Friday, June 25, 2010

KO TAO UPDATED

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Last visited February 2015
  Shark Bay (Thian Og)/Ao Thian Ok from John-Suwan Rock viewpoint. Click to expand shot.

Saireee and Ko Nangyuan (background) from the walking trail near Two Views


Ko Tao is a relatively small mountainous island to the north of Samui and the closer Phangan, with a variety of beaches and bays.
It is worth visiting over its neighbours in that it has the best coral by far and the best trekking imho. Its compact size makes it possible to explore the island by foot, bicycle or motorcycle in say 3 days. It has good partying but nothing sophisticated like some Samui options. Although known as a divers' island, there are plenty of options for both budget travellers and midrange-upmarket holidayers. And for people who want to escape from the crowds there are some very laid back locations on the east and north coasts plus the south-east and south-west.
Downsides include being a more expensive island than its southern neighbours by maybe 10-20%; the beaches although okay are not as good as the best on Phangan and Samui, and in peak months (August and January) accommodation can be hard to find without booking well ahead.

Ko Tao.
Sai Deng beach, one of the locations I stayed last visit, is the small bay between Shark Bay and Aow Leuk in the bottom right - image from
www.hotelthailand.com

More detailed maps showing bungalow locations - TRAVELFISH MAP OF KO TAO - AND WESTERN KO TAO

Ko Tao from the west-south-west - oblique image Google Earth - note Google wouldn't allow me to place SAE DAENG text to the right of its place dot and shoved it in outer AO LEUK. Google wanted to write 2 YUAN's too (far left). Might be a good one to click to expand although Google's resolution of Tao aint great.


THE BEACHES


WEST COAST BEACHES

SAIREE
SAIREE BEACH - west coast central. Longest and most popular on the island. This is the place for people who want a fairly nice beach and lots of social interraction plus nearness to arrival - starts less than a km from the piers. Not unattractive but the sand flats are exposed and water does get shallow at low tide as in this shot. There is a walking lane behind the beach which the main road parallels a few hundred meters inland - along these is a vast array of accommodation, restaurants, bars, travel agencies and general retailing. No good snorkelling here but I have seen snorkellers along the far headland. I have stayed further along the seaside cliffs past the headland in an area I call South Sairee cliff road at a budget place perched high above the sea called Silver Cliff. This has great views across towards the mainland and a track down to the seaside with reasonable snorkelling along the seaside rocks and the fringing coral reef drop-off about 40m from shore.


Some cliff road places - a good variety from budget to midrange+. The more northern ones out of frame to left like Dusit Buncha have fabulous elevated views of spectacular Ko Nangyuan close offshore. Several side roads climb higher and are the site of a bunch of new very flash villa developments.

I modified this oblique Google Earth image to show Sairee and surrounds.

MAE HAD MAE HAD- south of central west coast. This is the town beach, dominated by several piers, dozens of moored boats of all sizes and is not particularly attractive except maybe for the small southern most section past the pier which can be seen in this shot. Several reasonable places to stay are along here including the long running Sensi Paradise.


The far southern end of Mae Had beach. That's one of Sensi Paradise's restaurants at beach end - hey, pretty nice resort with bungalows/pool etc extending some distance to the right of that restaurant.

Further right nearing the end of the cape are a few small private beaches with rather swish upmarket resorts like Charm Churee Villa.

JANSOM BAY
Jansom Bay is a sweet nicely protected beach towards the end of the cape, deep at all tide levels. Interestingly, Jansom Bay Bungalows is a less expensive place a little closer to town with no beach of its own but quick access to the beach in shot. The resort in the area of the camera is the very nice Charm Churee - it charges a 200baht fee to outsiders to access the beach although no-one hassled me in the half hour I walked around. The resort behind camera is Bamboo Hut which has a bunch of various types of bungalows stretching around the rocks for some distance. I gained the impression its guest could use this beach without 200 being charged.
Note that this shot gives the impression entry to the water is a bit squeezed - in fact it is not at all.

Back in town there are a  fair few cheap places to stay and it takes about 10 minutes to walk to nicer beach areas like Sairee (some cheaper places are along the coastal track between Mae Had and Sairee) or just over 15 to the first of the south west beaches, Sai Nuan 1 which is not too far over the far cape above via the coastal walking track.


Mae Had and surrounds. Labels will be clearer if you click-expand.
UPDATE - I just realised Jansom Bay is mislabled - it should be where the Charm Churee place marker is. Charm Churee is located there, but more to the left of the beach. Bamboo Hut is to the right and extends around the point some distance at far right.

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THE SOUTH-WEST BAYS
A series of small bays start a few hundred meterss around the far headland in the previous images - SAI NUAN 1 is the first, followed by SAI NUAN 2. GUL JEA  is a fair bit further south. There are several other small bays in this area plus the central CAPE JE TA KANG with its couple of small patches of sand and budget resorts.

SAI NUAN 1
 The above shot shows SAI NUAN 1, the first reached travelling south from Jansom Bay - there is a very good concrete track comes around above the rocks from Bamboo Hut's car park up the hill from Jansom Bay beach arriving behind those headland bungalows - 10 minutes nice stroll. SN1 above is probably the nicest of the south-west beaches in terms of sand and size. The resort behind this beach is flashpacker/budget Sai Thong Resort which continues for some distance behind the camera and has another small patch of sand near reception. Cookies, Char Resort and Tao Thong Villa are close and have their own bits of beach.

Sai Nuan 1 from the other (northern) end.

SAI NUAN 2
There are several smaller patches of sand between here and Sai Nuan 1, but I think this is Sai Nuan 2. Siam Cookies has the beach bar foreground left (the famous Banana Bar) and Char Bungalows is at background right. When I did my latest pass-by in July 2013 I thought this area had the most genuine budget traveler/backpacker feel of the area, maybe the whole of Tao.


From the opposite direction - from Char Bungalow's restaurant.


CAPE JE TA KANG - aka Jeda Gang
Cape Je Ta Kang is at the half way point of the south-west beach area. This is a few minutes walk south of Char Bungalows and is the home of the budget/flashpacker Tao Thong Villa. There is another small scrap of beach on the other side of the cape. I shot this from Tao Thong Villa 2, a newer extension just south. These places have a nice budget traveller vibe too and have an advantage of a subsidised ride to and from the pier. Other places wanted 300 baht in July 2013 for about 4 (very rough/steep) km - or a similarly priced and shorter longtail ride.

This south west region with its handful of budget/flashpacker places and one upmarket joint is the most relaxed on the island. Indeed I intended to stay at the wonderful 250baht (low season) Moondance on Gul Jea second part of my 2011 trip until the even more laid-back Hing Wong Bay won out. Next trip! (yep, see below)
It is possible to walk over here from Chalok Baan Kao in around 10-15 minutes and from Mae Had town in about 25. There is super-difficult vehicle access and it is easier to come in from the ferry piers via longtail - not a long trip, but being Tao, not a cheap trip (I was quoted 300 a boat in June 2010).
The snorkelling in this area is okay without matching some of the better Tao places.


GUL JEA SOUTH - aka JUN JUA, JUNE JUEA, JUL JEA...and so it goes
The more southern of the twin Gul Jea Beaches at Moondance Bungalows (now renamed OrchiCliff). Other resorts in this area include PD Resort, Pinnacle Dive Resort and Sunset. 

