When I read about Koh Tao in the international media – a statement that has only been possible in the last two years or so – I literally feel like I’m reading about a place I’ve never been before. What is this terrible seedy island, full of sinister gangsters, riled up murderers and ominous threats? (Every article I just linked to is bullshit, by the way.) Surely they can’t be referring to my Koh Tao, the island where happy backpackers stare back wistfully back from the pier the pier as they leave, already planning their next return? Where expats from around the world create one of the most loving communities I’ve ever been a part of? Where Thai and Burmese locals live a simple life and earn an honest living?
Koh Tao is not perfect. Yes, there was and is corruption. Yes, it can be a complicated and sometimes frustrating place to live. And yes, there was a devastating, high profile, double murder on the island in September of 2014. I will never, ever try to downplay the horror of what happened. Those events have haunted me. Perhaps someday I’ll feel ready to write about my experience living on the island on that terrible day two years ago, but as of now I’m just wishing for peace for the grieving families, and hoping for true justice to be served.
And perhaps someday I’ll feel comfortable discussing the intimate and intricate joys and heartbreaks of living in Thailand more freely. I’ve been criticized for not providing a balanced view of what it really means to call Koh Tao home, even part time, and it’s a valid concern. But while I remain a humble guest of the Kingdom, a country where free speech is considered a liability, I need to choose my words carefully.
The reason that murder case rocked the world are complex and nuance; the reason it rocked tiny, thirteen square mile Koh Tao is simple: it was unheard of. I regular emails from young women (and men) who are nervous about visiting to Koh Tao as a result of the wildly inaccurate media coverage of the island in the aftermath — nothing has shaken my faith in journalism by seeing the blatant lies published by news outlets I once respected following this tragedy.
Here’s the truth. Experiencing Thailand as an expatriate and as a tourist are two very different things. Part of the reason it has taken me two years to write this post and respond to those emails publicly is that I’ve had a hard time separating out those realities. But it boils down to this. Living in Koh Tao is complicated. Visiting is not.
All that was a long wind up to my very clear, very effusive point: Yes, Koh Tao is safe for travelers.
Koh Tao is an island where I happily live alone as a single young woman, where I leave my thousand dollar camera on the beach and swim freely without ever looking back on the shore, where I run alone through the back streets and palm forests in the early evening and I where I occasionally stumble home alone in the very early morning. I smile as I write this, imagining how risky and reckless that all probably sounds to those living in places where crime is a constant source of concern. But here on peaceful Koh Tao, it’s just par for the course. I have traveled the world, and there are few places in which I worry so little about my personal safety.
I grew up in an idyllic suburban neighborhood where we rarely locked our doors – I don’t remember having a key to the front door until I went away to college – and I love that I found an island with the same sense of tranquility. Are there precautions travelers should take when traveling here, like anywhere? Yes. But they aren’t the ones that clickbait headlines are warning you about. Here’s are a few things you actually need to keep in mind on Koh Tao.
Drive and Rent Responsibly
Koh Tao is small island with extremely poor driving conditions. Steep hills, spectacularly poor paving and a fleet of less-than-ideal rental motorbikes equals almost daily accidents. If you are not an extremely confident motorbike driver, I urge you to explore the island by foot (the hiking is amazing), by boat taxi (the best beaches are down the worst roads), or by push bike (there are some for rent in Mae Haad and Chalok, ask at your accommodation), and by occasional land taxi (though they are a certified rip off). You will save yourself a lot of heartache this way. Every time I go hiking I see terrified looking tourists driving up roads I would never consider taking my bike up, and I just send off a little prayer to the universe to keep them safe.
Motorbike rental scams — in which you are forced to pay a ridiculous sum for very small cosmetic issues with the bike — are pretty much the only ones that plague Koh Tao, and they’ve actually become far less common thanks to the newly instated tourist police.
If you do decide to rent, I recommend the following shops: Ollie’s, Island Travel, or Pong’s. Before riding off into the sunset, program the number for Koh Tao Rescue at +66 0879790191 into your phone and call immediately if you witness or are part of an accident. Be aware that there is no hospital on Koh Tao, and medical care for anything more than stitches is a long, painful and expensive emergency speedboat ride away on Koh Samui.
If it’s your bike that needs mending, don’t bother trying to take it to one of the island mechanics; they won’t fix any bike with a rental sticker on it. Bring it back to the shop and stay calm — nothing is worse than losing your temper in Thai culture. If you run into issues, call the Tourist Police at +66 0909975192 (local) or +66 1155 (national) — but avoid needing to call them in the first place by renting from a responsible operator and driving with extreme caution. Or, even better, not renting in the first place!
