Let’s say the truth, most travelers are super excited about exploring Thailand’s beautiful islands. Of course everyone wants to visit the temples, try as much Thai food as possible as well as learn about Thai culture, but the islands are definitely the highlight of the trip. So I must say Koh Tao Island won’t disappoint you and I can’t wait to share with you all the best things to do in Koh Tao, Thailand.
Koh Tao is a diving destination big time, most likely because diving is awesome and super cheap over there, you can’t go wrong with that. But there is so much more going on this beautiful island situated in the Gulf of Thailand you will fall in love with it.
Before I list what to do in Koh Tao, there are a few details about planning your trip there that we need to talk about. The first one is safety, as in the past years there were a few incidents with tourists there. So, is Koh Tao safe? Yes, it is. Koh Tao is safe like any other island in Thailand, safer than Bangkok and way safer than Brazil, where I came from. Of course, you must be aware of pickpockets, avoid dangerous behavior, and be smart enough to not fall in a tourist scam. Still, all these precautions you need to have at any other destination in the world, probably including your own country.
Now let’s move to our guide to Koh Tao: things to do and travel tips.
How long to stay in Koh Tao, Thailand
Well, let’s say time will really depend on the purpose of your trip to Koh Tao. In case you want to get your scuba diving certification in Koh Tao, which is strongly recommended as it’s one of the cheapest places in the world to get it, I would say minimum 4 or 5 days because the diving course takes about 2 and half days. But if you are already certified, not interested in getting certified or not interested in diving at all, hummmm… I guess 3 days in Koh Tao would be nice to soak up the chilled out vibe of the island, explore all the beautiful beaches and enjoy a little bit of its nightlife. If you are traveling on a budget, you might want to stay longer as Koh Tao is a cheap destination.
The best time to visit Koh Tao Island
One important thing to consider when visiting the paradisiac Thai Islands is that the monsoon seasons happen in different periods of the year. Differently than the South West coast, by Andaman Sea, Koh Tao and the rest of the Gulf of Thailand (Koh Samui and Koh Phangan) gets hit by the North East monsoon, which happens from about October to April. The good thing is the significant rains in the Gulf of Thailand are only between November and February.
In short, you will have a long time frame to visit Koh Tao every year. The peak of the hot dry season is between March and May, where temperatures will be around 35ºC and water temperatures near 30ºC on average. I start sweating just by remembering it! [LOL]. If you suffer too much with the heat, try visiting Koh Tao any time from May to October when it’s still warm but much windier.
How to get to Koh Tao in Thailand
We really want to make your life easier so we have prepared many tips for you to get to Koh Tao easier and safer from many different places in Thailand. Click here to check this guide out.
In a brief summary, getting to Koh Tao involves flight + ferry, or flight + bus/van + ferry, or bus + ferry. Which means that if you’re coming from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Koh Lipe, or Krabi region you should allow a day to travel to Koh Tao. The good news is that the island is a popular destination so there are plenty of transportation options you can choose from. Check a few options of transportation to Koh Tao here.
Read here: How to get to Koh Tao
Where to stay in Koh Tao, Thailand
Once you have decided when to go and how long to stay in Koh Tao, it’s time to decide where to stay on the island before we can go farther into the fun part and talk about the best things to do in Koh Tao.
One thing you need to keep in mind is, although Koh Tao is a small island, it’s still a bit far to walk from one end to the other. So, if you can, just rent a scooter and that will allow you to go everywhere any time of the day, which means choosing a place to stay will become a little less complicated. Don’t worry if you can’t drive a scooter, they have taxi service available on the island.
I have personally stayed in two different locations on the island, one was a hotel near Mae Haad, Koh Tao Pier where all boats arrive, but I didn’t love staying there. It wasn’t bad but I realized it was much nicer to stay in Sairee Beach when I actually moved to abungalow there.
We are really willing to help you get this sorted and we have also prepared a guide on places to stay in Koh Tao, click here to check it out.
