Ko Tao

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Setting The Scene This amazing little tropical island is the smallest of the trio of popular destinations in the Gulf of Thailand – Ko Phangan and Ko Samui being the other two. But in terms of what Ko Tao has to offer, it more than pulls its weight as it is a fantastic place to chill out and to enjoy the island's countless attractions, some of which are unique to Ko Tao - particularly it's numerous, easily accessed diving locations. Initially, a haven for adventurous backpackers, the growth of diving facilities on the island has attracted a wide range of visitors. These days, Ko Tao is aimed more towards divers, with plenty of accommodation here to suit all pockets, from budget bungalows to high-end five-star resorts. It still retains a more ramshackle backpacker feel than it's two nearby siblings. Ko Tao means "Turtle Island", and it covers an area of only 21 square kilometres (8 square miles), with the coastline blessed with many sandy beaches dotted with palm trees and rocky outcrops. The volcanic interior is covered mainly by dense, tropical jungle. The last census in 2008 showed a Thai population of only 1,382, although the advent of tourism has attracted an estimated 3000 Burmese who live and work on the island to provide much-needed labour for the burgeoning tourism industry. The island was completely unpopulated until 1933 when it was used as a political prison from 1933 until 1947 when the colony was abandoned. But in the same year, two brothers sailed over from Ko Phangan and settled on the island, later bringing their families with them to farm the fertile land around the western coast. These pioneer families still comprise the majority landowners on the island today – particularly around the popular tourist areas on the western shore. Backpackers and other overseas tourists started arriving in the 1980s, and it soon became a popular destination when better and faster boats served the port at Mae Haad. It wasn't long before Ko Tao became a world-renowned diving location. What’s To See Ko Tao boasts no less than 18 separate diving sites just off the shores of this small island, and it is reckoned to be one of the foremost and cheapest places in the world to gain the divers' PADI/SSI qualifications. There are nearly 40 dive centres and schools to service the large number of visitors – now estimated to be more than 100,000 per annum. But as well as diving, the island has gorgeous white sand beaches, most of which are suitable for swimming and many are also excellent for snorkelling. On top of this, there is a well-established bar and party scene, in and around the main beach at Sairee. For those wishing to get away from it all, you can be assured of a more peaceful stay at some of the less developed parts of the island, while still enjoying some of the finest tropical beaches to be found anywhere. Ko Tao's famous and breathtaking sunsets can be enjoyed across the island; its uniquely granite interior provides the perfect setting for enthusiasts and beginners to indulge in bouldering and rock climbing; and the challenging treks across the island, which lead to spectacular viewpoints and deserted beaches. You can practice or learn yoga in one of Ko Tao's several well-established yoga centres; beach-hop around the island on a long tail boat; take a boat-trip to the glorious Ang Thong Marine Park; get a rush of adrenalin by cliff jumping or flying on a jungle trapeze. Or, as an alternative to scuba diving, try free diving and get even closer to the magical tropical underwater world, with its gorgeous reefs and a multitude of fish and other marine life. There are even a couple of outfits where you can learn about coral reefs and marine conservation. There really is something for everyone.

Map of Lower Gulf of Thailand

Lower Gulf of Thailand-Map