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 colorful 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 civilization while still being relatively easily reached, it is the idyllic tropical island paradise.
Haad Tien 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.
John-Suwan Viewpoint 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.
Jor Por Ror Located at the southern end of Sairee Beach is a large rock formation bearing the initials of King Rama V, who visited the island in 1899. Don’t even think about adding your own mark to the highly-revered stone.
Mae Haad Beach the Island’s main town, where you will find the pier as well as plenty of guesthouses, shops, bars and other services. Naturally, this beach is among the busiest.
Mango Viewpoint Located in the hills in the north of the island, the view of Mae Haad and Sairee Beach is spectacular. It is reached either by taking a long, challenging walk up the hill from the 7-Eleven in Sariee or by motorbike up a steep and risky road. Access to the viewing platform costs 100 baht, with the money supposedly going towards building a better road.
Sairee Beach Probably Koh Tao’s best-known beach, where you will find the majority of the nightlife, including beach bars and restaurants. Despite being the longest beach on the island, it is also one of the busiest, being immediately to the north of Mae Haad and home to a lot of budget accommodation.
Tanote Bay the largest of the east-coast beaches, this is the busiest and most populated area on this side of the island.