10 Best things to do in Koh Tao
Yay! Let’s get to the fun part… I can’t wait to talk about the incredible things to do in Koh Tao, by the end you might decide to extend your stay like I did. Yes, the island is without a doubt a great diving destination, but there is so much more to it. The list of Koh Tao activities is endless, but I am also a big fan of the idea of slowing down and doing nothing sometimes. So I will keep this Koh Tao Guide simple and list only the main activities, all the rest you can find out for yourself or just wisely use your time beach bumming.
#1 Experience Koh Tao Scuba diving scene
The number 1 reason most travelers visit Koh Tao is scuba diving, so let’s start with that. There is a massive Scuba Diving community on the island which helps create that chilled out vibe. There must be like 100 dive schools in Koh Tao and the reason is: Koh Tao diving is great and cheap, some adventure bloggers saying it’s one of the cheapest places in the world. It’s really good though, worth signing up for your Open Water Diver Certification course.
When I first visited the island I was already certified, so I went on a few fun dives in Koh Tao and they were amazing. I have been out with Roctopus Dive and I honestly can’t recall the second dive center’s name as I forgot to get their stamp on my logbook, sorry! But it doesn’t matter which dive school you choose to go with, you will love diving in Koh Tao.
Nat and Rob did their Open Water Dive Certification in Koh Tao with Mojo Divers and they loved it. After many trips to the island they finally stayed long enough to experience Koh Tao diving and now they can’t wait to go back.
#2 SUP and Sunset at Sairee Beach, Koh Tao
Sairee Beach Koh Tao is great for many reasons, it’s a beautiful stretch of white sand and crystal clear water for the perfect west facing beach. Yes, that means it’s the perfect place for a relaxing sunset. It’s actually the largest beach on the island and there are many beach bars along the shore. You can just bring your beach towel and isolate yourself somewhere hidden or just enjoy one of the bar’s happy hour specials while laying lazy on their bean bags or sunbeds.
The sunset at Sairee Beach is so special I could go on about it forever, after all I watched quite a few of them. My favorite way of doing it though was paddle boarding. Yes! Just find a SUP board along the beach to rent and run to the ocean, this is a great way to exercise your body, mind and soul, not to mention the amazing pictures you will take. Trust me!
It doesn’t really matter how you choose to spend your sunset session at Sairee Beach, you will be awed by it.
#3 Explore the island on a motorbike
I mentioned before Koh Tao is a bit too big for doing it all on foot, although it’s not impossible, you would waste so much precious time on this island if you decided to walk everywhere. I strongly recommend renting a scooter to those who are capable of driving a scooter well. It mind sound silly to some, but the island isn’t a good place to learn how to drive, roads are pretty curvy, hilly and sandy there, you will notice a lot of travelers covered in plasters and bandages and the last thing you want is to get into an accident during your Koh Tao holidays.
Don’t forget to buy your Travel Insurance!
With that in mind, once you have your two wheeler you will realize how much more you will be able to explore and how much longer your list of things to do in Koh Tao will be. On top of Sairee Beach, you will find so many secret points, bays, beaches and viewpoints you will be amazed.
#4 Snorkeling in Koh Tao
You might not be into diving for whatever reason but snorkeling will be a lovely option for you to see the marine life in Koh Tao, you will not regret it. There are plenty of options for half or full day snorkeling trips which is actually a great activity as you will get to adventure yourself a bit farther, get to see Koh Tao from a different angle while on the boat, have an actual guide telling you where to go and on top of that, meet new people.
If you don’t want to spend time shopping around for the best Koh Tao Snorkeling Tour, check this option: Koh Tao & Koh Nang Yuan Day Trip by speedboat.
Do you want to experience snorkeling in Koh Tao by yourself? You always have the option of buying or renting your own snorkeling gear and going snorkeling just off the shore at any of the beaches in Koh Tao. Some of the spots you would visit with the tours you will be able to access just from the beach mostly around the South of the island. Expect to see turtles, black tip sharks, big trigger fishes and parrot fishes, which are my favorite ones. I love their colors.