UDPATE JULY 2013. This area has undergone a big change. Moondance with the peaked roof bungalows mid shot is now Orchid Cliff. The old Orchid Cliff which was on the hillside just right of frame is no more with the huge Pinnacle Resort now stretching from the sea to the top of the hill. That restaurant (very good) at far right of shot is part of PD Resort which has gone upmarket from budget into flashpacker/lower midrange. I stayed a few days at the old Moondance/new Orchid latest 2013 trip - more details incl pix and maps on the TRIP REPORT page.

Pinnacle Resort to the south of JD. The structure to the right of JD's seaside restaurant is Pinnancle's higher rim pool - better seen if you click expand. Higher rooms have fantastic views of the south east coast and across to the mainland - that structure up the top is part of reception and also looks down over the south coast's  Chalok Ban Kao. Pinnacle guests use the Gul Jea beaches and staff keep them nicely manicured, but they never seem crowded in fairly busy July. If you have click-expanded you may be able to see the pool villa's of Viewpoint resort on the headland right of Pinnacle. This very nice place extends around the headland with an outlook towards Chalok Ban Kao beach on the island's south coast.


GUL JEA NORTH
The northern Gul Jea beach - shot taken by turning 180 on the rock the pic two above this was taken from. The resort here is the budget Sunset. It has a bunch of bungalows on the hillside to right of camera and more extending around the rocks in background. Headland far left of shot is Cape Je Ta Kang which is beside the "north-east" marker in the Google Earth image below.

The road across the mountain to access this area looks okay - but it sure is steep, particularly on the far side. May have been upgraded - the booking sites are showing a new midrange place high on the hillside overlooking the coast now. UPDATE 2013 -  yep, Pinnacle's arrival has seen some of the steepest parts concreted. However there are still a few super rough steepish areas which would not be a good idea for novice motorcyclists to tackle. And the walk is still a  killer.

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SOUTH COAST BEACHES

SHARK BAY aka ROCKY BAY/THIAN OG BAY/AO THIAN OK
Shark Bay is mmediately east of Chalok Ban Kao. With Ko Nangyuan, probably the most attractive beach on the island. Also tends to deepen slowly at low tide, but not to the extent of Sairee or adjacent Chalok Baan Kao. Very good snorkelling here, both on the reef drop off which can be seen in the shot top of page and along both headlands. Spotting reef sharks is popular here.

This is a private bay. The public used to have access from nearby Chalok Baan Kao via a path at the west end of the beach - at one stage the owner of the bay was charging a small access fee. But this is now blocked-off (although I managed to find a gap in the barbed-wire fence in the old area where resort staff short-cut in) - so if you want access, it is now via the road which comes in off the steep Sai Deng road or by rock-hopping around from Sae Deng which I don't recommend because even at low tide I had to make several climbs up the cliffside to avoid gutters with deep water.
There is only one budget/flashpacker place to stay at on the beach, Rocky Resort, although OK2 has bungalows up the near headland and a high restaurant with spectacular views - trouble is there is no easy access to the beach . More upmarket New Heaven Resort (not to be confused with New Heaven HUTS in the next bay to the east) has similar views and access. Down on the beach there are several newish midrange places and along the far headland are some real flash joints including Jamihkiri, Eagle View and Bohemia.

CHALOK BAN KAO
CHALOK BAAN KAO in the island's south and immediately west of Shark bay is the second most popular beach after Sairee. Like Sairee it has low tide shallowness as seen in this shot but is a more attractive beach in my opinion. Apart from fish spotting, snorkelling aint much chop off the beach but improves along both headlands, although not comparable to Shark Bay.
There is a big range of accommodation of all standards along the beach and the headlands both sides, plus some very flash joints high in the hills particularly right of the camera. There is a small service area behind the beach meaning you don't have to head up to Mae Had town or Sairee for most shopping and some restaurants/bars.
The beach's western end actually ends about half way across this shot with the concrete footbridge to Taraporn's restaurant bar and bungalows. At the far end of the peninsula is Viewpoint Resort where I intended to stay this on my 2011 visit until I realised they had headed upmarket. I still repeated my best meal in Thailand ever, their seafood sweet and sour, which was as good as last time and only a little more expensive than most budget restaurants' similar dish. The over-water (at high tide) restaurant has magic views of the beach and across the bay towards the camera's high viewpoint position (John Suwan Rock as in the pic top of page).
The headland this side has a couple of budget/flashpacker joints with small patches of sand facing the bay - FREEDOM BEACH is one of the better known of these.
On my very first trip to Tao I stayed part of the time at Sunrise which is towards the west (far) end of the beach, an okay place but the joint has changed so much my experience is way out of date.



Chalok Ban Kao from the east. This beach is way more attractive than when I fist visited way back. Then it featured patches of mangroves which extended out into the bay and several junked fishing boats.


FREEDOM BEACH AND HAAD TAA TOH YAI
These 2 small beaches face Tanote from Laem Tah Toh which is the cape on the eastern side of Tanote Bay. Haad Too Toh Yai is the beach left central and Freedom Beach is the smaller one to right of image. May be best seen if you click-expand image. The 2 resorts here, Tah Toh Resort and Freedom Beach Resort have merged. There is a walkway around the rocks joining the 2 beaches. Those bungalows left of shot belong to the resort.


Part of Freedom Beach from John-Suwan Mountain viewpoint which is the highest spot on the previous shot.


Haad Tah Toh Yai  from the Chalok Ban Kao end. At lower tide levels it is an easy walk with minimal and shallow wading from Chalok. At background right a concrete walkway goes around the rocks to.....
.....Freedom Beach. This small stretch of sand is pretty nice with some good shade under trees in back. The far restaurant/bar was a nice place to spend time and seemed to be the hang of quite a few long-term travellers. If you click-expand you will better see the small beach background right - this is tiny Haad Taa Toh Lek. Even at the time of this shot with the tide fairly low I noticed people had to swim part of the way rather than wade.

Google Earth image of Chalok Ban Kao, Cape Tah Toh and Shark Bay. Freedom Beach and its neighbours are to the right of the "north" marker 

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SOUTH-EAST BEACHES


SAI DAENG
SAI DAENG - south east coner. Small beach one bay north-east of Shark Bay. Two small resorts only, Coral View and New Heaven Huts, both more budget/flashpacker and with dive schools. Similar coral, snorkelling, shark spotting to Shark Bay. Beach is okay although sand is coarser and rocks begin immediately on entering the water at low tide.
I stayed at Coral View for part of my latest visit, a very relaxed and scenic place - should soon have details/pix up in the TRIP REPORTS section.

