The best health and safety advice for those visiting Koh Tao (and any other holiday destinations) is to keep your wits about you and avoid getting too drunk. The buckets are particularly popular with tourists but are also known to be lethal, partially for the fact that they are easy to drink quickly.
There are various clinics on Koh Tao if you need basic medical attention. The largest can be found in Sairee (Diving Medicine Hotlines) where the staff members speak a good level of English. For anything more serious, you will have to go to the hospital in either Koh Samui or Chumphon, which is, of course, a boat ride away.
Koh Tao Safety Concerns
Alcohol: Even energy drinks in Thailand, which are usually mixed with whisky in buckets, are much stronger than their Western alternatives; even the Red Bull is more potent. Obviously driving cars and motorbikes when you’re drunk is a very bad idea, but revellers should also watch out other people who may be drink-driving and for petty crime like pick pocketing.
Motorbikes: Even when sober, motorcycles are one of the biggest killers in Thailand, so always wear a helmet, even if the locals don’t. All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) are also becoming more popular, with many believing they are a safer alternative. This is not actually the case, as they are easily flipped and people tend to drive them without helmets. Always rent any vehicle from a reputable agency which offers insurance or you could end up paying a fortune for a small bump or scratch. Always check the bike thoroughly and point out any pre-existing bumps to the agent to avoide getting stung later on.
Theft: Always look after your belongings and make sure you lock your hotel room and windows at night and whenever you go out. If you have anything particularly valuable with you, such as a laptop or iPod, it is sensible to try and keep it out of sight as much as possible.
Common Sense: Locking up your bag with your own padlock or choosing a room with a safe is an extra precaution, as hotel staff have been known to have sticky fingers occasionally. You can contact the tourist police if you are the victim of a crime.
Koh Tao Health Concerns
Sun: Watch out for the sun, as even on cloudy days it is easy to get burnt on Koh Tao. Stay in the shade between 11:00 and 15:00 and wear sunscreen at all times. It is also advisable to avoid drinking too much alcohol during the day to prevent dehydration and sunstroke. If you experience symptoms of fatigue, fever and breathing difficulties, drink plenty of water and rehydration salts or visit the nearest clinic.
Scuba Diving/Snorkelling: This is generally safe in Thailand and Koh Tao diving schools have exemplary records, but mishaps can sometimes occur. De-Compression Illness (DCI but traditionally known as ‘the bends’) happens when divers resurface too quickly and nitrogen bubbles get lodged between joints, but thankfully there is a recompression chamber on nearby Koh Samui for such eventualities. Much more common is divers scratching themselves on rock or coral and it becoming infected. Always treat any cut with antiseptic solution and allow it to dry out thoroughly.
Malaria: This is also not generally a problem, but occasional cases crop up in the rainy season. Doxycycline can be taken as a preventative, but this is considered to be unnecessary by most doctors and can mask symptoms of the disease so treatment is not sought immediately.
Water: It is not possible to drink tap water in Thailand, but bottled water is cheap and readily available. There are also plenty of reverse-osmosis machines on the streets in Koh Tao which work out even cheaper when refilling bottles. These machines are usually used by the restaurants that offer free water and ice.
Dengue Fever: This is a problem on Koh Tao and there are several instances most years, especially in the inland jungle areas. It is caused by the striped ‘tiger’ mosquito mostly around dawn and dusk. Symptoms include a rash, high fever and very uncomfortable aching bones. It is vital to get a blood test if you think you are suffering from dengue fever as it can be fatal. It will most likely only occur in the rainy season, however.
Rabies: Unfortunately this is alarmingly common in Thailand and travellers are sometimes bitten by the ‘beach dogs’ in Koh Tao. A vaccine is available, but even those who have had this and are subsequently bitten by a dog, it is advisable to report to a hospital. Infected dogs are usually more aggressive and foam at the mouths in the later stages. Even an infected dog licking an open wound can be fatal, so be vigilant and don’t take any chances.