Ah Thailand, the land of smiles, spicy food, and out of this world beaches. But we’re not here to talk about the big names like Phuket or Bangkok. Nope, we’re zeroing in on a hidden gem that’s perfect for both adventure and family travel: Koh Tao.
Located in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Tao is the smallest of a three island series with Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. While they’re busy throwing Full Moon Parties (a bucket list beach party full of glow sticks, fire dancers, and tequila buckets), Koh Tao seduces you with its serene beaches, and mind blowing dive spots.
Samara was the first to visit Thailand way back in 2015. After a quick trip up north trekking in the mountains of Chiang Mai, she headed south to her first Thai island experience: Koh Tao. Since that first trip, we’ve been back together 3 times to explore this small slice of paradise.
- Why Koh Tao is a must-visit: Trust us, it’s not just for scuba enthusiasts.
- How to get to Koh Tao and how to get around: From flights, buses, trains, and ferries, we’re making it easier than ever to get to this tropical paradise.
- Where to stay on this secluded island paradise: From budget hostels to luxury resorts, we’ve got you covered.
- The food scene: It’s easy to eat your way through the island and we’ve got the scoop of where to go.
- Activities that go beyond diving: Yes, there’s more to Koh Tao than just its underwater world (although that is one of the best parts).
We’ve been, we’ve seen, and as usual, we’re ready to fill you in on all the best insider info on one of our favorite islands in Thailand.
Ready? Let’s go island-hopping.
If you think all islands are created equal, it’s time for a tropical awakening. Koh Tao packs a punch far above its weight. But hey, don’t take our word for it. According to the Department of Tourism, over 400,000 visitors set foot on this tiny isle every year, and here’s why you should too.
- A Diver’s Paradise: Firstly, it’s one of the best diving destinations in the world and one of the cheapest places to get your scuba diving certification. We got PADI certified here on our honeymoon in 2017 and it was one of the best things we’ve ever done. The island has more than 50 dive sites, ranging from shallow coral gardens to deep-water wreck dives. Perfect for divers of all levels.
- Great for all travelers: We’ve visited Koh Tao multiple times—first as solo travelers, and many times since together. We can’t wait to bring our little one back as we think Koh Tao is an incredibly family friendly island.
- Adventurous or Chill, You Pick: Apart from diving and snorkeling, Koh Tao offers great hiking trails, cooking classes, amazing beaches, great island hopping experiences, and more.
- Not Just a Quick Stopover: Koh Tao is more than just a pitstop on your way to Koh Phangan or Koh Samui. It’s an experience that deserves to stand alone in your travel itinerary.
Wondering how long to stay in Koh Tao? While we could easily spend a few weeks on the island, there’s so much to do in Thailand that you will want to keep moving. We’d recommend spending 3-4 days on Koh Tao, maybe longer if you’re planning to get your Open Water Scuba Dive certification on the island.
How to get to Koh Tao
Koh Tao is the ideal blend of accessible and off the beaten path allure that makes it perfect for adventure and family travel. Now, navigating your way to this slice of heaven can seem daunting, but trust us, it’s well worth every transfer and minute spent.
So, how do you actually get to Koh Tao?
Whether you’re jetting in from the bustling metropolis of Bangkok or hopping over from another Thai island like Koh Samui or Koh Phangan, we’re here to guide you every step of the way.
Where is Koh Tao
First things first, let’s get our geography right. Koh Tao sits about 70 kilometers off the coast of the mainland. Located in the Gulf of Thailand, it is the smallest of its sister islands, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. Koh Tao sits in the Surat Thani Province, making it easily accessible from other popular tourist areas of Thailand.
How to Travel from Bangkok to Koh Tao
Most people traveling around Thailand will have a central starting point of Bangkok. This bustling capital city has a major international airport with some of the cheapest flights into the country. If you’re in the city, you may be wondering how to get from Bangkok to Koh Tao.
Well, you’ve got a few options depending on your budget and time restrictions.
The fastest (and most expensive) way to get to Koh Tao is by air. Fly into Koh Samui Airport (USM), and then hop on a ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Tao. The whole process can take as little as 4-5 hours, depending on your flight and ferry timings.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to check out our guide on how to find cheap flights! This could be your chance to score great airfare deals.
If you’re more of a “scenic route” kind of traveler, then a train journey might be up your alley. You can take a train from Bangkok to Surat Thani, then a bus to the pier. You will then take the ferry Koh Tao. The train ride itself can take up to 12 hours, so make sure you’re well-stocked with snacks and entertainment before you leave.
By Bus and Ferry
Tight on cash? Taking a bus and ferry combo is a cheap and efficient way to get to the islands and is perfect for backpackers. You’ll take a bus from Bangkok to Surat Thani, and then jump on a ferry to Koh Tao. The entire trip can take anywhere from 10 to 14 hours, depending on your timing and connections.
