KOH TAO (THAILAND 🇹🇭): AN ESSENTIAL TRAVEL GUIDE WITH TIPS
- Where is Koh Tao
- How to get to Koh Tao
- When to go to Koh Tao
- How many days to stay on Koh Tao
- Where to stay and eat in Koh Tao
- Diving in Koh Tao
- What to do in Koh Tao
- Where to go out in Koh Tao
- Some tips before going to Koh Tao
- My impressions on Koh Tao
Koh Tao (or Ko Tao) is an island in southern Thailand famous for its diving spots. It is one of the three main islands of the Gulf of Thailand, with from North to South: Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui.
Its name means ‘turtle island‘ because it’s supposed to look like a turtle, but I think it looks more like a big cashew nut.
The main beach of Koh Tao is Hat Sairee (Sairee Beach), which faces the island of Koh Nang Yuan where you can go for a day trip.
Most visitors to Koh Tao come here to learn how to dive, but there are other activities to do for those who don’t like to go underwater.
Should you go to Koh Tao? Well, Koh Tao is not an essential place to see if you are going to Thailand, but it is a nice place to relax for a few days, even if you are not a diving enthusiast. There are some very good snorkelling spots, and for those who want to discover scuba diving, this is the ideal place to take their PADI certificate.
There are also very pretty bays and beaches. For its negative sides, it is a little quiet in the evening, the island of Koh Nang Yuan is full of tourists (a little less out of season), and taxi rides are expensive.
From Bangkok: from Khao San Road, by bus, departure 6am’ and arrival 12:45 (6:30am). Climate a little cool. We offer you a snack and water on the bus. Remember to take a sweatshirt with you because of the air conditioning.
You will then have to take the Lomprayah Company boat from Chumphon, which leaves at 1:30 pm. Be careful, it can be a little rough. Plan to take medication if you get seasick (they sell it in pharmacies in Bangkok).
Ferries from Lomprayah depart at 7:00, 13:30, 23:00 and midnight.
The bus+boat trip costs 1000 Baht in any branch of Khao San Road.
By train 🚉: a night train leaves Bangkok at 19:30 and arrives in Chumphon around 4am.
By plane ✈️: there’s an airport in Chumphon, otherwise go to Koh Samui. Be careful if you dive, wait 24 hours before flying again!
Upon arrival in Koh Tao, you will need to take a pick up that will drop you off at your hotel (minimum trip 150 Bath/person).
Leaving Koh Tao:
From Koh Tao you can easily reach the islands of Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan.
The return to Bangkok costs 1100 Baht from Sairee Beach. Departure at 9:00 am. Advice: do not wait in line once the taxi has dropped you off at the port: go directly to ticket office N°2! If in doubt, ask someone. Departure at 10:15, arrival at 20:30 in Khao San Road.
The climate is tropical, the weather is therefore hot and humid all year round in Koh Tao, with an average temperature about 28°C to 32°C. The sea temperature is great for swimming all year round.
In terms of climate, the best time to go to Koh Tao are the months of January, February and March.
If you can, the months you should avoid are September, October and November because it’s the monsoon season and visibility in the water is not so good. There are often thunderstorms at the end of the day, but it can also rain for days…
The tourist season runs from December to March but also in July and August. During these two periods, it is better to book your accommodation in advance. If you come during the Christmas holidays, hotels are often full.
It’s possible to dive in Koh Tao all year round but the best time for scuba diving is during the months of april to september, when the conditions are ideal. You’ll have a better chance of seeing whale sharks between March and June, but also October to early December.
If you don’t dive and snorkel, I don’t think you should stay more than 3 days. But if you are diving or want to get a diving diploma (diving courses are among the cheapest in the world), you can easily spend a full week or two.
There’s plenty of places to stay on Koh Tao, but it’s better to book in advance.
TOP 3 BEST PLACES TO STAY IN KOH TAO ISLAND
To save time, here are the best rated hotels on Booking, depending on your budget:
👉 Low budget: The Dearly Koh Tao Hostel (breakfast included, clean and confortable, beds in dormitories, great for the price)
👉 Budget moyen: Matina Mountain Resort (good location, breakfast included, amazing staff)
👉 Luxury: Jamahkiri Resort (one of the highest rated in Koh Tao in this category)
Where to eat in Koh Tao? No problem to find food in Koh Tao: you will find a good variety of restaurants (Mexican, Thai, Italian etc). In Sairee Beach there is a supermarket and a 7th street.
There are two restaurants that you must absolutely try in Koh Tao:
- Roasted Duck: a Chinese restaurant in the street opposite the 7th street of Sairee Beach, going up on the right side after Frenchkiss Diver. Perfect for the broke.
