The complete guide to the absolute best things to do on Koh Tao, Thailand. From scuba diving to sunset hiking, this incredible Thai gem has something for everybody.
Personally, Koh Tao is one of my favorite places on earth, and an Island that I’m constantly drawn back to. In this guide, I’ll outline some of the best things to do on Koh Tao based on my experience.
Best Time To Visit Koh Tao
Koh Tao enjoys hot tropical weather patterns and travel will depend on the monsoon season. If you’re going to spend a lot of time in the water, then the best time to visit Koh Tao is from March to May, when the weather is hotter and the visibility is good. This is also the best time to visit Koh Tao if you’re looking to spot a whale shark.
May to October is also another great time to visit Koh Tao. This season sees the start of the stronger winds sweeping across the island. However, the weather is still hot, at around 32 degrees and you’ll enjoy some light evening showers.
How to Get to Koh Tao
There are several options available for travelers wanting to get to Koh Tao. The fastest way is to get a flight to neighboring Koh Samui and then take a quick ferry to Koh Tao.
However, unless you score a cheap flight ticket to Koh Samui, this option is most likely going to be the most expensive.
FIND ALL BUDGET TRANSPORT TO KOH TAO
The Cheaper Options: Bus and Ferry
Usually, flights to and from Bangkok and Phuket are going to be the cheapest in Thailand. Luckily, there are also several buses that run from Phuket and Bangkok and connect to Koh Tao via a bus.
Stitching together a bus and ferry combo is completely possible by yourself. However, if you want to save time and pay the same money, then I’d recommend just buying a combined bus and ferry ticket from either Phuket or Bangkok for $30.
These combined tickets are the faster speed catamarans and air-conditioned coaches that will take you the whole way. You also won’t get ripped off for an expensive transfer at the ferry terminal as this is also included.
Best Things to Do on Koh Tao
You’ll never be short of things to do on Koh Tao. Although the island is a mere 21 KM², it definitely gets its fair share of visitors. The Bangkok Post states that up to 3 million people visit the tiny island every year!
So, already in Koh Tao and looking for the absolute best things to do on the island? Let’s dive in.
The turtle island is mainly known as a Scuba Diving mecca and is one of the cheapest places on earth to complete your open water scuba course. I spent a few months on the island doing my PADI Dive Master Course and a little bit of time after that working on the island.
Although the diving on Koh Tao isn’t the best in the world, it’s certainly fairly consistent. Due to the island geography, there is usually a few decent dive sites that are calm, no matter the weather.
Bans Diving – Dive School in Koh Tao
I chose to do my Scuba Dive Master training at Bans Diving. You might be surprised to know that they are the biggest dive shop on the island. They are also locally owned by three Thai sisters. If you are looking for a great place to do your Dive Master or even PADI open water course, don’t rule out Bans Diving.
I am not being paid by Bans for advertising, and am happy to recommend the shop to anyone based on my own experience. Benefits of choosing Bans include:
- Free Diving for Life for Dive Master Trainees
- Eco-Resort – They recycle most of the island’s plastic and make all of their own soaps and detergents
Cleanu ps– They or ganizedaily beach cleanups and regular underwater dive cleanups
- They are the cheapest on the Island
- Dive Master Trainer “Lee” is one of the most knowledgeable and entertaining teachers on the planet
- They will offer former Dive Master Trainees a job after they graduate
Other than the cheap cost of diving, the scuba diving lifestyle is what attracts many people to Koh Tao. Most of the reputable dive companies including Bans offer free diving for life if you take up your Dive Master there. That means you can take your time with the course and fun dive as much as you want. It also means you can come back 2, 5 or 20 years later and dive for free, as much as you’d like.
Although, there are many more things to do on Koh Tao than just scuba diving. Below I’ve made a list of some of the best things to do on Koh Tao. These aren’t in any particular order.
Check Out The Beaches
It wouldn’t be a tropical Thai island without some epic beaches. My personal favorite is Freedom Beach.
Freedom Beach is located on the Western side of the island and only a short 15-minute scooter ride from the main tourist area of Sairee. It is usually fairly quiet year-round, meaning you can often have a secluded beach to yourself.