If you’re going to opt for this route, we’d highly recommend booking an overnight bus. You don’t want to waste a day of travel and this way you can save even more money by not paying for a night’s accommodation.
How to Get Around Koh Tao
Once you’ve made it to the island, you’ll understand what we mean by this island is off the beaten path. Half the roads on the island are dirt roads. While you will find all the basic amenities on the island, it really does feel like you’re on a remote untouched island – one of the biggest reasons we love it!
You have a few different options for how to get around the island. While it may be a small island it can feel very remote. Unless you are staying in the downtown core, you will likely need some wheels to get you from point A to B.
Our favorite way to explore anywhere in Thailand is with a scooter rental. There are scooter rental companies all over the island. You can rent from your hotel, a travel agent, or any other scooter rental company you find.
Pro tip: We recommend taking a video of the bike’s condition before you drive off so you have proof of any damage it has before you get on.
While we are HUGE advocates of getting around on a scooter in Thailand, we do have a cautionary tale. The streets of Koh Tao go from paved, to dirt, to paved again. We highly recommend you are comfortable on a scooter before you rent here as it really isn’t the best place to learn. While you will not have an issue with traffic, the road conditions aren’t the best.
While we personally have never had a bad experience with a scooter rental, we have friends who did. When we were in Koh Tao, we were with some friends who ended up crashing their scooter right on a pothole right where pavement meets dirt. They ended up in the medical clinic, had to cancel their dive trip, and were on the hook for a fair amount of money with the scooter rental.
We don’t say this to scare you – quite the opposite! We highly recommend renting a scooter in Koh Tao, we just urge you to be careful when you do.
Not a fan of motorized scooters? No worries! Bicycles are another great option. Koh Tao is a small island and the main downtown area is relatively flat so renting a bike is a great and eco friendly way to see the sights and soak in the beauty of the island! Lots of hotels will rent bicycles.
If you’re staying downtown in Koh Tao, you can easily walk around. While this may be a great option in the city, the island is relatively hilly in some areas. If you want to visit some of the best beaches on the island, you may want to consider renting some wheels.
Best time to visit Koh Tao
Before you get too excited about heading to this beautiful tropical island, you’re going to want to consider your timing. While Koh Tao might be hot year round, being stranded on an island during monsoon season isn’t exactly the most desirable option. To make sure you have the best trip possible, we’re diving (pun intended) into the best times to visit Koh Tao.
Koh Tao weather
Wondering when to make the trip? Timing can make a big difference in how you experience Koh Tao. The good news is, no matter what time you’re visiting Koh Tao, you’re going to be hot! This tropical climate is warm year round and highly humid. Let’s break down what you can expect in terms of Koh Tao weather.
Hot and dry season: February – May – Expect highs of about 36℃ (97℉) and lows of 28℃ (82℉) with high humidity. Ocean temperatures during this time are 30℃+ (86℉+).
Cool and windy season: May – October – Expect highs of about 34℃ (93℉) with winds helping to cool the island down. Ocean temperatures are around 29℃+ (84℉+) with wavey conditions.
Rainy season: October – February – Expect cooler weather around 28℃ (82℉) with rainfall that comes in short but intense bursts. You will typically have sunny mornings with thunderstorms in the afternoon.
You should base the decision for when to visit based on the activities you want to do in Koh Tao. If you are coming to Koh Tao to enjoy their epic scuba diving, you may want to choose your time of year wisely.
- Best underwater visibility in Koh Tao: between July and September
- Whale shark season in Koh Tao: between March and June. November also has some whale sharks.
- Busiest time for tourism: between June and September
- Monsoon season: October and November are monsoon season
Where to stay in Koh Tao? Koh Tao Hotels
Deciding where to stay in Koh Tao can be a bit overwhelming, given the variety of options available. You will get your pick of accommodation in Koh Tao. From budget-friendly guesthouses to luxury resorts, there’s something for everyone. So, how do you choose? Let’s break it down by budget to make your decision easier. And keep an eye out; we’ve got some accommodation options that’ll knock your socks off.
If you’re backpacking through Asia, or just a savvy traveler looking for the best budget stay in Koh Tao, you’ve got options. Whether you’d like to meet your new bestie in a hostel or guesthouse or just a family traveling on a shoestring looking for a budget hotel, Koh Tao’s got your back.
Typical price: from $5 to $40 USD per night
Amenities: Real budget travelers on the lower end of this range should expect shared dorms. If you’re paying in the mid to upper range of this price point, you can expect clean air conditioning and private but basic rooms. Almost all accommodations will offer some wifi but may be in common areas and not reach rooms.
- Our favorite budget friendly hostel in Koh Tao: Savage Hostel is a must if you’re feeling social and want to meet new people in an upbeat setting.
- Wanting to splurge a bit more? The Dearly Koh Tao Hostel is a great eco friendly hostel with a pool, great reviews, and a PADI dive center.
- If you want a private room with a great price tag, we love Koh Tao Heritage.