Be Aware of Aggressive Dogs
When I run, hike, or walk on Koh Tao, I’m not in fear of those on two legs – just four. While the island’s dog population is well controlled thanks to the tireless work of the Koh Tao Animal Clinic, you may occasionally encounter aggressive dogs, and they do very occasionally bite. The best tactic I have found is to avoid eye contact and keep walking steadily. If the aggression continues, take the opposite approach and try to make yourself appear larger my waving your arms, stomping your feet, yelling loudly, and pantomiming throwing a rock.
If you are bit, contact the Koh Tao Animal Clinic at +66 0810905372 immediately. The vet Jae is familiar with most dogs on the island and can let you know exactly what medical treatment to seek.
Scuba diving accidents are rare on Koh Tao because operators hold themselves to generally high standards and the dive community is pretty vigilant about calling out those who aren’t. That said, in the end you take final responsibility for yourself — consider getting dive insurance, remember that the nearest decompression chamber is on Koh Samui, sign on with a dive center you trust, and dive a conservative profile.
Koh Tao is one of my favorite places in the world to party. Cheap drinks? Flip flops on my feet? Ocean breezes? Open air beach bars with no bouncers, no dress codes, and a walkable commute? Yes please!
Frankly, on the global scale of “being concerned about one’s personal safety after dark,” with zero being a perfect utopia of non-violence that doesn’t exist and ten being a hellscape of risk around every corner, I think Koh Tao ranks around a one or two.
Should you avoid getting blind drunk and remain aware of your new surroundings? Yes, like anywhere in the world. Should you stay in groups and not walk alone in an unfamiliar area? Yes, like anywhere in the world.
If you’re traveling solo and want to go out and have the comfort of a crew and some guides, consider the Koh Tao Pub Crawl. The groups are large and ultimately you are responsible for yourself, of course, but it’s always safer – and more fun! – to go out in a group.
And a note about illegal drugs. Drug use is relatively rare among travelers on Koh Tao, but the police have seriously stepped up their attention to it since I first began traveling to the island six years ago. Be aware that road stops, bar searches and arrest are all very real possibilities. Be prepared to seriously pay up – literally – if you are caught with drugs.
Use Your Intuition
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million more times in my blogging career. That same intuition that guides you and keeps you safe at home? You take it with you wherever you go. Reading The Gift of Fear was a great turning point for me in helping me distinguish between anxiety rooted in the mind and intuition rooted in reality.
“Heavens, we’ll laugh again. It’s just that we’ll never be young again.”
I think of that quote, made famous in America after the assassination of John F Kennedy, often when it comes to Koh Tao. I can’t let a place I love be defined by its greatest tragedy. It’s true, Koh Tao will never be young again. But on an island with so much love and life and beauty, an island that so many good and resilient people call home, it’s hard not to smile.
Conclusion? You’re going to love Koh Tao. If you decide to go, I wish you all the love, happiness and laughs I’ve found there.
Note: Late in 2015, I was approached by a filmmaker who introduced himself as a documentarian and told me he wanted to tell a balanced tale of Koh Tao’s most infamous case and the controversial trial that followed. Anxious about the pending verdict and still grappling with what happened, I said no. He pursued the interview, claiming it wouldn’t be an objective piece without the voice of someone who loved the island, and emphasizing that without my input the piece would be overly negative. When it aired months later, I was horrified to find that the wildly misleading special was called “Murder in Paradise” and insinuated that the tragic deaths of other British citizens on Koh Tao due to overindulgence in drugs and alcohol might also have involved foul play. Suffice it to say, I regret my participation in the program, though it did finally push me to write this post, which I’ve been writing, deleting, and rewriting for two years.
I hadn’t even heard of the murders before reading your post and can’t imagine that happening on this peaceful island. That said, I felt super safe on Koh Tao (as a solo female travel) and would love to come back!
Glad to hear you felt safe there and enjoyed yourself, Sarah. Clearly, I adore Koh Tao and it is very close to my heart.
Short memory Alex?? https://www.alexinwanderland.com/2012/05/30/living-lawless-with-the-landlord-from-hell/
I said pretty explicitly in this post that there is a huge difference between living on Koh Tao (in which you have to deal with things like the landlord drama I wrote about in that post) and visiting, in which you’re pretty much just enjoying a beautiful tropical island.
