11 Best Things to do in Koh Tao

Discover Koh Tao.

11 Best Things to do in Koh Tao

Koh Tao, magnet for divers, beach lovers and sun worshippers. This small island in the Gulf of Thailand has enchanted me as well in 2023, and made me stay for 2 weeks straight. Despite the manageable size, you can experience so many beautiful things on Koh Tao. Probably also because of the size of this island, it exudes a certain charm (“small island vibes”). In this blog post I give you my 11 best things to do on Koh Tao and everything else you need to know.

The big topic on Koh Tao is definitely diving. There are numerous diving schools where you can take beginner courses as well as advanced certificates. But even without diving ambitions, the island offers so much. Beautiful beaches, snorkeling spots, a wide selection of really great restaurants and cafes, breathtaking viewpoints and magical sunsets. In addition, Koh Nang Yuan Island is another bucket list destination just off Koh Tao. Hence, Koh Tao should not be missing on your list when traveling to the Gulf of Thailand!

1. Breakfast at the Beach: The perfect start to the Day

Is there a better start to the day than drinking your first coffee at the beach? I don’t think so. On Koh Tao there are some really great cafes right by the sea. Depending on where your accommodation is located, I recommend Coconut Monkey (near the pier), KoPPe (in the south of the island) or Maya Beach Club Koh Tao (Sairee Beach). Treat yourself with a fresh coconut or your favorite coffee and plan your day with the sound of waves and a view of the sparkling water.

2. Discover the island by Motorbike

On the islands, there is no better and more flexible way of getting around than the scooter. Same goes for Koh Tao. The island is very small: from west to east it takes just 15 minutes by scooter and from north to south about 25 minutes. Renting a scooter usually costs around 5 EUR per day (plus gas) and you can easily park it anywhere. The feeling of freedom and the fresh breeze around your nose is priceless.

3. Koh Tao from the Top: Views from John-Suwan Lookout

The John-Suwan viewpoint is one of the most famous spots on Koh Tao. To reach the viewpoint, a short hike of about 30 minutes is necessary. The route is not extremely challenging, but in some places it involves a bit of climbing. Especially the last part is not without difficulty. Therefore, be sure to wear sturdy shoes (no flip-flops) and preferably a backpack to have both hands free. Don’t forget enough water, sunscreen and your camera. It is also recommended to avoid the midday heat. Best case is to hike to the viewpoint in the morning.

4. Swim with sea turtles at Shark Bay

Did you know that Koh Tao is also called the Turtle Island? The name does not come by chance. There are several spots where you can dive or snorkel with sea turtles. This includes the beautiful Shark Bay – which is the most beautiful beach on the island for me. Soft, white sand beach and clear, turquoise water. Plus there’s enough shade to spend a relaxing beach day in this bay.

Be sure to bring snorkeling equipment. If you don’t have any in your luggage, you can rent some for about 50 THB (about 1.40 EUR) per day in one of the stores around the pier. The best chance to see turtles is in the early morning hours or in the afternoon / early evening. Often you can recognize this by the excursion boats on the horizon. I got to see a huge sea turtle during my stay..it was super impressive!

Shark Bay is only accessible via Haad Thien Resort. Therefore, you pay a small entrance fee of 100 THB (about 2.70 EUR) at the reception (as of January 2023). However, for this you can use the showers and get a wifi code. The beach is well maintained and in my eyes worth the 100 THB entrance fee.

Alternatively, book a tour with Get your Guide! I personally love using Get your Guide for experiences and tours on my travels. They have a great variety of high-quality tours available and are super easy to use. Also, if you are traveling solo, you might meet some cool people!

5. Spend a night at Sairee Beach and enjoy the magical evening atmosphere

The sunsets on Koh Tao are a dream. Probably the most popular spot for this is Sairee Beach. In the early evening, the restaurants and bars fill up here, there is a vivid atmosphere. Many restaurants prepare their BBQ on the beach, children play in the sand, dogs run through the water and the first music sounds from the bars. The light during the Golden Hour (time just before sunset) is magical..as are the sunsets, when the horizon shows itself in the most beautiful shades of orange and pink.

