Koh Tao Travel Guide – Explore paradise in Thailand

The best things to do to explore paradise in Thailand: A complete Koh Tao Travel Guide

Koh Tao is the smallest of the three popular islands on the eastern side: Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. The island is known for its relaxed vibe and excellent underwater life. In addition to that, many divers come to the island to get their PADI. However, also when you are not into diving, Koh Tao is a great island to spend some time. In this Koh Tao Travel Guide, I’ll highlight all you need to know about this small island, including the best things to do on Koh Tao and the best bars and restaurants. Let’s start the Koh Tao travel blog! 

Also, the islands are great to combine with a visit to for example the North of Thailand, such as Pai, for a great variety of destinations to visit during your trip. 

The best time to visit Koh Tao

Even though the high season (and dry season) in Thailand runs from November until February, the best time to visit the islands in the east is slightly later. The best time to visit Koh Tao is between February and April, however,  the weather tends to become better in mid-December. Unfortunately, I made the ‘mistake’ of travelling here in November, which left me with a generous amount of rain. 

How to get to Koh Tao?

Koh Samui to Koh Tao

There is a direct ferry and speedboat between Koh Samui and Koh Tao. The travel time is somewhere between 1,5 hours and 2 hours depending on the weather conditions. As Koh Samui has an airport, this is a good start for your trip to Koh Tao. A one-way ticket costs 700 baht, which is ~18 euros. Also, the ferry company (Lomprayah) offers a pick-up service by van for 150 baht from many locations around the island. You can book your ticket directly with Lomprayah or book through 12go.asia.

Koh Phangan to koh Tao 

The trip from Koh Phangan to Koh Tao is similar to the fare from Koh Samui to Koh Tao. You’ll board the same ferry. From Koh Phangan, it is only a 1-hour boat ride.

Surat Thani to Koh Tao

It is also possible to grab a direct boat from Surat Thani to Koh Tao or the other way around. When I left Koh Tao and continued my journey to Khao Sok, this is the route I took. The speed boat takes around 3 hours. However, prepare for a bumpy ride and take your motion-sickness tablets if you have them. There is also a night boat from Surat Thani to Koh Tao, however, if you can I would opt for the speed boat.

Bangkok to Koh Tao

Lastly, it is also possible to travel from Bangkok to Koh Tao. The total trip takes around 9 hours and includes a bus and ferry ride. However, it is also possible to fly from Bangkok to Koh Samui and take the 1.5-hour ferry. If you are on a budget, the ferry is the best option and will cost you around ~€35. Also, this trip can be booked through 12go.asia.

Koh Tao Travel Guide - The best things to do on Koh Tao

Koh Tao Travel Guide Summary

  • Visit Koh Nang Yuan
  • John Suwan Viewpoint
  • Snorkelling tour
  • Explore the beaches
  • Hike the coastline
  • Chasing sunsets
  • 995 Roasted Duck
  • The Factory Cafe
  • Nui Bakery & Sandwiches
  • Cactus Cafe
  • Blue Water Cafe
  • La Pizzaria da Claudio
  • Sandbar
  • Mama tam
  • Living Juices & Yoga
  • Blue Shark Brunch Cafe
  • Fizz Beach Lounge

- The best things to do in Koh Tao -

1 || Visit Koh Nang Yuan and the famous viewpoint

Funnily enough, the main sight in this Koh Tao travel guide is another island next to Koh Tao: Koh Nang Yuan. The beaches are small but stunning and there is a famous viewpoint. Also, the beach is good for snorkelling. It makes up for a perfect day trip or morning visit. If you plan to do a snorkelling tour, you don’t have to visit the island since it is included in most tours. However, you can also take a ‘taxi boat’ from Koh Tao to Koh Nang Yuan if you want to visit for longer. To do so, you can head to the northern part of Sairee Beach. Moreover, see if you can share with other travellers because the boat is not cheap (~600 baht return). 

Next to that, there is an entry fee (250 baht) to the island. Also, the island is open between 9:30 am and 5 pm. Make sure you don’t miss the final boat back to Koh Tao. Also, it is prohibited to take plastic water bottles to the island. There is only one restaurant, with high prices, so take that into account when visiting.