I really don’t understand the obsessive fascination some people have with tearing this island down, but I’m not going to engage with it.
Hi Alex I understand the reasoning for your rose tinted views as I’ve also lived in the Tao bubble,With time to reflect the beauty of the island threw my moral compass of course,like many expats with invested interests I also turned a blind eye to the darker goings on’s!my selfishness, disire to proctect my Tao bubble and not ending up under the coconut trees myself haunt me to this day(lost count of the Burmese that went missing)The recent troubles don’t surprise me,as young beautiful women living on the island your large audience believe your every word,your safety is paramount but maybe a little less sugar coating??appoligses for my negativity,I sold my soul to the Tao bubble be careful you don’t make the same mistake.
Amy, I honestly have no idea what you are talking about and based on the rabid obsession with Koh Tao online these days, you’ll have to forgive me for being suspicious of if you’ve ever even actually lived here. Nothing is more important to me than my audience’s trust and safety and I would never write words that I didn’t believe wholeheartedly.
I never heard anything about murders either, but it’s good to know the safety levels of a particular destination. Will definitely keep these in mind in the future, no matter the destination!
Some of these are definitely applicable anywhere. Thanks for reading, Cate!
I’m one of the readers that emailed you in the past with concerns about visiting Koh Tao as a solo female traveler. I felt pretty confident about going but as a British citizen my parents have seen all the news stories and were horrified. I didn’t go in the end… I didn’t want to cause them any more stress than I had to. I’m going to send them this post, and you’ve convinced me to visit if I’m lucky enough to come back.
I can understand now wanting to cause your parents any heartache. I hope this post will give them some comfort if you are lucky enough to return to Thailand!
I really enjoyed reading this post. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to be living on Koh Tao when that tragedy happened.
I spent a few days on Koh Tao last year and after seeing how steep some of the hills are around the island, we decided against renting a motor bike. We ended up renting atv’s instead, because our AirBnb was at the top of a crazy hill and it was the only way for us to get around. I feel like that’s a safer alternative, for people who aren’t comfortable on motor bikes. Honestly, I personally wouldn’t have rented any kind of motorized transportation on the island if my husband weren’t there to drive us around 🙂
Actually, ATVs have now been banned on the island! There’s a lot of controversy about it as some people felt they were safer and others felt they were more dangerous, but regardless they are now off the road.
Oh wow, that’s crazy! We rented motorbikes several times in Thailand and Vietnam, and I definitely felt like ATVs were safer… I actually don’t know what we would have done if ATVs had been banned when we were there – we literally wouldn’t have been able to get up to our Airbnb rental without them :/
Yes, it is an issue for many owners of remote villas and houses!
I hadn’t heard about the murders but it’s a shame that an awful, but one-off event, should mar the reputation of the island.
I would never rent a motorbike in Asia, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s just too dangerous. I’m a British person, I’ve seen many a Brit bevvied up with cheap booze, then wobble away. On the road. In the dark. On a motorbike. In a foreign country!
I went on a motorbike tour in Vietnam, many years ago. We were in a group, and we all had a motorbike driver who was driving slowly and carefully, but I was still nervous. If you’ve ever been to Vietnam, you’d know why lol!
I do feel a bit hypocritical warning others not to rent bikes when I drive one around the island all the time, but owning one at least removes the potential dramas of renting, and I’m so careful about where and how I do drive. If I were just visiting Koh Tao, I wouldn’t!
I’m glad you mentioned the book “The Gift of Fear.” I think everyone should read it! Plenty of practical advice on what to do if and when you ever feel threatened…regardless of whether you are in a Walmart parking lot or a remote island.
Yup, I’m inspired to reread it again now! Such a great read.
Long-time reader and first time commenter here! Firstly, my friends would attest to your advice about motorbikes as they came off theirs on a steep hill – nothing too serious but enough grazes and scrapes to put paid to any more dive trips!
I certainly felt extremely safe in Thailand but I would agree with your recommendation of partying responsibly, and also just keeping your cool. The concept of face is so important in SE Asia generally and things can definitely get out of hand if you lose your temper and people feel they’ve been embarrassed and disrespected. Even so, considering some of the behavior I’ve seen from tourists, I think Thai’s are for the most part remarkably tolerant.
Indeed they are. Unfortunately, not all tourists behave respectfully, but that is a problem in many places. I’m glad to hear your friends fared alright in the end!