6. Snorkel with reef sharks at Koh Nang Yuan

Visiting Koh Nang Yuan is one of the best things to do in Koh Tao! This is one of the most popular destinations in the Gulf of Thailand – for a reason. From Koh Tao you can reach this small island in just 30 minutes by boat. Actually, this island consists of three small islands connected only by a narrow strip of sand. A distinctive sight and therefore one of the most photographed panoramas in all of Thailand.

Koh Nang Yuan is therefore a popular place for excursions – not only because of the viewpoint, but also because the island is a super snorkeling and diving area. Around the small islands there is a lot to see – including black tip reef sharks. Excursions to the island are offered from Koh Tao, but also from the neighboring islands Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. It is therefore worthwhile – as so often – to get up early and to be on the island as early as possible. 

Bringing a waterproof case for your smartphone to take some cool underwater pictures is a good idea!

Snorkeling isn’t enough? As I mentioned before, Ko Tao is the place to go diving in Thailand. A lot of travelers are doing their Open Water Diver here, which is the entry-level diving certification. The island is full of diving schools and there’s plenty of incredible places to discover underwater.

If you never tried diving before, this might be the place for it! You can opt for a 1-day scuba diving experience to see if you like it. 

In case you are hungry for more or wanted to do your Open Water anyway, you can book the full 4-day course. Check out all the details, language options and availability at the link below.

7. Lunch with a view at 'High the Moon Bar'

The ‘High the Moon Bar’ is probably the restaurant with the most panoramic view on the island. There’s a nice covered, sun-protected area as well as another open area with seating cushions and an insane view. Perfect for a stop while you explore the south of the island. They serve some yummy smoothies & good food.

There is a large, glowing moon installed at the viewing platform. You can see it at night from different points on the island. In the evening, of course, the bar is also a great location to watch the sunset. The road leading to the bar is a bit curvy and hilly, so be sure to drive carefully!

8. Rent a SUP or Kayak and discover the island from the sea

Discovering Koh Tao by SUP or kayak is a great way to experience the island from a different perspective. The back corner of Sairee Beach is a nice starting point. Here are hardly any boats and there is enough space to start the tour relaxed. The rocks at this end of the beach also remind a bit of the Seychelles – for me the most beautiful and quiet section at Sairee Beach.

For your trip on the water, take as little as possible with you and it’s best to have a drybag for valuables. If you want to bring your smartphone for photos, I recommend getting a waterproof case before you come.

9. Experience an unforgettable sunset at the Secret Bar

The sunsets on Koh Tao are magical. The most popular spot here is probably Sairee Beach with its great selection of restaurants and bars right on the beach. A cool alternative is definitely one of the bars on the hills of Koh Tao. For this I can recommend the Secret Bar. With its extraordinary light installations and breathtaking views, the sunsets become even more magical.

The bar is a very relaxed place with cozy seating, fresh smoothies and a fantastic view. The route taking you there is logically a bit curvy and hilly, so please be alert and careful – especially on the descent after sunset. Don’t forget to bring bug spray (alternatively ask for it at the bar).

10. Indulge in the local Thai cuisine

One of the best things about Thailand is definitely the local cuisine. There are so many incredibly delicious and healthy dishes. In Koh Tao there is a good selection of restaurants and cafes. Since I spent over two weeks alone on this island, I was able to test out quite a few of them. You should definitely try the Papaya Salad at PomSamtom, Fried Rice with Pineapple at La Carotte Qui Rit and the Coconut Monkey Smoothie at the Coconut Monkey Café right on the beach.

My cafe & restaurant highlights on Koh Tao can be found below in the article: Where to eat on Koh Tao.