Freedom Beach has some hammocks set up along the shoreline and crystal clear water for swimming. There are also some rock structures on either side of the bay. We found ourselves here fairly often between scuba diving and hiking in the island.
READ MORE: Check out my full post on The Best Beaches on Koh Tao
Head Over to Koh Nang Yuan
One of the most famous spots on Koh Tao isn’t actually on Koh Tao. Koh Nang Yuan
The island has some pretty stringent environmental restrictions, with no plastic bottles or waste being allowed on the island (they will search your bags). There is also a 100 baht environmental protection fee per person to gain entry.
The island itself has two big landmasses connected with a string of white sand beach. There are also two very popular Koh Tao Dive sites right next to Koh Nang Yuan; Twins and White Rock.
My recommendation would be to talk to a boat driver early before the island opens and plan to arrive at 10 AM. This way you might even have the viewpoint to yourself.
Alternatively, you could book a speedboat tour instead. The one linked is the best-rated online and great value, especially if you’re looking to do some snorkeling in a group.
Hike to Epic Viewpoints
If you’re looking to get away from the craziness of Sairee and the scuba hum, there are some decent hikes to be had just a short scooter ride away. For such a small island, Koh Tao has its fair share of viewpoints and short hikes.
Many of the viewpoints have small bars and restaurants that are set up at the top, including the famous “Love Koh Tao” viewpoint. However, there are also several spots to simply relax and enjoy the island views.
One of the best hikes is John Suwan View Point. Although this is a fairly short hike, you will be rewarded with some of the most spectacular views on the island. Walking only 10 minutes up from the entrance to Freedom Beach, you will reach a rocky outcrop that stretches out at the Southern-most point of the island.
FULL POST: John Suwan Viewpoint on Koh Tao
Catch Sunset Views of Koh Nang Yuan
Island life means epic sunsets. You’d be
Nang Yuan Terrace offers you views of the sun setting on the water, right beside Koh Nang Yuan. You can also witness Sairee Beach nightlife come alive with the setting of the sun.
FULL POST: Secret Sunset Spot on Koh Tao
Snorkel with Black Tip Reef Sharks
If you’ve come to Koh Tao to check out the marine life, then you might have heard about the famous Black Tips at Shark Bay. This is a small bay on the South East side of the island. You can snorkel with these sharks every day from 6:00 to 9:00 am in the shallows of the bay.
There are also plenty of turtles that hide in Shark Bay, seemingly to get away from the craziness of Sairee.
If you’d rather skip on the sharks and join in on a full-day snorkeling tour instead, try this one.
Cliff Jumping at Tanote Bay
Koh Tao also has opportunities for cliff jumping. One of the best spots to do this is in Tanote Bay. Although it’s not the tallest drop, Tanote Bay has a modest rocky outcrop situated in the center of the bay. The jump is roughly 5m into crystal clear water filled with pristine reef.
We chose to come to Tanote Bay several times in between diving to relax on the big rock and enjoy the relative calmness of the area.
Practice Your Apnea
Freediving is absolutely taking the underwater world by storm. There are loads of freediving shops and schools popping up everywhere in Koh Tao. One of the best and most well renowned is Apnea Total. Similarly to the scuba diving scene, you can find very cheap prices for world-class freediving training. They offer programs from beginner all the way to competitive level freediving.
Although I didn’t sign up at any schools, I have spoken to a few people who were undertaking their master-level training and swore by the quality of freediving schools in Koh Tao.
If you’ve already done some freediving and just want to head out with a buddy. The absolute best spot to do so is on the tucked-away training grounds on the Eastern Side of the island, just in front of Moondance Magic Resort. However, it takes a bit of local know-how to get down there.
FULL POST: BEST Secret Freediving Location on Koh Tao
Visit the Only Animal Clinic on the Island
Although this is undeniably one of the most un-touristy things that you could do on Koh Tao, if you’re an animal lover, definitely visit the animal clinic in Cha Lok. Koh Tao Animal Clinic is a not-for-profit organization that operates completely on donations and volunteer support.
This is the only clinic and veterinary facility on the island. For such a small clinic with little funds, they do a great job of desexing and caring for the thousands of animals on the island.
