History of Koh Tao, Thailand | Early Origins
Appearing on western navigational maps dating back to the 17th century, Koh Tao was at one time known as Pulo Bardia.
Later settlers named the island Koh Tao (Turtle Island) owing to its turtle-like geographical shape. In 1899, on a tour of his domain, King Chulalongkorn left his monogram on a large boulder on the island’s west coast. Even today, the site is still worshiped as a holy place by the local Thais.
The island began use as a political prison in 1933 until all of its inhabitants were granted a royal pardon in 1947 and returned to the mainland. In the same year, two brothers from the neighboring island of Koh Phangan set sail on their traditional boats with their families in tow and staked a claim to a large portion of the western side of the island- forming the first generation of Koh Tao’s present-day community.
Life would have been hard for these early pioneers who sustained themselves by farming coconuts, vegetables and fishing. They traded what they could with the neighboring islands and Koh Tao’s population steadily grew.
The beginnings of tourism in Koh Tao
In the 1980’s the first adventurous backpackers began boarding the coconut trading boats and quickly fell in love with the island’s stunning beaches, laid back atmosphere and welcoming locals. A bit of exploration uncovered the nicest diving and snorkeling in all of the Gulf of Thailand and Koh Tao soon grew into Asia’s number one dive destination.
As the island has grown a number of other activities have become popular, as well. The region’s only apnea free-diving school is based here as is a Muay Thai training camp run by one of the country’s former champion fighters. Asia’s most recognized underwater video training facility also calls Koh Tao home.
Koh Tao, Thailand Today
Koh Tao has evolved in the best way possible. It's small island charm and character remains unspoiled, so visitors can continue to enjoy this tropical paradise in the same way as those early pioneers.
The natural beauty of the island perfectly complimented by on-island development, so living here is now comfortable. We have [mostly] reliable 24 hour electricity and fresh water, plenty of restaurants offering cuisine from all over the world, and plenty of pleasant beach bars and accommodation.
In generally, the dive resorts and other businesses on the island are aware of how fortunate we are to live in such an scenic part of the world, and as such, have a proactive and responsible attitude towards sustainable tourism [but of course, there's always more that can be done].
The UK Times news paper published Koh Tao as no. 4 in Lonely Planet's list of must-see destinations - if you visit Koh Tao you'll be sure to agree. Great beaches against a spectacular backdrop of covered slopes and best of all phenomenal aquatic life.