11. Dinner with a view: Barracuda Roof Top Restaurant & Bar

I have already listed a few of my favorite restaurants under point 9 (plus find more in the section below: Restaurants on Koh Tao). If you are looking for a very special location, for example for a romantic dinner, the Barracuda Rooftop Restaurant is a great place to go. The rooftop terrace is surrounded by palm trees and is bathed in golden light in the evening. The atmosphere here is a bit more upscale overall and the prices are slightly higher than on the rest of the island. However, a dinner in this location is also a very nice experience, right?

Restaurants in Koh Tao: Where to eat?

Here’s a list of my favorite cafes and restaurants on Koh Tao:

Cafés

  • Coconut Monkey: Coffee & smoothies right on the beach, good vibes, also popular for working on the laptop (try the Coconut Monkey Smoothie!)
  • The Factory Cafe: Good breakfast and lunch selection (quite crowded in high season though)
  • Living Juices & Yoga: smoothie bowls & snacks for the beach (yoga studio on the 2nd level)
  • KoPPe Espresso Bar & Restaurant: In the south of the island with a pool and sea view (recommendable at any time of day)

Restaurants

  • La Carotte Qui Rit: One of my favorite restaurants on Koh Tao. The dishes are incredibly delicious, super fresh and priced more than fair (located on a well-traveled road, but the food will make up for it).
  • PomSamtom: The best place to go for local Thai food (and so cheap!). Definitely try the papaya salad and name the level of spiciness you want.
  • Jok Island: Authentic green curry, soo delicious! A typical small Thai restaurant (on the main road).
  • Maya Beach Club Koh Tao: For dinner & drinks on Sairee Beach, very nice for sunset. Fried Rice with pineapple is very tasty!
  • Nit Fruit Koh Tao: The best fruits & smoothies (I recommend Mango, Banana & Passionfruit).
  • Barracuda Rooftop Restaurant & Bar: Special location with roof terrace and views into the green (e.g. for a romantic dinner)

Hotels on Koh Tao: Where to stay?

Many accommodations can be found directly and in the immediate vicinity of Sairee Beach. From small bamboo bungalows to boutique hotels to dive resorts, you have the choice. Personally, I find that due to the very manageable size of the island, the location of the accommodation does not play a big role. Unless you don’t want to rent a scooter and therefore stay close to the beach.

In 2023, I traveled to Koh Tao as a solo traveler on a small budget and felt very comfortable at the Greenery Resort. It is located in the middle of the island – so not right at the beach – but it has a beautiful view of the greenery and is very quiet. Since Koh Tao is super small, the next beach is just 5 minutes away by scooter. In addition, there are fewer unwelcome guests (insects..) than in the immediate vicinity of the beach.

The resort is very clean, the rooms spacious and equipped with a refrigerator. There is new drinking water, coffee and tea every day. In addition, the staff is super sweet and a shuttle to and from the pier is included (as of January 2023). The price-performance ratio here is more than fair. Especially travelers with a small budget and those looking for peace and quiet, I can absolutely recommend the Greenery Resort.

Rent a scooter on Koh Tao

Renting a scooter: Costs & Tips for your rent

As on most islands in Thailand, the scooter is the most popular and easiest way to get around. On Koh Tao there are cabs, but they are relatively expensive. The cost of a scooter is usually between 200-300 THB (5.50 EUR – 8.50 EUR) plus gasoline per day. The small Honda Scoopy models start at 200 THB. 

When renting the scooter be sure to check it, document scratches and other damage with the rental company and don’t forget the helmet and your international driver’s license! I also always check whether all lights and brakes work well and make a small test drive in front of the shop.

Renting a scooter on Koh Tao: Deposit, Fuel and Navigation

The passport is often required as a deposit when renting. However, I have always found very well rated rental companies that also accepted cash (usually around 5000 THB) or a combination of cash and the national driver’s license. On Koh Tao, I had a very good experience with PaanTa Motorbike Rentals & Travel Koh Tao. The owner Tarn is super nice, professional and very fast in communication.

