Koh Tao (Turtle Island) is a small island on the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand, forming a part of the Chumphon Archipelago. The more famous Koh Phangan (known for its moon parties) and Koh Samui (the main tourist island of the Gulf) are it’s neighbours. More often than not, backpackers skip Samui for the lesser developed Koh Tao.
We headed to the island after four days in the beautiful Krabi, taking us ten hours to get there. For around 750 baht each, we took a minibus to Don Sak where we boarded a ferry that took a few hours to reach Koh Tao.
Why do backpackers head to Koh Tao?
Bloggers sing praises of Koh Tao, so the island was high on my Thailand bucket list; which was further supported by fellow backpackers that I have met along the way. A friend cleaimed instead of their original three-day plan, they stayed ten days! With such a reputation I had to check it out. Our plan was to spend three days there before the Half Moon Festival on Koh Phangan and make our way back to the mainland.
Backpackers head to Turtle Island for its famously cheap diving courses. With reputable PADI diving schools and prices a fraction of that you would pay elsewhere in the world, it draws in the money-conscious travellers.
The party scene also flourishes, as the backpacking crowd grows. Backpackers look favourably towards the pub-crawls and party hostels that can be found easily on the tiny island.
Dive all day and party all night. What’s not to love…?
But is it safe?
After two English backpackers were killed in 2014 just off the main beach, travellers started to avoud Koh Tao. Yet, from what it seems, this is an uncommon occurrence for the island and I did not feel unsafe once whilst I was there. This conclusion has reached others and tourism is flourishing again.
What did I think?
On paper, the perfect island is Koh Tao: beautiful waters; peaceful; social; a place to relax. So when I arrived I was quite disappointed with the place I had such high hopes for.
The first thing you see when you step off the boat is litter. Everywhere. Yes, this is Asia, and yes, it is a harbour…so I told myself; but the state of the naturally beautiful island was beyond belief. The island relies so heavily on its nature-based tourism, but unfortunately they do not know how to respect the environment.
Then, once you get off the dock, you realise: the island is all hills. Up and down, up and down. Great workout. Glutes were sore for days.
Now lets get back to diving, we had not planned on getting qualified on the island, as our days were limited. The plan was to relax and explore, which was great for a day and a half, and then it got repetitive. A scooter or even a boat to go anywhere beyond Sairee Beach and the main town centre is required. We had a problem exploring further than where the paths took us, as we do not hire scooters.
So, is Koh Tao worth a visit?
Ultimately, I didn’t hate our time spent on Koh Tao and plan to go back again to do my PADI diving course. Doing nothing and spending time with people was a breath of fresh air. Although, it I went on such a short trip again, I would not head to somewhere like Koh Tao; as for someone who is eternally restless, I felt like I was wasting some of my time.
But then again…maybe that’s why going to Koh Tao was a good thing.
Tell me about your small island experiences in the comments below!