Koh tao is a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand attracting many divers and beach lovers. The island is popular among tourists, yet not as crowded as its neighboring islands; Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. Here is a guide to visiting Koh Tao including a list of things you must do while you are there.
Koh Tao is among the 10 cheapest places in the world to get PADI certified and boasts incredible diving sites around the island with an array of marine life. Koh Tao literally translates to turtle island, and if you get lucky, you may just see one.
Crystal Dive was a great place to get a PADI and very professional. The staff spoke great English and were very good at making you feel safe in the water.
How to get there
There is no airport on the island of Koh Tao. The closest airport is the one on Koh Samui, a 2 hour ferry ride away, yet it is extremely expensive to fly in and out of. I recommend flying to Krabi, a town on Thailand’s Southern West coast and taking a bus, then ferry from there.
It will cost around ฿800-1000 ($38AUD/£20) per person from Krabi to Koh Tao. This covers the cost of the bus and the ferry and will take a total of 7-9 hours. This depends on which ferry and bus/minivan you decide to use.
TIP! If you have time, I would recommend breaking up the journey slightly by stopping over on Koh Phangan first. This will still take around 5 hours but it is worth the visit for a few days. I will upload a new blog post with a Koh Samui itinerary here soon.
A guide to visiting Koh Tao – Where to Stay
The most popular part of Koh Tao is Sairee beach, a 20 minute walk from the ferry port. If you are on a budget, consider staying near Mae Haad Beach, only 5 minutes from the pier. There is a small beach, lots of dive shops, restaurants, 7/11 supermarkets and it is close enough to walk to the bars in Sairee beach on a night. It is a lot cheaper to stay here.
To save yourself some pennies, you should consider hiring a scooter. The taxi drivers will take you to beaches on the other side of the island, yet they inflate their prices while doing so. Their starting rate is 300THB (nearly the same price as a 2 hour ferry!).
You can rent a scooter for the entire day for 150-300 depending on which shop you go to. Alternatively, you could take a coastal route and walk to one of these incredible beaches.
TIP! Get your scooter from the street where Oli’s Motorbike Rental shop is. They are way cheaper than hiring them from the main street near the pier.
What to do in Koh Tao
As Koh Tao is one of the cheapest places in the world to get PADI certified, it is a very popular spot among divers. It attracts 1000’s of people each month.
There are a multitude of dive shops scattered around the island so you are spoiled for choice. This is the main reason why it is so cheap to dive here as it is very competitive among the owners of the shops.
The sea is very warm making it a great place to dive for hours and there is a very colourful marine life which is beautiful to see.
When you aren’t discovering the underwater world, there are multiple beaches, viewpoints and dramatic coastlines to visit.
Beaches in Koh Tao
Many of the beautiful beaches on the island are privately owned thus there is an entrance fee to access them, usually costing around 100-200THB for the day.
Sai Nuan was probably my favorite beach on the island – make sure you check it out! Just look at this beach – white sand, perfectly lined with palm trees, crystal clear turquoise, warm waters and unique rock formations creating a secluded bay.
If you would like to stick to free beaches, head to Mae Head beach or Sai Ri beach on the East side of the island close to the ferry port.
I went to Mae Head beach multiple times for an afternoon dip which was great, but I will admit it is no where near as beautiful as some of the other beaches on the island. I recommend making a day of out it and going to visit one of the other ones for an entire afternoon, making it worth the money.
Another great spot on the island to visit is Freedom beach, located at the south of the island. There is a 100THB entrance fee but it gives you access to a total of 3 spots; Freedom Beach, Taa Toh beach and the John-Suwan mountain viewpoint.
Included with the entrance fee is also a small bottle of water, free access to a kayak (if there are any available), volleyball, and a free taxi ride back to Sairee beach at 6pm.
Spend the day lazing around on this cozy beach, or grab your snorkel and head out into the crystal clear water for a swim. Venture over the man-made walkway to check out the neighboring beach known as Taa Toh.
Once the weather starts to cool down, head up to the top of John-Suwan viewpoint for an incredible view over the bay.
The hike up to the viewpoint is only 500m yet it is quite tough. There are ropes to help you pull yourself up, and if possible, take a pair of trainers instead of trying to scramble up in flip-flops.
The John-Suwan viewpoint is the perfect spot to watch the sunset. Just bare in mind that if you are catching the free taxi ride back to Sairee, it leaves at 6pm sharp so you won’t have time.
Boat Trips in Koh Tao
There are plenty of boat trips to choose from on Koh Tao, however they are a bit pricey. The average trip costs 850THB and lasts between 4-8 hours. They take you to a number of beaches around the island and provide you with snorkeling gear and a buffet lunch.
It is also possible to rent your own snorkel and mask for less than 100THB and make your own way to the beaches should you wish to save money.
Another option is to find yourself a longboat with a driver, by walking along Sairee (or Mae Haad) beach. Locals hang around on their boats, quite like taxi drivers, waiting to negotiate a price. They will take you around the island in their own longboat for the day. This is a lot cheaper than booking a tour.
A guide to visiting Koh Tao – Things to note
- The ATM’s on Koh Tao charge an extortionate processing rate; $7AUD per transaction, regardless of the amount extracted. Not only this, but they do not give you the option to withdraw cash in the local currency. This is a huge scam. This means that the machine charges you in your home currency, and then converts it into the local currency. You pay the bank to carry out the transaction, and you lose % on the currency exchange. In total, I was charged $25 for the transaction – AVOID
Alternative: Take enough cash with you to cover the duration of your stay. There are currency exchange shops if you are desperate but again they rip you off. A lot of restaurants/accommodation do not accept card.
I have an international card with *TransferWise which offer free transactions worldwide. *With my link you get a fee-free transfer of up to 500 GBP.
- There are a lot of mosquitoes on the island so make sure you wear repellent, especially at night. There is a higher risk of Dengue fever on Koh Tao compared to other places in Thailand. I met someone who lived there and got it 3 times. Protect yourself as best as you can.
- If you are wanting to go to Shark Bay, ask the locals how to get to the beach. You cannot access the beach from the location that Google Maps sends you to.
- Koh tao is slightly more expensive than the mainland for both food and accommodation. However, it is definitely worth a visit!
I hope you enjoyed this guide to visiting Koh Tao! Let me know if you use it to help you for your own trip!
If you are in Thailand and looking for other things to do, check out these blog posts for inspiration: