Unfortunately more tragic news from the so called Death Island of Koh Tao occurred when on June 4th 2021 the 2 lifeless bodies of a Thai/Indian billionaire couple were found dead in the Jamahkhiri Resort & Spa hotel pool. There was no evidence of a misdemeanour, but the bodies were sent to the police hospital for autopsy. Sadly another case of tourists deaths on Koh Tao.
In January 2018 a British traveler was found death in a hotel pool along Sairee Beach. There were at that time a lot of rumors going around but no one really knows what happened. In the end it was stated by the police that it was a tragic accident. Fact is that they found another dead body in Koh Tao under suspicious circumstances. One of the many tourist deaths in Thailand per year.
Death Island or Murder Island
Koh Tao has already been struggling with a very bad reputation after the Koh Tao murders in September 2014 when a British couple was killed and left behind on Sairee Beach. From then on Ko Tao was nicknamed the murder island or the Death Island.
Will Koh Tao ever be able to get rid of that negative image?
As the love for Koh Tao and Thailand is real, you might think I am biased writing this blog. But don't worry I am not here to promote Koh Tao as a tourist destination or telling you island hopping in Thailand is completely safe. I simply want to give you some more information about the safety issues in Thailand based on my personal experiences as I lived in Koh Tao and traveled around Thailand uncountable times since 2008.
I understand that because I am a sporty and fit 1.86 meter (6'1) tall Dutch guy, I might not be the best benchmark for writing an article about how safe it is to travel to Koh Tao. With all due respect but I obviously have no idea how a small blonde girl would feel visiting Koh Tao. But in this article I express my personal opinion on the safety issues in Koh Tao island based on my own experiences.
A big discussion started when I posted a picture on my 400K+ Instagram account @traveltomtom with the caption that Koh Tao was a peaceful paradise. It reminded me again of the horrible scenes that took place on this pristine island and that will forever be engraved in people's minds. While traveling to Koh Tao lately I was in such a good mood, surrounded by good vibes and excited by all the cool things to do in Koh Tao that I forgot about the dark past of Koh Tao and its nickname of Murder Island.
UPDATE about the Koh Tao Murders
On the 29th of August 2019 the Thai supreme court upheld the death sentence for the two Burmese men who allegedly are guilty for the Koh Tao Murders which happened on my birthday September 15th in 2014.
In August 2020 the death sentence was commuted to life in prison under royal pardon by the decree.
The Koh Tao Murders happened just a couple hours after I was celebrating my birthday on the same beach in the very early morning of September 15, 2014. The rest of the week, the island wasn't the same anymore. My beloved Koh Tao felt it had lost its dignity.
I have traveled to Thailand almost 20 times. The global pandemic stopped me from traveling to Thailand for a while but I was back recently and added some cool activities to my already long list of the best things to do in Koh Tao. This time I also got a change to visit Koh Chang and the Golden Triangle up North. Interested to see my ultimate Thailand itinerary then have a read in the link.
Is Thailand safe for tourists in 2023?
First off let me tell you that if you think Thailand is dangerous for tourists, you are wrong! It mostly always comes down to your own behaviour and therefore I wrote a Thailand travel guide, with everything you need to know. Don't let your Thailand holiday be ruined by your own stupid mistakes! Be a responsible tourist in the first place.
Asking yourself the question is it safe to travel to Thailand, starts with yourself. Like during all your travels around the world the golden rule is: use common sense and when you feel something is not right then walk away from the situation!
Secret Thailand travel tip: did you know that flying from either Phuket or Krabi towards Chiang Mai is 50% cheaper than the other way around. These and more tips for a Thai domestic flight search in my latest Thailand travel blog, click on the link!
Is Koh Tao Safe?
Although they say that the last casualty (guy found dead in a hotel pool) was a tragic accident, the odds are against Koh Tao. Hacker group Anonymous hacked the Thai police stating that they wanted justice for the Koh Tao murders in September 2014. Horrible stories from an island that is well known for its laid-back vibe! Unfortunately there is a dark side of Koh Tao and some people call it the Wild Wild West Island. Rumours go that a couple very influential families, kind of like Koh Tao Mafia style, rule the island. May be it is the truth, may be it is a myth.
Koh Tao Mafia
But please don’t get scared! I have lived on the island for more than 7 months in total and traveled there uncountable times on top of that. I have never seen anyone running around with a gun on the island or heard stories that they knock on your door for a share of your business.
