Is Koh Tao worth visiting? You bet it is!
Laid-back Koh Tao is one of the most beautiful islands in Thailand. It boasts stunning white-sand beaches, lush expanses of jungle rolling through its central hills, pumping nightlife, taste-bud-tingling restaurants, and – perhaps most of all – a world-renowned scuba scene.
Koh Tao is also known for its chilled-out vibe, its beach-side bars, and downright lovely swimming spots. At only 21 square kilometers, the little island is bijou enough to explore in a day but awesome enough to stay for a whole year. Small in size but not in character, here are nine reasons why you should visit Koh Tao.
The scuba diving
Any scuba diving buff anywhere worth their salt will know of Koh Tao. One of the most popular places in the world to gain a dive qualification, Koh Tao is a veritable mecca for going underwater. The turquoise sea, the balmy water temperature, the abundance of amazing marine life, and wide selection of dive sites all combine here to make it a real doozy of a destination for would-be bubble blowers.
The island’s knowledgeable and well-qualified instructors can always find you a dive site to suit conditions and your particular dive level. Whether you want a basic intro dive to see if it’s for you, want to score your first qualification, or train to be a full-on instructor, there are outfitters here who can tick those boxes.
Most importantly, there’s plenty to see. The technicolor coral reefs that surround the island are home to vast arrays of marine life. Green and hawksbills turtles are still a common sight around Koh Tao, not to mention stingrays, eagle rays, boxfish, reef sharks, and clownfish. And this is also whale shark territory, which means you’re in with a chance of spotting the single largest fish on the planet!
For a little island, Koh Tao has a huge number of beaches. They range from developed party strips with water sports, sun loungers, and pumping sound systems to tiny secret coves where it’ll be just you and the fish.
Most people head to Sairee beach, the longest and liveliest beach on Koh Tao. This is where most of the action, accommodation, and nightlife happens. It’s also where you’ll get amazing views of the sunset come the evening hour – the whole beach faces directly west across the Thai Gulf. But that’s not it. There are stacks more beaches to explore on Koh Tao. Check out:
- Freedom Beach – A south-coast beach hemmed in by mangroves where there’s basically no development. This is a great place to go to escape the crowds of Sairee.
- Mango Bay – This would be our pick for snorkeling on Koh Tao. It’s a gorgeous bay with reefs close to the shore.
- Hin Wong Bay – Over on the east shore, this ones rockier and rugged but definitely worth the trip through the central jungles, especially for sunrise!
Adventurous things to do
If you don’t fancy diving, don’t worry – much of the incredible sea life of Koh Tao can be seen without an oxygen tank. Snorkeling is a great way to view this underwater wonderland and you can do it by yourself from pretty much any of the beaches. Alternatively, you can book a spot on a snorkel boat for a half or full-day trip. Freediving is also growing in popularity for those who have the lungs for it.
Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards can be rented from many of the beaches, allowing you to explore some of the more hidden spots around the shoreline. You could also rent them in the evening from Sairee Beach for a sunset experience with a difference.
If you’d rather stay on land, take a different tack and head into the jungle to explore. There are hiking and cycling trails across the island and several take you to viewpoints with stunning panoramic views. Those not feeling overly energetic can always rent a moped to explore the island on two wheels.
With the Full Moon Party madness of Koh Phangan right next door, it’s easy to forget that Koh Tao knows how to party, too. But it sure does! You’ll find plenty of cocktail buckets and fire dancers on this island.
You’ll also learn a new meaning for the term ‘dive bar’ because it’s the dive centers here that lead the way on the hedonism front when the sun starts to dip. They are masters of transitioning from the chilled after-dive beer to all-out evening parties. Be sure to check out the uber-famous Fishbowl and Leo Bar – they are two of our favorites.
Once upon a time that’s all there was on Koh Tao. Not so now. The little diving island has gone up in the world. You can still drink beer in a beachside hammock, play beer pong, and listen to live bands at backpacker bars. But you can also drink cocktails on a rooftop terrace, laze the day away with cabana service at a beach club, or tune into a House DJ until the early hours.
Food is always one of the top reasons to visit Thailand, and it’s no different on Koh Tao. This island has street-side stalls and night bazaars that brim with zesty tom yum soups packed with fresh shrimp, sizzling pad Thai noodles capped off with crumbled peanuts and beansprouts, and uber-sweet mango sticky rice to finish off with.
