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Ko Tao, Thailand

Exotic beach at Ko Tao,Thailand
Idyllic beach, Ko Tao, Thailand
World class diving, Ko Tao, Thailand
Above: Exotic beach at Ko Tao,Thailand
  • Exotic beach at Ko Tao,Thailand
  • Idyllic beach, Ko Tao, Thailand
  • World class diving, Ko Tao, Thailand

Situated in the warm, tranquil waters of the Gulf of Thailand, Ko Tao is a diver's paradise. Surrounded by numerous world class dive sites, most of which are under 20 minutes boat ride, this island retreat is one of Thailand most popular dive destination both for beginners and more experienced divers. Notable dive sites include Chumphon pinnacle - rising from depth of around 35 to 15 metres and often visited by the elusive whale shark; and Shark island - a shark fin shaped island with resident reef and leopard sharks. Away from diving, Ko Tao island is a wonderfully laid back place with plenty to do after a good day’s diving.

Ko Tao is an island located off of the east coast of southern Thailand covering approximately 21km. The economy of the island is exclusively centred on tourism - mainly scuba diving. The island was named by its first settlers who noticed that its geographic shape resembled a turtle calling it Ko Tao - Turtle Island. Coincidentally, the Island has become an important breeding area for the Hawksbill and Green Turtles.

Initially the island was not inhabited, apart from by the occasional fisherman who took shelter from storms. On old maps dating from between 1600 and 1850 it would appear that the Island was known as Pulo Bardia. A book written by Frederick Arthur Neale in 1852 gives detailed descriptions of the people and wildlife of 'Bardia'. According to the book, there were already farms on the island with cows the book also has detailed illustrations showing bamboo huts.

King Chulalongkorn visited Ko Tao in 1899 and left his monogram on a boulder near to Sairee beach as evidence of his visit - this spot is highly revered among local people and is still worshipped today.

In 1933 the island started to be used as a prison. In 1947 the prime minister pleaded and received a royal pardon for all of the prisoners on the Island, they were transported to Surat Thani and Ko Tao was left abandoned again. In the same year, two brothers, Khun Uaem and Khun Oh, reached Ko Tao in their traditional sailboat from the neighbouring island of Koh Phangan. The brothers claimed a good part of land close to todays Sairee beach. After bringing their familes to the island they began cultivating the land and formed the first generation of the present-day community.

In the 1980's the first travellers discovered the island and through the backpacker network the island rapidly became a popular destination. Finally in the 1990's the island became known for its excellent dive sights.

Today the island is known worldwide for its scuba diving. The most popular destination for this is around Sairee beach on the west coast. Chalok Baan Khao is also becoming increasingly popular for those who wish to escape the crowds. Ko Tao is extremely popular among the mid 20's backpacker circuit as it offers relatively inexpensive scuba diving and certification. In recent years many hotels have developed in the main resorts offering a wide variety of accommodation, the island also offers many bars and restaurants.

Ko Tao can be accessed by ferry from Surat Thani, Chumphon, Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan.

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