A 20-minute drive to the south of Hua Hin sits Khao Tao, a name which translates as Turtle Hill. Khao Tao tends to be better-known amongst Thai tourists than foreign visitors and with two beaches close by, an inland lake, a small fishing village, some excellent local restaurants and great views over the coast, it’s easy to see the allure for in-the-know locals.
View from the top of Khao Tao hill looking north towards Hua Hin
Khao Tao Temple and Viewpoints
Even if you aren’t particularly interested in temples, the hillside location of the temple complex at Wat Tham Khao Tao provides some beautiful views over the Gulf of Thailand with Hua Hin stretching away in the distance to the north. The temple and various shrines here are a mix of Chinese and Thai influences with small caves and hollows holding Buddha images and carvings of other important figures such as Phra Mae Thoranee (Mother Earth). If you don’t feel like tackling the steps that lead to the top of the hill, just have a rest and enjoy the sea breezes at the sala adjacent to the turtle shrine. But if you’ve made it here it would be a shame not to witness the views from the top of the hill where the giant seated Buddha image looks out to sea. There is also a standing Buddha on a lower level and although it takes a little bit of effort to climb the steps all the way to the top, the views are ample reward.
Turtle shrine at Khao Tao
Statue of Mae Thoranee (Mother Earth)
Beaches and Lake
The two beaches either side of the hillside are sometimes simply referred to collectively as Khao Tao Beach, but some maps will label them more specifically as Hat Sai Yai (big sand beach) and Hat Sai Noi (small sand beach) with the hillside and headland at Khao Tao forming a natural dividing line between the two. Both beaches are usually quiet during the week, but tend to be popular at weekends with local Thai tourists who come here to enjoy the views and sample the seafood caught by the fisherman from the village of Baan Khao Tao. Inland slightly but still very close to the village is the location of the first reservoir in Thailand, a freshwater lake which was developed as a Royal Project.
Hat Sai Yai beach, Khao Tao
Khao Tao temples and Buddha images
Khao Tao and Ko Tao
There is a lot of understandable confusion amongst foreign visitors who get their khao’s and ko’s mixed up when talking about this particular part of Thailand.
Khao = hill or mountain
Ko (or koh) = island
Tao = turtle
In the Hua Hin area, as well as Khao Tao (Turtle Hill) there is also a tiny island called Ko Tao (Turtle Island) which can be seen from the hillside viewpoints along with another small island called Ko Singto (Lion Island). However, the much bigger island of Ko Tao – the one famous with backpackers and the diving community – is located a long way further south from Hua Hin and is closer to Chumphon and Ko Samui.
View from Khao Tao hill looking down on Hat Sai Noi beach
Getting to Khao Tao
Khao Tao is approximately 15 kms (10 miles) south of Hua Hin town centre. Buses to Khao Tao usually travel along the main highway (Phetkasem Road) and then drop off passengers at the village of Baan Khao Tao on the road labelled Hua Hin 101. From there you need to charter a songthaew/tuk-tuk or motorbike to complete your journey along the road down to the temple complex or the beach. Although this trip can be done independently, it can involve a lot of waiting around for public transport especially on the return trip back to Hua Hin town centre. If you haven’t got your own vehicle it is easier to hire a taxi in Hua Hin and get them to quote you a rate for a day or half-day where they will take you and then wait and bring you back at a time that suits you.