Skip to Content

The Complete Travel Guide to Koh Tao: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know About This Tropical Paradise

The Complete Travel Guide to Koh Tao: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know About This Tropical Paradise

In this Koh Tao guide I will share with you all of the amazing places I have discovered that made me fall in love with this incredible island, my aim is to help you plan your best possible visit and to ensure you fall in love with it as much as we did!

Koh Tao’s natural beauty both above and below the ocean is what makes it so special.

The Turtle Island as it translates in English has an abundance of life amongst its thick mountain covered jungles to its thriving underwater world and colourful corals.

Pairing this with the islands chilled out and relax way of life this isolated paradise in the Gulf of Thailand is a true sanctuary. It’s no surprise it attracts thousands of visitors throughout the year looking to dive, snorkel and relax.

For many Koh Tao is a dream destination and it is that way for me personally too.

I have to admit it is one of my favourite places in the world.

From the moment you step off the boat you are immersed in the calming and peaceful energy of the island, here time moves differently, there is no fast paced way of life.

It’s a destination where you do really do live on island time.

Where to stay

Where you choose to stay on Koh Tao doesn’t matter too much as this tiny island is only 8 miles squared and you can get from one end to the other in 30 minutes on a scooter.

However there are a few different areas within the island that serve different purposes, so if you would prefer to do most of your exploring on foot or want to be near a certain part in this Koh Tao guide I have broken them down for you below.

Sairee Beach

Sairee Beach is the main hub of Koh Tao, along this coastline you will find the pier, tons of restaurants and bars and plenty of dive shops to choose from. This is the main backpackers hub and here you’ll find plenty of great hostels as well as some luxury beachfront accommodation.

Within this area accommodation along the beachfront is relatively quieter than that found at the north end of the beach, at the cross roads is where you’ll find the most action so if you want a peaceful nights sleep look for something a little further out.

Chalok Bay

This sleepy little bay is my personal favourite and we usually stay between Sairee Beach and here, as one of our favourite ways to spend the day on Koh Tao is at Freedom Beach which is located on the bay.

The main bay is lined with some wonderful accommodation both hostels and hotels, beach front restaurants and bars. Meaning you have everything you need on your doorstep, however, Sairee beach is only 10 minutes down the road.

Shark Bay

Shark Bay is the next bay round from Chalok and is famously known for being the place to visit to spot a black tip reef shark, it is also a popular turtle hotspot.

Here you will find some more luxurious accommodation, these higher end resorts offer sea view villas and beach front bungalows. While there is not much in the Shark Bay area most accommodations here have on site restaurants and bars.

Ao Tanot Bay

Ao Tanot Bay is the main area on the East coast of the island, here you can find a beautiful beach surrounded by huge boulders and plenty of accommodation.

The accommodation is a mix of hotels and resorts and there are a few restaurants and bars dotted around.

This side of the island is more commonly exposed to the wind so often the beaches along this coast can be a little wilder than those on the west side, however, you are in the perfect place to witness a sunrise.

Luxury: Sensi Paradise Beach Resort

Overlooking Mae Haad Beach, Sensi Paradise Beach Resort is close enough to everything you need while still feeling as if you are in your own secret oasis. Sensi Paradise offers bungalows which all feature private balconies with garden, pool or sea views. All the bungalows are equipped with fridges, tea and coffee making facilities, mosquito nets, shower facilities, bathrobes, slippers and ensuite bathrooms. The hotel can book private fishing and snorkelling tours for you as well as assist with booking diving and transportation. The beach front restaurant offers a complimentary buffet breakfast as well as western and Thai style lunch and dinner. I have personally stayed here and cannot recommend it enough, from the accommodation to the staff and the location it for the perfect stay – this has to be one of my top recommendations from this Koh Tao Guide.

Mid range: The Ozo Koh Tao

I have stayed at The Ozo during one of our trips to Koh Tao. This 3* hotel offers everything you need to feel like you are getting a little bit of luxury while not breaking the bank. There are 5 different room options to suit each budget, each one has a balcony with views over the pool and jungle covered mountain behind. Room service is available and air conditioning, TV, safety deposit box, private bathroom, fridge and toiletries.

