Introduction – Why go to Koh Tao?
Koh Tao actually means “Turtle Island” and this island was actually inhabited by turtles in the past. Now it is inhabited by locals, expats, and tourists. Located east of the Surat Thani coastline, Koh Tao is a haven for scuba divers from all over the world. Some even choose to live here for most of the year. There are two nearby islands, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui, which I’ll talk more about in another part of this guide.
Why do so many people visit this small Thai island? It is a paradise, both above and below the water. Divers flock to see the incredible coral reefs and vibrant sea life that inhabits the warm, clear waters around this group of islands. The lifestyle on Koh Tao is always relaxed, even more so during the hot season and monsoon seasons. I hope you’re not in a hurry when you get here.
Koh Tao became popular about 35 years ago with tourists, and since then, several who decided the island life was for them have stayed and opened businesses like restaurants and hotels, and there are a fair number of digital nomads who recently began calling Koh Tao home, or at least ‘home-base,’ because of the improved internet services to the island.
However, what really brings the throngs of tourists to the island is the diving industry. Koh Tao has some of the world’s best dive centers for education and certification, and the underwater experience here just can’t be beat. With calm waters for much of the year, the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand are the stuff diver’s dreams are made of.
Even if you’re not a diver, the beaches with their calm bays are stunning and perfect for being lazy. Looking for a romantic getaway? There are romantic hotels, restaurants, and secluded beaches where you can while away the hours with your sweetheart. There is something on Koh Tao for everyone, whether you plan to be here a few days, weeks, or a lifetime.
When to Go
Peak Season – December to February
High season in Koh Tao is December to February, roughly, and this is considered the “dry” season with temperatures averaging around 30 degrees Celsius. This time of year, the weather is idyllic with blue skies and gentle breezes. The seas are calm, just waiting for you and your diving gear to arrive. This is Thailand’s winter, technically, so the temps are lower, even though they are still hot, but humidity is low.
This is peak season, so prices are also at their peak, but a gorgeous holiday is pretty much guaranteed. Sometimes there is a bit of rain in December, but it’s rare. If you’re looking for a stunning place to celebrate the holidays with fun in the sun, this is it. You’ll want to book early because hotels will fill up quickly.
Hot Season – February to May
During February and March, Koh Tao gets a bit of rain, prices are lower, but the rain is still not a deterrent to visiting. This is actually a good time to visit Koh Tao because of lower tourist numbers and lower prices.
April and May are Thailand’s summer season, so during these two months, temperatures reach about 40 degrees Celsius and there’s no rain to provide a bit of relief. But if you’re on Koh Tao to spend time under the water, the seas are calm and you’ll find relief from the heat under the sea with the colorful sea life because visibility is at its peak during this time.
The pace of life on the island slows down during these months, and prices are much cheaper. There are amazing bargains available if you’re willing to tackle the heat in April and May. Few tourist numbers mean optimal diving opportunities.
High Season – July to September
I bet you thought I already talked about high season! Nope! Koh Tao essentially has a peak season AND high season! These months bring afternoon thunder showers, but they are short lived. These months coincide with Europe’s school holidays, so booking accommodation can be a challenge. Book very early if you plan to visit during this time! If you want a good selection of available hotels to choose from, book even earlier!
Monsoon Season – October to November, possibly into December
Weather on Koh Tao is actually pretty good during September and October, but rain is definitely on the horizon. Temperatures range from 27 degrees to 35 degrees Celsius. Visibility is still good during these months, but in October the heavy rains come and they don’t stop until December. However, the rain doesn’t last all day. Showers are short-lived and usually just once a day. If you like a bit of drama and enjoy a good storm, you will enjoy this time on Koh Tao. Get a drink, sit on the patio of your favorite restaurant, and let the wait staff spoil you as you enjoy the weather show.
This is the best time to come price wise because accommodation will be at its cheapest and tourist numbers at their lowest. Diving prices are also at their lowest because of less demand. Weather overall is a bit unpredictable on Koh Tao, but these are good guidelines to follow to help you determine the right time of year for your visit to the island.
How to Get There
There is only one way to get to Koh Tao and that is by boat. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. There is no airport on the island, so unless you’re a bird, you have to take a boat.
From Bangkok, fly to Koh Samui (east of Koh Tao) or to Surat Thani Int Airport (west of Koh Tao). You can also take a bus to Surat Thani from Bangkok, or a sleeper train.
From Koh Samui
Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways offer flights to Koh Samui. Bangkok Airways offers more flights, making it easier to get a ferry connection.
There are two ferry companies that operate ferries from Koh Samui. They are Lomprayah Catamaran and Seatran Discovery.
From Bangrak Seatran Pier Koh Samui, Seatran Discovery departs at 8:00am, 13:00, and 16:30 and each ferry takes 2 hours and costs about 17 USD.
From Na Thon Koh Samui, Lomprayah departs at 11:15am (3 hours) and 17:00 (1h 45m). The morning ferry is about 17 USD and the afternoon ferry is about 20 USD.
From Maenam Koh Samui there is one ferry departure at 12:30. It takes 1.5 hours and costs about 17 USD.