AO LEUK
AO LEUK, towards the south of the east coast is accessed by a short but steep road off the Tanote road. Some say this is the nicest beach on Tao. Very sheltered by headlands both sides. Sai Daeng is just around the far headland - so the good coral, snorkelling and reef-shark spotting continues into this bay.
Now this is a private bay, and both accommodation places - Ao Leuk 1 and 2 - belong to the same family . There is also another place, Nice Moon, some distance along the far headland (blowed if I can see it on the shot), and according to my map it has access to the beach via a track thru the bush. Its access road comes in from the Sai Daeng road via the wind generator side track - althought I think you can also reach this from a side road off the Tanote Road.
Dark note about Ao Leuk's private status - no beach in Thailand is private but belongs to the King who gives free use to anyone - but you have to access Ao Leuk by the Ao Leuk family's land unless you have a boat. They don't levy a charge, as at say Jamson Bay, but have a sign saying PLEASE DON'T BRING YOUR OWN FOOD AND DRINK -USE OUR RESTAURANT. I reckon fair enough - even though I only stayed 10 minutes to take a few pix I sat in one of the restaurants and downed a beer (15 minutes later I sat in Tanote View's magnificent outlook restaurant and downed another few, 15 after that at Black Tip Diving on Tanote for another few - I tell you guys, by the time I finish one of these little fact finding tours I'm blitzed - but listen, the average Chang goes for 50-60, a banana shake 30-50. What would you do?)
ANYWAY - here's the rub. Apparently the Ao Leuk family gets very aggressive with people who don't play by their rules. I saw several years ago a report from a visitor about being abused by these people for bringing their own food - and the Brit girl mentioned in the Hing Wong Bay bit above told me one of her friends was recently kicked for bringing a bottle of water onto the beach. Crikey gang, you have been warned - it's up to you to decide whether to visit. Okay, some of you guys are probably like my surfing mates - would rather have a fight than a feed. Problem is Thais don't fight "fair" - you could find yourself against the whole extended family, machetes and the works.

UPDATE - MAY 2012
Seems these Ao Leuk hassles continue. Here's a message I just got on the FORUM section of this site from slimlinetonic:

"Tezza, I found your site really useful when deciding which island to visit in Thailand. Thought my experience in one of the bays - AOW LEUK - on Koh Tao, might be og interest: Firstly I have to say that the snokellng in this bay is wonderful. It was like being in an aquarium and I dont like swimming out very far! We went there several times during our stay, eating at the restaurant and having drinks at the bar opposite. So my rating is given for the bay itself

WARNING - However there is a man there who is definitely unhinged so do please be aware. You will find mention of him in other forums so my experience is not an isolated case.

On our last day I had finished snokelling but my partner was still in the water. I had a bite of a roll when an older man (I am in my 50s) appeared looming over me, yelling at me, beside himself with rage. He hit me on the head with his knuckles and frog marched off the beach to our motor cycle. He was still yelling at me and threatening to hit me again. Fortunately some other westerners turned up and tried to diffuse the situation. I could not leave as my partner did not know where I was and he had the keys to the scooter. Eventually one of the westerners found him and brought him to me.

The mad man went away for a few moments then returned with a machete to attack him. We managed to get away then but it was a very frightening experience. All I had done was to have had a bite of a roll - we had spent money there and were going to dine there later when our friends joined us and we would not despoil such a beautiful place. His reaction was absolutely irrational. From other furums I read that he attacked someone for having a beach umbrella. So do be careful".


The roads into both beaches are steep, particularly Sai Daeng's. It branches from the Mae-Had to Chalok Ban Kao road whereas Ao Leuk's comes off the Tanote road
Pedants may notice the direction symbol is wrong - it should be labelled north-west - but it takes too long to change this so you are stuck with it, babies.

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EAST COAST BEACHES
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LANG KHAI BAY
This southern most west coast region has no beach but a number of resorts perched on cliff sides with great views towards Phangan and interesting snorkelling at the bottom. This is the budget/flashpacker Moondance Magic View where I stayed a few nights in July 2013. I've detailed it in my TRIP REPORT. Details much clearer if you click-expand image. The higher modern joint is a flash villa outfit for hire to all you fugitive Wall St brokers.
I think the actual bay at Lang Khai is maybe 500m to the right closer to Tanote - a small indentation in the coast where one budget joint, Yang Bungalows, actually makes it to near sea level.

TANOTE BAY
TANOTE BAY is on the central east coast. Probaby the third most popular beach on Tao, although pretty laid back every time I've visited (but it could be different at peak August and January (UPDATE - well not late July when I spent a few nights here 2013 - will include in my TRIP REPORT section when I get a chance). Beach okay although pretty coarse sand - good snorkelling on this side and far side of that small islet - I found visibility and water depth poor between the beach and the islet but it was low tide when I checked. Mol at Hing Wong told me that silt from storm run-off from the new dams' earthworks high above Tanote has affected the coral a fair bit. Might be particularly so in this shallow section close to the beach. (UPDATE 2013 - much better now, very good snorkelling by current Thai standards betweeen the beach and islet - as good as the best I saw on my AROUND ISLAND SNORKELLING TRIP latest visit).
Quite a few places to stay on this bay ranging from budget thru flashpacker into midrange. Black Tip Divers who has all 3 even has a nice little pool fer the kids and people like Lady Tezza if I ever get her to Tao (UPDATE 2013 - Back Tip have developed a new genuine midrange joint next door - Montalay - see my Trip Report). Some scenic bungalows and restaurant/bars on the steep access road into Tanote - even the highest, Tanote View, was a only little over 10 minutes high-effort walk up from the beach.
This shot is taken from one of the higher bungalows at Family Tanote Bay Resort which starts at beach level and had many bungalows up the steep northern headland.


Tanote from the south 2013. If you click expand you will better see Family Resort on the far headland and the rather garish reception of Black Tip Divers background central. Montalay is just to its right - you may be able to see some of its garden bungalows higher up the hill to the left of Black Tip. There are some attractive more budget beachside/rockside  joints like Poseidon and Diamond Beach to left out of frame.


Tanote from the viewpoint up behind Jah Bar (head for Stone Age Tai Chi)

LAEM THIAN
This tiny sliver of sand is less than a km north of Tanote - you can see it far background right of the shot above this. Unfortunately the resort there has been closed for a while and when I tried to walk in for some better pix from Lang Khai Bay in 2013 via the very high TWO VIEWS, the disused unsignposted road with multiple branches dived down a steep jungle ravine and disappeared! I figured the dude bulldozing this road had run out of money. Of course I had taken a wrong turn - after 2 hours plus of some of the steepest/roughest slopes in the Thai islands. Duh! 
And with 2 hours+ of impossibly steep and rough slogging back to a cold beer on the high cliffs at Moondance Magic View I was in no mood to explore the other branches of track.


Determined to get a pic, I remembered quite a few Tao booking sites still have Laem Thian Huts on their list - that's a worry. But at least it gave me access to a shot for you - I ripped this pic off http://www.kohtaoonline.com/accommodation.htm


Lang Khai Bay area, Tanote Bay and Laem Thian juxtaposition. Note I may have cranked the vertical exaggeration up a bit on this transverse Google Earth image - but those hills (more like mountains) sure are high. And steep!!


I was determined to get there, so in Feb 2015 I made sure I took the right track - keep going straight ahead on the track from Sairee even if some of the side branches look in better shape. . Indeed the track down to  Laem Thian wasn't in great shape and neither was the abandoned resort when I got there. The beach is relatively tiny and the prevailing winds of Feb had washed a lot of rubbish and scum into the bay.

HING WONG BAY
HING WONG BAY - this wonderful place is towards the north of the east coast. It contains the best snorkelling and coral I've found on Tao immediately to both sides off the end of the pier in shot, where big submerged granite boulders have attracted lots of good coral and fish and are spaced closely so that there are many narrow canyons to explore. The pier belongs to Hing Wong Resort (which you hit at the end of the access road in from distant Sairee), the place I stayed second part of the latest visit. Their rockside restaurant terrace (great views, budget prices) can be seen to the right of frame. The handful of budget and flashpacker bungalows with better views are scattered up the steep hillside. Note that Hing Wong Resort doesn't mind daytrippers using the pier - everyone else seems to, including dive boats and even fishing boats replenishing supplies. Naturally if you spend a bit of time in their restaurant they appreciate it.
There are 3 other places to stay in the bay - Mol's Homestay and Bar, a very small joint which is behind Hing Wong Resort's restaurant - View Rock Resort, a nice budget/flashpacker joint about 250 m out of frame to the left of shot with a big range of newish bungalows spread up a fiendishly steep hillside (killer views naturally), a slightly elevated but scenic waterside restaurant and a dive operation - and the incongruously modern ShangriLa Apartments which can be just seen poking out from behind a huge boulder in the top-right quarter of the shot. A Brit girl owner told me these are available from around 30k sterling (smaller ones). Crikey, that's value but beware, foreign ownership of Thai property is full of traps.
The bay was worked over pretty well by dive boats and daytripping snorkelling boats - I saw several of the latter moored at the far headland about midway along. The area immediately left of View Rock's restaurant was pretty good for snorkelling too.

Note no beach at Hing Wong (well there are a couple of very small hard to access patches of sand), but plenty of big flat boulders to sun on.

This shot was taken from Green Tree Resort, a super friendly budget place blew me away previous visit. Unfortunately it was shut down latest visit, although Mol told me the whole joint was available for hire. Anyone wanna run a resort with me?


View Rock Resort. Attracive joint with a nice seafront restaurant. The slog up the hill to the bungalows will test fitness however.

I couldn't fit the View Rock Resort label in adjacent its symbol.

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NORTH COAST BEACH

MANGO BAY
MANGO BAY is in the far north is the most isolated on the island - but having said that, probably no more than 9km from the arrivals piers (although Mango Bay Resort here brings guests in by longtail - the access road while in fairly good condition is super steep and termintates at least 130m above sea level - its rather nice bungalows are spaced down the precipitous slope with a scenic restaurant perched maybe 10m above the seaside rocks and a nice sundeck below with good access to the water). This bay is kinda like Hing Wong, mainly rocks, good snorkelling and diving - although it does have a beach, a small patch of sand in front of the other resort, Ao Muang Resort. And both resorts are more flashpacker-midrange.
This shot is taken from Mango Bay Resort's sundeck, which I found more attractive than the beach which can only be accessed from here by swimming. Note there are quite good coral and fishies close to the rocks between here and Ao Muang. By the disposition of snorkelling daytrip boats, other places in the bay are pretty good too.


If you want a real good workout walk or cycle from Sairee to Manga Bay and back.

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OFFSHORE ISLAND BEACH












Ko Nangyuan (image Panoramio-janols)












Nangyuan about one km off mainland Tao's north-west coast consists of 3 lumps of rock connected by a white sand spit. Arguably the beach here is the nicest at Tao, although in recent years some would say it has been spoiled by the addition of beach lounges and umbrellas.
I used to think the snorkelling and coral here was the best at Tao, but I now reckon Hing Wong can match it. There is one resort here, Ko Nangyuan Dive Resort (although non-divers are encouraged, particularly since its hike upmarket in the noughties). There is a range of bungalows from flashpacker into midrange both in back of the beach and up the precipitous slopes of those lumps of rock. The latter have great views, particulary when the lights of the night diving classes start to flash and arc thru the water.
I noticed that Lomprayah's fast catamaran ferry now calls in at the Nangyuan pier on its Samui-Phangan-Tao-Chumpon and reverse runs. The resort also runs a shuttle into Mae Had pier, free for guests, several times a day. Daytrippers also come across on longtails - so many that the resort now imposes a 100b entry fee for non-residents. I have stayed on Nangyuan twice, but both before the place headed upmarket.

UPDATE 2013
They sure do pack 'em in. Nangyuan resort takes only 100-200 resident guests at most but daytime 1000-1600 sees the beach packed with day-trippers who pay a 100 baht entrance fee. Still a sublime place before and after they arrive - and for people-watchers like me, good value when they are here. 
I visited in late July 2013, intent on doing a separate island page for Ko Nangyuan.



I also stayed on the island in Feb 2015 and found it is maybe a better place to day-trip than stay these days - have put a report on the above liknk.

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OTHER BEACHES AND BAYS
2010 - I haven't had a chance to get into Laem Thian yet, a tiny bay with a small patch of sand north of Tanote but accessed from the Hing Wong road. The basic resort there gets good reviews from people who want seclusion and apparently they pick up free from the ferries.
I also haven't been into Lang Khai, another tiny bay south of Tanote with 3 simple bungalow operations. I understand there's no real beach here, but if it is as good at Hing Wong, that's no failure in my eyes.
Snorkelling at both these locations is said to be good.
UPDATE 2013 - well I managed to stay at Lang Khai latest trip - but as detailed up page, got lost on the way to Leam Thian. Pre trip, I did plan to stay a few nights at Laem Thian Hut but read on good old travelfish.org that it had closed which was confirmed by locals on arrival.



GETTING AROUND ON TAO


TAXIS - most people think those new hillside pool-villas overlooking Ko Nangyaun are for fugitive Wall Street derivitives traders. Don't believe it - this is where the Tao taxi mafia live. These guys have formed a cartel and charge western prices - they will ask 400 for the 4km into Sae Daeng - immediately drop it to the standard 300 if they find you were not born last night and say they can't do it any lower. I waited until the scrum at the ferry arrival area had cleared, figuring there will be some taxis without a fare - sure enough I got a ride for 200. Still way high.
Their excuse is the crap roads, which is nonsense - many Australian regions have equally bad roads and the taxis charge no more despite the cost of living/driving/insuring etc being higher by a factor of 10.
Best deals are to popular places like Sairee and Chalok Baan Kao which are shorter and usually have other people to share the cost - which should work out as standard price plus say 50b for every extra passenger. Bet it often turns out much more. Taxi mafia math - standard price = 200 + 3 extra passengers at 50 each = 450 divided by 4 passengers in total = driver demands 150 each. Total 600.
Note many bungalows meet ferries for a free or discounted pick-up, and run a discounted shuttle into town several times per day.
Tao taxi tycoon takes travellers to Tanote.
Actually this could be one of the resort shuttles - I noticed Black Tip Divers did an hourly run for 120b
I talk a lot on this page about steep roads - check the gradient on those telephone lines - must be one in four which most cars without a low-range as per most 4wds will not climb without a run-up.


2013 taxi prices - read 'em and weep. I couldn't find this sign in Feb 2015: maybe they got embarrassed.

LONGTAILS - some of those hillside villas are for the longtail cartel. How about 300b for less than 3km into Gul Jea in the island's south west?
Longtail bandit gets his one daily fare which covers the monthly mansion mortgage, bank repayment on the Lexus, the kids' tuition at Chumpon U and a Lomprayah VIP fare for the wife's big Samui shopping safari to bag the 160cm plasma screen

MOTORCYLES - there are thousands of bikes for hire on the island from basic mopeds thru big dirt-bikes to Harleys. For travel around the Sairee-Had Mae-Chalok strip they are ideal because roads are paved and fairly flat. But care must be taken going into other beaches because even though more of the roads are paved there are still significant sections of super-steep and rough dirt where it is all too easy to lock up a brake, slide into a transverse rut and go down. If you damage the bike you will be up for western repair prices X 10 - if you ding yourself or girlfriend/boyfriend you could ruin your holiday. Take care!
Note that more expensive 4 wheeled ATV bikes are available in large numbers - these still need care. I saw one guy lock up his brakes and do a slide. Lock your front brakes and you have no steering - lock the rear and the back end slides out. If the brakes lock, get off them momentarily.
Note there have been several complaints on travel sites about motorcycle rental rip-offs on Tao recently - specifically people being hit for huge damage bills for small scrapes or for no damage at all. One place mentioned is Owen Motorcycle Rental. Some posters suggested it is a good idea to photograph any existing damage before you leave the joint, and to carry an expired passport to give as "security" when renting.

