Asia > Southeast Asia > Thailand > Southern Thailand > Central Gulf Coast > Ko Tao
Ko Tao was once a detention place for political prisoners. Today it's a great place for divers or persons who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Ko Samui or the chaos of the Full Moon Party on Ko Pha Ngan. The island is geared more towards relatively affluent divers than backpackers on a budget. Thus, you won't find cheap food stalls here. There are hardly any ocean currents and there is a wide selection of dive sites and dive shops, dive schools, and resorts. Activities other than diving are on the increase and the food and nightlife options are some of the best in the Gulf of Thailand.
Ko Tao is a small island of approximately 21 km² and receives over 100,000 visitors per year. This is a heavy tourist load for a small island with rudimentary sanitation infrastructure. Everything that can't be burned has to be taken away to the mainland. There is no sanitation department to clean the roads or other public areas, so don't dump your waste thoughtlessly. Avoid the unnecessary plastic bags that are given out mindlessly for virtually every purchase. Water is scarce and electricity expensive, so don't waste them.
Peak seasons in Ko Tao are from Dec-Mar and Jul-Aug. It is a quite popular destination among Thais also, so it can be nearly fully booked on Thai holidays.
Nok Air sells a Bangkok to Ko Tao, air-sea combi ticket online. It includes a seat on one of their twice daily 86-seater turboprop services between Bangkok (Don Muang, DMK) and Chumphon Airport (CJM), followed by a transfer to the ferry pier and a Lomprayah catamaran to Ko Tao.
If you have purchased a separate flight ticket, then various ferry operators have booths in the airport arrivals area selling ferry tickets which include a bus to the pier.
Flight Options from Bangkok
- Via Chumphon Airport (CJM IATA) - Nok Air fly from Don Muang Airport (DMK IATA) to Chumphon twice daily.
- Via Surat Thani Airport (URT IATA) - Thai AirAsia, Nok Air (DMK) and Thai Airways (BKK) fly from Bangkok to Surat Thani Airport.
- Via Ko Samui Airport (USM IATA) - Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways operate almost all flights from the private airport in Ko Samui and both charge artificially high rates. Bangkok Airways runs many more daily flights to and from Ko Samui than Thai Airways. International flights also operate directly to Ko Samui.
The closest port to Bangkok for the island ferry service is Chumphon. Numerous agents sell tickets for a variety of boats of varying size and speed travelling in from the north. The fastest takes about 90 min, the slowest more than 5 hr.
There are two high-speed ferry operators from Chumphonː Lomprayah and Songserm. Their websites both have timetables and allow you to buy tickets online. They also both offer pickup services from the train and bus stations and from hotels.
Another option is the night boats; generally leaving at some point between ten and midnight, and offering bunks in large dormitories with fairly basic facilities. There are three operatorsː
- Talay Sub - operates Tues, Thurs, Sat from Chumphon - 400 baht - +66 81 8945488 or +66 81 0861793
- Ko Jaroen - operates Mon, Weds, Fri from Chumphon - 400 baht - +66 77 580030
- Pontaweesin - operates Sun from Chumphon - 450 baht
All of these can be booked through the Salsa Hostel in Chumphon (+66 77 505005 or +66 89 4880321), who also arrange pickups.
A good solution if coming from Bangkok is to book Sleeper Train #85; leaving Bangkok at 19:30 and arriving in Chumphon at 04ː13 and then have a ticket booked for the 07:00 ferry. Both ferry operators can pick you up from the station where you can while away the connection gap of several hours. You can also buy your ferry ticket at the station when you get off the train. Lomprayah have a ticket office at the station and a ticket on a waiting bus is included in the price.
From Surat Thani
If you're coming from the south, you can take a ferry from Surat Thani on the mainland with a travel time of around 3 hr. Catamarans are operated by Lomprayah and Seatran Discovery. If you're taking a boat from Surat Thani, one possibility might be an overnight ferry. These depart around 23:00 and arrive the following morning at about 06:00 (subject to changes). It's advisable to arrive early to grab a mattress. As most of the boats are formerly cargo boats the passenger facilities are basic.
From Ko Samui
Bangrak Pier (aka "Big Buddha Pier) is your best bet if you are arriving at Koh Samui Airport (~10 minutes via taxi). Or are staying in Chaweng Beach area. Seatran Ferry has several trips to and from Koh Tao's main pier (Mae Head). Seatran has large modern ferries, ~2 hours and 600 thb one way as of 2017.
Maenam Pier is about 45 minutes to an hour from Koh Samui Airport. To confuse things, it is also known Lomprayah Ferry Pier (for company operating two trips to Koh Tao).
Nathon Pier is much further away from Koh Samui Airport than the above.
You might make the trip on diving charters from Ko Samui. Many have high-speed boats that can make the trip to Ko Tao in about 1 hr.
Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran or Seatran are the fastest and most comfortable way to get to Ko Tao. They run twice a day from Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Surat Thani, and Chumphon. They also have online booking, seful for checking availability at peak times and all their boats have air conditioning and movies for passengers.