From Surat Thani
Nok Air and Air Asia offer flights from Bangkok. Nok Air has a connection at Chumphon Railway Station in Surat Thani with Lamprayah Catamaran. You can take a sleeper train from Bangkok, but you need to arrive at Chumphon by 6:00am because the ferry departs at 7:00am. If you don’t make it, there is an afternoon ferry.
Air Asia also has ferry connections in two locations, both with Seatran Discovery. One connection from Surat Thani and another from Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Thai Airways also flies to Surat Thani.
From Surat Thani Lomprayah, a high speed ferry leaves at 9:00am. It takes about 5 hours 15 minutes and costs around 20 USD.
From Surat Thani Train Station, a high speed ferry leaves at 8:30am, takes about 5 hours 45 minutes, and costs about 22 USD.
From Surat Thani Airport, take a mini-bus taxi to the pier. Ferries leave at 8:30am (6 – 6.5 hours), 10:45am (7h 45m), 11:20am (7h 10m), and 13:30 (5h 15m). Cost is around 25 – 30 USD depending on departure time and which ferry company you choose.
Best Things to Do on Koh Tao
1. Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
This is the reason most people come to Koh Tao. It is a world-famous diving destination. For that reason, I have written in more detail about these activities in a different section. Find more information about diving and snorkeling under Diving and Snorkeling.
2. Rock Climbing
Koh Tao is surprisingly well-equipped for rock climbing. Almost the entire east coast of the island is rock cliffs which are suitable for all skill levels. Climbers can improve their technical skills virtually undisturbed as they will likely have the cliffs all to themselves. Popular climbing spots include Front and Back Yard at the southern end of the island in Chalok Baan Kao and near Sairee on the west coast there’s Secret Garden and Mek’s Mountain. There are other locations on the east coast. Courses and guides are also available.
There are a number of places on Koh Tao where you can learn and practice not only yoga, but T’ai Chi and Reiki as well. Koh Tao provides a peaceful and tranquil environment to heal and exercise both your inner and outer self. Try Shambhala Yoga or Baan Talay Yoga, which is also mentioned in the Where to Stay in Koh Tao section of this guide.
4. Thai Cooking Classes
Fortunately or unfortunately, Thai food on the island is often made to suit a western palate with milder tastes in spice. I like it spicy, so for me, a cooking class is ideal. There are several cooking schools on the island where you can learn to cook authentic Thai food that you can adapt to your own taste. Several resorts and restaurants offer classes. Most lessons include shopping at a local market first and learning about the ingredients, and then heading to the restaurant to use all those fresh ingredients to cook your lunch. Thai Cooking with Joy comes highly recommended. A 3-hour course with 3 dishes is 1500 baht per person. You can choose from three pre-set menus. A full day class is 5-6 hours and costs 2100 baht. You’ll create 5 dishes at The Earth House in Mae Haad. Class size maximum is 4 people, so it is sure to be hands on and individualized.
5. Take a Course
In addition to diving and rock climbing courses, there are many other opportunities to learn something new on Koh Tao. People come here to take courses in Muay Thai (see below), Thai cooking (see above), Thai language, yoga, and Eco programs. The most popular course on the island is Underwater Photography & Videography. There are four schools on Koh Tao and all have Westerners as managers and instructors. With the incredible marine life here, there is no better place to learn about underwater photography.
6. Muay Thai Camp
This increasingly popular sport made its debut on Koh Tao in 2002 and now there are two well equipped Muay Thai facilities on the island.
Established in 2002, this was the first Muay Thai facility on the island. They have weekly fight nights, so if you’re here for training, you’ll be using what you learn. This training facility is open to locals, expats, and visitors. It is located in Sairee. They have a complete range of training exercises during one-on-one sessions with their trainers and a full-size ring for sparring. Accommodation is available in the form of double or twin rooms.
Single day training is 300 baht for 1 session, 400 baht for 2 sessions.
Weekly training is 1000 baht for 4 sessions, 1600 baht for 7 sessions.
Monthly training prices depend on how many times per week you train. 3x per week is 2500 baht and 4x per week is 3600 baht.
Custom training and accommodation packages are available. For more information, check their website at http://www.muaythaikohtao.com/index.html
This Muay Thai facility offers a western style gym with MMA, Muay Thai, boxing, and Gladiator workout. Patrons can also get healthy meals at the Hell’th Kitchen, and they offer dorm style accommodation. There are only 12 beds, so be sure to book ahead if you want this option. It’s located just a short walk from Sairee Beach.
Pricing is simple and sessions include Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Gladiator high-intensity fitness, and boxing.
Single session is 300 baht.
Weekly (6) sessions are 1500 baht.
Monthly sessions range from 12 to 24 sessions and 3000 to 5500 baht per month. An unlimited monthly package is 7000 baht.
Diving and Snorkeling
Many people come to Koh Tao to earn their diving certification, not just to dive. Dive centers here have some of the best facilities in the world and the best instructors. Courses range from teaching those who have never put on a wetsuit to experienced divers from all over the world. There are over 60 dive centers on this small island, but courses do fill up.
