Located on the opposite side of the famous Phi Phi Island and Phuket, Koh Tao is one of the three main islands in the Gulf of Thailand. While its big sisters Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are usually known for the social scene and the Full-Moon Party, Koh Tao is a scuba diver paradise.
Hosting over 30 dive schools, the tiny island is considered a prime location to get your diving course and PADI certification done – for a considerably lower price tag than Phi Phi!
Koh Tao is covered in tropical forests and beaches with some of the bluest waters, all while also offering a great infrastructure of hotels, bars, and restaurants for every budget.
This is your go-to guide to this tiny island paradise!
Fun Fact: In the early 1930’s Koh Tao was used as a prison for individuals with political convictions, until it was closed down and abandoned in the late forties. Locals and expats have then moved to the island and transformed it into a well-known destination for scuba diving since 1977.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Koh Tao is between February and April, during the dry season when the seas are calm and the weather is mostly sunny. The peak season is from December to January when the island gets quite crowded and prices are higher than usual.
How to Get to Koh Tao
⛵ From Surat Thani to Koh Tao: You can take a ferry from Surat Thani, a small town very well-known in the backpacker circle for being a central stop when traveling Thailand. Surat Thani can be easily reached by bus (or plane) from Bangkok, Phuket, and Krabi. The ferry takes around 4 to 6 hours and costs around 20-30 euros each way.
Another option via ferry from the mainland is to take it from the town of Chumphon, a bit north of Surat Thani. From there, you can take a ferry which takes only 2.5 to 3.5 hours and costs around 15 euros each way.
⛵ From Koh Samui or Koh Phangan: You can easily hop on a ferry from the neighboring islands, they run daily and the journey takes around 2 hours from Koh Samui and 1.5 hours from Koh Phangan.
✈️ By Plane: You can fly from anywhere in Thailand or abroad to Samui International Airport. From there, you can take a ferry to Koh Tao as mentioned above. The flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui takes only 1 hour and 10 minutes.
How Long to Stay on Koh Tao
If you plan on getting your PADI certification, you should plan for at least 4 full days. We would recommend planning for at least one week on the island to fully experience it, but if you don’t have that much time 3-4 days should be enough to explore the island’s biggest attractions such as Koh Nang Yuan and Freedom Beach.
Getting Around Koh Tao
Koh Tao is small but not as tiny as Koh Lipe where you can walk everywhere. Here, you’ll need a scooter’s helping grip to get around. You can rent a scooter near the pier or with your hotel, but make sure you do so early in the morning or arrange it with your hotel in advance as the island gets super busy during peak season. A scooter rental should cost around 300 baht a day.
Taxis are also available although they usually come with a salty price tag. There are taxi stations by the 7-Eleven on Sairee Beach and one at Chalok Bay as well as next to the Mae Haad Pier. A ride from the pier to most places on the island should cost between 400-600 baht per person.
Where to Stay at Koh Tao
Accommodation options on the island range from budget-friendly options to luxurious resorts. The most popular areas are Mae Haad Pier and Sairee Beach but we also think Chalok Baan Beach is a great area to stay in Koh Tao.
Note: It’s highly recommended to book your accommodation in advance, as securing a last-minute booking can be quite challenging on this small island. We recommend using Agoda for bookings in Thailand and around Southeast Asia for the best deals, although The AVA Resort is best booked via Booking.com.
Where to Eat on Koh Tao
Most of the restaurants at Koh Tao are located near the pier and at Sairee Beach. Local food usually ranges between €2-6, while Western dishes are usually €6+. Below are the spots we recommend:
- Coconut Monkey: a lovely beach café with the best breakfast options, including vegan, on the island. Also a big hot spot for digital nomads.
- La Carotte Qui Rit: a vegetarian and vegan restaurant with the best Pineapple fried rice we’ve ever had. So worth a visit!
- Bingo Rev.2.0: we highly recommend this one for those on a budget! Delicious food for a more than fair price.
- Blue Shark Brunch Cafe: another beautiful café with plenty of homemade desserts that are to die for.
- Tree House Cafe: the best for some local Thai food with an amazing view as a bonus! Make sure to try their Massaman Curry.
We also highly recommend the hamburgers from this local stall at Sairee Beach (location here) – the best option after a night out!
Things to Do at Koh Tao
Koh Tao might be small but it offers a wide variety of activities – from exploring the island‘s beautiful beaches and viewpoints to diving and snorkeling to discover its rich marine life. Some of the best things to do on Koh Tao Island are:
🐚 Go Beach Hopping: the island is home to quite a few stunning beaches such as the famous Freedom Beach, Shark Bay, and Tanote Bay. We also have a really cool post that includes a hiking itinerary to a few hidden beaches on the island.
🤿 Go snorkeling: the best snorkeling spots on the island include Koh Nang Yuan Island, Shark Bay & Island, Mango Bay, and Tanote Bay. You can visit them on your own or hop on a boat tour around the island.
🐠 Take a diving course: with over 30 dive schools, you can’t miss the chance to get your PADI Open Water certification! The cost of the course is significantly lower than Phi Phi at around 200-250 euros and usually takes 3-4 days.
🌴 Visit Koh Nang Yuan Island on a day tour: one of the most famous viewpoints in Thailand can be visited on a day tour from Koh Tao. You can arrange a taxi boat directly from the beach at Sairee or book a tour online with Get Your Guide to spend the day on the island (make sure to bring your snorkeling gear!).
For an in-depth guide on what to do at Koh Tao, check out our 7 Best Things to Do in Koh Tao – Thailand which includes all of the activity costs as well as personal recommendations!
Koh Tao on a Budget
🛏️ Accommodation: the cheapest accommodations start at €8-20 a night for hostel dorms and €15-30 for budget private rooms. Rooms with AC start at around €25+ a night.
🍔 Food: local food ranges between €2-6, averaging €4 per dish. Western dishes range between €6-15.
🚌 Transport: the ferry depends on where you’re coming from, with the cheapest option being from Chumphon at ~€15 each way.
🎟️ Activities: it’s totally possible to visit Koh Tao without paying for any tours, but if you plan on doing at least the day tour to Koh Nang Yuan you should consider around €20-30 per person for it.
Note: we visited Koh Tao on a budget for two weeks in January 2023. We managed to stay at a budget of around €25 per person per day.
Tips for visiting Koh Tao
- There is one 24-hour hospital on the island located near the pier which offers good facilities, its own ambulance, and even a hyperbaric chamber for decompression injuries. Location here.
- Koh Tao International Clinic is also open 24 hours and located at Sairee Beach.
- Bring your own sunscreen! Sunscreen in Asia usually comes with brightening agents and is much more expensive on the islands.
- There are plenty of ATMs around the pier and at Sairee Beach, and a couple at Chalok Baan Beach. We highly recommend using Wise or Revolut debit cards when traveling for lower withdrawal fees.