BICYCLES
- are available in a few places, not that much cheaper than motorcycles. And I always carry a small tool-kit to rebuild one at the start - they are usually wrecks.
Note you will have the same control problems on steep descents and I find the brakes harder to modulate than on motorcycles (I've gone head-over-turkey a total of 5 times on Tao, Phangan and Jum. These days I have no hesitation walking down the steepest rutted slopes, although I'm sure a mountain bike pro would call me pussy and go them kamikaze) - and the ascents are so steep they would have Lance Armstrong walking after a while.
The two latest trips I decided to give the bicycles a miss and walk into the distant beaches - I found because I was not pushing 20 extra kg up those horrendous slopes* I actually arrived a lot less exhausted despite taking considerably longer.
*how steep? Well on one concrete section out of Coral View at Sai Daeng latest trip I was fearful that if it was still wet with rain when I returned I would slide down despite being on foot - luckily it had dried but I still had to walk down crab-style otherwise I would have inadvertently broken into an uncontrolled run. There were similar slopes on the roads into Mango Bay, Hin Wong, Ao Leuk and Tanote. I find when walking down super steep dirt roads the best bet is to walk IN the transverse ruts where there are usually rocks etc for traction. The smooth dirt between the ruts means you start sliding and fall on your arse. Hey, maybe golf spikes would be the go.


ROAD IMPROVEMENTS

One of the biggest changes from my 2006 visit was that concrete sections had been extended considerably on most of the roads into the beaches. The main west coast road from north of Sairee thru town to Chalok in the south has been all concrete for years.
Tanote - about half the road is now paved. However there are still a few rough steep sections which need caution.
Work on the Tanote road 2010. I think this may have been a wash-away last wet season -women behind the camera were building wire baskets at left which are filled with rocks and dropped into gully at right to act as a retaining wall.

Ao Leuk - this leaves the Tanote road where it is still paved and the super steep side road into Ao Leuk is 80% paved too. But there was one horendous dirt section. Note it would take 5 minutes to walk from this to the beach - the whole side road is only a 10 minute walk.
Hing Wong - this is now about 40% paved. But there are still several rough steep sections needing respect including one paved but super steep and breaking-up concrete section where some nice skid marks showed difficulty of keeping braking control in such conditions.
Mango Bay - despite being the longest road on the island (maybe 10km town pier to bay), this probably has the best surface conditions. The access road leaves the Hing Wong Road about half way along before the worst patches of the latter are encountered and maybe 90% of that the Mango road itself is paved (some super steep sections though).
Most of the Mango Bay road has been paved. Super steep sections though - although this doesn't look steep (I think the focal-length on my elcheapo point-and-shoot Canon adds depth - perhaps I should shoot these with some telephoto?) the slope was actually 3 times steeper than it appears. Girl on back of bike had to dismount because it was conking out on the part just in front of camera. Two following bikes had to stop - are having trouble starting again.

I don't think any of the unpaved parts into Mango were super dangerous, although if you decide to check the Viewpoint side track about 2km from Mango, leave your bike at the main road restaurant and walk it - we are talking 300m and I saw an ATV lose control on this short section.
Note the Mango Bay vehicle parking area is at least 130m above sea level and the walk down and up is major steep - it took me 10 minutes to walk back up and I'm used to walking and running in a very hilly home town. Hey, but then it took me another 20 minutes to walk up to the Viewpoint. I was exhausted, and I'm so fit I got muscles on my boogers and toned eyelashes.
Walk into Mango Bay Resort - not too bad once you reach the bungalow area with its pathways but rough and very steep the first half of the trip from the vehicle parking area. You can see why they normally shuttle guests in by longtail. Hey, if you are not fit specify a lower bungalow - plenty down near the water. These ones are at least 50m above sea-level. Alternatively, if you are not fit you will be by the end of the visit.

Two Views Track - this leaves the Tanote road near Tanote View restaurant and climbs up past the new dams, eventually reaching the highest viewpoint on the island. The track continues on, dropping precipitously to eventually join the Hing Wong road a fairly short distance out of Sairee - or you can backtrack 400m or so to a hairpin junction where a branch goes down to Sairee further south towards the Mae Had end. Unless you are the world champ autocrosser don't attempt to ride Two Views track - you will kill yourself. Some of the transverse ruts were big enough to swallow a bike. Nice enough track to walk view-wise though - if you're fit. See the trekking section.

Note that all these super steep rough dirt sections could be considerably worse during the October into Jan wet season and just after. But it could depend on whether some dude puts a grader over the road. For instance lots of hillside villas were being built on the descent into Sairee on the Two Views track and no way will they sell them if they don't improve the road. I wondered how the hell they got their concrete and masonry delivery trucks in.


WALKING
- because of its compact size, it is possible to walk to all Tao locations - although Mango and Tanote are a bit of a reach. Note all except the Sairee-Town-Chalok strip have serious hills and I would not personally cart my luggage in or out of any of those.
Some rough times for good walkers:
Town (Mae Had) to Sairee (nearest end-furthest) - 10minutes to 30
Town - South Sairee cliff road (nearest end-furthest - 30m to 50
Town to Chalok Baan Tao - 25 minutes
Town to south west beaches (nearest-furthest) - 25 to 40 minutes
Town to Shark Bay/Ao Thain Ok - 30 minutes
Town to Sai Daeng - 45 minutes
Town to Ao Leuk - 40 minutes
Town to Tanote - 100 minutes
Town to Hing Wong - 90 minutes
Town to Mango Bay - 120 minutes
Tanote road to Two Views to Hing Wong Road or south Sairee - 70 minutes+

Most of these are great for trekkers with some nice viewpoints along the way. I'll do a separate section on Trekking later.
Note there is a very good FREE MAP handed out everywhere which shows virtually all roads and tracks plus a lot of accommodation locations, important businesses and points of interest. Very handy for motorcyclists too of course.



DIVING

This is a huge industry in Tao with dozens of dive outfits and a very big range of close dive sites. Even in June 2010 when the aftermath of the Thai political upheaval and world economic crisis had turned shoulder season into low season there seemed to be dive boats parked or zipping everywhere.
I'm not a diver so can't give recommendations - in the absence of information on quality of instruction maybe it comes down to type of boat used, quality of the often free or subsidised accommodation.
I can say that Tao has a good rep for instruction. Some dive instructors from Pattaya told me Tao trained instructors were given employment preference in other areas.
Divers working from flash speedboat near Ao Muang Resort's beach, Mango Bay

Cruise boat at left spent several hours parked at the south end of Hing Wong Bay and then moved across in front of Hing Wong Resort's pier - it seemed to be a diving-snorkelling live-aboard. They were doing night dives and snorkelling here. Other lit boats are fishing boats.