Some dive centers include accommodation in the cost of the course. If you’ve come here to spend some serious time in the water, you won’t need to worry about where to stay on a budget. The courses provide a good balance between education and enjoying island life.
Different courses include Recreational (Try Dive or Scuba School International [SSI]) where you will learn to use the equipment and dive up to 12 meters, and Open Water Course which is a 4-day program where you can become certified to dive up to 18 meters, and an Advanced Open Water Course which takes you to the next level and certifies you to dive up to 30 meters.
There are also three more advanced courses offered on the island. For each of these, you must already be certified in the Advanced Open Water Course. These three courses are Rescue & EFR (Emergency First Response), Professional Level for the long-term traveler looking to get a PADI certification, and Technical Diving Courses which allow you to go deeper than 40 meters.
There are several PADI 5 Star instructors and dive centers on the island, and those who intend to come here for this purpose can enjoy the very reasonably priced accommodation that is provided with most centers. Most people, on average, spend from three weeks to six months or more, earning their PADI certification.
I cannot begin to list all of the dive centers on the island. They are successful for a reason. They are highly qualified and professional centers with excellent instructors. Divers should choose the center that best meets their needs and price range, and location may also be a factor if you have your own accommodation.
Two dive centers that popped up repeatedly in my research are Sunshine Divers and Simple Life Divers. Another that is highly recommended is New Heaven Diving School at Baan Talay Resort, which you can read more about in the Where to Stay in Koh Tao section of this guide. They specialize in marine conservation. But these are just a drop in the bucket compared to what is offered on the island.
Koh Tao isn’t the only dive destination in the neighborhood. Nearby Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are also hot spots for divers and easily accessible from Koh Tao. All three of these islands offer an incredible underwater world of brightly colored coral, vibrant and varied sea life, and awe-inspiring underwater land formations. Different areas of the sea offer completely different scenery and sea life to enchant and entertain you. It doesn’t matter what depth the water is. Divers will not be disappointed.
Snorkeling options are not limited on Koh Tao. Many snorkeling tours have the same covered boats that dock in the same snorkeling spots like Mango Bay, Shark Bay, and other notorious spots, and they serve a simple lunch of rice, egg, and pork. This doesn’t sound very inspiring, but you don’t really need a tour to do some great snorkeling around the island. For some places, you do need transportation. These tours run from 800 to 1200 baht, and you may be able to negotiate a bit.
One option is to hire a taxi boat and go earlier in the day to miss the crowds. Koh Nang Yuan – three tiny islands connected by sandbars – is a very popular snorkeling destination, but if you’re there with hundreds of other tourists, it could prove to be a big disappointment. Try to go here when the tourist numbers are lower and hire a longtail boat rather than a tour.
A full day tour with a longtail boat, essentially your water taxi for the day, will run about 3000 baht, but may be worth it if you’re able to avoid the crowds. Ao Leuk Bay is fairly easily accessible by road, and once you get past the rocks, there is some great snorkeling here just at the edge of the bay. Sai Daeng is not as rewarding at Ao Leuk, but you can see sharks here. Don’t worry. They won’t nibble on you and are actually very shy.
Other popular spots are Japanese Garden, where it is best to hire a longtail boat so you can be flexible. If you set foot on the beach though, you’ll be charged by the rather unscrupulous resort here. In Mae Haad, there’s a small shipwreck that attracts some interesting sea life. Just about anywhere off the coast of Koh Tao that looks like it is a good place for snorkeling, is probably a good place for snorkeling. Keep in mind watershoes are a good idea because of the coral and don’t ever feed the fish. It upsets the balance of the ecosystem.
Best Places to Eat in Koh Tao
There is no shortage of restaurants on this small island, and many are suited to western tastes while others are authentically Thai and delicious. Prices range from 30-baht street food to 1500 baht per person at an upscale restaurant, although most are much more reasonably priced than that, even for fine dining. Here are just a few that travelers to Koh Tao and former expats on the island recommend.
1. Yellow Rice and Chicken No-Name Food Stand $
Guess what this place near Chalok Baan Kao serves? Just one thing. Did you figure it out? For less than 2 USD, you can have one of the best lunches on the island. This crispy chicken will have you returning again and again. It’s near the T-junction that leads to Autokan.
2. Zest $ – $$
Looking for a good breakfast on the island? Zest is the place. It’s in Sairee and serves up delicious eggs, toast and bacon for 90 baht. They also serve great salads if you’re into that kind of thing when you’re on holiday.
3. Fizz Beach Lounge $$
This place is a bit of a surprise considering it is a beach bar/lounge/restaurant. It’s not overpriced and the food is actually good. They serve Thai and international cuisine, and while it might be a bit more expensive because of its location, it’s not unreasonably so. You can relax by the ocean, enjoy the breeze, and have dinner and drinks that won’t break the bank.
4. Porto Bello Italian $$ – $$$
There are a surprising number of Italian eateries on the island, but none of them beat Porto Bello. Their food is a bit pricey compared to other Italian restaurants on the island, but still certainly affordable and worth it! Experience their pizza, pasta, and their most famous menu item, the goat cheese and pesto ball salad. Wait till you see it.
