Turtle Island Thailand (or Koh Tao in Thai), is located in the Gulf of Thailand and forms part of the Surat Thani province in southern Thailand. This stunning island is a tropical paradise and as such has gorgeous sandy beaches, coral reefs and clear blue waters which allow you to see the fish and turtles swimming below. While the island may only be 21 square kilometres in size it has everything you will need on this remote island getaway.
The island has had an interesting history having been discovered by several European explorers including
William Dampier c1697 when the island was named Pulo Bardia. Later, the island was used as a shelter for fisherman and between 1933 and 1947 as a prison for political prisoners. With the introduction of farming and cultivation practices which included both coconuts and vegetables the population on the island grew.
This initial growth led to the construction of a small village on the island which has today reached about 1,400 people. At some point during this early period the community coined the term Turtle Island, apparently due to the geographical shape of the of the island which resembles a turtle shell.
However, I am more
inclined to believe that it was due to the actual presence of both Green and Hawksbill Turtles that both breed and swim here.
The name Koh Tao appears to have been applied to the island sometime after the early 1900s, and most likely due to an earlier visit by Thailand's King Chulalongkorn in 1899.
The island became popular to foreign tourists during the 1980s, and despite its growing popularity (i.e. receiving around 100,000 visitors per year), it has never been developed to the extent of other islands including Koh Samui and Phuket.
Koh Tao is well known as a hub for scuba diving and snorkeling because
it is under the water where this island's true beauty lies. Divers and
snorkelers have been amazed by the beautifully rich marine and aquatic
life, including colourful coral reefs at Aow Leuk and Shark Bay where
you can even swim among the turtles.
Its beaches which include Sai Nuan and Sairee are some of the prettiest in southern Thailand. The most popular activities here are of course swimming, relaxing on the beach and boating. Scooters and bikes are available for hire as are ATVs if you wish to explore the island and these can be hired via most of the resorts or directly from a couple of rental shops located in the village next to the 7-Eleven store. There is a dirt road which cuts across the island from north to south and this is the best way to see the best that the island has to offer.
While speaking of shops there are of course some excellent restaurants, dive shops, banks, internet cafes, and bars within the more built up areas but as Turtle Island is only 8 kilometres by 2 kilometres in size you can't expect the same level of infrastructure as say Phuket or Koh Samui. However, if you are looking or nightlife it is better to visit the neighbouring Koh Phangan Island which has world famous Full Moon Parties.
Although the shops and accommodation located on the western side of the island at Ban Mae Hat village previously catered for backpackers, in recent years more luxury resorts have opened including the Koh Tao Regal Resort which include spa's and five star rooms and facilities. However, more modest beach villa's and bungalows are also available and some of these are built within the island's dense tropical forest.
best way to travel to Turtle Island is by ferry. This island which is
located within southern Thailand can be accessed from Bophut
Beach on Koh Samui, and apparently from Surat Thani and Chumphon Airport, Pathio (which is said to be the fastest option). Travel times vary between 1.5 to 3 hours
depending upon where you depart.
The best way to travel from Bangkok to Koh Samui is by plane. Samui International Airport which is privately owned by Bangkok Airways would have to be the most beautiful in southern Thailand (see pictures below). Opened in April 1989, the airport is located along the northern part of Koh Samui near Bophut Beach. Its airstrip measures 2,100 metres in length and the main terminal was designed to blend in with the island's natural flora and fauna.
A number of carriers including Thai and Bangkok Airways fly daily to Samui International Airport.