There is something about Koh Tao island that makes travelers and backpackers want to stay longer than just a quick visit! Its relaxed vibes and beautiful beaches are the reason why I returned, this time to get scuba certified… until I met someone at a cafe who convinced me to get free dive certified!
The first time I visited Koh Tao was in January of 2018 and it’s surreal being back, this time for longer than just a quick 4-day stay. Many things have changed in my life since visiting Koh Tao last year – I am now location independent and I can pretty much travel wherever I want! Check out this blog post for the inside scoop of how I got fired from my nursing job and moved to Bali.
I’m seeing Koh Tao with all new eyes now… I’m no longer super rushed to do as much as possible, but instead I’m kind of go with the flow, meet people, and relax. I can’t say that I love traveling alone – it’s harder to go on sunrise missions without someone helping me with the camera! But hey… maybe my Instagram boyfriend will turn up soon!
Here’s my complete Koh Tao guide for you. You will love it here 🙂 I was supposed to spend just 1 week here and it ended up being 2.5 weeks! I hope you love Koh Tao as much as I do!
Don’t Forget These Thailand Essentials
These are the top 5 items I would make sure you bring to Thailand. For a more comprehensive list, check out my Thailand Packing Guide.
You may have heard that the stunning beach of Maya Bay has been closed off and on this year to let the ecosystem bounce back. Part of the reason why the coral has been dying is because sunscreen can in fact bleach and kill the coral. Be responsible and keep our oceans safe!
This is obvious – but I definitely forgot my adapter when I went to Spain and had to borrow Shane’s the whole time. DON’T FORGET YOURS!
I absolutely love this sunscreen because it doesn’t smell bad and was super effective.
I couldn’t believe how much trash there was in Phi Phi. It was so heartbreaking. By using your own water bottle you aren’t contributing to the never ending waste piling up on Thailand’s beaches.
Annoying, but necessary. I was screwed when I visited Bali because I didn’t purchase travel insurance and you never know if an emergency is going to happen, or if you miss a flight or get your laptop stolen. Better safe than sorry! I use and recommend World Nomads
How to get a Sim Card
Once in Koh Samui, I picked up a Sim card at the airport – they are SO WORTH IT believe me. I believe I paid around $20 USD for 6 GB of data at the airport. BUT if you wait you can get an entire months worth of data and 15 GB for 250 baht at a shop that is right across from the pier, which I later did.
Getting to Koh Tao
Koh Samui to Koh Tao
I flew from Singapore to Koh Samui for pretty cheap – around $160 USD.
Next, I spent the night in Koh Samui at US Hostel. The funny part? I was the ONLY one at the hostel because it was the full moon party and everyone was out partying in Koh Phangan!!! I was way too tired to party though so I had a chill night in. US hostel helped me book my ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Tao the next morning at 0800 and the price included pick up from the hostel- you really don’t have to book it super far in advance.
I loved Us Hostel so much that on my way back from Koh Tao to Chiang Mai I ended up staying with them again! The hostel was super chill and the owner very sweet.
#TIP: Download the app Lomprayah if you do like planning things out. The price for the ferry was around $700 baht including pick up from my hostel.
I was picked up around 0650 AM, and I arrived to Koh Tao around 0945 AM (super short ferry ride!) You will arrive at Mae Haad pier and you can opt to rent a scooter or take a public transportation truck to your accommodation. HOWEVER – the cars really can’t get into the heart of Sairee, the more popular and lively place to stay, so it’s best if you have some sort of backpack instead of a roller suitcase.
Surat Thani to Koh Tao
You can also opt to fly into Surat Thani and take a ferry from Surat Thani to Koh Tao and book a ferry with the Lomprayah app as well for $800 baht.
Bangkok to Koh Tao
Using the Lomprayah app, you can also opt to take a bus/ferry combo for $1,100 baht ($35 USD) with times that run from 0600-1445 and 2100-0845.
Best Places to Stay in Koh Tao
Koh Tao accommodation is pretty easy to find and you have lots of options!
My first time visiting I stayed 3 nights in this stunning Air Bnb that overlooked the whole island!
For the first week of my trip this time around, I stayed with a friend near Mae Haad pier at a place called The Ace Stylish Budget found on Air Bnb because it was close to where he needed to be to scuba. However, I don’t recommend staying at Mae Haad because it’s pretty dead at night. The only 2 things I can think of that I loved about Mae Haad Pier are the cafe, Coconut Monkey, and the delicious fruit stands where I purchased mango and guava DAILY!
For the second week of my visit, I stayed at Savage Hostel. This hostel is brand new as of 2018 and has amazing breakfast that is included along with a rooftop bar and pool. There is a TON of space to work if you’re a wifi warrior, and the hostel is super chill. I loved the vibes here and it is perfectly situated in the middle of Sairee! I paid 4000 Baht for the week.
Koh Tao Bungalow
You can also opt for a Koh Tao bungalow for pretty cheap!! I recommend driving around until you find one affordable (around $350 baht/night), although you may need to drive a little further out of town for one.
This hostel has a fun social area, comfy beds, is always filled with people, there is happy hour, they serve vegan healthy options and it’s right by Mae Haad pier with great staff!