SNORKELLING
In the beach descriptions I've already indicated good snorkelling areas. To recap, just about any bay in the eastern half of the island from Shark Bay in the south to Mango Bay in the north - plus Ko Nangyuan in the north-west has pretty good snorkelling by Thai standards. I personally found Hing Wong the best but I haven't snorkelled the other places exhaustively (nor Hing Wong come to that). Others claim the best snorkelling is at Ao Leuk, others go for Shark Bay.

Girl in foreground preparing to snorkel off Mango Bay Resort's sunbathing platform. Note she has put tights and a t-shirt over her bikini. Another lady snorkeller donned a pair of jeans and a t a few minutes earlier. This suggests a worry about box jellyfish or the knowledge sleaze-eyed Tezza is in the area.
btw - I saw no other evidence of stinger concern anywhere in Mango, Tao or the half dozen other islands I visited this trip.


AROUND ISLAND SNORKELLING TRIP
Latest trip, I finally got around to doing one of the popular around island snorkelling trips. This was an enjoyable day - the fish and coral are some of the better I've seen in Thailand in recent years although hard core world's best snorkelling fans will not be so impressed. I'll put details in the TRIP REPORT.

TREKKING

Tao is terrific for trekking because you can explore the whole island on foot given 3 or 4 days, and there are some pretty nice locations to arrive at plus rainforest and viewpoints along the way. Note there are not too many hiking trails or bush tracks as such - you mainly walk the roads. But the majority of these are often little more than bush tracks.

CAPE TAA TOH - the peninsula between Chalok Baan Kao and Shark Bay is one of the shorter treks. Keep following the main road around to the left when it hits Chalok "village" - at the end of the beach it climbs past New Hut Resort and OK 2 Bungalows - follow the signs to Freedom Beach. The road gets a PRIVATE sign here but no-one minds if you push on into the area behind the resorts to find a sign for the walking track to John Suwan Rock. This winds steeply uphill thru bush for maybe 600m - you approach the access to the top of the rock from the far side. Great 360 degree views here - the eastwards one can be seen at the top of the page, the westwards one below.
On the way down, call into Freedom Beach for a dip or sit in OK 2's panoramic restaurant which has views of Shark Bay nearly as good as JS Rock viewpoint. Total walking time without stops from east Chalok to the Rock viewpoint - 40 minutes max. Some very steep gradients.

Looking west from John Suwan Rock over Chalok Baan Kao - note neat little Freedom Beach in the foreground

THE SOUTH-WEST BAYS - this is a relatively easy one too, because although taking longer
(maybe 70-80 minutes plus stops one way) there are no killer slopes.
From the western end of Chalok Baan Kao beach follow the concrete bridge across to Taraporn's great overwater restaurant-bar. Walk thru the bar and continue to Viewpoint Resort's great overwater (at high tide) restaurant. This would be a great place to stop for a drink or meal if you were doing the trek in the opposite direction from town - the views of Chalok Beach, the bay and Cape Tah Toh are top class. Follow the steps up from the restaurant into the resort's bungalow area and ask the way to the car park - from here follow the track which leads north to the southern most of the south-west beaches - the tiny twin Gul Jea. UPDATE 2013 - Viewpoint now has a real nice stone driveway heading uphill before you reach the restaurant. Take this and continue on at the top and soon you will find you are on the road down past the new Pinnancle resort and JD past which is the short path down to Gul Jea.
Find the rainforest track near the water tanks adjacent Sunrise Resort's highest and furthest bungalows and within 10 minutes you will be at Cape Je Ta Kang's CJTK Villa 2's bungalows - north of that Sai Nuan Beach 2 with Char Bungalows the funky beach bar affiliated with Siam Cookies - and a little further north Sai Nuan Beach 1 with the best swimming and sand in the area when I went by latest visits. Pick up the walking track by heading inland past the bungalows - well sign-posted, it heads north towards Mae Had thru some quite nice secondary rainforest before descending* to the access road for the luxury resorts in the Jamson Bay area just south of Mae Had. You can duck down to their private beaches for a swim but it will cost 200b.
Follow the access road which meets the southern most road down to the piers in Mae Had village.
*if you are going in the opposite direction you will find a few short steep pinches in this section.
UPDATE - in July 2013 I came across a nicer more coastal route from Sai Nuan 1 into town. Go to the headland bungalows at Sai Nuan 1 pictured up page - behind you will find a very good concrete path going above the rocks to the car park above Jansom Bay (once again mislabled above - it is the bay immediately adjacent the Charm Churee place marker). Take the path down to the beach and then the path IN FRONT of the beach restaurant/bar there - this is a public right of  way.....
....through several nice resorts and ends at Sensi Villas's Mae Had beach-end restaurant pictured up page.

Funky beach bar Banana Rock Cafe at Siam Cookies on Sai Nuan 2 - note when I visited in 2006 there was much less sand and lots of exposed rocks. Bar guy served me warmish beer which was overpriced. And made me pay on delivery - something tells me he had prior experience of Aussie bogans. I declined to repeat the experience latest trips.


The most difficult part of the walk is between Cape Je Ta Kang background and Gul Jea North foreground. This is through a rainforest track high above the rocks - the track is okay but finding it coming from the camera's end is a bit difficult. Amazingly there is a bungalow resort rockside along there without a beach (but I don't know if it is still operating). 
Finding the track is easy if coming south towards camera - just continue on the path above Tao Thong Villa 2's bungalows. Heading away from camera is more difficult - if you have dropped to this beach, head upwards to the highest most northern of Sunset's bungalows and look for the very indistinct path near the water tanks. If coming direct on the path/road from west Chalok Ban Kao's Viewpoint resort down past Pinnacle and JD resorts, go straight ahead and you will find the water tanks and finally the rainforest track.


AO LEUK and TANOTE BAY - from town to the Tanote Road turn-off is maybe 10 minutes walk. Maybe 20 minutes will get you to the Ao Leuk turn-off where the road drops quite steeply for 10 minutes to the beach. Lovely place well worth the diversion but read the info re bringing food and drink onto the beach up-page.
Back on the main Tanote road you climb steadily, sometimes precipitously to about 1km shy of the Bay. Shortly after the road starts to drop is the laid back Tanote View Restaurant and Bungalows with cold fairly priced beer, good music and great views of Tanote. Another 15 minutes will get you onto the beach for some nice snorkelling and sun.

Sweet view from Tanote View's bar terrace - there are a few similar places with accommodation as you head down the hill into Tanote Bay.


TWO VIEWS - make your way to the turnoff just short of Tanote View - this wasn't signposted when I visited but is a wide, steep turn uphill to the left, shockingly rutted at the time. This road climbs uphill past the new dams and finally reaches a hairpin junction. Go straight ahead at the hairpin (no signs when I visited) and keep climbing towards the top of the peak which is reached by a short side track maybe 500m from the hairpin.
After checking the adjacent twin summit outlooks go back down the short side track - by turning right you can drop steeply to the North-Sairee to Hing Wong road not too far from Sairee - by backtracking to the hairpin you can walk a track that drops to the main north-south road concrete road in south-Sairee closer to Mae Had.
Killer slopes on this trek and some pretty bad surfaces.
There seems to be a  new road in this latest Google Earth image coming up from bottom center to the dams - could be a good shortcut from Mae Had. Maybe it was there all along and I missed it.