Koh Tao Mafia truth or myth... as a tourist you are not willing to get in touch with any of these things, right? But trust me if you travel to Koh Tao you don’t get involved with daily politics on the island! I am 100% sure about it. So how safe is Koh Taoi? It mostly depends on how you behave yourself.
Note: in all my continuous travels around the world since December 2012, I have never ran into a bad situation. It could mean I have been lucky, but please travelers: USE COMMON SENSE and your intuition and be aware that traveling involves risks!
Koh Tao Murders
Although I was living on the island at the times of the murders and even celebrating my birthday on the same beach a couple hours before the Koh Tao Murders happened, I never ran into any issue on the island ever. That said, it was my second time I lived in Koh Tao and it was the second time there had been a fatal incident.
I will never forget the day I turned 30 and I cheered with friends until early morning 02.00 am on Sairee Beach. A couple hours later a British couple got brutally murdered and left behind only two hundred meters away from where I had been drinking beers and having fun with my friends. The Koh Tao murders had a big impact on the island, it left a very deep impression! Creepy…
There is a big chance you will fall in love with this little paradise. The island is small and gifted with loads of hidden gems and completely deserted bays. There are amazing hiking trails and viewpoints in Koh Tao, it is one of best scuba diving destinations in the world and there are many more other cool things to do in Koh Tao.
Scuba diving is the main tourist drag and when the scuba lessons are over the partying starts. With such incredible sunsets on the main party beach, the party starts early. Loads of beach bars to choose from and happy hours to get you started. Of course tourists get drunk and alcohol makes you do crazy things. But remember you are still in Thailand!
So how safe is Koh Tao? Should I really travel to Koh Tao? Any reasons to be worried? Yes of course! The Koh Tao Murders may have been a fatal incident on its own, but people got murdered. Could this have happened on any other island in Thailand as well? Personally I think so...
I have now visited Koh Tao over 10 times and I have never had any problem at all! Enough experiences to tell you that YES you always have to be aware of what is happening around you and be responsible in what you do. But also to tell you that NO Koh Tao is not a murder island.
The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit Koh Tao every year never have any issues or whatsoever.
Get around Thailand safely
Since I found out about 12Go Asia, traveling in Thailand become much more convenient. Buying your tickets for boats, trains, flights and busses is the safest and most reliable online. This search engine for Thailand transportation also shows you all the available options in one overview. Flights are faster, but more expensive, trains more comfortable than busses, but overnight, etc, etc. Get all the info about prices, time tables, company reviews and trip duration through 12Go Asia. Try it yourself below!
8 Koh Tao safety tips
If Koh Tao is part of your Thailand itinerary there are a couple things you have to keep in mind, but this basically counts for every tourist destination in Thailand and in the world.
1. Respect the Thai people and their culture
Respect the Thai people! You are the tourist, you are visiting their country so YOU should adapt to their standards and not the other way around! Don’t argue with them for too long, don’t feel too cool to say sorry and walk away from the scene. You never know who you are up to, don’t let a small issue ruin your holiday.
These Thai people might seem like little boys to you but they could be ferocious fighters, be careful! Besides that, islands are like small communities and they all know each other. It will always be you against the island. Think twice before getting yourself into trouble! and stay away from fighting with locals.
2. Stay away from drugs
Stay away from drugs! That sounds like an obvious thing, but on islands where the atmosphere is so extremely chilled it is a very tempting thing to do. Island life is all about flip-flops, bathing suits and funny t-shirts, life is at low pace and many tourists smoke weed. Yes, I have been there and yes I have smoked weed myself multiple times when traveling to Koh Tao.
Even now that in 2023 things have drastically changed and that weed and smoking marijuana is pretty much decriminalised in Thailand, it still is a grey area. I lately traveled to Bangkok and saw marijuana stores everywhere. It was something shocking to see. But keep in mind that Koh Tao is NOT Bangkok. Different place, different rules. When smoking marijuana in Koh Tao be very careful!
Don’t forget that Thailand is still ruled by a Military regime. The rise in tourist deaths in Thailand brought more police to the islands and stories of being caught with marijuana are still pretty common. Apparently a 50,000 THB ($1,400 USD) fine is what can happen and your passport will be taken from you until the fine is paid. I don’t know if that is law in Thailand but on Koh Tao, the police can make their own laws.
3. Be responsible and use common sense
Use common sense and stay out of trouble in the first place! Yes go partying, get drunk, play beer-pong, drink buckets, get shit-faced but always make sure you are able to get home properly. Simple things your parents would tell you too: don’t walk along the beach on your own at night. There is a big change nothing will ever happen, but a wasted tourist is an easy victim.