⇢Related: 11 awesome things to do in Koh Tao
⇢Related: Complete 2 week Thailand packing guide
Scooter Rental Koh Tao
Hands down the best place to rent a scooter in Koh Tao is RPM at Mae Haad pier. You can opt to let them keep your passport OR you can give a deposit of $5,000 baht and keep your passport on your.
RPM is great because if you crash and damage the bike, they won’t charge you. I rented a scooter for 1 week for $1400 baht – they will give you a discount if you rent for longer!
Koh Tao Diving
Of course the number one thing to do in Koh Tao is DIVE!!! My first trip, I did a discovery dive with Koh Tao Divers. Check out my blog post from the experience here.
This time around, I opted to do something a little more daring – take a 2 day Free Diving course with Apnea Total. The 2 day class went from 0845-2PM and cost 6,000 baht – ($188 USD) so less than a scuba certification.
This included SS1 certification – mixed theory and practice to get you into the world of breath hold diving up to 20M depth and 2 minute breath hold for the goal!
My original plan was to get scuba certified of course, but I love going with the flow! I met a super rad French guy at a cafe I was working at who convinced me to free dive instead – I thought… less gear… less money… and way more bad ass. I’M IN!
Unfortunately, I had a hard time equalizing upside down, HOWEVER, I was able to get all the way down to 15 meters feet first, which is the size of THREE BUILDINGS! Super cool!! Now I just need to keep practicing. I ended up purchasing a free diving mask and snorkel for 1400 baht to keep up with this.
My Favorite Restaurants and Cafes in Koh Tao
I was SO PUMPED to give my taste buds a break from local Balinese warung food and switch it up to Thai curries and mango sticky rice! Thai cuisine is my absolute favorite and I can safely say that I had all the red curry, green curry, and massaman curry I could eat!
I was going to include just a couple restaurants in this post, but then I had to include more so if you want to check out the best restaurants in Koh Tao, head to over to my Koh Tao Restaurant Guide here.
Koh Tao Gym and Yoga
I always make sure to join a gym whenever I am going to be in a spot for at least 5 days! Monsoon gym was my go-to on Monday’s, Wednesday’s, and Friday’s for their HIIT trainings!
I was always DRENCHED in sweat 15 minutes in, and the workouts incorporated functional training, weightlifting, and tabata style cardio. The trainer is from Zimbabwe and was also pretty cute! I purchased 6 workout sessions for 1500 baht and then I dropped in one day to the gym for 180 baht. Overall the workouts were AMAZING and I also loved the owner, Liz, who is a very talented underwater photographer @oceans_below!
If you like yoga, then Ocean Sound is a great spot! I personally never checked it out and I’m really bummed… but they have 1 week passes for just 1,000 baht and they offer classes for 90 minutes at 9AM and 6PM. Styles are vinyasa, hatha, yin, and restorative.
Where to party in Koh Tao
I only went out drinking 2 nights in Koh Tao (once to Fishbowl and once to a techno “warehouse” party but I think it’s safe to say that I’m officially old and partying doesn’t excite me anymore. HOWEVER, I’ve still listed below some options if drinking all night is your jam!
If you’re looking to meet people and get super drunk, the pub crawl will probably excite you! The Pub crawl is held n Monday’s, Wednesday’s, Friday’s, and Sunday’s. I witnesses lots of drunk shenanigans whenever I was eating in Sairee on any one of these nights!
For 480 baht, they take you to 4 bars! Meeting is at Choppers Sports Bar in Sairee at 6 PM where you grab your ticket and your free shirt. Pricing includes:
- Free bucket
- Free shots
- Free shirt
- Happy hour specials
- Prizes to be won!
This beach bar is a restaurant during the day, next there is live music, and finally it turns into a rowdy party the rest of the night!
Since the island is so small, many consider fish bowl “home” and I’m sure you all have that bar that you always end up at at the end of the night. Fish Bowl is it!
Top 3 Best Beaches in Koh Tao
KOH NANG YUAN ISLAND
This island has one of the BEST viewpoints! It can get pretty touristy during the day… the first time I went was in high season and the island was PACKED with people but this time I went around 4 PM and it was completely dead.
We got a taxi boat to take us over from Sairee beach for $1,000 baht for 4 people, or 300 baht per person there and back. The entrance fee is 100 baht and the island closes at 5 PM.
SAIREE BEACH KOH TAO
This beach has the most EPIC sunsets and is the longest beach at 2 KM. There are many restaurants and cafes lined along the beach as well as cute swings and a leaning palm tree or two.
I loved doing a daily walk down this beach around sunset time and it makes for impressive photo ops!
This beach is super fun because it not only has some excellent snorkeling, but there is also a giant boulder you can jump off of! I was too scared to climb up the rope and jump, but there were a couple brave souls going for it!
We went snorkeling here around 330 PM and it was super chill – there are also some great beach front restaurants to choose from!
Where to Get a Bamboo Tattoo
If you’re looking to get a traditional Thai tattoo, my friend had one done at Koh Tao Art Tattoo for 4,000 Thai baht! The great thing about bamboo tattoos is they heal quicker so you can get back into the sun and water!
How to Book Out of Koh Tao
The best place to book a ferry out of Koh Tao is right in front of Ban’s Diving. I purchased my ticket the day before for 700 baht to Koh Samui and the price also includes a car so you don’t have to pay for a taxi when transporting your luggage! SCORE!
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⇢Related: 2 week Thailand Itinerary
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