Koh Tao is absolute paradise and a must-visit island in the Gulf of Thailand! It’s become internationally known for its beaches, epic diving and snorkeling spots, and fun party vibes. Stepping foot on a new island is always exciting. Still, with every new travel destination, there are always essential things to know before you go. Below we share tips from our recent trip to Koh Tao Thailand, as well as important information on the ferry and popular Sairee Beach!
12 Things to Know Before Traveling to Koh Tao Thailand
1. Arriving on the Koh Tao Ferry
If you’re taking the Koh Tao ferry you should know it’s 3rd in line of the popular chain from the mainland. That means most likely you are coming from Koh Samui or Koh Phangan! Yet, if this is your first stop in the islands then maybe you’re traveling from Donsak Pier and working your way back.
Any way you decide to go will be great! The ferries in Thailand are efficient and you can usually choose between a slow and fast ferry at different prices. We always check the ferry routes and schedules on 12go before booking! Below is how long the fast boat takes to Koh Tao Thailand using the popular company Lomprayah Ferry.
- Koh Phangan → Koh Tao = 1.5 hours
- Koh Samui → Koh Tao = 2 hours
- Mainland (w/Koh Phangan transfer) → Koh Tao = 3 hours 15 min
2. Where to Stay in Koh Tao Thailand
Staying in the right location can totally make your break your trip on a small island like Koh Tao. There are so many different beach towns to enjoy, all with their different vibe and quirks to them. It all depends on what kind of vacation you want, but the main area to stay in Koh Tao is along Sairee beach.
If you’re looking for something quiet and more laid back then check out Chalok Baan Kao Bay, Shark Bay, or Tanote Bay! Below are some of our favorite hotels to stay in on a trip to Koh Tao.
Best Koh Tao Thailand Hotels For Every Style
Apartment Stay – The Plantation Koh Tao – Set on the far side of Sairee Beach, these apartments are great for travelers looking for a little more space. Ranging from studio to three bedrooms, the Plantation is also a great pick if you are traveling in a group!
Sairee Beach – Blue Tao Beach Hotel – Conveniently located on the main Koh Tao walking street and beach, this hotel is close to all the action. You’ll be surrounded by great restaurants, cafes, bars, and dive centers.
Shark Bay – Jamahkiri Resort – At this resort up in the cliffs overlooking the gorgeous Shark Bay, you’ll be just a quick walk away from some of the most beautiful beaches on the island. Jamahkiri has amazing views, spacious rooms, and you can even splurge for one with a private infinity pool!
Chalok Baan Kao Beach – View Point Resort – This area is great if you want a quiet stay, but to still be a quick motorbike or taxi away from town. There are a handful of beach bars here and you’ll be close to Freedom Beach on Koh Tao!
Budget-Friendly – Budchui Village 2 – If you’re traveling on a budget this is a nice family-run place to stay in Koh Tao. The rooms are very basic, but also large with balconies facing the mountains. It is a few minutes away from the beach. However, you’ll be closer to many delicious local restaurants.
Hostel Life – The Dearly Koh Tao Hostel – Hands down one of the most popular hostels on the island! This spot is inland but just a few minutes by motorbike taxi away from all the best beaches. There is a pool and common area with both dorms and private rooms available.
For more places to stay in Koh Tao you can explore the latest prices here!
3. Koh Tao Thailand Free Hotel Transfers
Due to the island’s small size, a large majority of the hotels offer free transfers from the Koh Tao ferry port. Now that may mean jumping in the back of a pickup truck, but hey… That’s all part of the fun on the islands! Make sure to contact your hotel ahead of time and ask if this is available.
Although it is a tiny island in comparison to others, there is still plenty of places you can’t get to by walking. We also switched hotels during our stay and were offered a complimentary ride to our next accommodation. This is especially common in the main town of Sairee Beach and is just a quick drive from the pier!
4. Beautiful Beaches of Koh Tao
Where are the best beaches and how to get to them are obvious things you’ll want to know before visiting any tropical island. We couldn’t believe how many different beaches there were to explore on Koh Tao! Below are the most popular ones that you can get to with a motorbike or taxi.
- Sairee Beach
- Jansom Bay
- Chalok Baan Kao Bay
- Shark Bay
- Haad Sai Daeng
- Tanote Bay
- Freedom Beach
Even though most of the beaches on this island are very accessible, there are some you’ll need a boat to get to! We’ll talk more about this later in our Koh Tao Thailand travel guide!
5. The Unique Walking Street
Yes, Koh Tao has a fun walking street! However, it might not be the rustic island road you’re used to. After arriving on the Koh Tao ferry we were expecting to see the classic dirt road with wooden houses and shops, and just a few local bars and restaurants.
Honestly, that couldn’t be further from the truth! Starting at the beginning of Sairee Beach beach the Koh Tao walking street has hotels, new age restaurants, funky cafes, clothing shops, and of course a 7/11.
This modern and energetic area is the complete opposite of the walking streets we’ve experienced on other small Thai islands. Not in a bad way necessarily, but definitely unexpected! Also, be careful of the motorbikes whizzing past on the thin paved pathway.