There is one main road running north to south on the island that connects Sairee, Mae Haad, and Chalok, with many smaller roads branching off from it. Some roads lead over the spine of small mountains that run along the middle of the island and are all dirt, can become impassable after rain, and can be challenging even to a skilled driver. If you are looking for an adventure, the dirt roads are a good place to find it. Also be aware that distances can be quite deceiving due to the quality and elevation changes of the trail. As of October 2016 many of the roads are actively being replaced with freshly poured concrete, though this has led to an increase in speeding compared to the older worn down/dirt roads. The other main thoroughfare is a pedestrian pathway known locally as the "Brick Road" (or "Yellow Brick Road" despite being gray) that runs along the majority of Sairee Beach from Mae Haad to the main intersection of Sairee. Despite being a pedestrian path there's still numerous scooters weaving and bobbing, so be sure to keep an eye out.
You can rent bicycles and motorcycles at many places around the island, though there's an increasing number of rental shops are running motorbike scams where they hold your passport hostage and insist on you paying large amounts of money for non-existent scratches upon their return — primarily shops on/near the "Up Road" from the Mae Haad pier or near the Sairee 7/11. Make sure you note and photograph all scratches and dents when you take delivery of a rental bike, including the underside of the bike as it inevitably will take a few bumps once off the main road (if the shop is charging less than 200 baht/day for a 125cc scooter, chances are they're making up the difference elsewhere). Taking passports as the deposit is standard even at reputable shops, though some will alternatively take a deposit of 8000-10000 baht for a typical 125cc scooter if you ask.
Reputable Rental Shops
Some of the hostels also have motorbikes for rent.
- RPM Red Power Motor (Just up the steep section of the Songserm Pier road from the beach). A well-known motorbike rental shop in Mae Haad. They almost always have 125cc Honda Click's with dirt tires available, which are more than capable of getting you anywhere on the island with some patience. Proper dirt bikes are frequently available also, though these are overkill unless you're uncomfortable on a scooter or it's the rainy season.
ATVs have been recently banned from the island, though may still be seen roaming the island once or twice during your stay. There are usually plenty of taxis available in both Sairee Village and Mae Haad, however they tend to be expensive for Thailand with a minimum price of 300 baht or 100 baht/person when transporting larger crowds. Longtail boats offer rides to and from hard-to-get-to beaches on the island. They are a more comfortable way of getting to isolated beaches than attempting to ride over the mountains, however they are noisy. A round-island longtail can be as much as 2,000 baht, whereas some short trips will only be 100-200 baht.
Take a bike around the island. Shark Bay is a good place to go snorkelling for the day (don't worry too much about sharks, they are only small black-tip reef sharks). Ko Nang Yuan, Freedom Beach, Laem Thian, Mango Bay, Hin Wong Bay and Tanote Bay are good day excursions, accessible by road or boat. If you rent a scooter, be prepared to turn around or continue by foot since some roads (e.g., to Mango Bay) may be in such condition that you need a dirt bike or a car to travel them. While there are legally no private beaches in Thailand, some are relatively inaccessible by land making a paid longtail boat a necessity, and some are "owned" or only accessible via "private roads" that charge 100-200 baht entrance fees..
However, to see the best places, go by foot or longtail as some places are inaccessible to motorists. There are a number of good viewpoints around the island such as John Suwan mountain viewpoint in the south of the island, Two View in the centre and Fraggle Rock in the north.
- 1 Alvaro Diving Koh Tao (Alvaro Diving Courses Koh Tao) (At a small quiet outer beach of Chalok Ban Kao south of Ko Tao), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 9am to 6pm every day. Small family-run dive and freedive shop with new equipment, flexible boat schedules and friendly multilingual staff. Teach PADI & SSI diving and SSI freediving courses in small groups in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
- Apnea Total (on Sairee Beach). Ko Tao's first and longest established freediving school. Apnea Total profits from experienced teachers and a private boat for a safe and successful learning experience.
- Blue Immersion Freediving (close to Good Time Adventures). Freedive off Sairee Beach by longtail boat with accomplished instructor Akim. AIDA and SSI courses available. .
- Coral Grand Divers now offers the PADI Freediver course.
Scuba diving is the biggest attraction on Ko Tao. Diving in Ko Tao is easy, fun, and you can see turtles, stingrays, barracudas, lots of small fish, and reef sharks. There is a small chance you'll see a whale shark.
At Chumphon Pinnacle you are likely to see juvenile bull sharks which have, until recently, been misidentified as grey reef sharks. Be careful as the bulls are curious and very aggressive, though for many years thousands of people have dived this site without a single shark-related incident.
Nearly any time of the year except Nov is good diving weather in Ko Tao and visibility can exceed 40 m. Average visibility is around 15-20 m. In Nov visibility is reduced to 5 m and the seas are choppy.
It is possible and perfectly comfortable to swim and dive without a wetsuit year-round. However, as with most diving, a wetsuit is recommended to help reduce the risk of cuts or injury. Avoid contact with coral reefs.
Various dive locations around Ko Tao are:
- Chumphon Pinnacles
- Southwest Pinnacles
- Green Rock
- White Rock
- Red Rock
- Japanese Gardens
- Twin Pinnacles
- HTMS Sattakut (wreck)
- Hin Pee Wee
- Mango Bay
- Ao Leuk
- Shark Island
- Hin Wong
- Lighthouse Bay
- Laem Thien
There are a huge number of dive operators on the island, many offering budget accommodation (sometimes described as "free accommodation", but this is not really true as you will usually get a discount if you stay elsewhere). The price for PADI open water certification including the new PADI training manual, professional instruction, rental equipment, boat dives, and certification is around 9,800 baht. For SSI open water certification including professional instruction, rental equipment, boat dives, and certification is around 9,000 baht. Insurance and basic accommodation may also be included. Shop around as not all shops teach the course in the same way. Look for experienced dive instructors rather than a low price.
