Touring Thailand



Koh Tao History

Divers have been coming to Koh Tao from the 1980s onwards. From a best-kept backpackers secret to the tourist masses of today. The diving in Koh Tao has been something of a mecca to some folk. With many dive sites and even greater hype surrounding them its time to see what the real story is on Koh Tao.

The Early Years of Koh Tao

Historically it is speculated that the island was only visited by fishing boats for shelter and foraging.
In the beginning, the island was uninhabited, and only the occasional fisherman from the neighbouring islands came by to seek shelter from a storm. On June 18, 1899, His Majesty the King Chulalongkorn (Rama V , 1868-1910) visited Koh Tao and left as evidence his monogram on a huge boulder at Jor Por Ror Bay next to Sairee Beach. This place is still worshipped to this day.
In the 1933 the Island was used as a prison for political prisoners. By 1947 the then Thai Prime Minster requested a pardon. This was granted and in the same year the prisoners had been released and the island was again empty.
In the same year two Thai fishermen braved the elements and crossed from neighboring Koh Phangan to Koh Tao and established a small community of coconut farms at Sairee Beach. Growing vegetables and trading them they managed to live off the land successfully.

The Backpackers Descend

About fifteen to twenty years ago, the first backpackers arrived from Koh Phangan and Chumpon. Rumours spread quickly about the islands unspoiled beauty, especially it's marine life and coral reefs . It soon became one of the major dive sites in Thailand and SE-Asia, attracting beginners and professionals alike.

Rise of the Divers

In the early diving days of Koh Tao the diving was done using quite basic equipment (some of it home made). Locating the dive sites was often hit and miss using land references and underwater scouts. The Dive Boats were small coastal fishing skiffs and it was certainly for the more adventurous divers. There was no dedicated power source (local generators were all that provided the power) and no police station.
By 2001 many divers considered Koh Tao was in the 'golden age' of her diving prowess. Their were regular passenger ferrys bringing in business and a police station had been built. A dedicated power supply (albeit only switched on from evening til dawn) was up and running and the main road connecting all three settlements was completed. The diving community was postively thriving with less than 25 competing dive schools for a glut of divers. Back then (like many things in Thailand) regulations and laws against foreigners working were a world away with visa runs non-existant (courtesy of Mr Js visa stamps) and drugs in liberal supply and use. A party was on everynight in the bars with the jungle nightclubs booming to the music.
Everyone from seasoned instructors down to humble divemasters all were raking in the cash from the booming numbers. For a time Koh Tao was the world no1 hot spot (knocking Cairns, Australia off its top spot) for newly certified divers in the world. Thousands of divers were earning their license to dive here each week at its peak and the near carnival atmosphere seeming to go on and on.

Changing times for Koh Tao

By 2003 the rising star of the diving world was starting to loose its lustre, tourist numbers were down, immigration clamp-downs (under the Thaksin government) were dampening morale and deportations were on the increase. Also the war on terror, SARS, el nino (coral killer) combined with increased competition by the now 44 dive schools was taking its toll. The smaller, independent dive schools who once could survive by offering budget priced courses were being forced (via the thai owners) to raise prices in-line with the dive resorts.

The rough and ready free-spirited diving that was a hallmark of the 90s and early 00s on the island practically disappeared by 2007. Almost all the dive resorts are established and form part Koh Tao Dive Operators Club (KTDOC) monopoly and the tourist masses and construction operations are overrunning the island. Indeed the buildings and increased capacity now strains the infrastructure. The island is now a burgeoning mass of consumer offerings, from opulent accommodation and food to high-class massage resorts and decadent dive resorts. The party atmosphere continues but with the emphasis on tourist divers rather than the expats, adventurers and travelers of old.

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Koh Tao Map Koh Nang Yuan Mae Haad


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Chang Mai Province Phitsanulok Bangkok Koh Tao Koh Pang Yan Koh Samui