We fell in love with Ko Tao island, an ideal place to relax and get close with marine life. Indeed, this island is known as one of the best places in the world for scuba diving (for the quality of the seabed, the visibility and the diving centres attractive prices)!
Ko Tao, often mistakenly spelled Koh Tao, is a Thailand Gulf island. Its name means “turtle island”. It is the smallest island of the trio with Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan (known for the Full Moon parties). Ko Tao is located about 70 km from the coast between the towns of Surat Thani and Chumphon. Tourism has developed there recently, over the last few decades. Although the island is changing very quickly, it still retains a wild aspect.
It is possible to visit it in two or three days. However, we recommend staying longer to fully enjoy it. We extended our stay and would have liked to stay there even longer!
What to do in Ko Tao?
We explored much of the island by foot. Be careful, however, because these are long distances to cover on difficult roads. Many tourists rent scooters. We are not very confident on two wheels and the roads are sometimes very rough on the island (also watch out for rental scams). But we also used a taxi and even hitchhiked. Doing this, we have covered a good part of the island of Ko Tao which is not very large (only 21 km²).
Finally, you can also travel by water taxi.
Remember to get sun and mosquito protections. In addition, bring plenty of water (there are remote places without shops) to explore!
Beach and snorkelling
Here are the beaches we visited:
Sai Nuan 1 & 2 beaches
Accessible by foot from Mae Haad, the walk will take you past the hotels, the jungle and the seaside. This is a private beach and it costs 100 baht per person for access. There is not a lot of coral to observe but a very pretty shaded and natural bay. Coming from Mae Haad we passed by Charm Churee Villa Boutique Resort Ko Tao and the beautiful Jansom bay. This is another private beach where it takes 200 baht to enjoy the hotel beach and pool.
The bay offers an ideal setting, very beautiful corals and marine diversity for snorkelling. We came across a small black tip shark, it is also possible to see turtles south of the bay but we were not so lucky.
The south-east part of the island is home to gorgeous beaches: we really enjoyed snorkelling there and saw turtles, sharks, many fish and a wide variety of corals.
Sai Daeng beach
To end the day with a magnificent sunset and a fresh coconut we settled on Sai Daeng beach. You have to go through a hotel to reach the beach. In order to get back to our accommodation, we asked the shuttle (normally reserved for hotel guests) if they had extra seats. They kindly agreed to take us back to the other side of the island.
Ao Tanote beach
The next day we got up early to head to Ao Tanote Beach. We were able to enjoy a magnificent sunrise on a heavenly and deserted beach. Once the sun was up and the temperatures were warm enough, we went snorkelling.
Finally, we spent the rest of the day at Aow leuk (access is not free). We spent the day by the water sipping fresh coconuts and snorkelling to cool off. We came across small black tip sharks among so many fishes.
The diving clubs very attractive prices make Ko Tao an excellent place to get a diving certification (PADI Open Water and Advanced for example).
Ko Tao is a popular spot for all level divers. We had a wonderful diving day out with New Way Diving centre at the Sail Rock spot halfway between Ko Tao and Ko Pha-ngan. It is a fairly remote dive site requiring a long boat ride, but we loved our dive there. We highly recommend diving with New Way Diving.
Where to sleep in Ko Tao?
On the island, there are cabins on beautiful wild and lost beaches. However, we decided to stay near the port to facilitate our trips and outings. Plus, the sunsets are breathtaking on this side of the island!
There are plenty of accommodation choices around the port. We first tested a more luxurious hotel than usual: the Montra Resort (about 50€ per night). It was an amazing stay, the swimming pool is very nice, the location ideal and the rooms very comfortable. We extended our stay in a lower budget hotel, the Brother and Sister (700 baht per night). This hotel is in a noisier location but was well located for the ferry and offers great value for money.
The south and east of the island are less accessible but have absolutely magnificent beaches. There are also many hotels available but the prices are a bit higher. However, the more expensive hotels offer free shuttles for their customers to get to the port.
We didn’t really like the atmosphere in the town north of Sairee beach, but if you want to party this is the place to be.
Where to eat on the island of Ko Tao?
First we recommend to take a look at our article on Bangkok for food tips in Thailand.
On Ko Tao island we liked the restaurants:
- Coconut monkey for good vegan dishes with your feet in the water
- Pranee’s Kitchen for Thai dishes at great prices
- Coral view bar resort for the amazing waterfront setting in Shark Bay
How to get to Ko Tao
Three boat companies operate in the area: Lomprayah Catamaran and Songserm Express from Chumphon and Surat Thani and Seatran Discovery from Surat Thani only. Chumphon is the closest city mainland to Ko Tao, so the boat trip is shorter compared to a departure from Surat Thani.
From Chumphon the company Songserm offers ferries with pick-up at the train station cheaper than its competitor Lomprayah. To get to Chumphon, it is possible to take an overnight train from Bangkok. We loved our night train experience in Thailand! For the outward journey we therefore chose Songserm.
For the return, we went with Lomprayah and took a bus transfer to Hua Hin (the bus are going up to Bangkok).
The other islands: Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan
It is possible to fly to the largest islands, Ko Samui. However, we encourage you for our planet to travel by train, bus and boat rather than taking a plane. Lomprayah, Songserm and Seatran are the 3 operators offering island transfers. Check online to find the best rates and schedule. It is also possible to ferry between the islands.
Clémentine’s Reading List
- Lonely Planet Thailand travel guide
- As Thai is a difficult language, we have equipped ourselves with the Lonely Planet Fast Talk Thai guide
- We are still looking for a suitable novel, if you have any ideas leave us a comment!
- It’s hard not to mention the Hollywood success The Beach with DiCaprio. An American backpacker goes in search of a hidden beach on a Thai island.