Koh Nang Yuan Island and the famous viewpoint near Koh Tao, Thailand
Koh Nang Yuan Island and the famous viewpoint near Koh Tao, Thailand

2 || Hike to John Suwan Viewpoint

Another famous viewpoint on Koh Tao is the John Suwan Viewpoint. The viewpoint can be perfectly combined with a visit to for example Freedom Beach. The climb to the viewpoint takes approximately 20 minutes. When arriving at the car park for both Freedom Beach and the viewpoint, I had to pay 100 baht entrance fees/parking fees (even though I came on foot). Once you enter, you can turn left to climb to the viewpoint. Even though it is only a 20-minute climb, it is completely over rocks. If you want to be safe, it is best to wear sneakers over flip-flops. For reference, see some of the pictures below to understand the level of difficulty. 

John Suwan Viewpoint, Best things to do in Koh Tao
John Suwan Viewpoint, Best things to do in Koh Tao
John Suwan Viewpoint, Best things to do in Koh Tao
John Suwan Viewpoint, Best things to do in Koh Tao
John Suwan Viewpoint, Best things to do in Koh Tao
John Suwan Viewpoint, Best things to do in Koh Tao
John Suwan Viewpoint, Best things to do in Koh Tao
John Suwan Viewpoint, Best things to do in Koh Tao

3 || Snorkelling tour / Diving

One of the best things to do in Koh Tao is to explore the underwater life. On one of the days, I booked a full-day snorkelling tour with Oxygen tours (booked through the hostel). The tour includes a lunch package, a stop at Koh Nang Yuan and 4 other snorkelling stops (e.g. Shark Bay). During the tour, we’ve been able to see multiple turtles! The snorkelling trip, leaving in the morning, costs 550 baht (~€15). 

Snorkelling trip with Oxygen at Koh Tao, the best things to do in Thailand

4 || Explore the beaches of Koh Tao

Even though Koh Tao is relatively small, there are plenty of great beaches to be found and to explore. Of course, an overview of the best beaches on the island can’t be missed in a Koh Tao Travel Guide. The main beach in Koh Tao is Sairee Beach. If you want to stay in a central location, this is also the area you want to stay. However, all ends of the islands offer beautiful beaches to explore. If you rent a moped, you can easily reach most of the beaches. Another option is to hike to some of the beaches (more on that later). 

The best beaches in Koh Tao: 

– Sairee Beach: The main beach and longest beach on the island. Perfect for watching the sunset at one of the many beach bars. 
– Freedom Beach: One of the most popular beaches in the south, located next to the John Suwan viewpoint. 
– Sai Nuan Beach 1 & 2: Sai Nuan Beach 1 might be one of the prettiest beaches on the island and is only a 5-minute walk from Sai Nuan Beach 2, where you can find the Banana Rock bar.
– Jansom Bay: A little bay that can be reached by foot from the Sairee area and is perfect if you want to escape the crowds. 
– Chalok Baan Koa Bay: It might not be the prettiest beach, but at Chalok Baan Koa Bay you can also find some good restaurants and bars.
– Tanote Bay: This beach is located on the east of the island and is a bit more quiet.
– Mango Bay: In the north of Koh Tao you can find Mango Bay, a pretty small beach in a large bay, so it might be packed. 

Jansom Bay, the best beaches on Koh Tao
Jansom Bay
Sai Nuang 1 Beach - The best beaches on Koh Tao
Sai Nuan Beach
John Suwan Viewpoint, Best things to do in Koh Tao
Chalok Baan Kao Bay
Freedom Beach, the best beaches on Koh Tao
Freedom Beach

5 || Hike from Sairee beach to Chalok Baan Bay and Freedom beach

If you want to do something more off the beaten path, hiking from Sairee Beach to Chalok Baan Bay (or to Freedom Beach) is the perfect activity. During your hike, you’ll pass Jansom Bay, Sai Nuan Beach 1 & 2, Tao Thong Villa and of course Chalok Baan Bay and Freedom Beach. In this article about the hike you can read all the specifics. The hike takes approximately 3 hours, depending on the time spent on the beaches. However, I need to warn you that not all paths were very easy to find and at moments the path disappeared into the sea. The hike is feasible, but I would advise not to do it alone, due to these challenges. Read all about the hike in my extensive Sairee Beach to Freedom Beach hiking guide.

In summary, you start your hike at Sairee Beach and walk towards the Sensi Paradise resort and Charm Churee, passing Paradise Divers, an abandoned hotel. Here you have to pay a 100 baht entry fee to continue walking towards Jansom Bay and eventually Sai Nuan Beach 1 & 2. From there, you climb the main road to head towards Tao Thong Villa 2 and Chalok Baan Bay. I decided to continue to Freedom Beach on foot. However, you can also book a taxi service from Chalok Baan (which is quite expensive) or walk back following the main road, which will take slightly under 1 hour. 

Hike from Sairee Beach to Chalok Baan and Freedom Beach, Koh Tao
Hike from Sairee Beach to Chalok Baan and Freedom Beach, Koh Tao
Hike from Sairee Beach to Chalok Baan and Freedom Beach, Koh Tao
Hike from Sairee Beach to Chalok Baan and Freedom Beach, Koh Tao

6 || Chasing sunsets

What better to do when on an idyllic island such as Koh Tao than chasing sunsets? Fortunately, there are plenty of good locations to see the sunset on Koh Tao. First of all, Sairee Beach is the best beach destination to sip a cocktail while enjoying the sunset. A popular place is for example Fizz Beach Bar or Blue Water Cafe (including live music!), Also, there are a couple of viewpoints suitable for the sunset, such as the Mango Bay Viewpoint. Lastly, there are some sunset bars, such as Horizon Bar. 

The best sunset spots on Koh Tao
The best sunset spots on Koh Tao
The best sunset spots on Koh Tao

- The Best Bars and Restaurants on Koh Tao -

There are plenty of amazing places for food and drinks on Koh Tao. Whereas the majority of my recommendations focus on Sairee Beach, there are also good restaurants to be found in other locations on the island, especially near Chalok Baan. Overall, Koh Tao is catered to tourists, resulting in a fair share of healthy cafes and party bars. Nevertheless, there are also great local restaurants to be found.

The best places for breakfast, brunch and lunch on koh tao

The Factory Cafe – This lovely cafe is located across the 7/11 in Sairee Beach. This place is perfect for breakfast or brunch, with lovely bowls on the menu. Also, their coffee is amazing! 
– Cactus Cafe: This relatively new cafe opened in 2023 and quickly proved itself as a must-visit. If you want to enjoy your breakfast with a lovely sea view, make sure to not miss out on this place. 
– Nui Bakery & Sandwiches: If you are looking for a sandwich on Koh Tao, this is the place to be. The bakery is located next to Factory Cafe. 
– Living Juices & Yoga: Another healthy option at Koh Tao is this cafe, where you can get a lovely juice, smoothie bowl or salad to recharge. Also, as the name suggests, there is a yoga study above the bar. 
– Blue Shark Brunch Cafe: When in Thailand, there is one thing you don’t have to worry about. There are plenty of great places for brunch! Blue Shark Brunch Cafe is another cute cafe you can add to your list. 

Factory Cafe, Best places for Brunch, Breakfast and Lunch on Koh Tao
The Factory Cafe
Factory Cafe, Best places for Brunch, Breakfast and Lunch on Koh Tao
The Factory Cafe
Cactus Cafe, Best places for Brunch, Breakfast and Lunch on Koh Tao
Cactus Cafe

|| The best places for dinner in Koh Tao

– 995 Roasted Duck: Well, at this restaurant, it is evident what you will order: roasted duck. It tastes great, especially in combination with their unique sauce. The place gets packed, however, it is big and the turnaround is quick. 
– La Pizzeria da Claudio: If you want to try something different than Thai food and are craving pizza, this pizzeria is the place to go. I was able to enjoy a lovely pizza while enjoying some live music. 
– Sandbar: This great restaurant is also a good place for a drink as they host a happy hour. They serve smaller dishes that are perfect for sharing. I can highly recommend the tuna tartar and jamon croquettes. 
– Mama Tam: Looking for a traditional Thai restaurant, Mama Tam has you covered.
995 Roasted Duck, Best Restaurants in Koh Tao
995 Roasted Duck
995 Roasted Duck, Best Restaurants in Koh Tao
995 Roasted Duck
La Pizzaria da Claudio, Best restaurants in Koh Tao
La Pizzaria da Claudio
Sandbar, Best restaurants in Koh Tao
Sandbar

|| The best bars on Koh Tao

Koppe: This bar can be found in the south of Koh Tao. When I hiked from Sairee Beach to Chalok Baan Bay, I found this place at the side of the road and it was lovely. It is a beach bar with a swimming pool where you can hang out during the day, and you can also order something nice to eat. No party bar, but a great bar to relax during the day. 
– Blue Water Cafe: This is a great place for sunset with lovely cocktails and live music at Sairee Beach.
– Fizz Beach Lounge: Another famous bar to chase the sunset and relax at the bean bags. 
– Fishbowl bar: If you want to party later at night, Fishbowl bar is one of the places to be. They offer beer pong, live music and some great parties. 
– Maya Beach Club is another place for sunset that turns into nightlife on Friday nights. I haven’t visited the place, however, it was recommended by many.
Blue Water Cafe, Best bars in Koh Tao
Blue Water Cafe
Koppee Bar, Best bars in Koh Tao
Koppee Bar

- The best places to stay in Koh Tao -

I found that finding great and high-value-for-money accommodation in Koh Tao isn’t easy. Therefore, I decided to stay in a hostel in Koh Tao, to also have the opportunity to meet other travellers. Moreover, there are 2 amazing hostels (they offer private rooms as well) on the island, that have a luxury vibe. On top of that, there are a couple of nice hotels that offer good value for money, especially if you are travelling with 2 persons. Lastly, if you want to splurge, there are some lovely villas on the island. Below you find an overview of the best places to stay / the best accommodation in Koh Tao, because what is a Koh Tao travel guide without some advice on where to stay?

If you are looking to escape the buzz on Sairee Beach, with the opportunity to still head there for a couple of drinks, the AVA Resort is the place for you. Located slightly north of Sairee Beach, this resort offers beautiful rooms of which some have a sea view. Furthermore, there is a swimming pool available overlooking the sea. Rooms start at €65 a night. 

Courtesy of booking.com

Located 700 meters inland from Sairee Beach, Aiya Resort might not offer you direct sea views or beach access. However, there is a swimming pool and you are on walking distance from Sairee Beach. Rooms start at €33 a night.

Courtesy of booking.com

During my time on Koh Tao, I stayed at Savage Hostel. The hostel offers 16, 12 or 6-person dorms that all have a curtain for privacy. Next to that, there is a pool at the rooftop. Moreover, they also offer private rooms, however I found those to be relatively pricy compared to other options on the island. Nevertheless, the dorm rooms are great if you want to meet people and the rooftop pool makes it a great place to stay. A night in a dorm will costs you around €16.

Courtesy of booking.com

Before arriving in Koh Tao, I was severely doubting whether to change my accommodation to a private room. If I would have done so, I would have chosen Koh Tao Heritage. Rooms look neat, there is a swimming pool with sea view and you can walk to the key locations on Sairee Beach. Moreover, it is a relatively cheap resort taking the above in mind as rooms start from €29 a night.

Courtesy of booking.com

This place is said to be one of the best hostels on the island. Even though The Dearly Koh Tao Hostel is a located towards the south end of the island and not on Sairee Beach, you can easily reach the busy area by moped. The hostel has an onsite bar and restaurant available and offers yoga-classes and free shuttles everyday to different beaches. A dorm bed starts at €15 a night.

Courtesy of booking.com

If you want to opt for a special experience and luxury, The Fisherman’s Village Villas are the place to be. These self-service villas are located at the south of the island and will guarantee you with a relaxed experience. And yes.. you do have your own private pool. You can stay in one of these villas for around €175 a night. Most villas can accommodate 4-persons.

Courtesy of booking.com

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