There’s also a surprising range of other options on the menu in Koh Tao. International scuba fans have been visiting this island for decades, often deciding to stay and set up shop. That’s helped to develop a truly cosmopolitan food scene. Spanish, Mexican, French, sushi, BBQ – all sorts of joints now rub shoulders with contemporary, fusion restaurants that offer surprising unique menus.
What’s more, we love that you can find secret dining spots away from the main crowds here. Check out Tree House Café. It’s a 10-minute scooter ride from Mae Haad Pier (where most of the boats come in) but offers jungle-top views. The same goes at Love Koh Tao, where you can enjoy cold fruit juices with views of the northern beaches, and Natural High Coffee Shop, a sleek little brunch venue with fantastic beans for your morning brew.
It’s relatively easy to get to
Because Koh Tao is such a downright popular spot for scuba aficionados and sun seekers alike, it’s now one of the most accessible islands in the whole of Thailand. Okay, so it’s not quite up there with Phuket (which has its own road link to the mainland) or Koh Samui (which has its own airport) but it’s still easy to reach on the multiple ferries that connect from both the mainland and nearby islets.
One of the easiest options is to take the plane-boat combo ticket that’s on offer out of Bangkok with AirAsia. That includes a link from the Thai capital to the coastal city of Chumphon, followed by a 55-minute ferry to the port, and then a quick boat across to Mae Haad Pier.
It’s also possible to connect from Koh Phangan and Koh Samui on both fast and slow boats. That means Koh Tao is a top finishing or starting point for cross-gulf island hopping adventures that take in the home of the Full Moon Party and the most-visited island in the country.
Like the rest of Thailand, Koh Tao has a tropical climate, but it actually enjoys more sunshine and less rain than elsewhere in the Land of Smiles. With a short monsoon season only lasting October to December and over 300 days of sunshine a year, Koh Tao is worth a visit for any fans of Vitamin D and sea.
March through to September is perfect for sun-seekers, with temperatures regularly reaching the 30s. Whilst January and February are sunny but relatively cool with temperatures in the mid-20s on average.
If you’re not bothered about the sun and are looking for a bargain, then it’s worth visiting in the wet months. Many accommodations, bars, restaurants, and dive shops remain open all year round and their prices drop to match the lower demand. If you’re heading to Koh Tao to dive, the range of beaches and dive spots on offer means you will still be able to find a spot with good conditions when the monsoon is swinging around.
Because it’s cheap
Koh Tao is amongst the most popular places in the world to gain a scuba dive certificate. That’s both down to the quality of the local dive sites but also the price. The sheer number of dive schools on the island ensures that costs stay competitive. You’ll often find that they’ll also throw in discounted or even free accommodation with the course.
Affordable street food and beer shacks are abundant too, meaning that your living costs can stay low if you want them to. You’re looking at under $2 for a full meal in those sorts of places, and $1-2 per drink. On top of that, even the midrange hotels here come in at under $40 per night, meaning you can still do family trips and romantic jaunts to the island on a relatively low budget.
Oh, and one of top attractions is 100% free: The beaches. Yep, it won’t cost you a single baht to enjoy the lovely sands and snorkeling spots that abound on Koh Tao. Just mosey on down, lay out your towel, and laze on paradise without spending a dime.
Because of where you can go next
We’ve already mentioned how Koh Tao could be the perfect starting point for an island-hopping trip through the Thai Gulf. It sits at the northern end of a chain of isles that is pure R&R from start to finish. So, get your diving done on Koh Tao and then move south to Koh Phangan. It’s got a rep as the party hub of Thailand but there’s a whole run of cool yoga towns and more chilled beach villages along the north shore.
From there, hit up Koh Samui. This is the home of pumping Chaweng Beach, a major party destination, and the immersive old fishing village of Bo Phut, where there’s a nightly bazaar filled with traditional crafts and taste-bud-tingling seafood.
Finally, there’s all those smaller isles to visit in the greater Mu Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park, plus little satellite rocks like Tean Island (near Samui) and even the mainland coast of Surat Thani and Chumphon – AKA plenty for a Thai island-hopping odyssey.