui and was only really ‘discovered’ in the early 1980s, but now supports a varied selection of hotels, from budget guesthouses and beach bungalows all the way up to five-star luxury resorts. The choice of restaurants and nightlife establishments has also been constantly growing, to the point that there is now something for almost every taste. So far from civilisation while still being relatively easily reached, it is the idyllic tropical island paradise.
There are few attractions other than the beaches on Koh Tao. The island is home to some of Thailand’s best, with pristine white sand, nodding palm trees and glittering blue seas. There are many choices available, most of which are accessible along the small and rather rough road network. The main and most popular ones are as follows:
Chalok Baan Kao Bay
The southernmost beach on Koh Tao is sheltered by rocky headlands, creating a peaceful oasis of fine white sand and gin-clear sea, while still having a good choice of beach bars and restaurants.
Commonly known as “Rocky Bay”, this is one of the furthest beaches from Mae Haad, but one of the best. It has the clearest water and the cleanest beach, with only a small selection of quite exclusive resorts there. It is sometimes also called “Shark Bay” for the number of black-tip reef sharks you can snorkel among.
Right at the southern tip of Koh Tao, the view to the north is spectacular, showing both Chalok Baan Khao Bay and Haad Tien beaches and the hilly interior of the island. There is a 50 baht entrance fee to the viewpoint, as well as a short and relatively easy hike. It is named after the two friends who discovered the view while looking for somewhere to build a house.