5. Whitening $$ – $$$
Most people consider this to be Koh Tao’s most beautiful and romantic restaurant, perfect for a night out or special occasion, and very reasonably priced. They have a varied menu and serve up fantastic Thai food, grilled seafood, and steaks. You may have guessed that the décor is white and with all the candles and fairy lights, the ambiance is relaxed and tranquil. No need to hurry off. You can get a beef tenderloin steak with mashed potatoes and salad for 300 baht. While that may seem pricey for Koh Tao or Thailand, it’s nowhere near what you’d pay in other parts of the world for a steak dinner.
How to Get Around Koh Tao
Koh Tao is small and easy to navigate, but always be aware of others on the road and the fact that locals don’t exactly follow the traffic rules to the letter. Most of the roads are not paved, but this is improving. There is one main paved road that runs from the north end of Sairee Beach, through the center of Mae Haad which is the main village on the island, and then continues on to Chalok Baan Kao in the southern part of the island.
There are some paved roads leading to the beaches, but most roads are still dirt tracks that can be challenging to navigate, especially after a rain. If you have never driven a motorcycle or a car in this type of environment, then I don’t advise starting on Koh Tao. Always remember to drive slowly, stay under the speed limit, and never drink and drive. If the police suspect you are doing something illegal, they will not hesitate to pull you over.
Motorbikes (scooters) are by far the most popular transport option on the island. A scooter can be rented from your hotel or resort in most cases, and tour agents rent them as well. Be aware that all people on a motorbike must wear a helmet. It is the law and you could be fined if you do not wear a helmet. Rentals run about 150 baht a day, or even less if you are going to be on Koh Tao a long time.
Disclaimer: If you don’t have previous experience driving a scooter, we do not recommend this mode of transport. Accidents can happen easily and there is no insurance provided, nor is there a proper hospital on the island.
You can find songthaews in most of the busy areas on the island and on the main road. You can hop on and off as you wish. The cost depends on how far you travel and the number of people in the taxi. If you are alone or just a couple, you are expected to cover the entire cost. There aren’t really fixed prices so just ask before boarding. This is the safest way to get around the island.
Longtail boats are located at all of the beaches on the island and are a great way to get from one side to the other. You can also find those beautiful hidden spots around the island. They work like taxis in that you can pay by the journey, or you can rent one for a day for about 1500 baht. To give you an idea of what a journey might cost, if you travel from Mae Haad pier to the south to Chalok Baan Kao, you can expect to pay about 200 baht per person. From the pier to Tanote Bay is about 400 baht per person.
Walking and Cycling
The island is very walkable, although the main road should be avoided at night due to traffic. The island is hilly in some parts, but if you enjoy walking and are moderately fit, you can easily navigate it. If you choose to walk, you will be rewarded with incredible scenery.
A bicycle is also a great option on the island. A mountain bike can handle the dirt roads even better than a motorbike. Mountain bikes are for rent in several locations around the island and keep in mind, they are environmentally friendly and even cheaper than a motorbike. Few people take advantage of this great option because the bikes are not always well maintained. If you do decide to rent a bicycle, do a thorough inspection and test ride before choosing your bike in order to make sure it is in good working condition.
Where to Stay in Koh Tao
Budget accommodation can mean a bungalow on the beach, a cheap hotel with few amenities, or a hostel. But all are likely to be a great a value for the money and a good choice for those on a tight budget.
Here are my recommendations for budget accommodation. Prices are for peak season which is December to February.
Located on Sairee Beach, Indie Hostel has spacious dorm rooms that are clean and modern, private rooms with twin beds and ensuite bathrooms, and a super cool café with fresh breads, sandwiches, and more on offer. It’s a great place to hang out and meet people, grab a bite to eat, and have a safe and comfortable place to store your stuff and get a good night’s sleep.
A dorm bed here is about 20 USD a night and a private room for 2 people with ensuite bathroom is about 55 USD a night. Linens and towels are provided and they have free wifi.
Simple Life Talay & Divers Resort
This beachfront property sits at the southern end of Sairee Beach. It has its own private beach, bar, restaurant serving Thai and international cuisine, pool, and a PADI 5 dive school. Free wifi is available in common areas and in the rooms. The bar is the perfect spot to watch the sunset, and so is the pool.
Rooms here are spacious, modern, clean, and some are air conditioned. They have a variety of rooms to choose from. A dorm bed is 8 USD and the room is large and has fans, a private room for two w/fan is 16 USD, and a garden room with air conditioning is 53 USD. A sea view air conditioned room for 2 is 61 USD.
Bubble Bungalows is located at the southern end of the island in Chalock Baan Kao. It’s connected to Big Bubble Dive School and offers a bargain price with a few amenities. The bungalows are set among the trees and have huge bathrooms and some have air conditioning. They also have free wifi.
