The first thing you’ll probably have heard about Koh Tao is that it’s one of the cheapest places to earn your PADI qualification. With about 350 dive sites it’s certainly a divers paradise, but that’s not all. The island has so much more to offer than just diving.
Koh Tao completes the trio of islands located in the Gulf of Thailand and similar to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, Koh Tao has crystal clear oceans dotted with patches of vibrant turquoise. It provides the perfect back drop to those picturesque sunsets we’ve all been dreaming of!
Don’t have time to read the whole article? These are our favourite activities in Koh Tao:
To make sure you don’t miss out on anything, here’s our list of favourite things to do in Koh Tao:
New to Koh Tao? Our compact Koh Tao guide shows you the best areas to stay, restaurants you don’t want to miss and many more tips for your visit to Koh Tao!
#1 Dive and explore the underwater world
Diving is, without a doubt, the most popular activity on Koh Tao. You’re spoilt for choice with over 50 different dive schools scattered across the island, of which most are located on the west side of the island, around the Sairee Beach area.
One of the main reasons why Koh Tao is the ultimate diving spot, is down to price. At around $350 for your Open Water Diving qualification, it makes it one of the cheapest places in the world to get your PADI or SSI degree.
Where to go diving
However, make sure to book with a well-known company to ensure that you get the proper training within a smaller group.
Although the safety standards are normally not an issue, you want to be sure that your instructor devotes the necessary attention for each student. We recommend checking reviews on TripAdvisor or Google before you book a course.
Already have your Open Water?
For those who are already competent divers, you’ll also find highly affordable half day diving trips for as little as 30USD. There are numerous dive sites dotted around Koh Tao’s coastline, including offshore pinnacles where you can swim in deeper waters.
And an extra bonus: If you visit between October and December you might even be lucky enough to see whale sharks in the oceans surrounding Koh Tao.
Don’t worry if scuba diving isn’t on your bucket list, you can still gain a spectacular experience just by renting some snorkelling equipment.
If you go as part of a tour, a mask and snorkel are usually provided for free. Alternatively you could take the adventure into your own hands and rent some for 50 Baht/day.
If you’re planning on exploring the beautiful underwater world more regularly during your trip, you can also choose to buy your own set. You can often find good deals around Mae Haad Pier, with branded masks discounted by 30-50% to 1,000-1,200 baht, which you can carry on your trips for a life-time.
The clear, shallow, calm waters surrounding Koh Tao makes it a very relaxing experience to float around on the surface and spot fish from above.
PRO TIP: If you are lucky, you might be able to spot Black Tip Reef sharks at Shark Bay or Him Wong Bay (don’t worry, they’re not dangerous).
#3 Spend the day on Koh Nang Yuan
The cluster of islands making up Koh Nang Yuan are interlinked by winding sand bars and surrounded by incredible coral ecosystems.
There’s plenty of ways to spend your day including kayaking, snorkelling, hiking, or simply just taking a dip to soak up the dreamy scenery.
A round trip to this popular sand bar will cost you around 200-300 baht, with the first boats reaching the island at 10 am from Sairee beach and the last boat off the island leaving at 5pm. Also, keep in mind that there’s an entrance fee of 100 baht.
If you don’t want to spend the whole day on Koh Nang Yuan, you can make a short visit as part of a snorkelling tour. This full day snorkelling tour allows you to explore 5 of the top snorkelling points around Koh Tao. The tour costs just 750 baht.
PRO TIP: Plastic bottles are not allowed on the islands, so try to bring your own reusable bottle or alternatively you can buy your drinks on the island.
The island of Koh Tao offers plenty of beaches to explore. The two main beaches, Sairee Beach and Chalok Baan Bay, are popular for a reason. The beaches are stunning, plus there’s plenty of restaurants and bars to escape from the sun in.
With popularity, comes people, which means they aren’t always the most relaxing beaches. If you want to get of the beaten track and find some tranquillity, check out some of the beaches below:
Sai Daeng (south coast of Koh Tao)
With white powdered sand contrasted against the vibrant turquoise sea, relaxing on the quiet Sai Daeng Beach is a great way to spend a few hours of your day.
It also offers spectacular sea life for those looking to go snorkelling, with sights of reef sharks, turtles and Christmas tree worms. This breathtaking beach can be accessed through one of the two resorts free of charge.
Having been described as reminiscent of the early tourism days of Koh Tao in the 80’s and 90’s, this unspoilt gem is the perfect hideaway spot.
Find yourself one of the empty hammocks that line Sai Nuan, and just observe it’s natural splendour. The tranquillity also invites a variety of fish including orange spine unicorn fish, batfish and yellowtail barracuda.
Hiring a scooter in Koh Tao doesn’t just have to be about getting from A to B; you can make your own perfect day out of exploring the island by bike.
Park your bike and take the short yet rigorous trail all the way up to John Suwan viewpoint for an out-of-this-world panoramic view overlooking Koh Tao.
Mango viewpoint offers similarly spectacular views, especially at sunset. Once you reach the top you’ll be greeted by a small restaurant and juice bar to rejuvenate and refresh before the journey back down.
