Ko Tao, literally Turtle Island, is an island at the Central Gulf Coast of Southern Thailand.
Historically, Ko Tao 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.
Ko 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 a quite popular destination amongst Thais also, so it can be nearly fully booked on Thai holidays.
The only option to get to Ko Tao 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).
There is one main road running North to South on the island with many smaller roads diverting off it. Some roads lead over the spine of small mountains that run along the middle of the island and are all dirt, can close out after rain, and can be challenging even to a skilled driver. There are usually plenty of taxi cars available on both Sairee village and Mae Haad, however they tend to be expensive given the actual distance you travel.
You can rent bicycles and motorcycles at a few places on Sairee Beach, Mae Haad, and Chalok. Be careful if you rent a motorbike as the dirt roads can get dangerous. ATV's (all terrain vehicles) are dangerous (ask any medical clinic) and expensive (500+ THB a day) and should be avoided in favor of Honda Dream's (150-200 THB a day) or Sonic's (200-250 THB a day).
Be aware that an increasing number of rental shops are charging large amounts of money for non-existent scratches on bikes when returning them, notably the shop next to 7/11 in Sairee Village (Save Way travel). Make sure you note down all scratches and dents before you rent a bike from anyone. Your best bet is to hire a bike from your bungalow / resort.
Longtail boats offer rides to and from certain beaches on the island. They are a more comfortable way of getting to isolated beaches than attempting to ride over the mountains, however they are noisy. Round island longtail can be as much as 2000 baht, whereas some short trips will only be 100-200 baht.
Take a bike around the island. Shark Bay is a good place to go snorkeling for the day (don't worry too much about sharks, they are only small black-tip reef sharks). Koh Nang Yuan, Freedom beach, Laem Thian, Mango Bay, Hin Wong Bay and Tanote Bay are good day excursions, accessible by road or boat. If you rent a scooter, be prepared to turn around or continue by foot since some roads (e.g. to Mango Bay) may be in such condition that you need a dirt bike or a car to ride them. Some beaches are private, but a boat can take you snorkeling to those bays also.
However, to see the best places, go by foot as some are inaccessible to motorists. There are a number of good viewpoints around the island such as John Suwan mountain viewpoint in the South of the island, Two View in the center and Fraggle Rock in the North.
Scuba diving is still the biggest attraction on Ko Tao. Diving in Ko Tao is easy, fun, and you can see turtles, stingrays, barracudas, lots of small fish, reef sharks, and there is a very small chance of seeing a whale shark.
At Chumphon Pinnacle you are likely to see juvenile bull sharks which have, until recently, been misidentified as grey reef sharks. Pay caution, the bulls are curious and very aggressive though for many years literally thousands of people have dived this site without a single shark related incident.
Nearly any time of the year except November is good diving weather in Ko Tao and visibility can exceed 40 meters. Average visibility is around 15-20 meters. In November visibility is reduced and the seas are choppy, but diving is good by the standards of many other destinations.
It is possible and perfectly comfortable to swim and dive without a wetsuit year round. However, as with most diving, a wetsuit is recommended to help reduce risk of cuts or injury. Avoid contact with coral reefs!
Over the last couple of years more and more non divers have discovered the beauty of this island with its secluded little bays and unspoiled mountain ridges. Due to this, and the increasing amount of small upmarket resorts and villas nestled in the hillsides there are nowadays a lot more activities available, including sailing, rock climbing ( Trad routes, Sport routes, Top rope routes and Bouldering), abseiling, cliff jumping, wake boarding, paint-ball jungle games, mini golf or bowling in Mae Haad, massage and yoga courses, and cooking courses.
A huge selection of Thai food is available, including lots of sea food. Barbecue fish is one of the local favourites. As a large portion of the population are expats, you will find plenty of other cuisines ,too.
Thai food is cheapest, with July 2007 prices ranging from 45 baht for stuff-on-rice through to 250 baht for a nice hunk of fresh barbecue fish at a decent restaurant. 25 baht would get you a fresh banana pancake, and 60 baht a bowl of porridge with honey at a budget resort's restaurant. 200-300 baht would get you a bowl of freshly made Italian pasta, and 160-200 baht for pizza. Fresh fruit juices are available at many stalls for 20-30 baht.
Late night burgers, chicken pita kebabs, hot dogs, falafel, chips (French fries to the non English) available with curry sauce, chili con carne or just good old salt and vinegar! One of only a few places on the island open after 10pm to get food other than 7-11 and we do offer delivery between 10pm - 2am
This is the largest beach on Ko Tao, located on the Western side of the island and stretching from the Ferry Terminal (which is on the South Western corner of the island) almost the length of the island. All along this beach you will find dive schools, resorts and restaurants/bars. The southern and central sections of the beach are well known for their nightlife, and the northern end has a large number of shops and restaurants which lends it to be a bit quieter at night (but with the bars only a short walk down the "Yellow Brick Road".http://skuttideas.blogspot.com/
Visit Thailand info:http://wikitravel.org/en/Ko_Tao