A common method for teaching new divers is to train in a pool first to be taught about 20 basic skills before being taken out into the open water. Others will instead take you to a secluded beach so you will see fish and coral from the start and you might be able to squeeze in a short extra dive in this way, depending on your group and instructor. Some shops have a private pier, some shops depart with a longtail from the beach, and some use the public pier, where you will have to climb across some other boats. Ask, if this matters to you. Most important: find out the maximum number of dive students in a group. Make sure you get an instructor who speaks your language if you are not absolutely sure about your English. These are the little things that will make the difference between an OK course and a great one.
For those interested in becoming divemasters or instructors, here is a link to a videoguide about the island life Koh Tao: Thailand's Divestyle Island.
PADI dive centres and resorts
- 2 Alvaro Diving Koh Tao (Alvaro Diving Courses Koh Tao) (At a small quiet outer beach of Chalok Ban Kao south of Ko Tao), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 9am to 6pm every day. Small family-run dive and freedive shop with new equipment, recently established, flexible boat schedules and friendly multilingual staff. Teach PADI & SSI diving and SSI freediving courses in small groups in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
- Asia Divers Resort (In Sairee 5 min walk from the beach). 5 star Gold PADI Instructor Development Centre offers a full range of diving courses, including divemaster internships. Multiple languages. The resort's bar is always a nice place to chill out after diving.
- Ban's Diving Resort (Centre of Sairee Beach), e-mail: email@example.com. PADI open water courses up to professional PADI Instructor courses. A full range of technical diving courses.
- Big Blue Diving Resort (On Sairee Beach). PADI dive resort with beach side bar and restaurant, lodging with 50+ rooms. Offers all courses from beginner to instructor, all technical diving. Also offers eco-internships. Winner of PADI's Project Aware Environmental Achievement Award. One of the longest established dive centres on Ko Tao.
- Big Bubble Dive Resort (Main street). One of the long-established dive centres on Ko Tao. Relaxed, fun diving. Scuba diving lessons from beginner to PADI divemaster training with a well trained, professional staff. Also located in Chalok Baan Kao.
- Buddha View IDC Dive Resort (Chalok Ban Kao Beach, south Ko Tao). PADI 5 star IDC gold palm resort with friendly staff, good facilities and a BBQ and beach bar to relax in the evenings. Dive instructor courses and professional training programmes with a divemaster.
- Calypso Diving Koh Tao (Next to Family Resort in Tanote Bay), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Dive training (hands on, no video teaching) from beginner to pro following CMAS and PADI standards in small groups. Located in quiet and party-free bay with a house reef in front of the premises.
- Coral Grand Divers Resort (In a much quieter area than the other dive shops, at the far end of the beach). Hotel is more up-market and better suited for families. Operates 2 dive boats plus a speed boat.
- Crystal Dive Resort, e-mail: email@example.com. PADI scuba diving resort, Koh Tao, Thailand. All PADI dive courses, scuba internships and pro level Divemaster and Instructor courses. FREE accommodation!
- Davy Jones Locker (Sairee Beach). Divemaster internships and PADI Instructor Training, and MCA boat handling courses in their RIB. Accommodation and gear packages are available for all courses.
- Dive Point. PADI 5 star dive shop run by an Austrian. Offering diving classes in German, French, Italian, and English. Small groups and individual care for students special needs.
- 3 Koh Tao Easy Divers. PADI 5 star dive shop with friendly experienced instructors. Professional and fun with great accommodation, and the only dive centre on Ko Tao with all inclusive packages. With a private pier and a maximum class size of 6 students to 1 instructor.
- Go Pro Diving, Sairee Beach, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Concentrates on PADI Go Pro courses on Ko Tao. PADI divemaster course, IDC course, IDC staff instructor course and master instructor training with full dive internship programs are available.
- Impian Divers 5 Star Dive Center (Mae Haad Beach). Groups limited to 4 divers per pro dive leader. Courses in 5 languages. European-owned/managed with strong safety record/procedures, but still easy going. Differ from most dive centres because of the daily different locations for the dive trips, long dive times. and non-early morning departures. 12 years of experience diving around Ko Tao.
- Island Dive Club (Centre of Sairee Beach). Does good deals on course and accommodation packages. The Thai staff can be annoying, so deal with the foreigners, they really make the effort. The dive shop is not that busy, meaning you might get an instructor for yourself or be taught in a small group.
- Master Divers (Mae Haad). A small professional dive PADI 5 Star IDC. They guarantee small groups and offer private tuition and private guiding too. They have an experienced team and time their boat trips to go to dive sites when they are quietest too. They take their diving and environment seriously. They provide free water refills to minimise plastic bottle waste. They re-cycle and provide re-usable containers for take-away food to minimize polystyrene waste.
- New Way Diving. One of the oldest and most reputable dive shops. This small school has the first dive boat out in the morning. The truck leaves for the harbour at 06:00 to avoid crowds. Small groups, friendly and professional instructors. Basic accommodation is available.
- Ocean Sound Dive + Yoga, ☎ . Personal service in small groups. PADI dive courses + 12 scheduled yoga classes per week.
- PADI IDC Koh Tao, Mae Haad Beach, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. PADI Instructor Courses, Koh Tao, Thailand. Full scuba diving internships, gap year programs and lifestyle change.
