A scuba mecca to rival the Maldives and a party place to match Koh Phangan, Koh Tao has made a real name for itself in the last few decades. It now reigns as one of the most popular pitstops in the Thai Gulf region. Most set aside just 48 or 72 hours to see it, which is why we’ve curated this ultimate Koh Tao 3 day itinerary.
It’s about distilling the very best of the island and the greater region into three sessions. On day one, you’ll get sweaty on the backcountry trials that wind through the inland mountains to the beautiful bays of the east coast. On day two, you’ll hit the famous beaches of the north and west coasts and party in Sairee’s backpacker haunts. Day three caps the whole thing off with a visit to the famous Mu Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park, a land of lush karst peaks and fish-teeming reefs.
As the name implies, you’ll need three full days on the island to complete our Koh Tao 3 day itinerary. That means four nights in a hotel, since you’ll be getting started early on the first morning and returning to Koh Tao late on the last day.
Where to stay for our Koh Tao 3 day itinerary?
Because Koh Tao isn’t even close to being the biggest isle in the gulf there’s good news here: You can stay pretty much anywhere you choose. However, the best way to make your travels work with our Koh Tao 3 day itinerary is to pick somewhere on the main resort strip of the west coast. That means either Sairee Beach or around Mae Haad. There are lots of choices, including…
- Prik Thai Resort ($$$) – A seafront location and a stunning infinity pool set below the coconut palms await at the Prik Thai Resort. Book early because it sells out fast in the peak season!
- Koh Tao Heights Pool Villas ($$-$$$) – A very cool set of villas hidden up on the hillsides just about Sairee. They’re quiet and spacious and offer spectacular views.
- Savage Hostel Koh Tao ($) – As hostels go, this one’s pretty darn lovely. It’s got a rooftop pool and pod-style beds that mean even the 16-bed dorm feels kinda’ private.
Day 1: Hiking to the east coast
One of the great draws of Koh Tao is that it’s small enough to crisscross on foot. Because of that, the island is prime for travelers who aren’t shy of pulling on the hiking boots. Yes, there are some rugged mountains to hop over as you walk, but seeing the island this way promises to be a real adventure, with visions of lush jungles and sweeping views of the Thai Gulf as you go. So, that’s where we begin on day one of our Koh Tao 3 day itinerary: On the trail from Sairee to Tanote Bay.
The route goes from the southern end of ever-popular Sairee Beach right across the breadth of the isle to the east coast. It’s a just under 1.5 miles as the crow flies, but further in reality, because the path zigzags up the central hills and has some pretty hefty peaks and troughs in altitude.
We usually opt to have a breakfast at In Touch Restaurant on the beachfront nice and early. They do fluffy pancake stacks with syrup that are great for pre-loading the carbs and sugars. When you’re ready to set off, take the road that weaves behind the Monsoon Gym. It branches into a walking trail just after a few small bungalow hotels and begins to creep up the mountainside, weaving through pockets of palm forest along the way.
After maybe 45 minutes or so of trekking, you’ll reach the top of Tanote Peak. That’s the backbone of Koh Tao island and it hosts several bars that make their living on offering lookout points and cold beers. If you’re hungry, the best of them is Koh Tao Two View Bar & Restaurant, which has panoramas that include the west coast and the east coast as far as the head of Ao Laem Thian.
Keep hiking and the route begins to meander down the far side of the island. It’s actually paved most of the way in the east, so you can get to Ao Tanote Beach in another 35 minutes or even less. What awaits is a seriously lovely bay with big boulders hugging the cliffs on either side. There’s a fantastic snorkel location around the boulders that poke out of the water here, too. But most simply chill, cool down in the gulf, and grab a cold one at the Diamond Bar.
The route back follows the same path. Try to time it so that you hit the lookout bars at Tanote Peak for the start of the sunset. The light shows at that time will be spectacular – think hazy pinks and oranges shimmering across the beaches below.