Budget: The Dearly Koh Tao Hostel

The Dearly is one of the highest rated hostels on the island. Dorm rooms here start from as little as £12 a night and there is a large variety of dorm sizes to choose from as well as private rooms. The hostel offers an on site bar and restaurant as well as free wifi throughout. There is a rooftop area to relax, a common room with TV, books and computers. Guests are also given access to a shared fridge.

Where to eat

Infinity Thai Food

Infinity Thai Food is located close to the pier and has a great selection of all the typical Thai classics, they are all cooked incredibly well and reasonably priced.

Our orders were — Chicken Pad Thai, Penang curry, Massaman curry, spring rolls & Chicken satay.

995 Duck

995 Duck is a well known restaurant on Koh Tao and it is ALWAYS busy due to it’s small size, food can take a while but it’s worth the wait. They usually close for the day from 8/9pm depending on how busy they’ve been so if you want to give it a try then make sure you don’t leave it too late. The duck is famous on the island and for good reason!

Our orders were — roast duck with rice and beancurd & duck noodle broth.

Mama Tam

This Koh Tao Guide wouldn’t be complete without a best Pad Thai spot and Mama Tam’s holds that spot for me. Much like 995 Duck, Mama Tam is also very small meaning it gets very busy and you can wait a long time for food. But this is like most small authentic Thai restaurants on the island as everything is cooked to order. Mama Tam has all of the Thai dishes you desire as well as fresh fruit shakes and tasty deserts.

Our orders were — Pad Thai, Spring Rolls, Morning Glory, Penang Curry, Crispy Pork with Kale, Mixed Vegetables.

Coconut Monkey

Coconut Monkey is a relaxed beach front cafe with an amazing vibe, offering both meat and vegan options, amazing smoothies and fresh coffee. This was one of our favourite spots for breakfast or brunch, the staff are so welcoming and the food was always delicious. They also have a fridge full of sweet treats to take away or eat there! This is a popular spot for nomads as they have excellent free wifi for all customers.

Our orders were — avocado and eggs on toast, breakfast burrito, English breakfast, eggs and toast, hummus veg plate, spaghetti, coconut monkey, tutti fruitti & lemon lime mint & honey ice tea.

Koppee

We stumbled across Koppee one afternoon while Jack was hungry and I wanted to be in the sun and swimming for the day. Located on Chalok Bay the positioning of Koppee is truly stunning. You can either choose to sit in the restaurant or position yourself next to the pool if you want to take a dip while looking out over the bay. All of the food and drinks were to a very high standard and delicious.

Our orders were — Chicken satay wrap, Caesar salad, fresh coconut, a smoothie bowl and tropical smoothie.

The French Market

We absolutely loved this place as we would order breakfast to go and take it down to the beach with us, however, they do have lovely seating and offer a wide variety of breakfast to eat in as well. The French Market stood out for us though because of their huge variety of freshly baked pastries every morning, watch my reel here to check out their mouth watering selection – I think this has to be my favourite breakfast spot in this Koh Tao Guide. They also have a large variety of imported wines, cheeses and meats to purchase if you want something a little different!

Our orders were — butter croissant, pain au chocolat, banana bread, cinnamon roll and La Parma sandwich.

Barracuda Roof Top

Nicknamed Koh Tao’s finest seafood restaurant and bar, Barracuda does live up to its name. Here you will find food combinations that are not commonly found in Thailand. Offering seafood, meat and vegetarian choices with both Thai fusion or western inspiration, these unique dishes paired with their amazing array of sides makes for the perfect combination. Barracuda is a little on the expensive side but the location and food quality prove why.

Our orders were — aromatic duck rolls, baked Barracuda parcel with chimichurri and BBQ Ribs

Thaita Italian

Thaita is a hidden gem serving classic Italian dishes. Owned by an Italian couple they are well known on Koh Tao and their food is loved by both visitors and locals. Note though that the menu is in Italian so just ask for some help when ordering and the owners are more than happy to translate and help with recommendations.

