Koh Tao, part of the Chumphon Archipelago
Koh Tao (เกาะเต่า), literally Turtle Island, is an island at the Central Gulf Coast of Southern Thailand.
Historically, this was once a detention place for political prisoners similar to Ko Tarutao of Satun Province, but today it is a great place for divers or anybody who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Ko Samui and want more than the Full Moon Party on Ko Pha Ngan. Ko Tao is a great place to learn how to dive. There are hardly any currents and a wide selection of dive sites and dive shops, schools and resorts. Activity options are growing outside of diving and the food and nightlife options are some of the best in the Gulf of Thailand.
Koh Tao means Turtle Island and is a divers paradise
Koh Tao is a small island of approximately 21 sqm km and receives over a 100,000 visitors per year. To minimize your impact on the eco-system, notice that there are no garbage disposal facilities, so everything that can’t be burned has to be taken away. Try to avoid plastic bags that are given out for every purchase you make. There is also no department to clean the roads or other public areas, so don’t dump your waste on the open landscape. Water is scarce and electricity expensive, so don’t waste them.
Peak seasons in Ko Tao are from December to March and July to August. It is quite popular destination amongst Thais also, so it can be nearly fully booked on Thai holidays.
How to get Ko Tao
The only option is by boat. The nearest airport is in Ko Samui or Surat Thani, which is fairly well connected to major cities in the region (Bangkok, Penang, Singapore, etc).
From Surat Thani (From The South)
If you’re coming from the south, you can take a ferry from Surat Thani (around 3 hours for the morning ferry) on the mainland, or from Ko Samui (1.5 hours) or Ko Pha Ngan (1 hour). If you’re taking a boat from Surat Thani by Bus or Train, one possibility might be an overnight ferry – depart around 23:00 and arrive in the morning, about 06:00 (subject to changes). It’s advisable to arrive early to grab a mattress as most are formerly cargo boats, so facilities are basic.
From Bangkok / Chumphon (From The North)
The northern terminal for the island ferry service is Chumphon. Numerous agents sell tickets for a variety of boats of varying size and speed. The fastest takes about 90 minutes, the slowest almost 5 hours.
These ferries only depart Chumphon at 07:00, 13:00 and 23:00/00:00. The ferries at 07:00 and 13:00 are the normal passenger ones (offered by Lomprayah, Seatran and Songserm), the late night ferries are normally vehicle or cargo ferries, making for a slower (5-6 hour trip, arriving at 5AM) and less comfortable ride. If you are arriving via bus or train, be sure to arrive well before the ferry times, as the ferry terminal is around an hour from the train station, and a missed connection either results in a late night trip on the vehicle/cargo ferry or an overnight stay and a 05:30 start to catch the bus to the ferry terminal for the first ferry the next day.
Sangserm offer “VIP” combined coach and boat tickets from Bangkok, claiming to take 6 hours by bus and 1.5 hours by boat – in fact, it takes closer to 9 hours by bus and 3 hours by boat, neither of which are particularly comfortable.
The best trick, if coming from Bangkok, is to book a Sleeper Train (leaving Bangkok around 18:00 and arriving at Chumphon around 03:30) and then have a ticket booked for the 07:00 ferry. Most ferry operators can pick you up from the station (where you can while away the 3 hour connection gap).
From The Other Islands
You can also day trip on diving charters from Ko Samui. Many have high speed boats that can make the trip to Ko Tao in about an hour.
Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran or Seatran are the fastest and most comfortable way to get to Ko Tao. They run twice a day from Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan Surat Thani and Chumphon. They also have online booking – useful for checking availability at peak times and all their boats have air conditioning and movies for all passengers.