A Bit of Koh Tao History…
For most of it’s history Koh Tao looked nothing like it did today. It was likely a stopping off point for Malay fishermen for centuries, due largely to its isolated position in the Gulf of Thailand. In the 1800s, there would have been a couple of small villages, while later on in the 1890’s King Chulalongkorn visited the island – which is marked with a monument on Sairee beach. The island remained a quiet place for decades, with a few fishing families and farmers and not much else. After the Siamese Revolution of 1932, the country moved from being an absolute monarchy to a constitutional democracy (of sorts). Koh Tao was used as a political prison in a similar way to Koh Tarutao in the South. In 1947, the prisoner inhabitants were given a Royal pardon and shipped off out of exile to the neighboring islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Samui.
The island was once again abandoned. The legend then goes that two brothers from Koh Phangan sailed to Koh Tao and settled on the land that is now considered Sairee beach. They farmed and fished and lead a fairly simple lifestyle occasionally trading with those on Koh Phangan.
The Vietnam war came about, which created a tourism boom in Thailand during the 1960s and 1970s for American GIs on R&R. Early backpackers began to explore the Islands in the gulf of Thailand, with dive trips originating from Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. The first full moon party being held on Phangan in the late 1980s.
Gradually tourism began to increase on the Islands, and the island began to become more and more developed. First with a few simple shops and dive huts, then resorts, and later bars and other non diving related business. Larger ferry companies such as Lomprayah, Seatran and Songserm began to serve the island with overnight buses originating from Bangkok to fill the many spots on a growing dive industry. The island developed its two main areas of Sairee beach (which is now full of nightclubs, resorts and dive shops) and the sleepier “local” side of Chalok Ban Kao as well as the busy port of Mae Haad.