Koh Tao is a little island in the Gulf of Thailand, unlike its neighbors Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, Koh Tao is smaller and mellower, so you get the real island vibes. While the island may be small there is still plenty to do, see, and eat. After spending 3 months exploring the beaches and towns of this paradise, I’ve got a quite a few favorite places and things to do, and I want to share them with you!
- Coconut Monkey – Mae Haad. This spot reminds me a lot of breakfast places in California with its fresh green juice and breakfast burritos. Seriously get the Divers Wrap, it’s delicious. It’s right on the beach too so you can enjoy the view of the sea.
- Indie Cafe – Sairee. This is probably the most hipster place on the island, and it’s pretty awesome. I usually go for the bagel sandwich and a fresh coconut while hanging out reading or catching up on work.
- Zest – Mae Haad. This is your basic neighborhood breakfast place, no fuss, just good food. They make their own bread so definitely get some toast and make sure to sit near a fan, it can get pretty warm in there on a sunny day.
- Living Juices – Sairee. Feeling like you need some vitamins and nutrients? Living Juices has the best smoothies and smoothie bowls, everything is fresh and amazing.
- Le Carrote – Mae Haad. Le Carrote is amazing vegan Thai fare, perfect for lunch or dinner. Make sure to try the pumpkin hummus and the pineapple fried rice!
- Hippo Burger – Sairee. If you are craving a burger this is where you need to go. Their delicious gourmet style burgers will leave you feeling fat and happy.
- Yellow Rice – Chalok. This little hole in the wall is no frills and great food. They only have two options, fried chicken with yellow rice, or curry chicken with yellow rice and they are both awesome. It’s located on the main road as you are coming into Chalok from Mae Haad, on the right corner at the T junction.
- Tao Thong Villa – Chalok. So it’s technically a guest house, but they have a little beach side restaurant serving up some amazingly fresh fish and what Rob claims to be the best Pad Thai he’s ever had. Go for an early dinner to be able to hang out on the little beach and have a beer and catch the sunset from the deck while you eat.
- Blue Water – Sairee. So Blue water is good for pretty much all meals, but dinner there is especially cool with the whole loft style building lit up and the sound of waves in the background. Plus they have a good selection of beer and upscale type pub fare.
- Oishi Kaiso – Sairee. If you are looking for sushi Oishi Kaiso is the best place. The restaurant is small and intimate, and the fish is fresh.
- Fizz – Sairee. If you are looking a romantic dinner spot go to Fizz where you can enjoy dinner and a cocktail out on the deck while watching the sun go down over the Gulf of Thailand.
- The Living Room – Mae Haad. This is probably one of my favorite places to hang out, it’s super chill and the crowd there is always friendly. They’ve got all your standard Thai beers but also do awesome cocktails.
- Rock Bar – Sairee. If you are looking for a night out of debauchery, Rock Bar is where you want to go. It’s cheap drinks, loud music, and free neon body paint make it party central.
- Baby Rasta – Mae Haad. It looks like a tree house from Peter Pan, both on the inside and outside which makes it awesome. When you come in make sure to grab a beer (or herbal supplement) from the counter then go find a cozy nook to chill in.
- Lotus Bar – Sairee. If you are looking for some good entertainment, head to Lotus Bar for the fire show. Fire dancers do all kinds of tricks on the beach while you sip you drink on the deck. And if you are up for some audience participation they almost always do the flaming limbo!
- The Living Room – Mae Haad. During the day the living room is a quiet little coffee shop with fast wifi, good coffee drinks and homemade snacks. It was my favorite place to hang out and work during the day then have a few beers at night.
- Cafe Culture – Sairee. It’s cutesy and perfect for brunch or to have a coffee while you work with a view of the beach. Although the lack of plugs and the beach view tend to make the work day just that much shorter there.
- This Is A Book Cafe – Mae Haad. This quiet little place is on the brick road leading out of Mae Haad, it’s a great work spot with free wifi and comfy chairs.
- Sairee Beach: Probably the most popular and accessible beach. You can get to it anywhere from the brick road that runs between Mae Haad and Sairee. The waves are calm and the shallows go pretty far out, it’s perfect for just hanging out in the water and floating around. One thing to look out for are the long boats that are tied up along the beach, there isn’t really designated areas for swimming and boats, and while everyone tends to look out for one another it’s better to steer clear of the boats, especially when they are coming in and out of the beach.
- Tanote Bay: If you want some cool snorkeling Tanote Bay is the place, you can rent snorkels and fins right on the beach and head out to see some of the islands amazing sea life.
- Freedom Beach: If you follow the main road all the way to the end past Chalok you’ll end up at Freedom Beach. It could arguable be the prettiest beach on the island. It’s got a sandy beach and dramatic rock formations going up the cliff and a few trees dot the shore line providing some shade.
- Sai Nuan Beach: If you are up for a little adventure take a hike to Sai Nuan Beach, starting in Mae Haad walk towards the Charm Churee Village hotel and follow the signs to Jansom Bay (it a private beach and you have to pay to hang out there, but if you are just passing through they don’t mind), but continue on, there will be signs directing you Sai Nuan. Since it is pretty out of the way it’s hardly ever crowded and the perfect spot to spend an afternoon swimming in the sea, and swinging on the palm tree swing.
- Diving: Koh Tao is known for it’s diving, whether you are a seasoned diver or interested in learning Koh Tao has some of the best dive sites in the Gulf of Thailand. For more on diving in Koh Tao check out this post and this post.
- Snorkeling: If diving is a little too much for you, it’s understandable, a 3 day course takes up a lot of vacation time, there is still plenty of awesome sea life to see snorkeling. You can rent a snorkel and fins from little spots on the beaches for the day and swim around with the fishies to your hearts content.
- Hiking: For such a small island Koh Tao is pretty mountainous, making for some good hikes with awesome views. For more on hikes to do in Koh Tao check out this post.
- Day Trip to Nang Yuan: There is a little tiny island just off the coast of Koh Tao that makes for a fun little day trip. You can jump on a long boat and head over to Koh Nang Yuan for some snorkeling and lazing on the beach. A few things to note, Nang Yuan doesn’t open for day trippers until 10AM, you also have to pay an entrance fee at the dock to get on the island (it’s 100 baht a person), and overall it’s a bit pricy, there is a resort on the island that runs everything, and everything from food to renting a beach chair is a bit more expensive than anywhere else. However it is gorgeous and you can get a great view of both islands. To get to that view point check out this post.
- Koh Tao Leisure Park: If at any point you get tired of the beach (wait what?!) the Koh Tao Leisure park is a fun way to spend an afternoon and evening, they’ve got mini golf, 2 bars, huge TV’s, a weekly movie night, and decent (for Thailand) Mexican food to boot! Pro tip, for movie night, order food and drinks from the bar and they’ll bring it to you in the movie theater, and bam, you’ve got dinner and a show.
- Getting to Koh Tao can be an adventure in itself, there is really no direct way to get there, because the island doesn’t have an air port. Usually you’ll either fly into Koh Samui and take the ferry, or you can take the bus from just about anywhere on mainland Thailand to a ferry.
- Lomprayah: The easiest and cheapest bus and ferry combination is through Lomprayah. Coming from Bangkok you can catch the bus from Khao San Road to Chumphon, where you get on the ferry to Koh Tao. The whole trip is around 9 hours, so it’s not the most time effect means of travel, but it works. You can buy your tickets online too which is always a plus.
Rent A Scooter
- By far the easiest and most convenient way to get around the island is by scooter. It’s pretty easy to learn how to ride, they are automatic so you don’t have to worry about shifting. If you aren’t feeling comfortable riding no worries, crashes suck (you can read about mine here), there are plenty of other ways to get around.
- RPM Scooter Rental: This is by far the best place to rent from, it is a little bit more expensive but it’s worth it. A lot of the scooter rental places on the island will have a cheap daily rate, but when you bring it back they will find a scratch and try to charge you for it. RPM charges a little more up front and doesn’t worry about little things like scratches and nicks.
- Walk: So if you aren’t into scootering it’s super easy to walk between Mae Haad and Sairee, there is a what’s called “the brick road” that is sort of a walking path between the two towns. I say sort of a walking path because scooters will cruise down it occasionally, and every once in awhile a truck will try to come though too. Getting around the rest of the island will be a little more difficult, there really aren’t sidewalks on the main road, so you can walk but, you’ll be walking with traffic, which can be a little sketchy.
- Taxi Truck: There are tons of taxi trucks on the Up Road right by the pier in Mae Haad, they will take you anywhere you want to go. They can be a little pricey though at about 100 baht a person.
- Taxi Boat: If you want to go to Koh Nang Yuan or just around the island to a beach you can’t get to by road (there are a few) the taxi boats are your best bet. They usually hang out around the pier in Mae Haad or along the beach in Sairee.
- Charm Churee Village – Chalok. If you are looking for something on the higher end these little cliffside cottages are super cute. The individual cottages and bungalows are a bit more secluded than your average hotel room. Charm Churee Village is also off the beaten path so if you are looking to escape the hustle of town it’s perfect, you also get access to Jansom Bay a private beach. It usually runs about $113 per night.
- Napada Resort – Mae Haad. This is a solid hotel, it’s not fancy, but it’s got charm. It’s right in Mae Haad so you are close to dive shops, restaurants, and bars. It’s also right up the street from the pier so you don’t have to take a taxi once you get off the boat. We stayed here for almost a month when we first got to Koh Tao and it was perfect. It is usually around $42 per night.
- SB Cabana Bungalows – Sairee. Have you always wanted to stay in a little shack on the beach? This place could make that dream come true. The bungalows are nothing fancy, but being right on the beach is pretty awesome. Bungalows usually run about $20 per night.
Road to know
- I don’t think there are really any street names in Koh Tao, and if there are, there definitely aren’t signs, but knowing a few key roads when you get there will be helpful.
- The Main Road: Literally the main road that runs the length of the island north to south. It connects the 3 main towns Sairee in the north, Mae Haad in the middle, and Chalok in the south.
- The Up Road: Is a one way street going up the hill from the pier in Mae Haad to the Main Road.
- The Down Road: Is a one way street going down the hill from the Main Road to the pier in Mae Haad.
- The Brick Road: Sometimes I like to call it the yellow brick road, even though the bricks aren’t yellow, anyways, it is a walking path that goes along the beach from Mae Haad to Sairee. Scooters and trucks do drive on it occasionally so make sure to watch out.
- Thai Baht is the currency of Thailand, it’s about 35 Baht to $1. Koh Tao is pretty much cash only kind of place, but there are plenty of ATMs on the island. However the fee’s they charge are kind of ridiculous, so your best bet is to take out a large amount of money all at once so you pay as little ATM fee’s as possible.
- So there is an app someone made for the island, and it has really good maps in it. When I was there google maps literally only had one street going across the island, so trying to find our way around newer roads was always an adventure. But the Koh Tao App has all those new roads, plus the businesses that are on them, making it way easier to find your way around.