- Planet Scuba Koh Tao, 9 Moo 2, Mae Haad, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Over 25 years of experience, 5 star Instructor Development Centre, full range of PADI scuba diving courses for complete beginner all the way through to instructor.
- Sairee Cottage Diving, Middle Sairee Beach, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 6am to 11pm. PADI scuba diving school on Koh Tao. Very friendly and beautiful diving resort located right in the middle of Sairee Beach. Sairee Cottage Diving offers PADI courses from beginner to Scuba Dive IDC Instructor courses including free accommodation.
- Samui Diving Service (on the beach at Ko Tao Resort, Chalok Baan Kao), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. PADI 5 star diving and education in small groups of 4 students per instructor. All PADI courses and daily fun dives.
- Seashell Dive Centre. Small locally-run shop with helpful multilingual staff, an OK boat and gear, but no free accommodation.
- Simple Life Divers. Popular medium sized Western-owned and managed PADI 5 star dive centre on Ko Tao's Sairee Beach.
- Sunshine Divers Resort (Chalok Baan Kao). PADI 5 star Gold Palm Resort. DMT’s, staff, instructors, students, resident dogs, and fun divers all contribute to the relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
SSI dive centres
- 4 Alvaro Diving Koh Tao (Alvaro Diving Courses Koh Tao) (At a small quiet outer beach of Chalok Ban Kao south of Ko Tao), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 9am to 6pm every day. Small family-run dive and freedive shop with new equipment, recently established, flexible boat schedules and friendly multilingual staff. Teach PADI & SSI diving and SSI freediving courses in small groups in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
- ACE Marine Expeditions, 17/16 Moo 1 (Sairee Beach), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. All dives and training are offered in small groups with a maximum of 2 divers per 1 staff or private tuition. Specializing in diving for photographers and film makers or those wishing to have a private diving experience. Expeditions are offered on private luxury speedboat or custom-built dive boat and dive schedules change daily to avoid the crowds. Day trips to Ang Thong Marine Park are also available. HQ in Sairee Beach. Dive courses are offered from beginner to professional.
- Carabao Diving Center & Resort (Chalok Baan Kao Bay, south Ko Tao). A good diving centre on a quiet beach with some nice places to eat and drink. The staff is gracious and helpful. Good accommodation available.
- Mojo Divers Koh Tao, 14/20 Moo 1 (Sairee Beach), email email@example.com, tel +66 77 456 710., 9am to 7pm every day, friendly dive shop in the heart of Sairee Beach in small groups, fun & friendly atmosphere, from beginners to professional level. Bi-weekly trips to Sail Rock.
- New Heaven Dive School. Over ten years of experience on Ko Tao. Has been involved with turtle conservation, reef restoration, the We love Ko Tao Festival, the Ko Tao Underwater Festival and other activities which help to create the eco-friendly environment crucial to Ko Tao's future.
- Roctopus Dive (short walk away from Sairee Beach, next to the big yellow hotel). SSI, PADI, BSAC and reef conservation courses.
- Scuba Junction. Run by Natalie, who runs a very tight ship. The equipment is beautifully maintained and they dive and teach strictly by the rulebook. Good accommodations nearby are available at the Prik Thai Bungalows and SBC Cabana. Scuba Junction is an SSI Diamond Instructor training facility.
Liveaboard sailing and diving
- Scubasail. A 30 m sailing and diving yacht, the "Naga". Accommodation, diving courses, visiting dive locations and a beautiful experience on board assisted by a helpful crew.
- Koh Exist (same location as New Way Diving). A marine conservation school providing information on marine ecology, corals, fish and how to rescue corals by attaching them to artificial structures.
Over the last couple of years more and more non-divers have discovered the beauty of this island with its secluded little bays and unspoiled mountain ridges. Due to this, and the increasing number of small upmarket resorts and villas nestled in the hillsides there are now a lot more activities available, including sailing, rock climbing (trad routes, sport routes, top rope routes, and bouldering), abseiling, cliff jumping, wake boarding, mini golf, or bowling in Mae Haad, massage and yoga courses, and cooking courses.
- Black Tip Diving & Water Sports. Wake boarding, tube rides, shark snorkelling trips, cliff jumping, round the island trips, hiking, kayaking.
- Bowling and mini golf (On the main road between Mae Haad and Chalok Baan Kao just after the turning for Aow Leuk). The bowling is "manual". There is a guy at the end of the alley that sets up your pins for you after each bowl and returns the ball down to you.
- Dive Career Internships. Divemaster and dive instructor internships, underwater videographer training, and resort management courses with experienced PADI course instructors.
- Good Time Adventures, Diving, Beach Cafe and Bar, ☎ . South Sairee Beach. Small group Scuba Diving courses with flexible schedules. The only shop on Ko Tao with a weekly trip to Sail Rock. A wide range of adventure activities including: rock climbing instruction up to lead climbing and a guiding service, abseiling/rappelling, cliff jumping, snorkelling, wake boarding, boat cruises. Beach Cafe and Bar serves a tasty variety of Western, Thai and Burmese dishes on the beach.
- Hike to one of the secluded bays on the northern and eastern side of the island. On the 2 hr walk through the jungle to Mango Bay you will hardly meet any people. The snorkelling there is good.
- Island Cruises (Sailing charters). Day and sunset cruises, private charters, Ang Thong National Marine Park safaris and fully customised crewed charters.
- Koh Tao PROvideo. A videography company. Run by experienced underwater videographers and instructors who film and teach every day. Each course is tailor made.