Not all of the bays around the island can be accessed on foot, so another great option for you would be renting a kayak and exploring the South of the Island while snorkeling, a great combination to keep you busy and fit. No matter which one you choose, just get out there and do it, because snorkeling in Koh Tao is awesome.
#5 Visit Koh Nang Yuan
Koh Nang Yuan is a small island off the North West coast of Koh Tao, it’s so close it’s almost a part of Tao Island, that’s another reason you shouldn’t miss it. Not only is this island extremely unique and beautiful, it’s got an amazing hike leading to an awesome viewpoint.
On top of relaxing and enjoying a landscape you usually only see on postcards, snorkeling there is a-ma-zing and the view from the viewpoint is priceless. It will make all your friends jealous of you after you post your photos on Instagram. Don’t worry, the hike up there is quite easy.
To visit Koh Nang Yuan you can take a taxi boat from Sairee Beach, which should cost you between 200 and 300 THB return ticket, plus 100 THB for the entrance fee to the island. Believe me, it’s totally worth it. You can also join the full day snorkeling tour in Koh Tao, they will make a stop there as well. Or simply hire your private boat to visit the island.
#6 Koh Tao beach hopping
The Island is surrounded by shallow turquoise crystal clear waters that will blow your mind. Spare some time to explore the best beaches in Koh Tao and discover secret ones. No matter what kind of beach person you are, whether you will be suntanning while sipping a cocktail, reading a book, swimming, snorkeling or kayaking, just get out there and enjoy it because there is as much beauty above the surface as there is down under it.
So here are the best beaches in Koh Tao:
Sairee Beach is the most popular one. Not only is it beautiful, it’s very easy to get to, it has a lot going on to keep you busy, you name it, you got it. Shops, restaurants, massage parlors, hotels, hostels, dive schools, kayaks, SUP boards and snorkeling gear rental, etc. The sunset is just incredible and the nights are very lively. I spent way over half my time in Koh Tao enjoying this peaceful stretch of sand and I am sure you will love it too.
Mango Bay is in the North of the island and it’s also greeeeeat for snorkeling as marine life is very abundant over there, expect to see rich coral reefs and lots of colorful fish. There is an entrance fee of 100 THB/person. Although it’s possible to drive there, it wasn’t an easy ride, I suggest you take a boat there.
Sai Nuan Beach is a very laid back one. There are no roads leading to this cute little beach. The walk there isn’t hard and not far from Mae Haad pier. The prize is finding an almost empty beach all to yourself. Don’t forget to bring your snorkel, it’s a gorgeous spot.
Tanote Bay is on the East coast of the island and there is no need to say it’s got great snorkeling to offer, keep in mind to carry your snorkeling gear with you all the time in Koh Tao. This small bay is extremely picturesque and usually not crowded. It’s easy to drive there, and you can always go there by boat if you don’t feel comfortable driving. Oh, there is also a nice restaurant in case you fancy a meal. Feeling like you need to pump your adrenaline up? Look for the rocks with the rope ladders, get up there and dive into the water, it’s fun.
Freedom Beach is another private and calm beach in Koh Tao, super small and quiet, with nice trees to make some shadow. Perfect place to beach bum, read a book and meditate. It’s also nice to go swimming or snorkeling and be able to see Buddha Point, a tall rock standing out at the southernmost tip of the island. The entrance fee is 100 THB. If you want to get active, this is a beach where you can hike to one of the most beautiful viewpoints in Koh Tao, it will take you about 20 minutes up there. It’s called John Suwan viewpoint, remember this name, it’s one of the viewpoints of the island you shouldn’t miss. Bring some water and some money with you to pay for the 50 THB entrance fee.
Sai Daeng is super quiet and another beautiful place to visit in Koh Tao. You can have a meal at one of the resorts or just relax at the beach. Snorkeling here is also great, I spotted many black tip sharks and the coral reef was also super nice. You can rent a kayak and adventure yourself to Shark Island right in front of the bay. Good thing is, there is no entrance fee for this beach and the drive there is just as beautiful.