If you continue to the far end of Sairee Beach (starting from the port) there is a set of small streets that cut up back from the water near Lotus Beach Bar. Here is a popular area to visit at night with more bars, restaurants, and even late-night shows!
6. Renting a Motobike on Koh Tao Thailand
The most popular way to explore the island is by motorbike! Still, know that you should only rent one on Koh Tao if you have an international motorcycle drivers license and are comfortable riding one. We always try to get a motorbike through our hotel or whatever shop they recommend.
Not only will you often get a better price this way, but you also might be able to negotiate a deposit or not have to leave your passport with them. We paid 200 baht per day and rented directly from our accommodation.
Just like when renting a car, take photos and even videos of the motorbike when picking it up. The best way to ruin your Koh Tao Thailand vacation is to be charged for damage you didn’t do! You can buy a bottle full of gas or stop at a larger gas station on the main road. We put in 50 baht ($1.50 USD) and it was enough gas to take us all the way around the island.
7. Scuba Diving on Koh Tao
Did you know Koh Tao is world-famous for its diving? Over the years it has become one of the premier destinations to not only enjoy scuba diving but to learn how and get your PADI certification!
There are countless dive shops on the island that cater to every skill level. Some of the hotels also double as dive centers so you can stay and take courses there.
In fact, it’s so common that we got used to seeing scuba divers practicing with the equipment in the resort swimming pools. So even if you’ve never even tried scuba diving before Koh Tao in Thailand is the perfect place to start!
8. Koh Tao Thailand Snorkeling
If diving isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Koh Tao is also a great place to go snorkeling from! The entire island so home to clear blue water, rocky coastlines, and an abundance of marine life.
Throughout Koh Tao, many places were promoting full-day snorkeling and fishing tours for just 500 baht. This is a great way to see more of Koh Tao Thailand and get in that beautiful water if you’re on a budget.
9. Private Longtail Boat Tour
If you have a good group of people or are looking for a special experience we totally recommended booking a private boat tour. All along Sairee Beach, you can find drivers offering tours or displaying signs for boat taxis. Most of them all you to customize your own trip and have more freedom which gives you more freedom than going with an official company on Koh Tao.
Another exciting part about this is riding in an authentic longtail boat in Thailand. These long and colorful traditional boats really enhance your experience while taking the amazing nature of Koh Tao from the water!
Not up for a full day of exploring? Another great boat trip from Koh Tao is to Nang Yuan just off the coast. This small islet is super popular for its diving and snorkeling spots while also being home to the famous Koh Tao viewpoint for photos.
10. The Best Restaurant on Koh Tao Thailand
The best you say? We can already tell what you’re thinking. How can we officially crown a place as the best when we haven’t even eaten at every restaurant on Koh Tao??
Yet, sometimes when you know you know! There are plenty of great local restaurants on the island but there was one in particular that we couldn’t stop coming back to. 995 Roasted Duck has the most delicious duck noodle that we’ve EVER HAD outside of Singapore and that’s saying a lot!
We won’t admit how many times we ate here during our weeklong stay because honestly, it’s slightly embarrassing (haha). Just know that it’s that good! Here are a few more of our favorite restaurants and their English names on Google so you can easily find them.
- PORK LEG & De’Coffee SAIREE KOHTAO
- Mama tam (Mama’s)
- Chuchu Thai Food & Pizza
- Tree House Cafe
11. Sairee Beach Sunsets & Party Vibes
We’ve talked about Sairee Beach a few times already and that’s because it really is the heartbeat of Koh Tao Thailand. The entire strip of sand is filled with beach bar after beach bar, oceanfront hotels, and fun happy hour spots. Sairee Beach is also the best place to watch the sunset!
There’s something else you should probably know about this island if you don’t already. When the sun goes down on Koh Tao get ready to party! Although nearby Koh Samui and the full moon parties on Koh Phangan may get all the attention, Koh Tao can definitely hold its own when it comes to the late-night scene.
Pretty much as soon as the sun went down every night we could hear the loud music start bumping and things starting to get turned up. I guess all the divers are back from their day out and ready to have fun! Just keep this part of Koh Tao Thailand in mind when choosing your hotel location as the main section of Sairee Beach can get rowdy at night.
12. Koh Tao Weather Warning
Like all of Southeast Asia, Thailand has a wet and dry season. However, on the islands, the weather can be more drastic throughout the year. Unfortunately, during our last visit to Koh Tao, it rained a lot!
Some days it was just a quick tropical thunderstorm that passed and it would be sunny again. While others it poured the entire day! This was a big-time bummer since we visited in April during the dry season but it’s something we came to expect traveling in the Thai islands. Before that, there were weeks when we didn’t see a drop of rain. Go figure!
One other thing to be aware of is that this island is particularly bad when it comes to mosquitos! As soon as the sun started to set they seemed to come out in droves. Stop by any pharmacy or 7-11 and grab some spray because you won’t want to be caught after dark without it.
Have any questions about visiting Koh Tao in Thailand? How about your own favorite things to do or tips for taking the Koh Tao Ferry? Leave us a comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
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