- Monsoon Gym and Muay Thai Camp. For those looking for a serious workout. Muay Thai courses are provided and you can step in the ring for a real bout when you're ready.
- Mountain Biking There is a shop renting mountain bikes next to the bowling and mini golf course. Mountain bikes are in reasonable condition. 100 baht/day with a 1,000 baht deposit.
- Oceans Below-underwater Video Training. 3 and 5 day courses in underwater videography and offers professional-level training for those looking to make a career of it. All training done with HD video cameras.
- Ocean Hiker Sailing Courses. Seamanship courses and competent crew sailing courses Ko Tao-based and liveaboards on ocean-going yacht.
- Ocean Sound Yoga, ☎ . Vinyasa, Yin, Meditation, Hatha and Restorative yoga classes offered daily. High quality equipment provided. All levels welcome.
- Thailand Gap Internships. 1-7 month internships in Pro HD video training, muay Thai, free diving, PADI instructor, divemaster and technical dive courses.
- Good Idea Massage, 5/28 M. 2, Mae Haad (Just ~150 meters from the pier on the left towards the top main road on the right side.), ☎ . Thai massage, oil massage, foot massage, body scrub, reflexology massage. Also waxing hair removal treatments from the face and body – for women and men.
A huge selection of Thai food is available, including lots of seafood. Barbecued fish is one of the local favourites. As a large portion of the population are expats, you will find plenty of other cuisines too. 2011 prices ranging from 60 baht for stuff-on-rice (still possible in 2015, especially if you have a look around the gas station on the main road, about a kilometre south-east from the piers) through to 250 baht for a nice hunk of fresh barbecued fish at a decent restaurant. 30 baht would get you a fresh banana pancake, and 60 baht a bowl of porridge with honey at a budget resort's restaurant. 200-300 baht would get you a bowl of freshly made Italian pasta, and 160-200 baht for pizza. Fresh fruit juices are available at many stalls for 30-40 baht.
- 995 Roasted Duck (Turn away from the beach at the Sairee 7-Eleven crossroad as if heading towards Hin Wong Bay, walk 3 min). 09:00-22:00. Simple menu consisting of ten well executed dishes. Their spicy noodle soup with duck (or pork/fish balls) is a Thai local favourite. 60-80 baht.
- Bang Bugers (On the main road from Sairee to Mae Haad, across the road from the Trapeze School), ☎ . 06:00-21:00. Established by an Australian expatriate, Bang Burgers produces 6 varieties of homemade burgers and 6 varieties of homemade sauces. Open for breakfast with fresh ground espresso from north Thailand. Delivery option available. 30-150 baht.
- Cafe del Sol, Mae Haad Square (Mae Haad). Authentic French and Italian-style cuisine, home made pasta and pizza, smoked salmon and choice steaks, excellent wine collection and Erdinger weissbier.
- Choppers Bar and Grill (Sairee village). Australian sports bar. Live music, live sports, pub grub, and a wide selection of beers.
- Dolce Vita Italian Restaurant (Mea Haad Square). 16:00 until late. Run by 2 brothers from Apulia, this place offers traditional Italian cuisine in a cosy ambiance. Lavazza coffee, daily home made pasta and authentic pizza, meats from New Zealand, fresh seafood, home-made desserts, wine bar.
- Farango Pizzeria (Mae Haad and Sairee Village). Italian-style pizza and pasta, always busy with dine in or take away. Expect to pay 140 baht for pasta or 200 baht for a pizza from the wood-fired oven. Delivery available.
- Greasy Spoon (Mae Haad). Full Monty English breakfast bar. Eat in or delivery.
- Safety Stop Pub (Mae Haad beach front at Seatran pier), ☎ . 07:00-late. Comfy English pub with tropical beer garden. Draught beers, "wild" buckets. English pub grub. Weekend BBQ's, Sunday roasts, daily specials, live sports.
- Shalimar Indian Cuisine (Opposite Sairee Plaza), ☎ . Authentic Indian chefs, ingredients, and tandoor. Wide variety of tasty dishes in a beautiful garden setting. Relax in the lounge for cocktails and sheesha. Take away and delivery available.
- The Snack Shack (Sairee Beach next to Lotus Bar), ☎ . 18:00-02:00. Late-night burgers, chicken pita kebabs, hot dogs, falafel, chips (french fries to the non-Brits) available with curry sauce, chili con carne or just good old salt and vinegar. One of only a few places on the island open after 22:00 to get food other than 7-Eleven. Delivery between 22:00-02:00. 70-140 baht.
- A Taste of Home (E Sairee past Monsoon Gym). M-Sa, 18:00-22:00. Homemade dishes, large portions, and friendly, relaxed atmosphere made this Trip Advisor's top listed restaurant on Ko Tao.
- Thipwimarn Restaurant (At the N end of the island). Wonderful sunset views and a "higher class" feel, but the prices are not much different from the rest of the island. Great for dates.
- Tony & Aoi Bar/Restaurant (Mae Haad, up the road from Songserm Pier, before Ta Chai), ☎ (Tony - Italian), (Aoi - Thai/English). Italian/Thai/English place. Imported Italian pasta starting from 100 baht along with the usual English and Thai fare. New, clean and well-priced, especially for the pasta.
- Tortoise Burger & Beer (Mae Haad side of Sairee Plaza, 3 min walk from Sairee 7-Eleven crossroad). 18:00-04:00. With only five stools, senseless hours, and good music, this place feels like it's been ripped from an alley in Brooklyn. The menu has five options: beef burger, chicken burger, chicken BBQ burger, fish burger, and veggie burger. The veggie burger is homemade and delicious. 80-150 baht.