Mid Range Hotels
One of our favorite parts about Thailand is you don’t have to pay a lot to get a full luxury treatment. A comfortable hotel with great views and nice amenities is fairly affordable allowing you to feel like you’re splurging without breaking the bank.
Typical price: Your average hotel in Koh Tao will typically cost you between $40 – $100 USD per night
Amenities: Expect air conditioning, nice rooms, ocean views, and swimming pools.
Koh Tao is a luxurious destination in itself. The whole island has a remote luxury island feel to it. If you’re wanting that “private island escape” vibe, this is THE PERFECT place for it. There are many amazing luxury resorts in Koh Tao all worth a mention and the best part is they are much cheaper than you might think!
Typical price: For a luxurious hideaway in Koh Tao, you can expect to pay $200 – $800 USD or more a night
Amenities: Plan for a beachfront location, private villas, top notch dining, and full service spas.
- Cape Shark Villas: This is our go-to hideaway for breathtaking vistas. The pool area, in particular, offers unbeatable views you won’t want to miss.
- Phandara Luxury Pool Villas: If you’re all about the setting, this resort wows with its beautifully designed property—complete with panoramic scenery to make your stay unforgettable.
What sets both these resorts apart is their commitment to eco-friendly accommodations, making your stay not just luxurious but also conscious.
Koh Tao restaurants
One of our favorite parts of Thailand is the food. When we aren’t traveling we make Thai food at least once a week. Green curry runs through our veins so we LOVED eating our way through this cute little island.
The street food scene in Koh Tao is pretty great, especially considering the size of the island. We could, and often do, live off Thai banana pancakes and fruit shakes. Seriously, do not leave Thailand without trying their kiwi shakes! But when you’re spending your days hiking or scuba diving, you will definitely need something more substantial to eat.
Our favorite restaurants in Koh Tao:
- Barracuda Roof Top Restaurant & Bar: epic views and delicious food. Their Kung Po cauliflower wings are amazing!
- Su Chili: some of the best Thai food on the island
- Breeze Koh Tao: beachfront restaurant with the best Pad Thai and smoothies ever!
- Thaita Italian Restaurant: a must visit to if you’re craving some amazing pasta dishes!
Things to do in Koh Tao
Take it from us, you will have NO PROBLEM filling your time on the island! There are so many great things to do on Koh Tao.
We’ve never had any problems in Koh Tao and would consider the island to be safe for tourists. As with many islands, you are Of course, you will want to exercise basic street smarts.
Our top Koh Tao safety tips:
- Motorbike safety: As we mentioned before, scooter crashes aren’t uncommon on this island. Make sure you’re comfortable on a scooter before you rent here.
- Water safety: Not all beaches have lifeguards so make sure you stay near the shore, especially in the windy season and when snorkeling.
- Be alert: Petty crime, like pickpocketing, can happen anywhere. Stay alert in public areas and avoid dark alleys.
- Drink responsibility: What’s an island vacation without a cocktail or ice cold Chang in hand? We’re definitely not saying don’t drink, but no your limits. And don’t drink and scooter!
General safety tips
- Stay hydrated: The tropical climate can be unforgiving. Always carry water with you.
- Secure your belongings: Use lockers or safes provided by your accommodation.
- Get travel insurance: Ever since we got really bad food poisoning in Koh Phi Phi that landed us in the hospital, we have been huge advocates for travel insurance. Never travel without it! Make sure it covers medical emergencies and theft.
Is Koh Tao worth visiting?
Yes, yes, YES! Seriously, run don’t walk. Tell your boss, get in your car and drive to the airport.
Koh Tao is one of the best islands we’ve ever visited. This small little island paradise offers SO MUCH to see and do. No matter what your budget you can expect an epic trip.
It may feel small and cozy, but it’s that perfect blend of relaxing and vibing. Every time we visit we leave with new friends and tons of travel memories.
One of our favorite memories is jump roping fire. We were walking down the beach with some friends and we got pulled into a fire dance show which ended with Myles jumping a fire rope on the beach under the moonlight. Never a dull moment.
Koh Tao’s your jam if you’re:
- overworked and need a castaway style retreat where you spend a week with a book in a hammock.
- looking to dive in some of the warmest and clearest water in the world.
- you’re looking to meet some new friends and dance under the moonlight.
Koh Tao isn’t just another Thai island; it’s a tropical paradise that offers something for everyone. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, looking for a quiet slice of paradise, or somewhere in between, this island has got you covered.
With its world-class diving spots, stunning beaches, and a range of activities from hiking to cooking classes, you’ll never run out of things to do in Koh Tao. Pair that with the varying options in accommodations, from budget stays to luxury resorts, and you’ve got yourself an all-encompassing travel destination.
But what truly sets Koh Tao apart is its intimate yet vibrant atmosphere. Koh Tao is a vibe. Make watching the sunsets, eating delicious food, and snorkeling through crystal clear water your full time job on this beautiful slice of paradise.
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