55km (34 miles) N of Ko Samui; 80km (50 miles) SE of Chumphon
In the Goldilocks comparison of Ko Tao, Ko Samui, and Ko Pha Nang, Ko Tao would be “just right”. It’s an ideal mix Ko Samui’s niceties with a touch of the party scene that makes Ko Pha Nang famous.
Some 75 years ago, tiny Ko Tao, or Turtle Island -- so-named for its outline and resident marine life -- was a penitentiary for insurgents, though few visitors these days would find any punishment in being marooned on its idyllic shores. Until lately, it has been known almost exclusively as a destination for divers. With the arrival of chic resorts, however, the island’s appeal has broadened. Though dive resorts (and a social scene based around the local diving expats) do dominate, there are alsol lots of rustic budget choices, as well as new high-end hideaways.
Just off the northwest corner lies a trio of islets known as Ko Nang Yuan or Ko Hang Tao (Turtle's Tail). Had Sai Ree and Ban Mae Had, both on the west coast, form the main centers, where you'll find most of the budget accommodations and dive resorts. There are excellent restaurants, some fun bars, and Internet cafes along this long shore, and there are plenty of funky boutiques and trendy shops over at the Sairee Shopping Center.
Note: As its popularity grows, power outages occasionally plague the island but the laid-back locals take it in stride, and things are sorted pretty quickly.