Refueling is cheapest at the gas station. Just tell them the amount you want to pay (50 THB goes a long way with the short distances on the island). Alternatively, there are small stores on the roadside. You will see signs in front of it indicating “Petrol” or you see the appropriate 1L bottles with gasoline (50 THB) in front of the shop.

The navigation with Google Maps (via local SIM card) works great here. Since the island is also very small, you can not really get lost here.

From Bangkok to Koh Tao

There are three options for traveling from Bangkok to Koh Tao:

By night train from Bangkok to Surat Thani. From there, book the onward journey with the ferry providers (e.g. the speed ferry with Lomprayah). From the train station a minivan will take you to the next port, where you’ll take the ferry to Koh Tao. Often there is a stop on Koh Samui and Koh Phangan on the way. From Surat Thani Koh Tao is the most northern of these three islands in the Gulf of Thailand.

By bus from Bangkok to Surat Thani. From there, book the onward journey with the ferry providers (see above – the only difference is that here you arrive at the bus station and not at the train station in Surat Thani). You can also book this whole journey from Bangkok to Koh Tao with e.g. Lomprayah.

By plane from Bangkok to Surat Thani and from the airport again the onward journey with the ferry providers (see above). Alternatively, fly to Koh Samui and take a ferry to Koh Tao (fastest option).

From Bangkok to Koh Tao: What is the best option for you?

During my stays in Thailand I have tried all three options and each has its advantages and disadvantages. The most sustainable and exciting way is certainly the train ride. I traveled from Surat Thani back to Bangkok by night train and found it very nice to get to see more of the country. Especially the last part, when we reached the outskirts of Bangkok in the early morning, I found very beautiful. Watching the landscape fly by and seeing everything slowly awaken is just a beautiful experience. 

So if you’re up for an adventure and care about sustainability, try this option. The bus will save you spending a night in a hotel and is generally the budget option. Taking a plane is the fastest and more convenient alternative. Prices here vary depending on when you travel and how long in advance you book your flight.

From Bangkok to Koh Tao: Alternative Arrival via Chumphon

Another option is to travel via Chumphon instead of Surat Thani. Chumphon is closer to Bangkok, also has an airport and is served by buses and trains. Especially if you want to travel only or first to Koh Tao, this can be the better option. The ferry ride with Lomprayah takes less than two hours and the stops on Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are omitted. Since I had always planned stops on Koh Phangan and Koh Samui during my travels, I have not yet tested this variant.

From Bangkok to Koh Tao: Where to book your trip

You can book your route either in local travel agencies, directly with the provider at the pier / bus station / train station or online (either directly with the provider or on one of the known platforms). Hotels also often offer to book the tickets for you.

Note: In the high season from December to February, it is recommended to book the tickets a few days in advance. Especially the speed ferries are booked out quickly at this time.

From Koh Tao to Koh Phangan and Koh Samui

Primarily there are Lomprayah and Songserm as ferry providers, which sail daily to the neighboring islands. The piers of these two are only a few meters away from each other. Tickets can be booked directly at the pier on Koh Tao with the respective provider and in the stores and small travel agencies on the island. Often, the accommodations also offer bookings of ferry tickets. In addition, you can secure tickets online directly from the providers or via one of the major platforms.

Best Travel Season for Koh Tao

The best time to travel to Koh Tao is around mid-December to mid-April, since you can expect a lot of sun and very little rain during this time. This is also the main travel season in Thailand and accordingly the island is well visited. Especially the months of December to February are often used to escape the cold winter in Europe. In these months it is recommended to book accommodation in advance. Try to also get in contact with a scooter rental a few days before your arrival. Especially if you only to plan for a few days in Koh Tao, you want to have your scooter from day one.

Stays in March and April are therefore a good choice. I have spent several weeks in Thailand in August as well. Especially in July and August – the summer holiday season in Europe – showers are usually more likely. Therefore, these months are also popular travel months. The big advantage in the off-season is of course that there are fewer tourists and you can expect lower prices.

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