From 1933 on the island was used as a political prison because of it's far distance from the mainland. In 1947, Khun A -Paiwong, Prime Minister at that time, pleaded and received a royal pardon for all prisoners on the island. Everybody was taken back to the mainland and the "Turtle" was abandoned once again. Not for long.
In the same year Khun Ueam and his twin brother Khun Oh reached Koh Tao from the neighbouring island Koh Phangan, At that time, crossing over with a traditional sailboat was long and dangerous.
It took more than 12 hours crossing over from Koh Phangan, which is just 45km away. Even though the island was still under royal patronage, it didn't keep these pioneers from claiming a good piece of land on today's Sairee Beach for themselves. Together with them came their families, and they began to cultivate and harvest the fertile soil.
The first generation of today's community had settled! They lived a very simple and tough life harvesting coconuts, fishing and growing vegetables, which were traded with Koh Phangan. Despite the many difficulties in reaching the island, the population grewy.
About 15 years ago, the first backpackers arrived from Koh Phangan. Rumours spread quickly about the islands unspoiled beauty, especially it's marine life and coral reefs . Since then, the number of visitors has increased rapidly, from fewer than 50 a day a decade ago to more than 400 a day (2006). It soon became one of the major dive sites in Thailand and SE-Asia, attracting beginners and professionals alike. The local businesses expanded immediately in order to catch up with the needs of the new clientele. The island today, is still an absolute paradise, catering to all tastes and budgets.
At the present time, Koh Tao has evolved into a haven for divers, adventurers, travellers and holidaymakers from around the world. The island's unique blend of coral reefs, natural unspoiled beauty, and relaxed life-style makes it a lovely place to visit.!
Banks and Money Exchange :
There are no full bank branches or ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) available on the island. There is an exchange booth of Krung Thai Bank, located in Mae Haad close to the main pier. Office hours are daily from 9.00h to 16.00h. Lunch time 12.00 - 13.00h. Occasionally during the busier months, the booth might run out of money & will be closed. Another exchange booth is located on Sairee Beach (Siam City Bank).
Services offered are currency exchange and travellers cheques TC (20 Baht commission fee per cheque). Exchange rates are normally 1-2 Baht (per U$) lower than the official rates due to Koh Tao's remoteness from the mainland.
Cash-withdrawals with credit cards is possible in many shops and travel agencies, although the handling fee is 7% (!)
Mororbikes and bicycles for rent :
Vehicles in Thailand drive usually on the left side, but traffic-rules are often freely interpreted. This is especially true for Koh Tao, where speed limits are non-existent, and you be better prepared to step aside.
The road system on Koh Tao is still far from being developed, so there are dirt-tracks and pathways, especially on the east-side of the island. The tracks are steep and rough, even more so after heavy rainfall. Recently, more concrete roads are under construction (mainly Mae Haad and Sairee Beach).
Please, drive carefully and remember that accidents will hurt body and budget as well. Before you rent a bike, please read the contract carefully and check the bike's condition.
Motorcycles can be rented from 150 Baht upwards, depending on the bike's condition. Motorcross bikes start at 300 Baht per day. Jeeps from 1,000 Baht up. A passport for deposit is required.
For those who want to keep the air clean on, bicycles are available for rent: 80 Baht (contact Angel Travel, Mae Haad).
Taxi Services: Pick-up trucks and Motorbikes :
These can be found parked in busy areas such as Mae Haad, or can be easily stopped along the roadside. They run from early morning until roughly midnight. Please, remember that taxi prices are not fixed and fares tend to double after nightfall. To avoid misunderstandings with the Thai,
discuss the prices before the ride.
Basic taxi prices (per person):
From Mae Haad to
Sairee Beach or Chalok Baan Kao: 30 Baht
Tanote: 200 Baht per trip
Hin Wong: 100 Baht per trip
Ao Leuk or Thian Og: 80 Baht per trip
From Sairee to
Chalok Baan Kao: 60 Baht
Ao Leuk: 120 Baht per trip
There are a couple of bookstores on the island offering both retail and second-hand books. There is B-Books and Prasit in Mae Haad. Mr. J on the way to Sairee Beach offers a wide selection of books in several languages. The main language that you will find is English.
Koh Tao is situated in a sub-tropical climate like the rest of Thailand. The island is effected both by NE- and SW- Monsoons. The NE- Monsoon dominates fom the middle of October to the beginning of December, where you can expect heavy rainfall. The SW- Monsoon is mild since Koh Tao is sheltered both by the mainland and the surrounding islets.
Koh Tao is unique since it offers a 10 month high season for travelers to visit and enjoy the beauty of the Island. Peak seasons are from February to April, and again from July to September.
Communication: National and International Phone Cards are available. Mobiles can be used as well now (GSM 900/ 1800 cellular network).
There is no public electricity available on the island. Many resorts and houses rely on a local generator. Thus, electricity is very expensive! The electricity is 220 volts AC at 50 cycles. Two pin flat (US type) or round are pretty universal.