Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, is a small island located on the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand, not far away from Koh Samui and Koh Phangan islands. Koh Tao is famous among yang people, backpackers and those who are seeking to get a PADI license for Divers. The island is popular for diving, amazing beaches and incredible sunsets.
Koh Tao is one of my favourite places to be ever! … And is often in the top 10 of the world’s most beautiful tropical islands. Koh Tao is the smallest of the three most popular islands in the Gulf of Thailand and less touristy than Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. Koh Samui is famous for its all-inclusive kind of visitors, and Koh Phangan is the party heaven for backpackers. Koh Tao is different and turned out to be the perfect place to be!
Koh Tao: Weather, Climate and Seasons
The weather in Koh Tao has two seasons – wet and dry. Throughout the year the climate is tropical and the weather is hot and humid. The temperature ranges between 28° to 32°. The official monsoon season on the Island runs from September to the end of November. Monsoon is mostly short 2-hour downfalls in the late afternoon, but in November it will be raining for days.
The island is at its busiest between July and September and from Christmas until March. During these months it is better to book in advance. If you’re not keen on high temperatures, you better visit the islands between May and June when the weather is not too hot. Accommodation prices depend on the season.
Getting to Koh Tao
Thailand has some of the best public transportation systems in the world. There is no joke – I was totally blown away by how good the transportation and connections really are! There is something for every type of traveller and the travel options literally suit every pocket. It is so easy and simple to get around and you can book any tickets anytime and anywhere!
Getting to Koh Tao
Want to fly?
Whether you decide to fly from Bangkok or Chiang Mai to Koh Tao, you have three airports as an option: flying to Koh Samui, Surat Thani or Chumphon. If you go for Koh Samui you should have in mind, this option is the most expensive one. Koh Samui Airport is a private Airport so you have to pay an extra airport fee.
Depending on the season or how far in advance you book your ticket, a domestic flight from Bangkok to Chumphon or Surat Thani starts from 35 € one way, and from Chiang Mai, it is about 70 € also one way. Several Airlines offers cheap ticket from Chiang Mai and Bangkok, such as Nok Air or Air Asia. Koh Samui Airport is privately owned and operated by Bangkok Airways.
If you fly to Chumphon Airport, you will have to find a taxi to take you to the ferry. This a good option if you are short on time and want to reach the island as soon as possible. From Chumphon, there are several boat companies. Prices depend on the comfort of the boat and the length of the trip. It can take from 90 min to 5 hours by overnight cargo!
If you fly to Surat Thani Airport the best way is to catch a boat from the city of Surat Thani in the very early morning. The ferry ride is about 3-4 hours. From the airport, there are buses to Don Sak Pier from where you will get your ferry to Koh Tao. You can book your ferry tickets in advance, and most of the ferry companies can come and pick you up at the train/bus station. At the pier, you will board a ferry that will take you to Maehaad Pier in Koh Tao. Good to know is that the ferry stops also in Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. The last stop is Koh Tao. This journey will take about 3 hours.
Surat Thani Airport is connected with many cities like Bangkok, Singapore and Penang in Malaysia.
Many people choose to fly to Koh Samui Airport as there are frequent flights from Bangkok’s International Airport of Suvarnabhumi. Once you are in Koh Samui, you can take the comfortable high-speed catamaran boats to reach the small islando in just 1 hour. There are two boats daily.
Flying from Chiang Mai to Surat Thani
We were travelling from Chiang Mai to Koh Tao and to be honest, this was not the easiest thing! If you travel by bus or train it can take up to two days, so this was no option for us. We booked a flight operated by Air Asia from Chiang Mai to Surat Thani which cost about 70 € per person and took about 2.5 hours. We took the very first flight and arrived at Surat Thani Airport at 8:30 am. From there we booked a bus ticket to Don Sak Pier from where we got our ferry to Koh Tao. All in all, we started at 5 am in Chaing Mai and arrived at 2:30 pm. I literally had the feeling we broke the Wolrd Record 😀
Want to take the train from Bangkok?
If you want to travel by train you can take it from the Bangkok train station and travel to Chumphon. Taking the train is very easy and cheap and is the better option if you have more time to spend in Thailand. There are eight trains leaving daily for Chumphon. The first train departs at 8:05 am, the last – at 6:30 pm. The price of the train ticket costs between 10 € and 30 €.
