Koh Tao is a small (and our favorite!) island on the east side of Thailand’s mainland. It neighbors larger Koh Phangan (known for its full moon parties) and is 55km north of Koh Samui. Koh Tao is famous for its diving and you can get PADI certifications at a decent price. The only way to reach Koh Tao is via boat to Mae Haad Pier. A number of boat options are available departing from Chumphon (~2 hours) and Surat Thani (4-5 hours). Booking fairly tickets is easy and you can do so on 12Go.Asia. In this guide to Koh Tao, you’ll find some insight into our lodging, things to do, and restaurant recommendations!
With our backpackers budget, we decided that renting an apartment would be our best option. Our AirBnB apartment was close to Nay Pon Road and great for the seven nights we stayed in Koh Tao! Based on the location, it was definitely necessary to rent a motorbike. We were located in a quiet neighborhood yet close to everything we needed (food market, laundry, convenience stores, a 5 minute drive to the beach, etc). To help control daily expenses, we cooked dinner a few times and bought 30 eggs for 20 THB ($0.65) at the local SmileMart and cooked breakfast everyday. We would definitely consider staying here again and highly recommend doing so if you’re on the island. If you have not yet tried AirBnB, it really is like a home away from home. Click here to give AirBnB a go!
Here are some things to do during your time in Koh Tao:
1. Sairee Beach – The most popular place for tourists. This beach has beautiful white sand filled with lots of restaurants and bars. It is definitely a good spot to hang on the beach. We recommend grabbing a few beers from 7-Eleven and sitting on the beach to watch the sunset.
2. Rent a motorbike – Motorbikes can be rented all over the island. We got ours for 150TBH a day. You will have to give your passport (not a copy) so make sure you do some research on TripAdvisor. You’ll also want to take photos of any dents and scratches before renting.
3. Get your scuba dive certification – If you’re into diving, Koh Tao is honestly the place to be. The reefs and dive sites are in very good condition and there are a ton of diving companies in the area for your certification or fun dives. Dan used Assava Dive Resort for his Advanced Open Water certification and very much enjoyed the dive sites (Chumphon Pinnacle for the deep dive, Twins, Mango Bay, Lighthouse and White Rock for the night dive) in the area!
4. Go on a snorkeling trip – We did a full day trip with Oxygen Tours (850 THB each + 100 THB each entrance fee for Nangyuan Island) which included snorkeling at Nangyuan, Mango Bay, Hin Wong Bay, Ao Leuk and Shark Bay. Nangyuan Island has a beautiful scenic beach area but its very crowded and full of tourists. The most popular spot is the viewpoint, but with all the tourists, we ended up finding a ridiculously long line instead. If you can stay on the island, we would recommend doing so for one night and grabbing a photo before the first tour group arrives!
5. High Bar – Koh Tao is filled with a ton of cool bars (Fishbowl, Banana Rock, Beer Masons), but this place is popular for pretty obvious reasons. Really cool spot with great views.
6. Get a tattoo – Koh Tao (and Thailand in general) has a ton of tattoo shops offering both bamboo and machine tattoos! Prices are great compared to many other places, just do your research to make sure you go to a good tattoo parlor. Dan got one at Zoko Tattoo which is right near Ban’s Diving Resort in Sairee.
7. Freedom Beach – If you’re tired of going to Sairee, Freedom is a good way to change it up. This small stretch of sand and rocks is only accessible by motorbike and there’s an entrance and parking fee.
If you’re traveling anywhere in Southeast Asia, TripAdvisor is without a doubt the best place to check out reviews. Dan’s TripAdvisor page has all of our reviews and pictures of our meals. Here are the places we checked out and our two cents:
La Pizzeria – After three weeks of Thai food, we needed a little change and found out this was a nice little Italian spot with very good food. Slightly higher prices, but that’s the deal with western food in Thailand! The pizza and pasta options were delicious. You can also apparently order from them directly through Facebook!
Lazy Bar and Restaurant – We came here multiple times based on the food being delicious and the prices being as expected. The Divers Breakfast wrap and Morning Glory with Crispy Fried Pork were our favorites.
Assava Dive Resort – They have pretty delicious chicken pad see ew and incredibly beautiful views to go with it!
Su Chili – Good spot for lunch and decent Thai food options. It’s an easy location on the way to Sairee Beach.
95 Duck – This place was awesome for very good prices. The duck with white rice is all you need! There is sometimes a line to get a table, but it goes by quickly and the staff are super friendly!