Sailing Thailand – Koh Tao / Turtle Island
Koh Tao – The Scuba Diving Paradise Island
Koh Tao is an island located about 70km of the eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Tao covers an area of only about 21 km². Administratively it forms a ‘Tambon’ within the district Ko Pha Ngan of Surat Thani Province. As of 2006 it’s official population number in 1382. The main town is called Ban Mae Haad and is located on the west-coast of the island. The economy of the island is almost exclusively centered around tourism and especially scuba diving. The pristine coral reefs of Koh Tao bring divers to the island for more than 25 years now and have made the island famous for diving and diving courses.
Koh Tao, which means Turtle Island in Thai, was named by its first settlers for the island’s turtle-like geographic shape. Coincidentally, the island is an important breeding ground for Hawksbill Turtles and Green Turtles. Development of tourism has negatively impacted the health of these grounds but a breeding program organized in 2004 by the Royal Thai Navy and KT-DOC, a coalition of local scuba diving centers has reintroduced hundreds of Juvenile Turtles and Giant Clams to the island’s ecosystem.
Some History of Koh Tao
As we can see on old maps from the Gulf of Thailand, from around 1600 – 1900 and several descriptions by European cartographers, that this island was known “Pulo Bardia“. A good example is the map of John Thornton, dated back to 1685. Fred Arthur Neale describes the people and wildlife of Pulo Bardia very colorful in his book “Narrative of a residence at the capital of the Kingdom of Siam“, written in 1892 (see page 120) . According to what Neale described here, the island was already populated and today’s main town Mae Haad, or maybe it was Sairee, was already a busy market place. There were farms with chicken, goats, fresh vegetables and even cows in and around a village on the western bay of the island. The book includes an illustration of Pulo Bardia, showing huts and palm trees. Sometime after that, the Koh Tao must have been abandoned for some reason. There is no further documentation about any particular event. For many years to come, there was only the occasional fisherman from the neighboring islands Koh Phangan and Koh Samui, exploiting the rich fish grounds around Koh Tao’s coral reefs or just looking for shelter in a storm. Sometimes a boat would sail by and stop on Koh Tao for water and a break, before continuing there tiresome journey.
The next event we know of is in June 18th 1899, when King Chulalongkorn visited Ko Tao and left as evidence, his monogram on a huge boulder at Jor Por Ror Bay, next to Sairee Beach, a place which is still worshiped today! From 1933 the island was used as a political prison. It wasn’t until Khun Khuang Abhaiwongse, prime minister ot Siam at the time, pleaded for a royal pardon for all prisoners on the island, which he received in 1947, that Koh Tao became a free island again. After all the prisoners where taken to the mainland of Surat Thani and Chumphon, Koh Tao was abandoned once again.
In the same year Khun Uaem and his brother Khun Oh reached Ko Tao from the neighboring Koh Phangan by trying out their traditional sail boat, for that time a quite long and dangerous journey. Even thought the island was still under royal patronage, it did not stop these pioneers claiming themselves a good part of the land on today’s Sairee Beach. Later, when they brought their families over, they began to cultivate and harvest the excellent soil. these settlers where forming the first generation of the present-day community of Koh Tao. They lived a simple and tough life on the island, harvesting coconuts, fishing and growing vegetables, which were also traded with Koh Phangan. Despite the difficulties in reaching the island, the population grew steadily.
In the 1980s the first travelers discovered Koh 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 Koh Tao.
Koh Tao Today
Today, the island is well known for scuba diving and snorkeling and offers also sailing and sailing courses, hiking, rock climbing and many other activities. The most popular place for tourists on Koh Tao is Sairee Beach, situated on the west coast of the island. Sairee offers a white sandy beach of 1.7 km interrupted only by a few huge boulders. Resorts are scattered with varying density, along the many small bays of the island.
Koh Tao is less developed than Koh Samui and Ko Pha Ngan but has become increasingly popular. As of December 2005, Ko Tao had about 150 Resorts offering Accommodation and approximately 50 – 60 bars and clubs. Most of the resorts are still bungalow-style, not hotel/resort style. There are no tall buildings on Koh Tao! Accommodation prices are lower than in nearby Ko Samui. As of 2007 there is a new trend to more luxury resorts which don’t concentrate singularly on diving but on high quality accommodation. Free WIFI is provided in increasing numbers of resorts, bars and restaurants. …..And even the first… and only sailing charter company, Island Cruises Co,. Ltd. has meanwhile opened on Koh Tao. . Island Cruises offers sailing cruises and sailing courses around Koh Tao as well as liveaboard sailing excursions to the Angthong Marine Park. On the west coast of Thailand, we also offer crewed yacht charter and bareboat charter yachts and catamarans!
Roads and Transportation on Koh Tao
With few exceptions, almost all roads on Ko Tao are dirt roads! And generally are in poor shape. However, new roads are being paved at a quicker rate now. Most traffic on the island is motorbike, with mopeds, scooters and dirt bikes being the main mode of transportation. Mopeds can be rented for only 4 Euro per day. Beware though; motor bike accidents are the most common injury on the island! Poor roads, sandy curves, reckless driving and drunkenness are all a factors that come into play here.
Ko Tao is serviced by ferry’s and most modern passenger boats from Surat Thani, Chumphon, Ko Samui and Koh Phangan. All ferries dock at Baan Mae Haad.
Scuba Diving and Diving Courses
Koh Tao offers a variety of scuba diving activities. There are plenty of different dive sites around Koh Tao to explore. Scuba diving courses are available from beginner courses up to divemaster and scuba diving instructor. If you’re interested in diving, Koh Tao sure is the right place to go. You can go as far as technical diving and wreck diving in Koh Tao.
More Information about Sailing Thailand & Live aboard Diving
More Information about our sailing courses: Sailing Courses in Thailand.
If you would like more details about the competent crew course in Koh Tao or you maybe have a general question about sailing courses or sailing Thailand, please don’t hesitate to contact Island Cruises here.