#6 Get up early and watch the sunrise at Tanote Bay
Located on the east coast of Koh Tao, Tanote Bay is the hidden gem of the island where you can enjoy relaxed beach vibes and rent a snorkel to explore its beautiful coral gardens.
The lush high hills surrounding the beach make for a great place to explore, especially at sunrise. Three picturesque viewpoints; the water reservoir, West Coast Viewpoint and Tanote Peak can be reached from here.
Other activities are renting a kayak to explore the surrounding bays – and make sure not to forget your snorkel set.
For the daredevils, you can get your adrenaline pumping by climbing up the 10-meter high cliff before leaping off into the crystal clear water. Make sure you are up for the challenge, because there’s only one way down!
#7 Celebrate a Thai festival
Koh Tao hosts plenty of annual festivals. One being Koh Tao Underwater World Festival in June, which celebrates the island’s environmental and conservation efforts. Festivities include live music performances, beach clean-ups and turtle releases at one of Koh Tao’s more quiet beaches.
Does your visit fall in November? Around this time of the year you’ll also be able to experience Loi Kratong Day at Koh Tao.
During this annual tradition, beautifully decorated objects featuring lotus blooms are cast away from the shore, representing the release of spirits and bad luck from the local community. It really is quite a remarkable sight.
#8 Party the night away on Koh Tao
Koh Tao has a busy and exciting nightlife scene that is great for all kinds of travellers.
You’ll find fire shows and live music for a more relaxing end to your day. Or you can continue to party all night long at one of the many beach parties or nightclubs!
Sairee Beach is where you will find the parties and pub crawls that go on until the early hours. If you’re looking for a night out and a chance to party with other travellers, you won’t be disappointed!
Due to its proximity, you will also find that plenty of travellers opt to stay on Koh Tao instead of the hosting island – Koh Phangan – for the Full Moon party. Koh Phangan is about an-hour boat drive from Koh Tao, so be prepared for the large number of visitors lining up for the ferries just after the night of the full moon.
#9 Immerse yourself in some Thai cuisine
For the foodies and seafood lovers among us, Koh Tao is a dream come true!
While you can find upscale dining on the island, you really don’t need to. Many of the small, local restaurants will provide you an amazing meal at very affordable costs. Fresh fish, seafood and shellfish, along with local Thai dishes are among the favourites.
You’ll find plenty of wonderful spots to enjoy a meal on a patio to soak up your surroundings. If Thai food is not your top choice, don’t worry, you will also find plenty of Western and Indian restaurants on the island and even a few pizza joints.
Our favourite restaurants on Koh Tao
One of our favourite spots is Chez Albert. Here you’ll find mouth watering western cuisine blended perfectly with Thai flavours. Whilst your waiting for your ferry to depart, stop by the vegan-friendly Na Koh Tao kitchen for a wide choice of Thai dishes or an unforgettable smoothie bowl with the freshest fruit of the island.
Koh Tao’s interior is filled with more than 70 climbing and hiking opportunities, from mountaintop walls and trails with panoramic views, to eroded seaside cliffs and impressive bouldering areas.
Mae Haad to Chalok is a relatively easy hiking route taking you to seven beaches along the way.
There are a few climbing schools and camps offering lessons and training on the island too, so if you are not experienced but want to give it a shot, Koh Tao is a great place to try it out.
#11 Practise the art of Muay Thai
Muay Thai is very popular on Koh Tao, making it easy to find a great spot to learn Muay Thai or watch fights.
A couple of the island’s schools offer a full Muay Thai training program where you will learn everything about this ancient art form of fighting.
For those who aren’t convinced, there are a few places where you can take a drop-in class just to get a taster and to learn a little about it.
Whether you choose to be a spectator or a participant, it’s worth acting on your curiosity and learning about this Thai tradition.
#12 Fly to new heights at Flying Trapeze
If you’re looking for something a little different, then head over to the Flying Trapeze.
The company caters to all abilities, so whether you’re a seasoned jumper or flying through the air isn’t something you’ve done before, this is a great place to practice your acrobatic skills. All jumps are run by instructors with over 20 years of experience and your lesson will be geared to your fitness level.
The Flying Trapeze is the perfect way to get the adrenaline flowing and the opportunity to discover a new passion.
#13 Take to the seas with SUP
Head to Maya Beach Club at Sairee Beach to rent your board (250 baht/hour) and they will provide you with the best tips for exploring the shoreline.
The waters are usually pretty calm, offering the ideal conditions for gliding across the sea’s surface during a SUP experience.
For the yogis among us, you can take your zen level one step further and opt for the sunrise SUP yoga experience. You’ll start your day in the most phenomenally serene way possible – on the crystal clear waters of Koh Tao.
Enjoy the sights and sea life from your board and jump into the sea for a quick dip when it gets too warm.
Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.
Based in Bali, Maarten’s passion for travel is undeniable. In 2016, he decided to quit his job as a stock analyst and started doing what he always dreamed of: travelling through South East Asia and helping other people plan their trips. When he is not working on Gecko Routes, you’ll find him surfing in the ocean or exploring the best gems of Indonesia.