Want to take the bus from Bangkok?
You have to take the bus from Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok and buy tickets to Chumphon Bus station. From here you should take a taxi to the pier where the ferry is leaving. The bus tickets start from 10 € and can go up to 25 €.
From Ko Samui and Koh Phangan
If you are staying in the neighbouring islands, it is also possible to explore the islandon a day trip. Many diving centres in Ko Samui and Koh Phangan are diving around Koh Tao and they also offer one-hour trip every day.
From Phi Phi Islands, Krabi and Ko Lanta
You have to get to Surat Thani by ferry + bus + taxi + ferry to Koh Tao. Or you can fly from Krabi to Koh Samui and then by ferry from Koh Samui.
Koh Tao is actually a very small island but most of the happenings are along the west coast. The two busiest beaches on Koh Tao are Mae Haad and Sairee Beach. These are also the best place to enjoy some amazing sunsets!
ATMs are available in Mae Haad and at Sairee Beach. It is always better to get cash before heading out.
Getting Around in Koh Tao
Although the island is quite small (about 21 km²), besides the most popular Sairee beach on the west coast, the rest of the island is unfortunately very difficult to reach without a motorbike or a taxi boat. The best way around the island is by scooter, which cost about 7 € per day. For us renting a scooter was the best option. There are taxis on the island but they charge a lot!
The road infrastructure of Koh Tao is very basic. There is one main road running from the South of Koh Tao to the North of the island going through Sairee village, Mae Haad and Chalok Bay. The other roads are really tricky to drive on, not impossible but you have to be careful.
Always, always ask for a helmet. Of course, it is better to have an international driving license. Avoid driving at night – there are many drunk drivers on the island.
You can also chart a longtail local boat in order to explore the island. Sometimes it is the better option to take a boat rather than drive your scooter or climb down to some beaches. A good example is the Mango Bay – please go for the taxi boat! The boat can take you to all isolated beaches or for a snorkelling day trip. Prices have to be bargained.
Safety on Koh Tao
Don’t drink the water! It is not potable. Water from the tap will make you sick and that is definitely the last thing you want during your trip to Bangkok!
Don’t do drugs! Technically, an imprisonment of anywhere from 1-20 years and 20,000-400,000 baht may be applied.
Although it is not unusual to see people smoking e-cigarettes in Thailand, this is technically breaking the law as possession and smoking of e-cigarettes is illegal.
Be aware of the Sun! The sun is also something different from the sun we know in Europe … Always wear sunscreen with 50+ SPF! Not kidding, it will heart if you don’t!
Don’t drink and drive! It is tricky enough when you are sober … The roads are dirty and in bad condition. You will notice a lot of travellers around the island with bandaged appendages or the so-called “Koh Tao tattoos” from motorbike accidents.
It is a really god idea to invest in travel insurance for scuba diving because you never know what could happen and when you might need it!
Always have your 50% DEET Spray on: There is no vaccination against malaria or dengue fever so you have to prevent the mosquito bites as far as you can. Malaria could be a problem if you’re hiking through the jungle or mountain trekking during the rainy seasons. The best solution: use 50% DEET spray, wear long sleeves and trousers and sleep inside mosquito nets.
Where to stay in Koh Tao
On Koh Tao, there is a large selection of beautiful accommodations including hotels, bungalows and apartments. We stayed at Sairee Beach, the main place of Koh Tao where you will also find many great restaurants and shops. And of course – the best place for enjoying some amazing sunsets!
Most of the resorts and hostels are located in Sairee Beach and Chalok Bay, as well as the Padi centres and shops.
I can totally recommend our apartment Koh Tao Heights Exclusive Apartments (here) – a 2-minute drive or 10 minutes walk from Sairee Beach. The location was fantastic, very private and romantic with sweeping views of the complete island – ocean, jungle, and mountain views! The apartment was spacious. The view from the apartment was so amazing – the best breakfast view on the island!
Our hosts A and Dan were the best hosts I have ever had in my life. They picked us up from the pier (for free!). Organized a scooter for us. We even got a free mobile phone for the duration of our stay to order food and call taxis if we wanted to. Unbelievable value for money. We will be back for sure!