Great post, Alex! I’m curious about the murder case on the island, I haven’t heard about it. The dog tip is really good, ha, I had a run in with some dogs in Pai. I wasn’t clever about it and ran away, I had a tiny scratch on my leg which I was convinced would result in rabies. The doctors were super patient with me though when they explained the dog barely drew blood and I shouldn’t be worried 🙂 I’ve visited hospitals in Thailand a few times, and I would say health care (at least for tourists) should not be a concern!
Unfortunately in Koh Tao there is no hospital, so it’s best to be on high alert there. But I agree, the medical care I’ve had in Koh Phangan, Koh Samui and Bangkok has been top notch!
I’m really glad you wrote this post, it’s great to see it from your perspective as an expat on Koh Tao.
I saw the show that was aired in the UK and obviously recognised you it in, it’s very interesting and shocking to hear how you were approached especially as it was aired on Channel 4 which is a main UK tv channel, i wonder if you could contact them and complain at how you were contacted and misinterpretated ???
After watching the program I, who am a lover of Thailand and of Koh Tao even debated in my head about going back as it really misrepresented the island! I would go back now but that was just my initial thoughts which were saddening.
Thank you for writing this 🙂
I too was disappointed, though mostly with myself for not listening to my initial instincts that something felt off. I was disappointed when I watch the final cut — it was speculative and threw a ton of rumors around without bothering to tie anything together or root it in fact. Another exploitation of a terrible tragedy.
I’m from Cape Town in South Africa – one of the top 10 murder capitals in the world- spend my life convincing people that although it is dangerous, I have lived a wonderful and full life there and it’s a great holiday destination! It’s also one of those ‘more difficult to live than be a tourist in’ places. The crowbar gangs will not prey on hotels, you are not going to be anywhere near hijackers on a gridlocked intersection of an industrial area near a township en route home from work.
I felt incredibly safe on koh Tao where I spent 10 days as a solo traveler getting certified at roctopus. The great thing about doing scuba on the island is most schools have a vehicle to get you to and from the pier if you just ask, or a dive master with a bike you can hop on the back of (and they don’t want to crash as then they can’t dove and then they can’t earn money.
I’m thrilled to hear you had such a great time on Koh Tao, Tessa! Great tips for getting to and from the pier, too 🙂
What an interesting post! I live in Detroit, and the media tends to exclusively focus on the negative… so I definitely see where you’re coming from. I haven’t heard much positivity coming from this area of the world online, but you’ve inspired me to do more research. Thank you Alex!
I agree, the internet has not been kind to Koh Tao. I’m doing my part to show all the love that beams from this little rock, though!
Interesting insight. As a British citizen I can attest to the shock waves Hannah and David’s murder sent through the UK. My American girlfriend compares it to what the US experienced when Natalie Holloway was killed in Aruba.
I visited Koh Tao many many years ago, and watched Murder in Paradise feeling somewhat skeptical but also somewhat saddened that the island I remember so clearly could have changed so much. Thanks for attesting to the bullshit. Your blogs make me want to go back.
You should plan a return trip, Mark! Yes, the Natalie Holloway comparison is an insightful one. It was fascinating to see the way that tragedy gripped America.
Long time reader, first time poster! I’m so glad to read your article on Koh Tao, I’m heading there next week for 4 days and it’s nice to hear a positive insight into the place! Especially after the negative media I’ve read on it! I’m excited to go there after reading your posts for years now! Hoping to do some diving too so if you can recommend anywhere that would be great!
Hey Oriana! Congratulations on your upcoming trip! I’ve recently done courses with Sairee Cottage and Master Divers — both were fantastic. Have fun!
This is an exceptionally well written and interesting article.(Maybe another stream of income for you, would be to give travel writing lessons.) In fact I’m just sitting re-reading it so I can comment thoughtfully. I can remember the first time our family visited Koh Tao in 2007. We learned to Scuba Dive here. It seemed idyllic and my kids thought it was – very much so. But, like any place in the world I knew that if you dig a little deeper you’ll always find some dirt. We found both locals, and Expats and travellers alike to be friendly. I felt safe – was safe and would not have brought my children here, if I thought in anyway, there was any danger.
“A country where free speech is considered a liability.”
This sentence for me is very telling. And take it from me, a person who when speaking up, has experienced her voice being shut down, knows what it can mean if you say something that a power or authority involved doesn’t like. Maybe that is how the ‘Win/Win’ culture of Thailand has been developed. And I think travellers and Tourists should listen to this.
