Koh Tao literally means Turtle Island as more than a century ago the only inhabitants of the island were sea turtles. In the early years of the 20th century, a prison house for political prisoners stood on the island. In the 1930s, these prisoners were pardoned and released, took their stakes of land on the island and brought over their families. The first settlers of Koh Tao were the former prisoners. For decades the island’s population was the descendants of the first settlers and it was only in the latter part of the 20th century that Koh Tao was “discovered” by international backpackers.
Koh Tao’s crystal-clear blue-green water propelled it to become a diver’s paradise. It is considered as the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand. Getting to Koh Tao is doable by plane, bus or train. Travel from Bangkok to Koh Tao is routed either to Chumphon or Surat Thani and then continues on to Koh Tao by boat.
Getting to Koh Tao
There is no bus station, or train station or airport in Koh Tao. However, tourists bound for the island can take a plane, bus or a train; get off in Chumphon or Surat Thani in transit for a ferry ride to Koh Tao.
There are direct flights from Bangkok to Chumphon, Surat Thani and Koh Samui. There are daily flights from Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport to Chumphon Airport. The lone flight leaves at 5:40 a.m. and arrives at Chumphon at 6:50 a.m. A 35-minute van ride to either Mataphon Pier or Thung Makham Noi then a 2-hour ferry ride to Mae Haad Pier in Koh Tao. It is important to synch all travel schedules of airplanes and ferry boats to avoid unnecessary long waits.
A direct flight to Koh Samui from Bangkok is the quickest and easiest route to Koh Tao. There are two daily flights to Koh Samui from Bangkok with 55-minute flight duration. Boat connection from Koh Samui to Koh Tao is less than two hours. On a really clear day, the ferry ride from Maenam Pier to Mae Haad Pier is a short 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Direct flight from Bangkok to Surat Thani is approximately 70 minutes long. From the airport there are vans to take passengers to Donsak Pier (1 hour and 30 minute-drive) for the 3 hours and 30 minute ferry ride to Koh Tao.
Most tourists opt for the cheaper combined bus/boat ticket to Koh Tao from Bangkok. There are companies that offer this service. Air-conditioned buses depart from either Rambuttri Road or Khao San Road in Bangkok and arrive at their respective stations in Chumphon. Travel time is usually from 7 to 9 hours, depending on the bus service. The ferry boat ride to Koh Tao is about 2 to 3 hours, depending on the type of ferry boat. There are also government buses en route to Southern Thailand, in transit at Chumphon and Surat Thani provinces.
Bangkok’s railway station is at Hua Lamphong. The combined train/bus/ferry ticket can be bought at the color marked ticket counter at the main counters’ left side. Travel options are 1st and 2nd class, air-conditioned or fan, seat or sleeper. Travel time from Hua Lamphong train station to Chumphon is 8 hours and 45 minutes. From Chumphon to Koh Tao including mini bus ride from the train station to the port is 4 hours and 30 minutes.
There are express boats and ferry from Chumphon to Koh Tao, Surat Thani to Koh Tao, Koh Phagan to Koh Tao and Koh Samui to Koh Tao.