Spotlight Koh Tao 2024 at Aow Leuk


Learn about the history of Koh Tao and how the island transitioned from a fishing colony and political prison to the tropical tourist paradise it is today.

Meaning ‘Turtle Island’ in Thai, our home derives its name from a period in Koh Tao history when turtles would regularly crawl out of the sea to lay their eggs in the sand. To this day, you may still see some turtles in the waters surrounding the island during your stay.

History | Koh Tao Tourism Association
People of Koh Tao
Carabao Diving about 20 years ago
Carabao Diving
People of Koh Tao

Koh Tao is mainly known for its beautiful beaches, clear waters, and colorful coral reefs, making it a perfect destination for a tropical getaway. But it wasn’t always that way.

History - Ferry to Koh Tao | Koh Tao Tourism Association
Ferry to Koh Tao

The first visitors to Koh Tao hitched a ride on fishing boats.

Early Koh Tao History

Known initially as Pulo Bardia, Koh Tao first appeared on nautical maps sometime in the 1820s. At this point, the island was virtually uninhabited, save for a few passing fishermen that pulled in for a few overnight stays.

In 1899, His Majesty King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) visited the island and carved his name into a rock on south Sairee Beach. Known today as ‘Rama V Rock,’ the place remains a sacred worship site for the local Thai community.

For many decades after, the island remained untouched by humans. It wasn’t until 1943 that the island was colonized when it was used as a political prison. Over a hundred men were brought here following an uprising on Ko Tarutao, the largest island in what is now the Tarutao National Marine Park in Satun Province. Life was tough for the prisoners. The weather was hot, there was little food, malaria was rife, and every day was a struggle for survival. In 1944, however, the prisoners were released back to the mainland, and Koh Tao became a deserted island once again.

Later on, in the 1940s, the first settlers arrived on Koh Tao in the form of fishermen and their families from the neighboring islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan (known at the time as Pulo Carnom and Pulo Sancory). The first settlers lived a simple lifestyle. Using what remained of the demolished prison as shelter, they survived on fish, coconuts, and whatever vegetables they could cultivate from the land.

People of Koh Tao

The original settlers on Koh Tao were fishermen and coconut farmers.

Tourism Development

The first tourists began to arrive in the 1970s, although with no commercial ferry transfers available, visitors needed to hitch a ride on fishing boats for the most part. However, as the island grew in population, infrastructure progressed. By the mid-1990s, there were passenger ferries, the first scuba diving shops, and a range of basic shops and services. By the turn of the century, Koh Tao was well known on the tourist trail, attracting many backpackers and SCUBA divers.

Mae Haad Pier and first dive shops on Koh Tao

The first businesses to open up in Koh Tao were near the arrival pier in Mae Haad.

Modern Day Koh Tao

Koh Tao has never lost its laid-back, relaxed, and welcoming vibe. However, with its surge in popularity, development continued. Many more dive centers emerged, 24-hour electricity was installed, and accommodation options became more upmarket and varied.

Today, the island is well known as a beach-lovers paradise and diving mecca. But there is way more our little slice of paradise than that. As the timeline of Koh Tao history continues to unfold, we look forward to welcoming a diverse array of visitors and providing all of the adventures, activities, and services you need to make your holiday on Koh Tao unforgettable.

Travel | Koh Tao Tourism Association
Mae Haad Pier

Getting around Koh Tao is easy thanks to our high-quality roads, and there is a variety of transport options to choose from when you go out exploring.

Samui + | Koh Tao Tourism Association
Gorgeous Beaches | Koh Tao Tourism Association
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