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Koh Tao

 

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Ko Tao (also often Koh Tao, "Turtle Island") is an island in Thailand located near the eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand. It covers an area of about 21 km². Administratively it forms a tambon within the district (Amphoe) Ko Pha Ngan of Surat Thani Province. As of 2006 its official population number is 1382. The main settlement is Ban Mae Hat. Historically, this was once a detention place for political prisoners similar to Ko Tarutao of Satun Province, but today it is a great place for divers or anybody who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Ko Samui and want more than the Full Moon Party on Ko Pha Ngan. Ko Tao is a great place to learn how to dive. There are hardly any currents and a wide selection of dive sites and dive shops, schools and resorts. Activity options are growing outside of diving and the food and nightlife options are some of the best in the Gulf of Thailand.

Ko Tao was named by its first settlers for the island's turtle-like geographic shape. Coincidentally, the island is an important breeding ground for Hawksbill turtles and Green turtles. Development of tourism has negatively impacted the health of these grounds but a breeding program organised in 2004 by the Royal Thai Navy and KT-DOC, a coalition of local scuba diving centres has reintroduced hundreds of juvenile turtles to the island's ecosystem.

History

Initially the island was not inhabited, there was only the occasional fisherman from the neighboring islands, looking for shelter in a storm or just taking a break before continuing his tiresome journey.

It would appear from old maps (1600-1850) and descriptions that this island was known by European cartographers and mariners as "Pulo Bardia". The best example is a map by John Thornton dated 1685. Page 383 of 'The Edinburgh Gazetteer, or Geographical Dictionary' (1822) also mentions the island and provides a geographical position. In his book titled "Narrative of a residence at the capital of the Kingdom of Siam" by Frederick Arthur Neale (1852 p. 120) he describes the people and wildlife of Bardia. According to the account there were farms and even cows in a village on the bay lying to the west side of the island - (probably Sairee?). The book includes a fanciful illustration of 'Bardia' showing huts and palm trees.

On June 18, 1899 King Chulalongkorn visited Ko Tao and left as evidence his monogram on a huge boulder at Jor Por Ror bay next to Sairee Beach. This place is still worshiped today.

In 1933 the island started to be used as a political prison. In 1947 Khuang Abhaiwongse, prime minister at that time, pleaded and received a royal pardon for all prisoners on the island. Everybody was taken to the shore of Surat Thani and Ko Tao was abandoned again.

In the same year Khun Uaem and his brother Khun Oh reached Ko Tao from the neighboring Ko Phangan by trying out their traditional sail boat, for that time a quite long and dangerous journey. Even though the island was still under royal patronage, it did not stop these pioneers claiming themselves a good part of the land on today's Sairee beach. Having brought their families over, they began to cultivate and harvest the excellent soil, forming the first generation of the present-day community. They lived a simple and tough life harvesting coconuts, fishing and growing vegetables, which were also traded with Ko Phangan. Despite the difficulties in reaching the island, the population grew steadily.

In the 1980s the first travelers discovered Ko Tao and their special backpacker network quickly made it widely known and a popular destination. As a consequence, bigger, faster and safer boats were used to allow easier access to Ko Tao. In the 1990s the island finally became known as a diving site.

 

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