Our orders were — bruschetta, beef carpaccio and pizza

The Hacienda Bar & Grill

This place is especially loved by British tourists and ex pats. I have not come across anywhere else that you can find good traditional English food such as a roast dinner, sausage and mash, pie and gravy and so much more. A great place to have some home comforts and to watch any live sports games.

Our orders were — Pork belly, Roast pork, Chicken tenders, Lasagne and Sausage and mash.

What to do

Koh Tao Relax Freedom Beach Resort

In this resort you can find 3 of the islands most popular tourist spots. Entry to the resort for non guests is 50 baht (£1) per person but this includes access to all 3 hotspots, their restaurants and bars, access to toilets and showers and you can get a stamp to come and go as many times as you want in one day.

Freedom Beach

By far the most well known and popular beach on Koh Tao, despite it’s tiny size Freedom Beach always has a good vibe and is a perfect place to spend the afternoon relaxing. The entrance to the ocean is lined with beautiful trees giving shade and a secluded feeling to the beach. The ocean here is well known for snorkelling and is crystal clear, you can often spot turtles, plenty of fish and sometimes sea snakes swimming around.

Taa Toh Beach

The quieter beach out of the two but no less beautiful, Taa Toh Beach is located round the corner in Chalok Bay, this is a great spot for swimming and snorkelling too but when the tide goes out it can get very shallow.

John Suwan Viewpoint

The best known viewpoint on Koh Tao giving you an uninterrupted view over the whole island but be prepared as the hike/climb up is quite an adventure! Make sure you are wearing trainers or other shoes that won’t slip off easily as there is quite a steep walk up then plenty of clambering over rocks to reach the top. Once there you are rewarded with a perfect view over Chalok Bay, Shark Bay and the whole of Koh Tao, it is truly breathtaking and not to be missed.

Hing Wong Bay/ Secret Bay

If you like snorkelling this is the number one spot for it in this Koh Tao Guide. Located on the north-eastern part of the island the best time to visit is when there is low winds and the tide is high. Check out my full guide to Secret Bay to make sure you don’t miss out on the best parts of the bay to snorkel in.

Sairee Beach

Located along the west coast Sairee Beach is the perfect spot to chill if you just want a quiet day maybe near to your accommodation. Lined with beach front bars, cafes and restaurants there is plenty to keep you busy here whilst enjoying a refreshing dip in the ocean.

Go Diving

Koh Tao attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year and a large majority of them go with the intention of diving in its surrounding waters. Koh Tao is a year round dive location offering warm waters, mostly crystal clear conditions and mild currents, this makes for the perfect combination for both experienced divers and those looking to take the dive for the first time.

Yoga

Perfectly complimenting the slow way of life that Koh Tao is known for, the many yoga schools around the island are an excellent way to either start or end your day here. You can find fast flowing Vinyasa classes, slow and mellow yin classes as well as full moon rituals and workshops all around the island. My favourites places to flow here were Blue Chitta Yoga and Living Juices & Yoga.

Mango Bay Viewpoint

Located at the very northern point of the island there are lots of Mango Bay Viewpoints you can choose from, some offer food and drinks while others are just platforms allowing you to sit and admire the view. Head towards Mango Bay Beach on the map and you will see signs along your way showing you where to go.

Snorkelling trip

The 5 stop snorkelling tour is a very popular one that plenty of companies offer around the island. The stops include Nang Yuan Island — three islands connected by two beaches, Mango Bay — this is a great spot for snorkelling which is full of colourful fish, Hin Wong Bay — one of the most beautiful coves in Koh Tao filled with unique corals, Aow Leuk — another great snorkelling spot with crystal clear waters & Shark Bay — the best known spot on the island to snorkel with Black Tip Reef Sharks and Turtles. You can book these tours at most accommodation and the price includes pick up/ drop off and lunch. We went with Oxygen and I highly recommend them, they take some very cool pictures of you under the water.