- Tukta Thai Food (Chalok Ban Kao). Best pad Thai on the Rock!
- Zest Cafe (On the same side street as Fizz, across from the Lady Boy Cabaret.). 06:30-18:00. Great for coffee, breakfast, and sandwiches. A favourite with the seasonal dive shop employees. Free Wi-Fi, TV always silently tuned to BBC. Friendly, helpful staff. A second location in Mae Haad. 60-200 baht.
When you get a break from diving, there are a few bars on the island. The bars on the island rotate nights, so the best bet is to ask someone working at dive shop which bar will be crowded that night or check the posters. Many start off the evening at the bars located at the northern end of Sairee, and after they close at 01:00, go onto whichever club is open for the rest of the evening at the south end of Sairee.
- The Castle. Weekly parties at this out-of-the-way club. Can prove to be a good night out with refreshing tunes and a mixed crowd.
- Dirty Nelly's (Mae Haad). First and only Irish pub on Ko Tao with Irish management, live music, extensive food options, and live sport.
- DJL Bar, Pool & Restaurant (Sairee Village, at Davey Jones Locker). Bar with swimming pool. Friday night pool parties, with free BBQ & shots.
- Fizz Beach Lounge (On Sairee Beach). 16:00-01:00. Comfy beanbags, awesome sunsets, fantastic cocktail, authentic Thai or Western food and deep, funky house beats. 30-300 baht.
- In Touch (Sairee Beach at the far south end). Late night club that is open only a couple of times a week. House music.
- Khirana (Chalok Ban Kao). Swimming pool bar on the beach.
- Lotus Bar (North Sairee, at the horizontal palm tree). Nightly fire show, sunset happy hour.
- Maya Bar (South end, Sairee Beach). Very similar to AC Bar. When one is open the other is closed. Same music, same crowd, right next door.
- MOOV (Up from Whitening on Songserm Pier Rd), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 16:00-late. Club/restaurant in a garden overlooking the beach. Check for daytime events and monthly parties.
- Pub Crawl, ☎ . Enjoy drink promotions, prizes and join the crowd on a tour of the best bars in Ko Tao.
- Vibe (North Sairee Beach). Atmospheric beach bar with happy, funky vibes, fire shows & cocktails.
You can usually find accommodation at the pier when you arrive. However, during peak times it is worth booking ahead unless you want to sleep on the beach or spend the night in one of the more expensive lodgings. If you are planning on taking a scuba diving course whilst on the island, most dive schools have an attached resort and will either discount the accommodation or throw it in for free when you book a course. During busy periods, most resorts with dive outfits will not want you to stay unless you are diving at least every second day with them. If you don't want to stay with your dive operator and use their free accommodation, you may want to ask for a discount.
The majority of the accommodation on Ko Tao are centred around three main areas: Sairee Beach, Mae Haad, and Chalok Ban Khao.
This is the largest beach on Ko Tao. On the west side of the island from the ferry terminal on the southwest corner of the island and running almost the length of the island. All along this beach you will find dive schools, resorts, restaurants and bars. The southern and central sections of the beach are well known for their nightlife, and the northern end has a large number of shops and restaurants which lends it to be a bit quieter at night (but with the bars only a short walk down the "Yellow Brick Road".
- Blue Wind (N Sairee Beach). Bungalows on the beach. Extremely helpful manager, and friendly staff. The bakery offers variety of good quality food. 300-1,500 baht.
- Casas del Sol (Sairee), e-mail: email@example.com. Five 2 bedroom self-contained villas with en-suite bathrooms, kitchen, lounge, terrace, ocean views & private swimming pool. 4,200-8,500 baht.
- Ko Tao Resort (formerly Ko Tao Cottage) (Sairee Beach).
- Koh Tao Backpackers Hostel (Central Sairee Beach), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-out: 10:00. 8 bed dormitory rooms with air-con, hot water showers, lockers in rooms, free Wi-Fi and swimming pool. Close to many restaurants, shops and bars. 300 baht.
- Koh Tao Coral Grand resort (Sairee Beach). On the beach. 2,650-10,700 baht.
- Koh Tao Cabana (Sairee Beach). 2 major room typesː whites, a wooden cottage-style room, and a villa, a rounded concrete structure with a king-sized bed, spacious terrace and newly renovated daybed section.
- Koh Tao Heights (2-3 min by taxi to the beach), e-mail: email@example.com. Traditional Thai design and eco living on a hillside in the centre of Sairee with a panoramic view of Sairee Bay and Ko Nang Yuan Island. 1,667+ baht.
- Silver Sands Beach Resort (Central Sairee Beach). Fan & air-con bungalows and hotel-style rooms. Close to many restaurants, shops, and bars.
- Simple Life Resort (Sairee Beach). Air-con rooms, swimming pool, bar-restaurant, spa and massage room and free Wi-Fi.
- Spicytao Backpackers Hostel (Turn right at the Sairee crossroad, 10 min walk from town). Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 11:00. The popular Spicy Backpackers chain. Free breakfast, hostel guided tours, peaceful location. One of the best places on Ko Tao to meet other travellers. 250 baht.