For about 8 USD a night you can get your own bungalow with a fan, cold shower, and a double bed. For just a few dollars more, you can get a hot shower. If you want air conditioning, it’s about 40 USD a night. Bungalows also have balconies with hammocks. Rooms are modern, spacious, and so are the bathrooms.
Midrange hotels and bungalows are very popular on the island. For $60 to $100 a night, you can have air conditioning and quite a few luxuries at your accommodation on Koh Tao. Here are my recommendations for midrange accommodations.
Koh Tao Resort
This stunning and very reasonably price resort backs up to a hilltop in the trees at the southern end of the island in Chalok Baan Kao. Koh Tao Resort has rooms and bungalows that are just a short walk from the beach, and air conditioned apartments up on the hill with stunning views. Inside you’ll find spacious, traditionally decorated rooms with bamboo ceilings and modern fixtures. Facilities include three swimming pools, two restaurants, two bars, a convenience store, and free wifi. Why would you ever leave?
In the center of the resort there’s a stunning infinity pool and there’s another pool by the beach where you can enjoy the sunset. The restaurants serve Thai and international cuisine in a beautiful setting, and you can get kayaks at the beach bar! They also offer speedboat charters to nearby islands and fishing trips. You can also snorkel nearby. Breakfast is included. Be aware that during December and January, there is a minimum four night stay.
All rooms and bungalows are for two people only. A mountain view room on the hillside is 70 USD, standard rooms with air conditioning close to the beach are 72 USD, a superior room with air conditioning by the garden and pool is 75 USD, and the spacious bungalows with balconies near the pool and the beach are 81 USD. They also offer deluxe, beach front apartments, luxury apartments, and poolside suites that accommodate more than two people, but there is an extra charge for a third person.
Baan Talay Koh Tao
Located on the east side of the island In Ao Leuk Bay, it might seem secluded, but with the ample facilities and stunning rooms, there’s really not much of a reason to leave. Each bungalow has a private view. You can book diving and snorkeling expeditions, boat trips, and diving and yoga courses. If you participate in any courses, you will receive a discount on the rooms.
Baan Talay practices marine conservation activities on the island. The dive school has been involved with conservation efforts from their opening in 1995. Now they offer marine conservation courses from 3 days to 3 months in length through their New Heaven Dive School. They also offer daily yoga classes and yoga retreats, as well as Thai massage and kayaking.
On site, travelers will find healthy Thai and Western food in the restaurant and what is reportedly the best coffee on the island at Koppee Café. Koppee is open for breakfast and lunch and has wonderful baked goods.
Baan Talay has seaview huts with grass roofs that keep the huts cool. There are four of these at the resort. Each has mosquito netting over the beds that have hand-made, super comfy mattresses. Each one has a spacious, private balcony and a spa-like outdoor hot shower! There’s no air conditioning, but they do have fans. You can get all this for 33 USD a night! They also have seaview suites which are bigger with the option of air conditioning. They have stunning views, even from the bathrooms. All suites also have hot water. For suites with a fan, you’ll pay only 50 USD a night and with A/C you’ll pay 70 USD a night.
There is certainly no shortage of luxury accommodation on Koh Tao, even though it is a lesser-known island. Here are my recommendations for high-end accommodation starting above $100 a night.
This resort on Sairee Beach has a PADI dive center in addition to full-service resort facilities, including a spa. The beach front restaurant serves Thai and Western cuisine. Enjoy the sunset while you have a beautiful dinner by the beach. They also have a large pool and Jacuzzi with sunset views. The resort can assist you with tour bookings and money exchange. Free wifi is available everywhere, including in the rooms.
The traditionally and simply decorated rooms are air conditioned and have hot and cold showers, modern bathrooms, and soothing colors. Each one has a balcony or terrace and cable TV. The wood floors in the rooms are a particularly beautiful touch.
All prices are per night for two people. Beachside 2nd floor rooms with a view of the pool are 132 USD, deluxe pool access on the 1st floor is 145 USD, a poolside 2-bedroom villa is 190 USD, and a deluxe garden view room in their boutique style hotel (same property, but different building) is 76 USD. If you are going to Koh Tao with a group of friends or family, you might want to consider their beachfront VILLA with a private pool and 2 bedrooms for 426 USD.
View Point Resort Koh Tao
View Point Resort is located in Chalok Baan Kao on the southern part of the island. Their philosophy is privacy makes for the perfect, peaceful environment for a restful and relaxing holiday. Amenities here include a gorgeous, private infinity pool with some villas, a romantic, oceanfront restaurant that serves Thai and international cuisine, Cape Bar on a grassy area overlooking the sea, and a stunning, oceanside pool. There’s also a spa and the hotel can help book activities such as diving, snorkeling, and other watersports.
Here travelers can book a Pool Villa for two people, with air conditioning and open plan, starting at 300 USD per night during high season. There are seven pool villas available. There are two Deluxe Sea View Cottages which are octagonal shaped with 180 degree views, each with a private terrace. The cottages are 130 USD a night and include breakfast. Deluxe Garden View Cottages nestled in the jungle start at just 90 USD a night with breakfast. All rooms include transfer service to the pier and free wifi.