- Farango: a simply excellent Italian restaurant. Pizza marguerita at 150 bath. Try their chicken sandwich: it’s incredible.
There are about fifty dives shops in Koh Tao, with similar prices (around 900 Baht per fun dive, if you already have a license).
I dived with French Kiss Diver (no wonder, since I’m French…. ). They have a dive shop in Saree Beach, near the crossroads of 7Eleven. The staff is very nice. I chose them at random because their diveshop was next to my hotel, but they have excellent reviews on tripadvisor.
If you prefer to compare, go around the diveshops before you decide. The majority have a divemaster who speaks French.
I did two dives in June: the visibility was not exceptional. If you are a beginner diver you will love it, if you have experience and have already dived in the Red Sea, the Philippines, Indonesia… don’t expect something exceptional.
I was told there were Bullsharks two or three years ago but they are no longer there. If you’re lucky you might come across a whale shark.
The main diving spots are:
- Shark Island
- Hinwong Pinnacle
- Ko Nang Yuan
- Sail Rock
Be careful with triggerfish that can be aggressive!
Koh Tao is well developed, with a supermarket, a 7eleven and the same kinds of shops you can find in Khao San Road: tatoo, massages, hairdressers, souvenirs but also diveshop to buy diving equipment and even Gopro stores.
If you are not a diving fan, you can practice the following activities:
- Learn to juggle with fire
- Trips by boat around the island
- Bicycle rental
- Learn how to free dive
- Muay thai course
- Day trip to Koh Nang Yuan
Boat trips around the island for diving cost around 750 baht. Lunch is included as well as mask and snorkel rental. No fins provided. It is better to have your own mask and snorkel though, because you don’t know who put the snorkel in your mouth before.
Unlike Koh Phangan it’s rather quiet in the evening in Koh Tao. There’s just one nightclub, the Castle. You will see posters and girls will probably give you a flyer if you hang out at Sairee Beach.
There are also Lady Boy shows in Sairee (free admission, but you have to buy a drink).
Along the beach, near the Lotus Bar (the twisted palm tree) there are fire juggling shows. The jugglers go around the crowd to ask for a tip. Pretty fun to watch.
- Beware of scooter rental scams. Be sure to take a picture of them before you leave and report any scratches. Require a receipt for the rental.
- The wikitravel page on Koh Tao details various scams on the island. You should read it.
- If you’ve never ridden a scooter before in your life, be extremely careful: the roads are rotten and there are dogs crossing.
- It’s possible to rent a Gopro: 1000 baht for 24 hours (better bring your own).
- To get around Kho Tao: There is no tuk tuk tuk, only pick ups that act as taxis. Minimum 150 baht. Otherwise, rent a scooter. I was told there were more accidents with quads.
- ⚠️ I found the snorkelling spots very good, but WEAR A LONG-SLEEVED TEE SHIRT and a bandana to go swimming ((especially if you have short hair like me), and spread sunscreen on your calves. I got a huge sunburn on my shoulders because I only went swimming with a tank top. My calves have also been hurt. I suffered for three days. One of the guys who was in my snorkelling group had a purple back because he was so burned. Protect yourself from the sun when snorkelling.
- Snorkelling trips do not offer fins. You should bring your own if you need them. Fins are prohibited in Koh Nang Yuan.
- If you go to Koh Nang Yuan, take your own drinks and food because the prices of drinks on the island are three times more expensive than in Koh Tao.
- Protect yourself from mosquitoes: they can carry dengue fever.
- Finally, is koh tao safe? Overall, the atmosphere is relaxed and the island is safe, and you will have more to worry about from sea urchins and sunburn. However, there have been some disappearances of quite strange young foreign tourists, and the island has a mafia reputation and there are rumours of corruption by local authorities. In short, don’t do anything stupid and like everywhere else in the world, be on your guard.
I liked Koh Tao, even though I only did two dives there. I loved the snorkelling trip but unfortunately we couldn’t make it all around the island because there were too many waves on the West Coast (June!).
Sairee Beach is not exceptional and there are much more beautiful beaches around the island, but you will have to explore a little, by scooter or bicycle.
If you wonder why the women living on the island wear white makeup on their faces, it’s because the majority of the people in Koh Tao are Burmese. So they wear the traditional Burmese make-up, the Thanaka.
There are many Europeans who go to Koh Tao (Spanish, French, English…), mostly groups of girls or solo travellers. I thought it was crazy, because except for a few groups of guys or couples, there was 90% of girls on Koh Tao. Do they like diving more than guys? Finally, I met few Asian travellers there, except for a group of Japanese.