Yet, I still trust the wonderful place and my daughter who was also on the island at the time of the killings, is now back there again and has been for the last 3 months. She loves it and I trust that if she thought it was dangerous, she would leave.
It pulls you back though-Koh Tao.I say this with a dreamy voice. It’s pull makes you want to visit again and again. But like anywhere you need to keep your head screwed on.
Thank you for writing this.
Lovely to hear from another traveler under Koh Tao’s spell, Janice. It’s a magical place, and I understand completely how you keep getting pulled back!
Oh, that whole case was so disturbing, from start to “finish.” It’s sad that someone has tried to generate more drama from that already harrowing incident and potentially tarnish the name of a place that is historically quite safe. Just sickens me 🙁
Yeah… most of the media coverage around Koh Tao has left me shaking my heard. Blatant misreporting of basic facts, publishing photos of other islands, talking about the wrong island (major news outlets referred to this as the island where the Full Moon Party happens…. no) and the list goes on. Some seriously bad journalism going on!
Thank you for this post! Perfect timing for me–I’m planning on heading to Koh Tao in just a couple of weeks, and while the bad press wasn’t going to stop me from going, it was weighing on the back of my mind.
Not sure I’ll be brave enough to leave my camera on the beach (and DEFINITELY won’t be driving), but I’m so excited to swim, hike, and maybe even get scuba certified there. I’m just a little worried about convincing myself to leave…
I should have mentioned that as the BIGGEST risk of all… getting stuck and never leaving! 😛
It is like everywhere else in the world, use common sense 🙂 some people just seem to have an invincibility complex when traveling, or are oblivious to their surroundings. You have some good points, and Koh tao is an amazing place, super good vibes.
The vibes are legendary 😛 Glad you’ve loved Koh Tao too, Kevin!
Awesome post! I just visited Koh Tao for the first time (did the Open-Water SSI course with Roctopus thanks to your recommendation!) and can’t imagine anyone who has been there claiming it’s dangerous! Most of the places portrayed in the media are safe as long as you take reasonable precautions just like you would at home, but Koh Tao felt particularly un-dangerous. Thankfully, it didn’t seem like tourism was suffering from bad press- the island was packed!
I’m glad to hear things are back on track! We had some very quiet times in the wake of all the this media coverage that were scary for local businesses, but in the end, it’s a magnetic island and people just can’t stay away.
I heard about that murder. Though I’m not sure now if what I heard was accurate (yeah, media). Maybe I’ll just wait for you to be ready to tell the whole story. Anyway, “that incident” won’t stop us to visit that wonderful place. Can’t wait to snorkel around the island and taste that famous banana pancake. 🙂
Koh Tao will welcome you with open arms!
Murder in Paradise aired maybe a week or so after I returned from Thailand (with my last stop being Koh Tao)and watching I couldn’t help but feel that that wasn’t the island I’d spent time on. Sure you have to use your common sense but don’t you have to do that most places? Anyways I’ve been sure to tell anyone who has asked me how I found Koh Tao that I found it to be beautiful, peaceful and that I felt totally safe. The media love to spin things and scare people and it’s just not right.
Thanks for spreading the Koh Tao love, Jess. Glad you had a great experience!
It was a harrowing event, high profile case. Even the deceased’s sister spoke out on her facebook but was dejected. I saw you on the programme. Be cautious when approached by media representatives. Don’t be hard on yourself now.
Thanks Julia. Live and learn — I’ll definitely be more skeptical moving forward.
Oh I get so upset every time I see a negative media report on Koh Tao! It was by far my favourite Thai island (well, I say by far; I did love Lanta almost just as much), I actually had an interesting discussion with an expat there about the murders. To me, the stupid thing about it is, it can happen anywhere. That said, Koh Tao was busy while we were there (6 months after the incident) and I feel that most of the people viewing the island negatively are people who are never going to go there anyway. But it does make me sad that this negativity is still being pushed on potential travellers, so I’m glad you are dispelling the myths. 🙂
(also very disappointed if it was Channel 4 that did the show as they are normally a very liberal and positive channel!)
Perhaps you are right about the kind of people who wouldn’t go there in the first place. But it still saddens me that there is a cloud of negativity around such a beautiful place. And yes — it was channel 4!