Day 2: Beaches and nightlife
If day one was all about working up a sweat in the Koh Tao highlands, day two is all about chilling on the coast. Yep, this is your chance to hop between the incredible beaches of this isle in the Thai Gulf. There are plenty of them, especially out south and east, where the shoreline breaks into smaller, horseshoe inlets and coves.
The best way to get from beach to beach is with a scooter. It’s usually no more than 20 minutes’ drive from one to the next. You could also rent a bike or opt to walk, but just don’t expect to be able to hit all the sands we recommend below.
We’d also recommend seeing the beaches in a certain order to minimize time spent traveling between them. That’s why we’ve listed our picks in a north-to-south direction. Of course, you don’t have to see them all. It’s probably better to pick two or three and enjoy them to the full, with a good stint of sunbathing and snorkeling on each.
- Mango Bay – It takes some determination to reach Mango Bay by land. Most will go with a longtail boat from Sairee for 400 THB. But you can drive as far north as the roads will take you and then walk through the forest. It’s a stunning dash of yellow sand with Seychelles-esque boulders sprouting from both sides, so very much worth the effort!
- Ao Hin Wong – Very secluded Ao Hin Wong sums up the scenery of the east coast with its gravelly yellow sand and big rock formations. It’s quiet and has boardwalks that make for great Insta shots.
- Sairee Beach – The chances are you’re staying near Sairee Beach, so don’t stop by if you are. Either way, this long scythe of white-tinged sand backed by Thai eateries and bars is the main strip on the island.
- Ao Laem Thian – You’ll need to leave the scooter around Tanote and walk the rest of the way to Ao Laem Thian, a remote headland that has a cluster of boulders and amazing snorkeling reefs on the east coast.
- Shark Bay – The finale of your tour of the Koh Tao beaches comes in the form of Shark Bay. It’s famed for its uber-clear turquoise seas and – yes – sharks! There’s a 50 THB entry fee. Bring the snorkeling gear!
The alternative to seeing the beaches of Tao by land is to take a water taxi out for the day. You can haggle for rates at the longtail pier in Sairee. The bonus to doing it that way is that you’ll get to visit the incredible isthmus beach at Nangyuan Island and spots like Mango Bay without hiking a single step through the jungles.
At night, return to your hotel and ready yourself for some partying. The areas of Mae Haad and Sairee stand out here. They’ve got ramshackle reggae bars and diver hangouts that go on all night long. Most hit Fishbowl Beach Bar to start and just see where the evening takes them.
Day 3: Out to the Mu Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park
No trip to Koh Tao and the Gulf of Thailand could possibly be complete without exploring the incredible Mu Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park. This vast reserve covers a string of karst islands and rocks that span out from the mainland some 27 miles to the south of Tao itself. They’re each pretty gorgeous to say the least, coming with teal-blue lagoons, cliffs tufted with primeval jungles, and beaches of pure sugar-white sand.
It’s almost impossible to visit the marine park without joining a guided tour. Luckily, loads leave from Mae Haad and Sairee on Koh Tao. They typically take all day, include a pick up and drop off at your hotel, and a packed or fresh lunch. You’ll want to make sure your itinerary includes at least a few of the highlight locations listed below, along with snorkeling stops and/or sea kayaking, which is one of the best ways to explore Mu Ko Ang.
The main draws of the reserve are:
- Koh Wua Ta Lap – The largest of all the islands that make up the marine reserve, Koh Wua Ta Lap is home to a zigzagging hiking path on steep stairs that lifts you more than 800 feet above the Thai Gulf to survey the islands from on high. It’s exhausting business but the views are to die for.
- The Emerald Lake – This shimmering lagoon glows green-blue in the heart of Ko Mae Ko island. You can’t swim but there are amazing lookout decks on the side.
- Bua Bok Cave – A big cavern with stalactite formations, not often included on day tours from Koh Tao.
- Endless snorkeling spots – There are loads of snorkeling reefs peppering the whole area. Your boat drivers typically pick the ones that will work best with prevailing conditions. Encounters with sea turtles here aren’t uncommon.