Best Place to stay in Koh Tao
This boutique resort on the east coast of Koh Tao offers modern facilities and the peace and tranquility of the east side of the island. It’s also romantic, so it might be the perfect choice for honeymooners. These custom designed bungalows are on 24 acres of land that slopes down to the sea with beautiful views of the Gulf of Thailand. From here, the sunrise will stun all you early birds who don’t want to miss a moment of daylight on the island.
At The Rock restaurant, travelers can have tempting Thai and Western cuisine for three meals a day and Owl’s Bar is open all day for cocktails and snacks. Enjoy your cocktails on the deck terrace which has sun loungers and umbrellas right over the water. Not BY the water, but OVER the water! From here you can watch the sunset while relaxing with a cocktail. Other amenities include tour booking and a shuttle service from Mae Haad pier at 10:30 and 15:30 every day.
The spacious (dare I say huge?) villas here are built into the rocks, supported on sturdy stilts, and the balconies are beckoning for an afternoon cocktail by the sea. They are decorated in a traditional Thai style with a relaxing, spa-like vibe and modern, spacious bathrooms. The wood floors and white décor with pops of color are just stunning.
There are four different villas here to choose from, all with balconies and sea views. The villas are set in the rocky hillside giving them a dramatic appearance, but there is a small beach right beside the resort, easily accessible by walking path that is part of the property. All villas are air conditioned and there is free wifi throughout the property and in all villas. Prices during high season start at 80 USD for an Ocean View Villa for two people. Other villas are more expensive, but not by much, and can accommodate three people.
There are many reasons why this is a top pick for Koh Tao even though it’s on the more remote east side of the island. Check out their website, look at the pictures, and you will understand why.
Koh Tao Area Guide
Koh Tao is about 115 kilometers from Surat Thani on the mainland. It is 3.4 kilometers at its widest point, and only 7.6 kilometers long. The coastline is steep and rocky in most places. There are eleven bays, ten capes, and there is a stunning coral reef that spans eight kilometers. One of the reasons the island is so beautiful is because most of it is mountainous and only about a third of it is flat. It is lush and green with beautiful beaches and calm bays.
The tide on Koh Tao is diurnal. I don’t know about you, but I had to look that up. It means Koh Tao has one low tide and one high tide on each tidal day. The water around Koh Tao and its neighbor island, Koh Nang Yuan, is about 30 to 40 meters deep, making it one of the top diving destinations in the world.
There are two villages on Koh Tao’s west coast – Mae Haad and Sairee. The western part of the island has a gradual slope to the sea and the villages are located in the flat areas. The eastern part of the island has steep cliffs, prime for rock climbing.
Sairee has almost two kilometers of beautiful, white sandy beach, and on a clear day, you can see the mainland from here. The beach is in a protected bay so it is largely unaffected by strong winds and rough water during the rainy season. With beach bars and dive shops and restaurants amid the palm trees, Sairee beach is ideal for relaxation and even during peak season, you can find space for your towel in the sand.
From Sairee, there is a coral reef just ten meters from shore, ideal for snorkeling. More about this in another section. It is advisable to wear water shoes or wet suit socks when snorkeling here.
Mae Haad is the first beach people see when they arrive on Koh Tao, but for the most part, it is too built up for swimming and relaxing. This is where the ferries arrive, making it less than peaceful, but there are some sun worshippers at the far end by Sensi Paradise Resort. Overall, most people move on from here once arriving at the island.
There is a village in the south of the island called Chalok Baan Kao. It is the southernmost point on the island and the second most popular beach because of the shallow, calm, clear water. It’s smaller than Sairee without as many businesses, but it has everything you need such as dive shops, convenience stores, ATMs, even travel agents. There is also a good selection of restaurants and bars, as well as accommodation.
It’s easy to get here from Mae Haad as the road is good and there are always longtail boats to bring you here from the pier. Because of all the boat traffic, the water at the western end of the beach is not always so clear, so hang out by the eastern end.
Surrounding Areas to Visit
Koh Tao may look like it’s all alone in the Gulf of Thailand, but it isn’t. Surrounding islands and the mainland are just a short boat ride away. Here are some nearby places that are definitely worth exploring if you’re using Koh Tao as a home base for your holiday.
Koh Samui is larger than Koh Tao and offers more activities. There are many natural and man-made attractions to keep you busy during a day trip from Koh Tao, or for a long time if you’re planning to stay a while! There’s mummified monks (What?), stunning waterfalls, and of course, Big Buddha. Every island of any size has one, right? There are some famous rock formations called Hin Ta and Hin Yai Rocks (Grandma and Grandpa Rocks) that you just have to see. I’m not going to tell you why. They are not just any ole rocks.
The real draw to this island is its gorgeous national park. Ang Thong Marine National Park is a tropical paradise of 42 tiny islands. There’s limestone mountains, white-sand beaches, jungles with waterfalls, and coves to discover. It’s a protected area, alive with flora and fauna that will astound you. You can snorkel, dive, and go sailing here and also relax on the beaches. Please remember that if you pack it in, you should pack it out. You can stay here in modest bungalows if it sounds like a day trip just won’t be enough.