Hi Alex, thank you so much for doing this, it is really helpful. I’m traveling to Thailand this December and plan to visit Koh Tao. I did some research and came across many of these stories plus a recent one about a trash problem. After more research I’m convinced that it is a problem, but not even close to as bad as it was made out to be and not something that tourists will see nor smell across the island. Is that your take as well? Also, we are looking for a quiet beach on the island to completely relax. Any suggestions? Thanks!
Hey Pat! Sometimes quite a bit of trash washes up during storms but there are constant beach and land clean ups on Koh Tao which I think is impressive. So I wouldn’t worry about it too much! If you’re looking for quiet, head to the east coast of the island. It’s divine! Enjoy!
Hey Alex! I’m planning on heading to Koh Tao in March 2017 to spend circa 2 months there getting healthy (learning Muay Thai, hiking) and I was wondering if you could recommend a good resource/way of finding decent long-term accommodation.
I’m into ‘living like a local’ so I’d love to find an apartment to rent (obv the cheaper the better!) while I’m out there. I thought I’d ask you because your blog was what influenced me to chose Koh Tao in the first place 🙂
I’ve travelled solo before so I’m happy to just rock up there and ask around, but thought I’d check to see if you’ve got any tips?
Thanks so much!
That sounds like an amazing two months, Vera. I love it! I recommend joining the group Koh Tao Rooms for Rent on Facebook, but depending on where your budget is, you may have the best luck simply walking around and knocking on doors/calling numbers on “for rent” signs. At the lower end of the renting spectrum (10-13K a month and under) you won’t find them online. Higher end places will generally be listed on Facebook. Hope that helps! Good luck!
Really interesting article. I was actually in Koh Tao about 2 weeks after those murders (the week that the suspects were charged). It was a horrific and tragic event but these things happen everywhere. I’m from beautiful and calm West Cork in Ireland and things like this have previously happened in our area too.
When we were there, we never felt unsafe at all, in fact it was the place that we all enjoyed the most. We didn’t actually go scuba diving but just ventured around the island for the days and enjoyed the social events at night. That pub crawl was a real highlight for us.
There was also a great restaurant there (Susies I think it was called or a variation of that. It was right across from the simple Life hotel) – it had amazing curries!
Anyway, the point of this comment is just to agree with everything you said. My first trip to Thailand was just a holiday but we are going back as a part of our backpacking trip and I can’t wait to show off this place to my boyfriend!
Hey Fiona, thanks for sharing your perspective. It warms my heart to hear you had such a wonderful time here and double awesome to hear you are coming back!
Have you heard about the recent murders and missing people in Koh Tao? I’ve heard there are a few gangs that own the island called “families” and that there are only 7 police officers on the entire island.
I’ve been hearing about things like this recently and I am supposed to be travelling to Koh Tao in May as a female solo traveller.
I assume the missing person you are referring to is this one, which appears to have been a tragic freediving accident — it’s a sport that’s quite dangerous to do alone. Any murders you may be hearing about are just rehashed media drama — I’ve been here since November and can assure you it’s been all clear on the murder front (sorry to be flip, but it’s hard living here and seeing so many lies online!)
And I can certainly assure you there are far more than seven police offers on Koh Tao now. That may have been the number when I first started visiting eight years ago, but these days there are more than double that number every time there’s a traffic stop!
Hundreds of solo female travelers arrive on Koh Tao every single day. I was once one of them. You’ll have a wonderful time 🙂
Thanks for this post, I was quite chocked about the media around the murders in Koh tao…
I am coming over in end of august, for the diving season! Your post made me confident of my choice, so thanks for that!!
Wow, you are living there for 8 years!! Amazing! Do you know a any PADI courses that you could recommend?
Hey Fernanda, so glad to hear that! Do you mean PADI specialties? Some of my favorite PADI courses are the Nitrox course, the solo diver course, and sidemount! (I’ve actually reviewed each of them on this blog — you can find the post via the search bar.) Enjoy!
I love your passion for defending this place but something or someone is really off. I do believe you it’s a great peaceful island, but something is off and the Thai don’t like it out in the media.
1: A young but experienced female Belgian backpacker traveling solo got hung in the woods in April of this year… The mother of the girl got send off with a suicide explanation, while they found her wrapped with clothes and an empty jerrycan next to her. Police is not willing to share pictures or an autopsy which is normally standard procedure. 3 Days before she had a call about going home, ticket was booked, nothing suspicious. 3 days later she was found in the woods behind her hotel. Her backpack was send out to her destination not by her self.
