The bodies of two British tourists – a 23-year-old woman from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and a 24-year-old man from Jersey – were found with head wounds on Monday morning.
The pair apparently left a bar together at 1am, according to closed circuit TV camera footage seen by local police.
The deaths have come as a shock to tourists and residents on the island, which measures just 8 square miles.
Koh Tao – meaning Turtle Island – is a popular tourist destination in the Gulf of Thailand, near Koh Samui and the full moon party island of Koh Phangan. Home to around 2,000 people, the tiny isle survives on tourism.
Although less developed than its nearest neighbours, it is well-known for its scuba diving and snorkelling scene. Other attractions include hiking, rock-climbing or simply flopping on its bow-shaped beaches.
The village of Hat Sai Ri, where the bodies of the British couple have been found, is one of the island’s busiest resorts, comprising mid-range hotels, restaurants, bars, and a multitude of dive centres, many of which are run by expats. One of the island’s regular beach parties had taken place on Sunday night.
As the type of place where everyone knows everyone else, local residents are shocked by the news. “Koh Tao is one of the most friendly, quaintest islands in Thailand,” said Natasha Eldred, a former dive instructor on the island and now managing director of Shine PR.
“It’s primarily a diving island but it’s also a community. People have been there working in the dive industry there for the last 20 years and are very tight-knit. This news will have rocked “The Rock” [a nickname for the island]. No one would have expected this, it’s awful.”
The attack happened amid government efforts to revive Thailand’s tourism industry after a military coup in May. Martial law remains in effect and, in Phuket, has led to a widespread crackdown on corruption and anti-social behaviour, with taxi and tuk-tuk drivers arrested, jet-ski operators suspended pending proper licensing, and illegal structures bulldozed from beaches.