The only downside is the incredibly steep road to it so it’s clearly easier to rent a scooter, which is what we did on the first day.
Best Things to Do in Koh Tao
Snorkelling and Scuba Diving
Nowadays, Koh Tao is one of the most famous and best places to get your open water PADI certification and of course – to practice scuba diving and snorkelling! The underwater world is colourful, unique and amazing!
Most people choose Koh Tao for diving and taking dive master courses. Although the island is pretty small, there are around 80 diving schools here!
Koh Tao is one of the most beautiful diving and snorkelling spots not only in Thailand but also in the whole world. You can even go snorkelling directly from some beaches and experience the colourful underwater world right away. Some of the best places for snorkelling are Tanote Bay, Hin Wong Bay and Mango Bay.
Go Snorkelling and Kayaking Around the Islands on a Day Trip
You can do snorkelling from the many beaches in Koh Tao or you can hop on a snorkelling boat trip which you can easily book. One of the best spots is Hin Wong Bay – located on the east side of Koh Tao and it is not difficult to reach. Probably the best way to explore the bay is by kayak because it is kind of difficult to walk on stones. Hin Wonk Bay is an amazing place for snorkelling, the area is laid back and you’ll find almost no tourists here!
Exploring the Island on a Scooter
Although the island is quite small (about 21 km²), besides the most popular Sairee beach on the west coast, the rest of the island is unfortunately very difficult to reach without a motorbike or a taxi boat. The best way around the island is by scooter, which cost about 7 € per day. For us renting a scooter was the best option.
Here you can find the best 15 beaches in Koh Tao:
Enjoy the Sunset from Sairee Beach
You should spend the evenings in one of the many beach bars with a fantastic sunset! Head to a bar on Sairee and grab a drink or two … and watch the sun go down with the most beautiful shades of pink and purple!
Enjoy a Traditional Thai Massage
… As anywhere in Thailand! My very favourite thing to do is to enjoy a good old Thai Massage!
Hiking, Rock Climbing
Koh Tao’s landscape is mainly mountainous and hilly, rock climbing and hiking is one of the best option to explore the island!
If you are keen on cliff jumping, Laem Tien Beach is your place to be! Laem Tien is a very small rocky beach with crystal clear waters, perfect for snorkelling! The beach is a great spot for cliff jumping and also for scuba divers since they can swim through underwater tunnels!
Koh Tao Viewpoints
Koh Tao has AMAZING viewpoints such as Mango Viewpoint (100 THB), John Suwan Viewpoint (50 THB), Koh Nang Yuan Viewpoint (100 THB) and Koh Nang Yuan Viewpoint (100 TBH)
Paddleboarding is always fun, especially during sunset at Sairee Beach! Many companies and restaurants have paddleboards for rent.
Relax on the beaches of Koh Tao
The beaches of Koh Tao are exceptionally beautiful with white sand and clear turquoise waters. Perfect to spend a few hours on the beach under the shade of palm trees or in the beautiful water.
Koh Tao has great nightlife! There are so many great bars such as the Fish Bowl, Lotus or Fizz bar on Sairee Beach. They are the perfect spots for a cocktail (or two, or three … ), some dancing on the sand, live music, and fire shows!
Eating and Drinking
Koh Tao has plenty of good and also cheap restaurants and bars! All locations at Sairee Beach are a bit more expensive than those in the village or on the main road.
Day Trip to Koh Nang Yuan
Koh Nang Yuan is a small island located in the southern half of the Gulf of Thailand not too far from the idyllic diving islands of Koh Tao. Koh Nang Yuan is actually a collection of 3 small islands connected by a massive sandbar and surrounded by crystal-clear aquamarine water on all sides. The white coral sandbar forms a shoreline between the islands during a low tide and vanishes under when the ocean rises during the high tide. The beach of Koh Nang Yuan is absolutely beautiful, but the real treasure is what lies below the water level. The small island of Koh Nang Yuan has possibly the most preserved coral-based marine life found in the Gulf of Thailand.
Koh Nang Yuan is really close to Koh Tao Island – only 10 minutes away from Koh Tao by via longtail boat. Koh Nang Yuan Island is one of the top places to visit when heading to Koh Tao. The island is a very popular place for diving and shallow-water snorkelling.
Here you can find everything you need to know before going to Koh Nang Yuan:
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