- 1 Summer Guesthouse and Hostel, 52/1 Moo 1 (Opposite Smile Mart - follow signs for Gym and Fitness), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2pm, check-out: 11am. Hostel with fan and AC dorm rooms, en-suite and shared bathroom facilities, common areas and shared kitchen and Guesthouse with double bed, twin and triple bed private AC rooms with en-suite, fridge and balcony. Short walk from the main party area so quiet of a night. 24/7 large supermarket opposite From 300 baht.
All ferries arrive here making access to and from the island easy. Sairee Beach is to the north and Chalok Ban Kao is to the south. Banks and government offices as well as many dive centres, restaurants, and many guesthouses are here.
- Baan Suan Ta, 10/9 Moo 2 (About a 2 min walk to piers). Small hotel in a quiet area of Mae Haad. 900 baht (fan) or 1,500 baht (air-con).
- Koh Tao Central Hostel (50 m up the road from the Seatran Pier on the left, opposite Reef Bar), ☎ , , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 11:00. Two dorms with 12 beds each. 300 baht.
- Koh Tao Montra Resort and Spa, 1/51 Moo 2, ☎ . Boutique spa resort with large swimming pools, Jacuzzi, international bar-restaurant, spa treatments, and in-house PADI dive centre. From 1,500 baht.
- 2 Sleep Inn Hostel Koh Tao (N.O. Hostel (old name)), 2/75 Moo 2, Mae Haad, Koh Tao, Suratthani (2 Minutes walk from the Pier on the Main Pier Road (up road)), ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2 p.m.- 8 p.m. (High Season Dec-April & July- mid September), check-out: 11 a.m.. Hostel wih two mixed AC-Dorms (16 and 18 Beds) and 3 AC-Double Rooms. 300-1400 THB.
- Pumski Apartments, 5/29 M. 2, ☎ , , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 12:00. Cozy clean appartments on the second floor of the Pumski Travel building. Also rents out Honda Click 125i automatic motorbikes for 250 THB. Rooms from 500 THB.
- Harbor Hostel, 5/30 M. 2 (Just ~150 meters from the pier on the left towards the top main road on the right side.), ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: from 10:00 to 20:00, check-out: between 10:30 and 11:00. This cozy clean dormitory hostel with airconditioning run by the same company as the Pumpski Apartments. High speed WIFI is available. 350 THB.
Chalok Baan Kao
Chalok Baan Kao is a much more chilled, relaxed environment than Sairee Beach, while still giving access to a great range of restaurants, beach bars and BBQs plus a wide range of accommodation from luxury resorts to budget rustic, beach side bungalows.
- Alvaro Diving & Taraporn Bungalows, Chalok Bay (Follow the small concrete bridge from the main beach to Taraporn Restaurant. The bungalows are on the next 2 small beaches), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-out: 10:00. PADI & SSI diving in small groups. Small family run dive and free dive shop with new equipment, flexible boat schedules and friendly multilingual staff and a relaxed atmosphere. Small quiet outer beach of Chalok Ban Kao south of Ko Tao with bungalows at the beach. You can play volleyball, go swimming or kayaking. 500-800 baht.
- Buddha View Dive Resort. A resort primarily for divers with a range of budget to deluxe accommodation. Beach side cafe, bar and nightly BBQs.
- Freedom Beach Resort (Chalok Baan Kao Bay), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-out: 09:00. Beach front bungalows for every budget although many are in need of refurbishment. All the bungalows have air-con and hot water although lack fridges and TV. Two beaches in front and a quiet location 10 min walk to the Chalok Baan Kao Beach. Unfortunately there is quite a lot of old construction material dumped around the resort and nearby coastline. Inconsistent electric supply. From 500(fan)-2,500 baht (air-con bungalows).
- Sunshine Resort 2 (Bungalows) (Chalok Baan Kao Bay). Check-out: 09:00. Bungalows with 24 hr electricity, windows have mosquito nets. Some bungalows have no wall electrical outlet. Friendly staff. Western toilets, but with a pail and water replacing the normal flush function. 300 baht bungalow with double bed and fan..
- Woodlawn Villas (Chalok Baan Kao), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Family-run with 6 fully serviced private residences and a selection of villas and suites. Quiet, secluded and 300 m from the main street at the end of a private road. Surrounded by 2 acres of coconut palm trees and tropical gardens. Supermarket, a variety of restaurants and bars, coffee shops, pharmacies, massage treatments are nearby. Daily maid service, free Wi-Fi & server with unlimited movies, series and music, fully fitted kitchen, living room, air-con bedroom with en suite bath, hot water shower, cable/satellite TV, DVD player & DVD library. Electronic in-room safe, hair dryer, towels, & bed linen provided. 1,200+ baht.
More populated than other east coast beaches however this doesn't mean it's busy. There is no town or village here and only 4 resorts, each with an attached restaurant and one really tiny shop which is up the hill behind the resorts. There are no ATM machines. There are no really cheap places to eat as there are in Mae Haad.
The sand on the beach is coarse and there is an unbelievable amount of broken glass in it. Likely because of people drinking while sitting on the rocks. Careful where you step and do your bit to pick up some of the glass. The shore is rocky and there is plenty of corral right off the beach. You can rent snorkel equipment for 100 baht per day. There is a large rock just out to sea for those interested in cliff diving.
There are regular trucks that go back and forth 3-4 times per day at 100 baht per person. Ask at you resort for taxi times. Alternatively you can charter your own truck for 400 baht min or 100 baht per person.
