Koh Tao is also known as "Turtle Island", even though you're not likely to see any sign of one here! Despite being the smallest and most rustic island in the archipelago, it still features in tourist guides around the world, particularly for its diving.
The island is surrounded by the Gulf of Thailand and although you'll find the waters here are neither deep nor of particular interest, the fact remains that it is very popular for 2 reasons: first, there are various approved PADI diving centres here offering unbeatable prices for initiations, classes, and other activities; second, it may be a sports-designated destination but it also offers peaceful surroundings.
Catamarans are a quick way of getting between the ports of Samui and Phangan and also sail into Mae Haad port, where a small village of tourist shops, all selling the same things (primarily T-shirts and crêpes), has been built. The island isn't very big and can easily be explored on foot or by taking one of the many available taxis. Scooters are another pleasant way of getting around, as the roads are all tarmaced and traffic runs smoothly, so with a little care you can easily drive to Koh Tao.
The island's main attractions are located on the west coast and notably include Sairee Beach, said to be the most beautiful on the island. The beaches on the east coast, such as Hin Wong Bay, Laem Thian, and Tanote Bay, are less touristy and more difficult to access. Thian Og Bay beach on the south tip of the island, however, is rather renowned.
How to get there: there are 2 catamaran companies offering quick transfers to and from Koh Samui (via Koh Phangan) and Bangkok (via Chumporn, by bus) Lompraya: Koh Tao-Koh Phangan-Koh Samui, departs 8:45am. Koh Samui-Koh Tao departs 7:45am (2 hour journey). Seatran: Koh Tao-Koh Phangan-Koh Samui, departs 9:30am and 3:00pm. Koh Samui-Koh Tao, departs 8:00am and 1:00pm.
Locals have long used longboats as taxis to the various beaches.© Patrice Hauser
From the panoramic viewpoint in Nangyuan, in the north west of the island, you can see the island of Nuang Yuan.© Patrice Hauser
The village of Mae Haad, the port of the island, has many rather touristy restaurants and shops.© Patrice Hauser
Koh Tao is reputed for its attractive diving rates.© Patrice Hauser
Sairee Beach is considered the most beautiful beach on Koh Tao.© Patrice Hauser