North-western view (bit of telephoto here - see second shot from top of page for wider view) over north Sairee from near Two Views actually slightly better than the tree interrupted summit. The eastern view from summit shows Tanote Bay outer but not the beach. North and south show mainly mountains and valleys.
That's gorgeous Ko Nangyuan top right of shot - if you expand shot you will get a better view of its rather nice connecting spit beach. Approaching storm meant I got real wet a few minutes after snapping this pic.
I personally felt that despite accessing one of the highest peaks on the island this is maybe the least rewarding trek on its own because the views are not sensational and there are no nice stop offs-along the way for a drink or a swim. However if you combine it with the Ao Leuk-Tanote walk which I did there are certainly some good stop-offs.


SAIREE TO HING WONG - the Hing Wong road starts towards the north of Sairee where a shopping side-street heads inland uphill. Follow this up some killer slopes for maybe 25 minutes until the road starts to drop even more steeply into Hing Wong. The snorkelling in the sheltered bay is well worth it and a beer and a meal at Hing Wong Resort's rockside terrace ditto - as is similar plus a chat, maybe a game of pool at Mol's Pub and Homestay just inland.
A side road to the left goes around to even nicer View Rock Resort - it's about 800m long, has killer slopes but a mainly paved surface - and the walk down from the car-park to the nice above rocks seaside restaurant is equally as steep as at Mango Bay.
Hing Wong Bay from View Rock's restaurant. Snorkellers out front are in a pretty good place but better stuff to left of shot. Good contrast in dive boats here - longtail behind snorkellers and old style small ferry further out.

Both Sairee to Hing Wong and Mango Bay (see below) routes.

MANGO BAY - nicely paved in most parts but with killer slopes, the Mango Bay road leaves the Hing Wong road about 2km from Sairee. This climbs steadily until about 2km short of Mango where there is a roadside restaurant with a VIEWPOINT sign - the side track is only about 300m long and the view of north Sairee and Mae Had is worth it. The drop down into Mango Bay resort is very steep, particularly from the resort's vehicle park. But like Hing Wong, the snorkelling and ambience is worth it. I reckon you are looking at the best part of an hour plus stops from the Hing Wong road turn off.
Sairee and Mae Had from the viewpoint just off the Mango Bay road. Nearby restaurant a great place for a cool drink, particularly if you have just hauled yourself out of the Bay.

SHARK BAY-SAI DAENG-AO LEUK
Take the signposted road to the left soon after the division in the main town to Chalok road joins again. The turn off to Shark Bay is only 5 minutes up this road - but I don't know if there is an entrance fee when reaching this private bay (I rock-hopped in from Sai Daeng and exited thru a gap in the barbed wire to Chalock - both of which I don't recommend).
On retracing to the Sai Daeng road it's about another 10 minutes of hard slog before you start dropping into the beach at Coral View Bungalows. The elevated restaurant or beachfront bar are good places for a beer and the snorkelling is pretty good here - the beach not bad for some sun.
On the way out, if you turn up the concrete track towards the big wind turbine you will find a side track marked Nice Moon Bungalows - this soon becomes a paved road dropping sharply into Ao Leuk Bay - I didn't go all the way in because it was getting dark but according to my map there is a walking track from Nice Moon which joins the main Ao Leuk access road just behind the beach - so you could spend some time on lovely Ao Leuk and then go back to town via the Tanote road.


Ao Leuk from the access road into Nice Moon bungalows from the wind turbine

TO LAEM THIAN
There are basically 3 ways to get onto the rough "road" to Laem Thian. From the north:
- from north Sairee, take the branch off the Nth Sairee to Hing Wong/Mango Bay road
- central: from south Sairee, take the route described in the TWO VIEWS trek section up page and then cut down to the Laem Thian "road". Note in 2013 I went by Two Views (mislabled Twin Views here) but I later noticed a map showing the route labelled "shortcut". This is the track I took in Feb 2015 - it dives downhill to the right at the intersection of the track up from the dam (square under the "hor" of "shortcut") and the track up from southern Sairee. It's steep and rough but no worse than the considerably longer route to the west of Two Views.

Dont be tempted to take any branches heading north off the Nth Sairee to Laem Thian track - which in 2013 was by far the best in condition, although pretty bad - steep and rutted. This dropped and sometimes climbed for about 15 minutes until....
...it dived down into this steep ravine and just disappeared! I searched around in the rainforest behind, but nada except a few barbed wire fences. Who puts fences in a jungle? No settlement here - the earlier road blockage attests to that. 
As I said earlier, it appears who-ever was developing this road ran out of money. Maybe the fence dude wanted too much to cross his land. And obviously I had taken the wrong track - you can tell I don't carry the latest phone with GPS. Hell, mine doesn't even have a camera; and I leave it in Australia - no mucking around with sim cards for this retro traveler. 

What's the big deal about Laem Thian Beach? Well to me it's a beach I haven't visited. To trekkers in general its another (challenging) route to try. To others it is the fact Laem Thian has a 15m high jumping rock into deep water, similar to Tanote's and good snorkeling.
Note I planned to grab a kayak when I stayed at Tanote later and paddle the relatively short distance - but I chose to spend the time on the very good AROUND ISLAND SNORKELLING TRIP instead.
As outlines up page I finally managed to make it to Laem Thian in Feb 2015 - was a bit underwhelmed (but I didn't try the jumping rock or the snorkeling).

GETTING TO TAO


Arrival at the Lomprayah pier. I took this from the shed where the resort drivers wait with placards showing either the resort name or expected guests' names. The other ferry companies have adjacent piers.


If your resort hasn't sent a vehicle you need do business with the venal taxi mafia in the nearby streets (unless you are staying in Mae Had town itself).

FROM BANGKOK.
The cheapest would be train or bus to Chumpon and then hop on one of the fast ferries which goes to Tao. Chumpon is a long way north of and closer to Bangkok than the popular alternative of Surathani. Chumpon is also much closer to Tao than Surathani. The sleeper train south (I think final destination is Hat Yai) gets into Chumpon in good time to catch the first express boat out each morning.
I have seen a lot of posts saying Lomprayah ferry company's bus/fast catamaran combination is very reliable - one bus goes overnight too and leaves from an office very close to Bangkok's Khao San Road.
If your schedule has you arriving in Chumpon late pm, there are two night ferries most nights across to Tao and one night car ferry with sleeping facilities. UDDATE - now 3 night ferries on many nights of the week.
Lomprayah and Seatran run two daily services out of Chumpon, Songserm Express one.
Google will find latest departure times.

A more expensive time-saver is to fly to Samui and then hop across to Tao on one of the ferries or speedboats connecting the islands. Or fly to Surathani and catch a ferry. I think you are looking mainly at Bangkok Air for the former (see the Samui page for other airlines currently flying into Samui) and AirAsia, Thai and maybe others into the latter. Lomprayah and Seatran leave from piers fairly close to Samui airport. UPDATE - someone posted me that Nok Air or similar now flies Bangkok-Chumpon.

FROM MOST OF THE ANDAMAN AND THE SOUTH
Most people come in through Surathani. Some ferries leave from the town itself but more depart from further east. If you are coming in via the bus station, the airport or railway station (the last 2 both out of town), there are travel counters or adjacent travel agents who will sell you a shuttle bus to pier-ferry ticket right onto the island.
There is a night ferry from the town pier too, currently at 2200.
Note that Seatran and Songserm currently only run one boat per day from the Surathani coast to Tao.
* from the north-Andaman (Ranong area) Chumpon is closer.