There’s so much more to do and see here like Wat Khunaram, Ladyboy Cabaret Show, Secret Bhuddha Garden, Snake Farm, spas and restaurants, watersports, anything you can dream of on vacation is here on Koh Samui.
Koh Pha Ngan
This island is very near Koh Samui, but is not part of Ang Thong National Park. It has a small population of locals and not much of a reputation, with the exception of its full moon parties. But perhaps this is unfair to this 167 square kilometers of granite and unspoiled beauty. There is a lush jungle here and more than 20 dive sites nearby. You can also find services here like ATMs and banks, restaurants, and bars, of course. That’s what makes the Full Moon parties legendary, right? You must arrive and depart by ferries from the mainland and Koh Samui.
This incredible dive site is 11 kilometers northwest of Koh Tao and is not to be missed. Most divers agree it is the best dive site in the region. It consists of a huge pinnacle of granite and several smaller ones. Dive depth ranges from 14 meters to 36 meters. Divers will enjoy the company of giant groupers, barracudas, whale sharks, and something called a bat fish, and so much more. Visibility is excellent here, between 20 and 30 meters. People coming to Koh Tao for diving probably already have this site on their radar.
Koh Tao Beaches
This small island has much to offer in the way of beaches – privacy, seclusion, romance, and even in peak season, it’s not crowded.
1. Haad Sairee
This beach is in a prime location on the west side of the island, sheltered from wind and storms for the most part, making the water calm, clear, and perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and sun lounging. The coral reef just ten meters from the shore is great for snorkeling, but wear some type of footwear to protect your feet, even when swimming. Be aware of longtail boat traffic, although it doesn’t disturb the beauty and appeal of this beach.
2. Chalok Baan Kao
Situated at the southern tip of the island, it faces Ang Thong National Marine Park. Water here is calm, but it is affected during the monsoon rains. A full range of tourist services are available at this beach, including ATMs, restaurants, bars, and great accommodation options. Overall, it is quieter here than in Sairee.
3. Mango Bay
Located at the northern end of the island, the water here is wide, but shallow, and it is a great location for snorkeling. The colorful coral will not disappoint. There’s also deeper areas for scuba divers. A newly opened resort and a new road make this area more accessible, but longtail boat is still the best way to get to this stunning rocky cove.
4. Nang Yuan
This beach off the northwest part of Koh Tao is actually three tiny islands that are connected by sandbars during low tide. It is privately owned, but for a 100 baht entry fee, you can come here to experience what might be the best snorkeling on the island, including an area called Japanese Gardens. There is one resort here.
5. Freedom Beach
You can reach Freedom Beach by a path from Taa Toh Lagoon on the southern end of the island. You can snorkel here to see the coral reefs in the bay and you might see some stingrays that hang out under the rocks here. Just a few minutes south of here is a hidden inlet that you can paddle to if you want your own secluded hideaway. There is some accommodation here.
6. Hin Wong Bay
Located on the east side of Koh Tao, people come here to explore the vibrant marine life residing near a 30-meter-tall pinnacle that rises from the ocean floor to just below the surface of the water. This is mostly a beach for divers. There is no accommodation here.
7. Thian Og Bay
There is accommodation here at this beach at the southern end of the island. It’s known as Shark Bay and snorkelers here can swim with black tip sharks which can be up to two meters long, but they are harmless. Remember, you should never try to touch the wildlife. This stunning beach has soft, white sand perfect for sun lounging and relaxing after swimming with the sharks.
8. Tanote Bay
Tanote Bay is on the east coast of the island and has a great range of accommodation and places to rent equipment for watersports. Offshore you’ll be awed by the sights under the water as you snorkel and above water, bars with hammocks line the shallow waters of the beach.
9. Sai Daeng Beach
This beach is located at the southeast tip of the island and is one of the most isolated on the island. There is a good, but very steep road to get here, or you can take a longtail boat. There are some bungalows you can rent and a few restaurants, but nothing much happens here, so you would have a lot of privacy and quiet time here. This picturesque beach is perfectly secluded, and diving is also available here.
10. Ao Leuk Bay
This spot is perfect if you’re new to diving and want to practice. There’s also great snorkeling here and you can rent equipment. The accommodation here is limited but excellent, but there’s no real beach. See Baan Talay Koh Tao in Where to Stay in Koh Tao. Diving and snorkeling are fantastic here.
11. Laem Thian
You can get here via a path from Sairee Village, and it’s on the east coast of the island. The resort and restaurant are closed, but there’s great snorkeling opportunities here. The rocky surroundings are quite picturesque and secluded.
General Tips for Koh Tao Travel
Responsible and Respectful Tourism
On any island, anywhere in the world, waste disposal is always an issue. On Koh Tao, there is a unique organization that is trying to solve this problem. Trash Hero Koh Tao is on a mission to create a community project involving locals and visitors to remove waste from the island and prevent it from accumulating by changing people’s behavior. They want to create sustainable, environmentally friendly ways of not only disposing of waste, but of preventing it.