Shark Bay is just stunning, the sand is so white, the sea is so blue, this bay in the South of the island is the background you are looking for in your photos. You can easily drive there and you will have to pay an entrance fee of 100 THB at Haad Tien Resort. You can always buy a cocktail or two from them if you fancy sipping a cold drink. They also have snorkels for rent. This is the place where I snorkeled the most, I saw so many sharks and other marine life. If you are lucky, you can see turtles there as well. Although the coral reef was a bit dead in some areas, it was still extremely worth it. Remember to keep your hands and feet away from the corals.
#7 Koh Tao nightlife
Looking for some fun at night time? Head to Sairee Beach. There are so many options waiting for you there. Fire shows are absolutely unmissable, they are so much fun, the local guys are very talented and extremely friendly. When you least expect you already have a bucket in your hand, you are actively participating in the show and you have a big smile on your face. You can’t go wrong with that. Many of the bars along the beach offer this kind of show, I recommend you going to the beach, walking from left to right and deciding which spot suits you the most.
You will come across some pub crawls in Koh Tao, although I haven’t joined any of them, they sure are a great way to make new friends, get to know different places on the island, get a great deal on drinks and have a lot of fun.
Fish Bowl is a very popular bar, always full of locals and tourists. It’s got a great fun vibe and it’s open until late. You can watch the sunset sipping a cocktail sitting on a bean bag right on the beach, or sit inside, order a meal or enjoy a game of beer pong while listening to the band. Wait for the fire show, you won’t regret it.
BANs Diving and Lotus Bar are some other options for a dancing night. I suggest you just stroll around the small roads around Sairee Beach, check out the bars, make your way to the beach and feel the vibe. Every night it feels different as the party is better at one place or another. Just enjoy the nightlife in Koh Tao!
#8 Mango Viewpoint
Tired of just lazing around? Fancy some exercise? There are some nice and short hikes in Koh Tao to keep you busy, one of them is Mango Viewpoint. Just keep in mind that Koh Tao weather is extremely hot, so aim for early mornings or late afternoons.
I know you can never get tired of watching the sunset at Sairee Beach, but Mango’s viewpoint will give you the opportunity of watching it from up above, overlooking Sairee Beach and it’s just as stunning. So take it to the next level and go for it, it will take you about an hour, maybe less to get up there.
#9 Love Koh Tao Viewpoint
This is a very cute and romantic place to go with your loved one, don’t worry it’s not cheesy at all. You can always just take yourself on a workout date with your body LOL. This stunning viewpoint is pretty much in the middle of the island and it’s very easy to get there. It’s a great spot to watch the sunrise, although it’s beautiful any time of the day. You will have to pay a small entrance fee of about 20 THB, but if you fancy breakfast, just grab some food at the viewpoint restaurant and you won’t even have to pay for this entrance fee.
#10 Night market at Sairee Beach
Night markets and street food are all over Thailand and it couldn’t be different in Koh Tao. There is no way you will leave Thailand without getting addicted to Thai pancakes, mango sticky rice and all the yumminess you will come across in all night markets.
Koh Tao’s night market is quite small but it’s great for a night without ceremonies, without sitting in a restaurant and ordering food from a menu. You can go there directly after enjoying the sunset at the beach, walk around the food stalls and try a whole bunch of Thai snacks you didn’t even know existed. It’s usually located on the main road between Sairee Beach and Mae Haad pier, near 7-Eleven. Enjoy!
Well, I could keep on going forever about things to do in Koh Tao, but I think these are more than enough options to keep you busy and realize you want to spend more days in this paradise. I really hope you enjoy the island as much as I did. After visiting Koh Tao let me know what was your favorite part.
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Author: Franci Kohler is a traveler stuck in Thailand. Founder of VOA TOUR, a travel consulting company specialized in weddings, tours and transportation for Brazilians in Krabi, Thailand. Fascinated by the body, mind and soul, whenever not working, you will find her doing some yoga, meditating, petting dogs, trekking, diving, beach bumming, or having some wine over good conversations. She will find beauty in pretty much anything! Check out her Instagram @francikohler.