2: Another male French tourist was found in his bungalow hanging, again police said it was suicide, but his hands were tied to his back…
3: A Russian girl is still missing since march this year and never heard of…
All this in a relative short period ( 2 years )…
This all in surplus to the murders of the two tourists you won’t describe yet. I think the Thai police should be straight, something is wrong and they need to fix it!
Peter, all I can say is the media doesn’t just blow things out of proportion — it flat out gets facts wrong, and they do so on a very regular basis on Koh Tao. I’m not on the island right now and it sounds like most information is still very unclear about the Belgian girl who is in the media this week, but as for the Russian girl it is very widely accepted that she went freediving alone and died from a shallow water blackout, the exact reason freedivers are extensively trained never to practice alone. There is literally zero credible evidence to support any other theory, and plenty to support that one. However, a simple diving accident doesn’t make for the most exciting headlines.
Conspiracy theorists around the world are now obsessed with Koh Tao, but we are still the same low key island we’ve always been.
I was visiting the island when the murders took place. They actually took place about 100 metres from where I was sleeping.
The event really shook me. I had been walking to my dive school very early morning about half an hour after the event. They later showed footage of my hotel surveillance of possible murderers, just before I was walking there. (I was actually a little surprised nobody asked me if I saw anything…not that I did. I walked all the way up Sairee beach (on the little road next to it) with nobody around) I of course had no idea and didn’t find out until after my dive. I asked the waiter what had happened, since the beach next to the hotel was crawling with police. He told me two people died. I just thought ‘how dumb, to drown here’. Murder didn’t even cross my mind. I took some pictures while having lunch of all the ‘funny’ police men and CSI only to find out later in my room about what had happened and that I had just taken pictures of the murder weapon.
It felt unreal. It was my second visit to the island. That such an event could take place in this laid-back place.
So much went wrong after the event. A British guy was taken off the island by British troops because his boss threatened he would frame him for it. The police chief said the whole island was under lockdown, even though I knew of two different persons who had gotten off the island on different ferries that day. Then the police chief started to shame women for wearing bikinis and provocative clothing.
I am very much certain that that killer has gotten away. Why stick around on an island after such an act. The police chief said within two days “a Thai cannot have done this”. So they blamed it on two Birmese. Aweful. They just needed culprits to not harm tourism any further.
I actually am a bit worried about the deaths on Koh Tao afterwards. I wasn’t aware until I convinced my friend to go diving there and after she booked her ticket, these stories popped up. All after Sept 2014. I really hope my friend will find Koh Tao the same as I found it last time. So nice. So fun. So safe.
Hey Willemien, I know how you feel. It was a very surreal time to be on Koh Tao. And yes, I agree, there was so much inaccurate information around at the time, including the ridiculous statement that the island was in lockdown, which those of us who were there know it never was. For me, I assure you Koh Tao still is the fun, beautiful island I have always loved.
Way too many people dying / getting killed. People drowning in swimming pools, being hung, missing, getting their heads bashed in. People being framed for murder. Why would anybody ever ever consider going to this place. There are a million other places to visit that don’t have murder hanging over them.
Gary, two people were killed. The rest has been media speculation and hype. Clearly, there are many reasons to consider going to this place — there are hundreds that do every single day! And this blog is a testament to the fact that I have traveled the world, yet still call Koh Tao home.
Hi Alex,i have booked a ferry crossing from koh samui to koh tao. for new year. but i then read a internet piece by what looked like journalists about the dark side of koh tao.And i must admit that i wondered if i should go to koh tao.i am 73 and i have seen many vlogs about people visiting the island. but having read all these letters and noting your comments i will be coming for 4days at new year.but they did frighten me a little. john
Hey John! I’m sorry to hear that news coverage gave you a fright — honestly, 99% of it is sensationalist garbage. I’m on my way back to Koh Tao as I write this — it will always be a warm and welcome home for me. You will have a fantastic four days. Let me know how it goes!
I found this article while researching dive certification options in Koh Tao. I also found the other articles about island corruptions and unexplained deaths as well as the terrible murder case and trial.
I almost decided not to go because of the articles except that I wasn’t able to find any journalistic sources other than the Guardian which referenced an article by The Sun(!?). I’ve been in Thailand for 3 weeks and came here directly from South America where walking anywhere after dark even in a group has implied risk.
I’m so conflicted because I know corruption exists everywhere to some degree and really just want to get Dive Certified. Do I come to Koh Tao knowing that in a dive course trip its really unlikely to be risky but that I’m also feeding money into a market that sounds like it maybe isn’t all on the up and up(maybe this is true in all the islands)??