FROM SAMUI AND PHANGAN.
Lomprayah and Seatran currently run two boats per day and the Songserm service from Surathani calls in at both islands. There are also speedboat services.
Lomprayah arrives at their Chumpon coast pier - it's actually over 25km south-east of Chumpon but they have coaches waiting to take you up to town or the train station, or directly to Hua Hin and Bangkok. There is a small budget resort to the right of the pier although I wouldn't call the beach enticing.
The other ferry companies' piers are closer to town, but still some distance away.
Note I found it an hour quicker and 100baht cheaper to get to Phuket via Chumpon depite having to go to the bus station which is about 15km the other side of town. It takes the day boats over 6 hours to reach the Surathani coast partly because they call in at Phangan and Samui, whereas Chumpon is 90 minutes on Lomprayah.

WHEN TO GO
The Tao/Samui/Phangan area tends to have a different wet season to most of Thailand. Normally this kicks in late September/early October and runs into early January, although the fact that Christmas/New Year is peak season indicates that it can't be too bad come late December.
The good news is that when the Andaman and Eastern Gulf islands are in wet season midyear, the Tao area is usually much drier. Sure it will rain a bit in these months but usually sunshine dominates. This drier weather means a second high season in July/August and consequently not the bargain accommodation prices you will find in Phuket, Krabi or big Ko Chang etc.
February thru April are even drier. Note March April can be pretty hot.
A point about Tao's wet season - frequently this can be as holiday-friendly as most other areas, but every now and then they have a shocker. In all the years I have been following Thai weather this is the only place I have seen forum posters complaining about persistent bad weather, prolonged heavy rain etc. This seems to happen every 3rd or 4th year, but not necessarily on a regular basis. So if I was planning a Thai beach holiday in say Oct, Nov or early Dec I might think more about the mid or eastern Gulf or the Andaman. However if these months were the only time I could visit and I really wanted to see Tao, I would not be put-off - my first visit into this area was in a November and I got real nice weather, as good as my 3 August visits.

A smaller point - May in this area and many other Thai regions often gets a little blip of extra rain compared to adjacent months. Usually this is not enough to make it a mini wet season but once again I occasionally see complaints from the Phangan/Samui/Tao areas about prolonged rainy spells.

For the price conscious, you are going to get good discounts in wet season. But note months like March, April, June and a lot of September are usually not wet, yet many accommodation places go into low season pricing. Note too that low-budget places are much less variable in pricing compared to midrange and high-end joints.

MONEY
There are lots of ATMs, money changers and several banks in Mae Had and Sairee. Chalok Ban Khao has at least one of each too. I didn't notice any of these at the other beaches.


CHANGES OVER THE YEARS
I first visited Tao in 1997 and things are certainly different. The main town with the piers, MAE HAD is no longer a small village with a limited range of services. SAIREE BEACH to the north, which had lots of open space and a half dozen elcheapo places is now fully built up with a really big range of accommodation from budget thru to midrange+, plus heaps of restaurants, bars, shops etc. It’s not too far off becoming another Chaweng, for better or worse. The road down to popular CHALOK BAAN KAO on the south coast is paved rather than the dirt track which at one stage worked its way along a running creek bed for 70m. And this road has a continuous string of businesses. Chalok Baan Kao itself, which was a jumble of budget and dive resorts, looks much more orderly and attractive, with more midrange stuff and a good range of shops and services. The beach has improved (they have cleaned out the boat junk and starter-mangroves), but as said earlier it does get REAL shallow at low tide.
The main changes I saw between my latest 3 visits and the previous one (2006) was that many more midrange and high end resorts have gone in, there is a building boom of hillside villas in various parts of the island, and most roads into the bays have a lot more sealed sections.
These days you can buy most things in the narrow alley behind the ferry piers. The rest of town multiplies this 20 times.

CHARACTERS
From the personalities point of view, Tao is of course the haunt of the diver, and it’s real interesting how they get that ‘special group’ swagger when walking around bungalow restaurants and beaches with their wet suits rolled down to hip level. Hell, if I was paying all that money for a course or a series of dives, I’d bung on a swagger too.
Another interesting group seen on Tao more than other islands is the dirt biker. These guys don’t hire 100 cc Honda Dreams, they blat up and down the ridiculous slopes at death defying speed on big 500+ dirt bashers. It’s a bit disconcerting walking your bicycle down a dangerously rutted dirt slope to suddenly find one of these things flying past at head height nudging 80 kmh.
And yeah, after my multiple end-over-enders on other islands, in recent visits I got sensible on subsequent hires and walked my hire-a-wreck Cannondale down the steepest, most rutted and rocky sections. Well, not too sensible. I have a rather immature show-off streak and on the less dangerous downhill sections got great satisfaction overtaking a few motorcycles. However I should mention it is not such a good idea to enter the upper reaches of Sairee village at warp speed if a dog runs out in front of you.



READERS' TRIP REPORTS ON KO TAO

Rachael has sent in a report inluding pix of Andy and her visit to Tao in December09 to the new READERS' TRIP REPORT SECTION.

If you want to fire in a trip report on Tao or any other location please send text and/or captions plus any pix to lajolla22@hotmail.com. Hopefully we can keep info up to date without me having to return to dozens of islands every second year. There are so many other places I want to visit..

2013 UPDATE NOT YET COMPLETE. MORE SOON
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If you are visiting Tao you may be interested in nearby:

KO PHANGAN

KO SAMUI

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If you have any questions, please ask them in THE FORUM rather than below. I don't get a chance to check all threads daily, but unless I'm travelling I'll try to monitor THE FORUM regularly.

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8 comments:

peter said...

Thanks for providing really nice information about such a lovely island. I am also planning to visit a island in my upcoming summer vocation. I also have an offer of discount accommodation packages from
Hank Freid of luxury style as well.

Svante said...

Thanx for a great blog with loads of good info.
GETTING TO KOH TAO
Lomphrayah / Solar air flyes to Chumphon from Bangkocks old Airport Don Muang. Small, hot and cramped.plane but it will get you there in time for the one o clock catamaran. Transfer to the pier is included. Plane leaves at 10 from Don Muang.

Also Nok Air advertzed that they should begin to fly from Don Muang to Chumphon in April 2013

Svante Rosen, Stockholm

Ruth said...

I have got great help from your blog. Thank you. Now I have been thinking about going to Thailand for two weeks after a trip o Vietnam. My main reason for going is to get massage. Have a lot of problems with the muscels. I have been to Koh Lanta, Phuket, Kao Lak, Krabi, Phi Phi and Koh Chang and Kut. I have been thinking about Little Koh Chang, but do you know If I get massage there? I want to go to a place were it's not too expencieve. But the main thing is massage. Hans you

tezza said...

Ruth also asked this question on the FORUM page and I have attempted to answer it there.

Sbipk said...

Thank you nice article.
your next trip…Phuket is the best choice for you!!
I love here Surin Beach Hotel This hotel is very nice clean and the people are friendly. VERY nice hotel with helpful staff.
And I really love white sand, crystal clear waters at Surin Beach too.
Thank again.

darren baunt said...

Some really useful info on this excellent site. Many thanks.

André said...

Currently in Tao & ready to make great use of this post. Thank you so much for taking the time to put it together!

choeng mongardens said...

Very nice post.
Your pictures are awesome.
Thanks for sharing with us.
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