If you have a few dollars left from lunch, why don’t you go down and sponsor a stray. It doesn’t cost a lot to help an injured or sick dog or cat, and a little change goes a long way.
If you’re staying for a longer period of time and looking to volunteer, head in and ask for Yo or Jae and see if they have anything for you to do.
Hike to the Abandoned Resort
If you’re looking for a day of adventure to a secluded spot, the abandoned resort is one of the most underrated spots to visit on Koh Tao. The resort is tucked away on the far Eastern Corner of Koh Tao at Laem Thian Beach.
You will need to hike through the jungle for an hour to reach the resort. Once you get there, you can explore the empty rooms, reception area, and rooftops. The beach is also one of my favorite beaches on Koh Tao. This is a great spot to swim, snorkel and cliff jump. You might even be lucky enough to spot some famous Koh Tao turtles.
FULL POST: Find out How to Get to the Abandoned Resort on Koh Tao
Grab Some Koh Tao Street Pad Thai at Sairee
If you’re looking for a cheap meal in between dives, look no further than the Pad Thai street vendors in Sairee. You can find the best ones just near the 7/11 on the Northern side of Sairee Beach.
For 50 Baht, you can pick up a decently sized Pad Thai with peanuts. Not bad.
Join the Famous Koh Tao Pub Crawl
It’s no secret that the nightlife in Koh Tao can get pretty wild and it all starts on the Koh Tao Pub Crawl. If you’re anywhere near Sairee after 6:00 PM then it’s impossible to miss the black singlet gang moving from pubs to cabaret shows across Sairee.
The pub crawl is actually one of the top three biggest in the entire world. For its size, it’s pretty well run and stops at some cool bars. If you’re looking to join in, head to Choppers Bar around 6;00PM.
Rent SUPs on Sairee Beach
In my opinion, the best way to see the sunset on Sairee Beach is from a stand-up paddleboard. It won’t be difficult for you to find a place to rent a SUP on Sairee. Just walk around to any of the beachfront dive shops and they will most likely have them.
A SUP on Sairee will cost anywhere from 100 to 200 baht per hour. If you’re diving on Koh Tao, ask your dive shop to see if they will give you a discount on board hire.
Fire Dancers on Sairee Beach
There’s no better way to end a long day of scuba diving and hiking than to relax on the beach with
I had an amazing time on Koh Tao. It’s one of my favorite islands in the world due to the wide range of adventure that is available. I will definitely be returning to this place!
Where to Stay on Koh Tao – Accommodation Guide
There are several options for travelers looking to stay on Koh Tao island. To save you time, I’ve listed some of the best options below.
HOSTEL RIGHT NEXT TO MAE HEAD PIER FOR $6 / NIGHT – BLACK WOOD HOSTEL
The Black Wood Hostel is one of the highest-rated hostels on Koh Tao and is located just a 5-minute walk to from Mae Head Pier. This is the perfect place to stay if you’re coming in on a later boat or looking for a central hostel close to the pier.
BEST BACKPACKER HOSTEL IN SAIREE FOR UNDER $10 / NIGHT – BP HOSTEL
BP Hostel has shared accommodation options which all include Air Con for the hotter island nights. It’s also located in the heart of Sairee and close to the beach, smile mart and the Koh Tao pub-crawl.
TOP GUEST HOUSE ON KOH TAO – NIRVANA GUEST HOUSE
This guest house has the best ratings on Koh Tao. It’s also very close to Mae Head pier and several quality dive schools. It’s also another budget-friendly option for couples or solo backpackers.
FIND ALL BEST ACCOMODATION OPTIONS IN KOH TAO
Long-Term Accommodation on the Island
If you’re staying on the island for a while, then I’d highly recommend getting a monthly lease. There are dozens of apartments available for under $300 per month. They typically have a balcony view, own kitchen, and aircon. If you’re going to take this route, look up the Koh Tao Rooms for Rent Facebook group.
More Things to do in Thailand
I hope that this comprehensive guide to the best things to do in Koh Tao has been useful in planning your adventures. For more Thai travel inspiration, make sure to check out some of the links below.