Or do I take my course elsewhere because there are hundreds of places to do so?
It’s a really hard question for me as I try my best to engage in ethical travel.
Anyway I really appreciate your thoughtful article and that you reminded travelers that a tourism visit is fraught with far fewer challenges and risks so long as you keep your wits about you and DO SOME RESEARCH about the places you intend to visit before you arrive.
In my 3 weeks in Thailand I’ve been shocked and blown away at the number of other travelers I’ve met who know next to nothing about where they are. And consequently are very vulnerable to scams and inflated prices. 10 minutes reading a “things to know before you go” article about any place you plan to visit would go a long way. No offense to anyway just seems like tourists here often have an overly relaxed mindset about responsibility compared to those I’ve met in more “dangerous” countries like Peru and parts of Ecuador.
Hey Rae, I get what you mean! I have to kind of stifle a laugh when people ask me if Koh Tao is dangerous. Having traveled to some of the most statistically dangerous countries on Earth and dealt with constant harassment and taken care to be in my room before dark every night, living in Koh Tao feels so safe it’s practically like being in a theme park. Yeah, I worry about driving through a pothole or meeting an aggressive dog when hiking somewhere remote, but no, I don’t fear my safety in the slightest when I walk down the street at night.
In my humble opinion, as someone who has been on Koh Tao on and off counting on nine years now, this island is no more corrupt than our neighboring islands and many of the others I have visited through Southeast Asia. There are as many good, hardworking people in the dive industry here as in any dive hotspot in Southeast Asia. I think if you come here you’ll meet many of them — and have a great time 🙂
Well, I’m off to Koh Tao for a month next wk! It’ll be my 6th trip to Thailand but I chose to spend the whole time on Tao as personally I find it the most wonderful place on earth! I’m British, and as much as the murders were utterly horrifying, I also couldn’t help feeling totally pissed at the way the island was portrayed. My uncle was murdered years ago- and we live in Surrey….anyone can can die, in any way, in any part of the world. It’s just so unfortunate that so many articles on the internet go to town on slating this one island….for anyone considering going, just go! It truly is one of the most beautiful places on earth????xx
Aw, I love hearing how much you love Koh Tao, Laura. I agree it was shocking to see the way the media covered the story. The amount of blatant factual inaccuracies about Koh Tao (articles talking about the world-famous Full Moon Parties on the island — eye roll) or about the events of the murders really showed me that there is such thing as fake news!
On another note, my condolences for the loss of your uncle x
I think Koh Tao is pretty safe and lovely.
The most unsafe side of it, is that there’s no hospital, if I remember correctly.
Which has no changed! A government hospital opened about a year ago and while most travelers still head to Samui for serious emergencies, it is a huge improvement for the people of Koh Tao.
Coming back by train from the Kao’s I decided I didn’t need a sleeper.2 guys,thai/burmese got together for a bit of joint enterprise in the carriage to try to lift my neck wallet when they thought I’d dozed off.Lesson,keep your train ticket in a separate pocket from your wallet travelling and hence your wallet/purse out of sight.
Definitely a good lesson to always keep important documents and wallets tucked away somewhere safe! Sorry that happened to you — I’ve always felt very safe on the train, so it is a good reminder to be vigilant as anything can happen anywhere.
Yep,send off new posts.I’m a Phetherbury res.hence fairly near for K.T.
Hi from a former Thailand expat! Have a bunch of Thailand content coming up — hope you enjoy!
hi, i am planning on doing a few dicing courses in koh tao and this will take me around 3 months. i was all happy and excited until i typed ‘koh tao’ into google and the first things that came up were all these horror stories about deaths, murders,rapes etc. the fact that everything is run by mafia families and that the police is also run by them.
i am a 22 year old female, so you can understand why i got a little scared.
i have a few questions..
how big is the actual island? will i be ok on foot?
best place/safest place to stay for 3 months?
best places to eat?
things to avoid?
Hey Joanna, the island is eight square miles. Most people have motorbikes, but I definitely have friends who have spent years there and only get around on foot! You can also get a push bike. I would stay on Sairee, just for convenience — and there’s nowhere I would avoid. I don’t find Mae Haad as charming so I probably wouldn’t base myself there. However I really very highlight recommend my ebook for a stay as long as yours — you’ll find ALL the info you are looking for and so so much more!