How to get there

Koh Tao is is an island located in the Gulf of Thailand in the South, the only way to get to Koh Tao is by ferry as the island is so small there is no airport. But this is easily done from it’s sister islands Koh Samui and Koh Phangan or the mainland.

It is relatively easy to get to and the many different options for travelling have different price points, in this Koh Tao Guide I have shared a few options with you:

You can depart from either Chumphon or Surat Thani on Thailands mainland. Which you can easily reach either by air, bus or train depending on your budget.

Alternatively you could fly into Koh Samui and get a ferry from there.

The best places to book these ferries is on 12goAsia or Bookaway.

The way I recommend getting here by doing all 3 islands located in the Gulf of Thailand together, starting in Koh Samui, then Koh Phangan then onto Koh Tao. You can then return to Surat Thani or Chumphon after depending on where you are travelling next.

How to get around

The best way to get around Koh Tao is by scooter, you can rent a scooter from most locations around Koh Tao for just 300 baht (£7) a day. Prices can vary depending on the model but this is the best way to get out and explore the whole island.

Rentals can be found from most accommodations in Koh Tao as well as rental shops in the main hub on Sairee road and around the island.

If you are not confident on a scooter you could also arrange a taxi to take you to your chosen destination and negotiate a return time and journey.

Best time to visit

Koh Tao has 4 seasons cool and dry, hot and dry, hot and wet and monsoon season.

The best time to visit is generally the hot and dry season which tends to be from January to May, this is also Koh Tao’s busiest time for tourists.

However if you are looking to dive while you’re here visibility under the water can reach 30 meters in July, August and September although this is the wet season it’s something to bear in mind!

Tips for Koh Tao

Most importantly in this Koh Tao Guide is my top tips, use these to learn from my mistakes and ensure you have the best trip possible.

Learn some basic Thai — simple hellos, please and thank you can go a long way and the locals are happy to help you with pronunciation – just ask.

Tipping — it is not expected here but if you have had a good meal or great service then it shows an extra level of appreciation.

Keep your beachwear on the beach — while Koh Tao is a tourist hotspot and the locals are used to tourism Thailand is a very modest country and it is respectful to cover up when you are moving around the island or away from the beach.

ATMs — a lot of Koh Tao is cash only as many restaurants are small family run places.  While there are plenty of ATM’s around the island try to make sure you withdraw as much as you need during your stay just in case you come across an empty ATM and cannot get any money.  Be mindful that they charge 220 baht (£5) per withdrawal so I recommend getting out large sums at a time and storing the cash in your safe at your accommodation.  Also never use the ATM conversion rate, they are often much higher than your bank would charge and declining it can often save you £30/40!

Get a local sim — these can be found at the airport or 7-Eleven, they will work throughout Thailand and are great for keeping yourself connected while on the move and mean you can have easy access to maps.

What to bring — Koh Tao is a beach destination meaning packing is a simple job but don’t forget some long trousers and t-shirts for the days you want to visit the temple or cover up.

Book in advance — while we are awful at this as we like to change it up last minute accommodation in Koh Tao during the high season gets booked up in advance and can be very expensive when booked last minute.

Sun cream — the sun is strong in Koh Tao and sun cream is very expensive here as with the rest of Asia, be sure to stock up at home for your trip.

Medical care — Thailand offers a high standard of health care, however, Koh Tao is a very small island and therefore might not be able to offer what you need. It is best to research the medical clinics and hospital here to ensure you know where you would like to go if you are ever in need. It is best to have a choice in the back of your mind that you hopefully won’t need rather than having to choose in a state of emergency!

Final thoughts

Koh Tao is up there as one of my favourite places in the world, the combination of amazingly clear and blue oceans, friendly and welcoming locals, beautiful scenery, comfortable accommodation and how the whole island feels so closely connected to nature feels like a home away from home to me.

Please take the trip to Koh Tao during your stay in Thailand, you will not be disappointed and make sure to use my guide to visit all the best spots.

I hope my guide to Koh Tao helps you fall in love with it just as much as I did. If you have any questions about your stay then please let me know in the comments below.

With love, Izzy ✨💛

More posts from Thailand