- Poseidon Restaurant & Bungalows (Near the middle of the beach), ☎ . Free Wi-Fi in the restaurant when it works. Thai food is 80-140 baht. The low-end huts are quite shabby, but are the cheapest no frills fan rooms in the bay. 400 baht.
- Aow Leuk II Restaurant & Bungalows (On the S hillside in Ao Leuk). 450-2,000 baht.
- Black Tip Diving & Water Sports Resort, ☎ , , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Peaceful resort great for families, romantic holidays or just to get away from all the rest. On a quiet beach with one of the best bays on the island for snorkelling. 24 hr electricity, swimming pool, Wi-Fi available. 400-3,000 baht.
- Bohemia Resort (Ao Thian Og, southernmost tip of Ko Tao), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Thai-style eco-resort on the top of the hill with amazing view on the Ang Thong National Marine Park and Ko Pha Ngan. 10 min walk to the beaches. 1,000+ baht.
- Charm Churee Villa (Jansom Bay), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Eco-friendly, rustic resort with beach near the jungle. 4,200+ baht.
- La Cigale, e-mail: email@example.com. 4 private suites on 1 acre of avocado farm overlooking Sairee Bay, 250 m from the beach. 2,000+ baht..
- Ko Tao Bamboo Huts (Jansom Bay), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Resort built extensively from bamboo in the interests of environmental sustainability. 6,700+ baht.
- Koh Tao Star Villa, e-mail: email@example.com. Modern, spacious villa in the hills above Sairee Beach. Very quiet with panoramic sea, jungle and sunset views. 3,000+ baht.
- The Place Luxury Boutique Villas (Sairee). Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 10:00. 2 boutique villas, both with private infinity pools. Private and far enough away from Sairee to offer peace and solitude but still a short walk to the beach. 5,000+ baht.
- Villa Sabaj Jai, ☎ . Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 12:00. Occupies an exceptional position 35 m above the sea on the edge of a cape with panoramic views over the ocean, and the nearby beaches Ao Tian Og and Sai Daeng. 18,000-35,000 baht.
The number one way to stay safe on Ko Tao is to not drink and drive. Motorbike accidents are so common to the point that the term "Koh Tao Tattoo" is frequently used to jokingly describe the inevitable scrapes and bruises.
Be careful when renting bikes. You must give them the passport as a deposit, and even though you may take photos and return the bike in perfect condition, they may find small "scratches" and demand an exorbitant amount. If you do get in such trouble, at least in Ko Tao the police should be on your side. There's a friendly police officer named Chet who speaks very good English who might encourage you to file a report, saying that this happens several times a day on Ko Tao. Even if you don't file a report, the police can help you negotiate a lesser amount. If you do file a report, contact your embassy and eventually the company will have to release your passport, because it doesn't belong to you but your country's government.
Additionally, when renting bikes, insist on a receipt when you have paid the rental fee, or for every subsequent payment per rental day. Do not trust the shops to write accurate information in their own books. If you do not want to provide your passport as a deposit, some shops will ask for 2,000-8,000 baht as a one-off deposit instead. Again, take many detailed photos of the bike. Be careful about renting from CJ Guesthouse & Supermarket (13/1 Moo 1, Sairee Beach), on the same street as New Way Divers. They will not issue receipts if you do not ask, and later demand that you have not paid the cumulative rental fee when you return the bike. Without a receipt, it will be frustrating and difficult to argue your case. Do not trust CJ Guesthouse and be very careful on this matter even with other shops. Most bike shops on the island rent bikes for 200-250 baht per day.
Should you be unfortunate enough to need minor medical attention there are numerous clinics on the island. These are only clinics and the closest hospitals are in Ko Samui and Chumphon. Any medical condition not treatable locally will require a minimum of two hours ferry travel to reach a hospital. If the weather is bad the physical rigors of such a trip can complicate medical treatment significantly.
The island of Ko Tao has no sewage processing and water contamination far exceeds Western standards at nearly all times. This includes both ocean waters and tap waters. Sewer water drains across the beach and even the roads in several areas, and are easily encountered by unwitting tourists. Beware of wet spots on the roads that persist during dry weather and avoid the mist that arises from vehicles passing over them.
Small scratches or mosquito bites can become seriously infected if swimming, and ear/eye infections are extremely common among divers, more than many equivalent resort locations. Susceptible individuals and especially parents of young children should be aware of these dangers and exercise great caution.
Tap water quality supplied by shallow well pumps should be held suspect even during showering. Low-lying areas in Sairee and especially in Ban Chalok are the most polluted. The eastern areas far from the population centres are the cleanest.
Be also aware of the safety of your hotel room. There are many reports of stolen money, especially at the resorts on Sairee Beach. Normally the thieves, sometimes even hotel staff, sneak into the room while you are out diving and take your cash from your wallet or from your bags.
As always, watch out for the sun. It seems to be particularly strong on the island due to the bright sand and surroundings, especially when slightly clouded.
Watch out for the petrol stations, they like to let the meter start at more than zero: the red petrol station on the road that goes up to the turtle is particularly known for this.
Watch out for dive instructors teaching you the nitrox-course without telling you that they charge for it when you check out: Ban´s is known for this.
- Ko Nang Yuan makes a lovely day trip from Ko Tao
- Move on to the nearby islands of Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan
- Visit more than 40 beautiful islands in the Ang Thong National Marine Park close to Ko Tao
- Take the high speed ferry to the unspolit beaches in Pathio, Chumphon before flying back to Bangkok from Chumphon Airport.