Trash Hero Koh Tao does this through action and awareness campaigns that include picking up trash, educating people about the negative effects of trash on the environment, and sustainable projects that help communities with waste management and reduction.
The concept is very simple. Volunteer, see trash, pick it up, dispose of it properly, and don’t create more. Each week, a time and location are designated where volunteers can show up to help. Since September 2015, over 5000 volunteers have stepped up to eliminate over 10 metric tons of waste from beaches on Thailand and Indonesia. This is not only happening on Koh Tao, but all over the country and in Indonesia.
For more information, you can check out Trash Hero Koh Tao here
Responsible and Respectful Driving
Be aware that there is a helmet law on Koh Tao, so always wear a helmet when riding a motorbike. If you aren’t an experienced motorbike driver or you don’t have experience driving a car in a place where locals view traffic rules as more like guidelines, I recommend hiring a taxi, walking, or riding a bike around the island. Driving here is not like driving at home and it’s not for the faint of heart.
There is not much traffic on the island, but there are enough cars that you need to be cautious, especially when driving on the roads that are not as developed as the main road. Be aware of the traffic laws before renting a car. Don’t drive above the speed limit.
Many hotels and resorts now offer free wifi, even in the rooms. Many internet cafes are located on the island for people who don’t have computers. Internet speed on the island is reasonable, and certainly sufficient for checking email, but it’s not always reliable. Loss of power and internet service disruptions are not that common, but also not entirely unexpected.
Coworking/Digital Nomads/Expat Living
KoHub Coworking/Digital Workspace for Digital Nomads
Koh Tao has one coworking space so far, but it is a great one. TAOHUB supplies the best wifi on the island for those who have to do a bit of work when they are not enjoying the beaches and island life. They also supply free coffee and water, not to mention Moe’s hibiscus iced tea.
TAOHUB is a community of local expats, vacationing business people, entrepreneurs, and local business people. They offer bike rentals, business startup for those looking to start a business on Koh Tao, and accommodation. They are always at your service and are open 24/7.
Accommodation options range from 15000 baht to 40,000 baht per month and you can choose from a studio with kitchen, two room apartments with a terrace, two-bedroom apartment, a two-room apartment on the hill, and, wait for it, two bedrooms with a private pool and sea view. Bungalows are also available, but prices for these are not on their website.
The facilities offer air conditioned meeting rooms, a big terrace, garden space, and lots of restaurants and shops within walking distance. The space is clean, organized, modern, and spacious. Social events are also planned for those who don’t spend all of their time on their computer.
Rates at TAOHUB run 250 baht per day, 1000 baht per week, and 3000 baht per month.
There are a surprising number of expats living on Koh Tao, mostly working in the diving or property management industry, managing resorts, and owning or managing restaurants. Expats don’t earn the big salaries like they would in other locations, but because of the low cost of living, the money they earn on Koh Tao goes a long way and they can certainly save for the future.
Expats can enjoy the convenience of big supermarkets or local fresh markets for those who like to cook at home. Eating out local style is super cheap, and even international cuisine is very affordable. A budget of about 10,000 baht a month can easily cover food and drink, and about 5000 a month will cover a scooter rental.
A basic bungalow with a Thai style kitchen that is not on the beach can run from 4000 to 15,000 baht a month. More villas and developments are being built for expats who are looking for more luxury for the long term. Koh Tao is an easy place for foreigners to live with an increasing number of imported goods, excellent services and infrastructure, many international restaurants, excellent communication and internet services.
A Budget for Every Traveler
The quality of accommodation and restaurants has improved in recent years on Koh Tao, and while this did cause an increase in prices, Koh Tao is still one of the most affordable island destinations in Thailand and in the world. No matter what your budget is, you can have a unique and memorable holiday on Koh Tao.
For a backpacker or budget traveler, a budget of 1500 baht per day (about 42 USD) will get you a fan bungalow and some great local food. A dorm room in a hostel is even cheaper, probably by half. If you want air conditioning and international cuisine, then 1500 baht is not realistic. This doesn’t include any transportation or costs for activities such as diving and snorkeling.
Alcohol on Koh Tao costs about 40 to 100 baht for a beer and cocktails range from 100 to 600 baht, so this can really raise per day expenditures if you’re not paying attention.
A midrange traveler can get by on 2000 to 5000 baht (55 to 150 USD) per day including accommodation with air conditioning and some upscale restaurant meals, including drinks. International cuisine on the island is very reasonably priced compared to other locations in Thailand, but local cuisine will always be the least expensive option whether you’re buying street food or sitting in an upscale Thai restaurant.
Luxury is surprisingly easy to come by on Koh Tao, and as with other Thai islands, it is incredibly cheap during low season. For luxury accommodation during high/peak season, you can pay about 4000 to 9000 baht (120 to 250 USD) per night and get a beautiful, luxurious room that feels like true indulgence.
The good news is, even for luxury travelers, accommodation is really the only big money you will spend. Upscale dining on the island can still be inexpensive and feel indulgent.
Again, this doesn’t include any activities you might want to participate in on the island, nor does it include transportation like longtail boats.