In many accounts it is said that Koh Tao was an uninhabited island until before the mid 1900s. Occasionally used by fishermen to shelter from storms or to take a break from their long journey into the Gulf of Thailand. In accounts of certain British explorers though, it is said that there were settlers with villages and palm tree plantations as early as 1850.
In 1899 the reigning King of Thailand visited Koh Tao, leaving his monogram engraved into a large boulder on south Sairee Beach. A place that is worshipped by the island's Thai community to this day.
In 1933 the Thai government decided to start using the island as a political prison. Conditions were harsh as Koh Tao had no natural water sources and very few food resources. In 1947 Thailand's prime minister pleaded a stop to the use of Koh Tao as a prison and received a royal pardon for all prisoners left on Koh Tao. They returned to their families on the main land and Koh Tao was once again uninhabited.
But not even a year later, two brothers set sail from Koh Phangan in a tiny sailing boat on a long and at that time fearsome journey to the shores of Koh Tao. They claimed themselves a large part of land that is known nowadays as Sairee Beach. Shortly after that, having brought their families to Koh Tao, they started large coconut tree plantations that still exist all over the island today.
In the 1980's the first travellers discovered Koh Tao as a gorgeous, untouched island paradise, usually taking long journeys on the island's traditional 'long-tail' boats from the neighbouring islands to get here. Over the years Koh Tao's reputation as a diving, snorkelling and beach destination grew steadily to become one of Thailand's prime island destinations. In the past 10 years it has become the top diving location for PADI scuba certifications in South East Asia. With improved ferries and flight services, getting to Koh Tao has never been so easy. Also the demographics of travellers have changed noticeably in the last ten years. The lone backpackers have given way to families and couples on shorter holidays.