Koh Tao, little more than 21 km², is located about 70 km east of the coastline between Suratthani and Chumphon, in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Tao means Turtle Island, because in the past the waters in the area had been rich with sea turtles, nowadays they have mostly moved on to other breeding grounds.
Initially the island was not inhabited, there was only the occasional fisherman from the neighbouring islands, looking for shelter in a storm or just taking a break before continuing his tiresome journey.
From 1933 the island was used as a political prison. In 1947, Khun A-Paiwong, prime minister at the time, pleaded and received a royal pardon for all prisoners on the island. Everybody was taken to the Suratthani shore and the "Turtle" was abandoned again. But not for long. In the same year Khun Ueam and his twin brother Khun Oh reached Koh Tao from the neighbouring Koh Phangan by trying out their traditional sail boat, for that time a quite long and dangerous journey. Even though the island was still under royal patronage, it didn’t stop these pioneers claiming themselves a good piece of land on today's Sairee Beach. Having brought their families over, they began to cultivate and harvest the excellent soil. The first generation of today's community had settled!
They lived a very simple and tough life harvesting coconuts, fishing and growing vegetables, which were also traded with Koh Phangan. Despite the difficulties in reaching the island, the population then grew steadily. (Text courtesy of Koh Tao Info booklet).