4. Choose where to stay in Koh Tao wisely
Think on forehand where you want your Koh Tao hotel to be. Are you into partying then book your accommodation close to Sairee Beach. Are you looking to stay in remote bays then keep in mind thaT after sunset there is nothing to do. To get around Koh Tao at night you should have your own motorbike or take an expensive taxi ride. Read my complete guide on where to stay in Koh Tao for more tips.
5. Don't drink and drive
In case you do decide to get your own motorbike don't get drunk and then jump on your motorbike. Yes I know that drinking and driving is totally accepted in Koh Tao, but try to not be one of those diving class students that show up in the morning all bruised because they fell off their motorbike driving drunk back home.
6. Renting a motorbike
A common Koh Tao scam occurs with renting motorbikes. The island is very challenging to navigate as there are a lot of dirt roads and some are really steep. Unfortunately a lot of motorbike accidents happen on the island and it sincerely is a Koh Tao safety issue. My advice is to rent a motorbike with insurance. Click on the link to read my article about it and where to go.
7. Don't accept drinks from strangers
In my time living on Koh Tao there were a lot of stories about spiking drinks. Fire show boys were named notorious, however I never ran into anyone that this actually happened to. Just simply never accept drinks from strangers and keep your own drink closely. This is not a specific safety tip for Koh Tao, but everywhere around the world. However you are on holiday and partying, things can ugly go wrong, so please be aware that these things can happen and protect yourself from it.
8. Don't walk alone at night
Another thing that should actually be clear is to never walk away from a party alone. Especially at night just always stay around other people. If there really is no other solution just ask the help of an other random group of tourists. They are most likely willing to help out a stranger.
Taking a taxi in Koh Tao
Well if talking about the Koh Tao Mafia here you go. Taking a taxi in Koh Tao is simply very expensive, but if you are ready to pay the hefty rates then there is no safety issue here either. My mind boggles when you order a taxi ride that takes about 10 minutes and they charge you $20. That is the price you pay to get from Sairee Beach to Chalok Bay. Of course when splitting with 4 people this is fine.
Some Koh Tao travel blogs tell you that prices depend on your haggling skills. Very much not true I can tell you! Prices for taxi rides in Koh Tao are fixed and they all stick to it. May be the significant drop in tourists because of the Corona pandemic in 2020 and 2021 made these taxi drivers charge more sane prices, but I doubt it.
Thai people are lovely, but just like in any other tourist destination around the world the taxi drivers in Koh Tao will do all they can to rip off people. They drive like maniacs, think they are untouchable, are often rude and over charge tourists any time they can! I love Koh Tao, but these guys are a blot on this tropical paradise destination in Thailand.
If you are a solo traveler, taxi drivers will most likely try to rip you off. But remember this only hurts your wallet! Stay safe and always take a taxi at night.
Koh Tao Island Guide
Koh Tao is an amazing place to enjoy your holiday and you should be totally fine! Almost every tourist that visits Koh Tao is not yet ready to leave at the end of their trip and sails away with mixed feelings: happy to have experienced this little paradise, but sad they have to go already!
Need any advice on where to stay in Koh Tao then let me help you book a place on the right side of the island. Adventurous and want to hike to the best viewpoints? Or want to know the best hidden bays or a secret sunrise spot? Click here to read about the best things to do in Koh Tao. About to rent a motorbike? Let me tell you where you can book one with insurance, so you wont get scammed.
I have traveled around the islands extensively and would love to help you plan your trip to Thailand. Take a look at my suggested Thailand island hopping tours or check out which islands to go in Thailand for your purpose of travel or read here all the things I miss about Thailand.
If you would like to be prepared for your trip to Thailand then have a look at my guide telling you everything you need to know when you travel to Thailand: visas, safety issues, scams, the culture, things to do and things NOT to do, the best national parks, about the street food, the travel adapter you need, the vaccinations and many more things. Click on the picture to read all about it.
Still in doubt whether to travel to Philippines or Thailand? Let me help you as in my article Travel to Thailand or Philippines I compare my two favorites island destinations!
Island hopping Thailand
Don't get dodgy boat tickets from street vendors. Make sure you have a seat by buying your ticket online and safe a lot of hassle. Check your Thailand routes below and 12Go Asia tells you all the options (bus, boat, train, flights) including time tables and direct booking options.
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May you have any additional questions please leave me a comment below and I am happy to help you out with everything you want to know about Koh Tao island.