Why visit Koh Tao?
Koh Tao completes the trio of islands located in the Gulf of Thailand. Similar to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, it too has crystal clear oceans dotted with patches of vibrant turquoise that provide the perfect backdrown to those picturesque sunsets we’ve all been dreaming of.
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, but the island has so much more to offer than this.
What makes Koh Tao different from the other Thai Islands?
Unlike its close neighbours, Koh Tao has a distinct small and cozy island vibe making for a more laid back and slow-paced experience. It’s essentially the ideal spot to kick back and relax!
Having said that, don’t be fooled by the chilled atmosphere, there’s no shortage of things to do on Koh Tao. You can spend your days diving, snorkelling, hiking, hiring a SUP board or if you’re lucky a chance to swim alongside turtles (Koh Tao does translates to Turtle Island after all).
Where to stay in Koh Tao
There are lots of choices when it comes to where to stay in Koh Tao, but most people opt for accommodation close to Sairee Beach.
This bustling area is where most travellers hang out and you’ll find everything you need – including restaurants, bars, shops and plenty of options for accommodations.
The area around Mae Haad pier is the second most popular place to stay; it’s pretty lively in the day and the best part is that it is right next to the drop-off point for the ferries from Chumphon and Surat Thani. If you’re a night owl, then the bad news is that you might find it a little quiet in the evenings. What’s more, is that there are no beaches in the vicinity.
If you don’t need the nightlife and you’re happy with cosy bars and a tranquil beach vibe, then you might opt to stay around Chalok Bay. This beautiful bay in the south is perfect for relaxation where you might find a few hammocks down by the sandy beach perfect for reading a book or watching the sun go down.
How to get around on Koh Tao island
Due to the size of the island, it’s super easy to get around for the day if you fancy hiring a scooter – you can cross the island in about fifteen minutes.
Hiring a motorbike for the day is very easy and will likely cost anywhere between 150 to 350 baht. Like all places in Thailand, make sure you are a skilled driver and that you are aware of the local laws before venturing out and exploring the island.
If hiring a scooter isn’t for you, most places can be reached by foot and for longer distances you can hire a taxi. Just be aware that they can be extremely overpriced, so get ready to practice your haggling skills.
Another way to travel between beaches or to different points across the island is by longtail boat which can be found on almost all the beaches. Alongside the gorgeous ocean views you get with this experience, they are also very affordable – prices tend to be around 150 bath for a one-way trip.
Koh Tao’s best beaches
The island of Koh Tao offers plenty of beaches to explore. The main two, Sairee Beach and Chalok Baan Bay being are dotted with bars and restaurants perfect to spend an afternoon chilling in.
If you take a little boat trip, you will find the picturesque Island strip, Nangyuan Island Beach. It looks perfect on the picture, but be prepared for large crowds (more on this later).
Are you looking for more tranquil beaches where you can truly enjoy nature and the ocean? If it’s a yes, then continue reading for some of Koh Tao’s hidden gems.
Top-pick #1: Sai Daeng (south coast)
With white powdered sand contrasted against the vibrant turquoise sea, relaxing on this quiet 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.
Top-pick #2: Sai Naun (west coast)
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 the beach and just observe it’s natural splendor. The tranquility also invites a variety of fish including orange spine unicornfish, batfish and yellowtail barracuda.
Top-pick #3: Haad Tien – Shark Bay (south coast)
Don’t be discouraged by the name, this coconut tree lined private bay is an awesome snorkelling spot on the island.
About 250m from the beach where it drops down deeper to 3-4 metres you should be able to spot some black-tip reef sharks.
This location also doubles as a shark nursery, giving you the opportunity to see some young sharks too.
Best of all: Tanote Bay (east coast)
We couldn’t leave Tanote Bay out of this list, but we talk about it later on in the article so you’ll have to keep reading!
12 Amazing Things to do on 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 350USD for your Open Water Diving qualification, it makes it one of the cheapest places in the world to get your PADI or SSI degree.
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 Maps 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
#2 Snorkel with the (reef) sharks
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 or alternatively you could take the adventure into your own hands and rent some for 50 Baht/day.
If you are planning to explore 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 Bath 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: At Shark Bay you might be able to spot Black Tip Reef sharks (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.
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.
#4 Rent a scooter to explore Koh Toa’s viewpoints
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.
#5 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 set 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!
#6 Experience some Thai festivals
The island hosts plenty of annual festivals including 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.
#7 Party the night away
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 Phangang 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.
#8 Immerse yourself in some Thai cuisine
For the foodies and seafood lovers among us, this island 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.
One of our favourite spots is Chez Albert. Here you’ll find mouthwatering 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.
#9 Go rock climbing and hiking
The island’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.
#10 Practise the art of Muay Thai
Muay Thai is very popular on Koh Tao and you’ll find a few great spots 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.
#11 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.
#12 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 where you’ll start your day in the most phenomenally serene way possible.
Enjoy the sights and sea life from your board and jump into the sea for a quick dip when it gets too warm.
How To Get To Koh Tao?
|Leaving from||Duration||Prices from||See details|
|Bangkok||3.5hrs-14hrs||1,040 THB-3,430 THB ($34.50-$113)||Bangkok to Koh Tao|
|Koh Phangan||1.5hrs||365 THB ($12)||Koh Phangan to Koh Tao|
|Koh Samui||2hrs||520 THB ($17)||Koh Samui to Koh Tao|
My favourite places to stay in Koh Tao
If you’re looking for a fun and social atmosphere, La Latina is the perfect hostel for meeting new friends and having fun! The hostel offers an on-site restaurant, bar and garden area for socializing or relaxing. Located just 200m from Mae Haad Beach, it’s the perfect location for all you want to do and see on Koh Tao.
- Social and fun atmosphere
- On-site restaurant and bar
- Garden and terrace areas
- Great location
Single bunk starts at $10 per night
Enjoy the natural surroundings with these private bungalows and rooms located on a coconut plantation, walking distance from Mae Haad Beach. The perfect escape to soak up the peace and quiet this resort has to offer. Walking distance to restaurants, bars, and amenities. Wifi is provided throughout the resort and the staff is known to be very friendly.
- Private bungalow
- Natural surroundings
- Near Mae Haad Beach
- Privacy, peace, and quiet
Private bungalow starts at $13 per night
This lovely hotel is located just 500m from Sairee Beach and offers an on-site swimming pool. The stunning mountain views, lush greenery surrounding the hotel and tranquility will make for a perfect escape from the busy streets of Koh Tao. An affordable breakfast can be added to your stay for just $3 per day. Staff are very helpful and will assist in booking tours, onward travel plans and renting motorcycles or bicycles.
- Swimming pool
- Close to the beach
- Stunning mountain views
- Friendly and helpful staff
Private room starts at $25 per night
Located in the Chalok Baan Kao area this hostel is surrounded by nature, lush scenery and tranquility. The Hostel has a large outdoor swimming pool, an on-site restaurant and bar and a great rooftop terrace for guests to soak in all the sights. There is also a common area for socializing with a TV, books and a shared computer. The Hostel is clean, the staff is friendly and the location is convenient.
- Swimming pool
- Surrounded by nature
- On-site restaurant and bar
- Extremely clean
Private room starts at $36 per night
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