Koh Tao Island

Everything you Need to Know About Ko Tao

Koh Tao – meaning ‘Turtle Island’ – lives up to its name, being the scuba diving destination of choice in Thailand. The perfect white-sand beaches which ring the hilly 21 km² island are surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The vibrant coral reefs there are home to a wide range of exciting and colourful sea creatures, including turtles, naturally.

The compact island is 55 km to the north of Koh Samui and was only really ‘discovered’ in the early 1980s, but now supports a varied selection of hotels, from budget guesthouses and beach bungalows all the way up to five-star luxury resorts. The choice of restaurants and nightlife establishments has also been constantly growing, to the point that there is now something for almost every taste. So far from civilisation while still being relatively easily reached, it is the idyllic tropical island paradise.

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Koh Tao Attractions

There are few attractions other than the beaches on Koh Tao. The island is home to some of Thailand’s best, with pristine white sand, nodding palm trees and glittering blue seas. There are many choices available, most of which are accessible along the small and rather rough road network. The main and most popular ones are as follows:

Haad Tien

Commonly known as “Rocky Bay”, this is one of the furthest beaches from Mae Haad, but one of the best. It has the clearest water and the cleanest beach, with only a small selection of quite exclusive resorts there. It is sometimes also called “Shark Bay” for the number of black-tip reef sharks you can snorkel among.

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John-Suwan Viewpoint

Right at the southern tip of Koh Tao, the view to the north is spectacular, showing both Chalok Baan Khao Bay and Haad Tien beaches and the hilly interior of the island. There is a 50 baht entrance fee to the viewpoint, as well as a short and relatively easy hike. It is named after the two friends who discovered the view while looking for somewhere to build a house.

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Koh Nangyuan

A group of three tiny islets off Koh Tao’s northwest coast - which you can get to for about 200 baht return - the beach which links them is iconic and probably the most photographed part of the area. Naturally, the small beach is usually quite busy, but is still worth a visit.

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Jor Por Ror

Located at the southern end of Sairee Beach is a large rock formation bearing the initials of King Rama V, who visited the island in 1899. Don’t even think about adding your own mark to the highly-revered stone.

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Mae Haad Beach

The island’s main town, where you will find the pier as well as plenty of guesthouses, shops, bars and other services. Naturally, this beach is among the busiest.

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Mango Viewpoint

Located in the hills in the north of the island, the view of Mae Haad and Sairee Beach is spectacular. It is reached either by taking a long, challenging walk up the hill from the 7-Eleven in Sariee or by motorbike up a steep and risky road. Access to the viewing platform costs 100 baht, with the money supposedly going towards building a better road.

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Sairee Beach

Probably Koh Tao’s best-known beach, where you will find the majority of the nightlife, including beach bars and restaurants. Despite being the longest beach on the island, it is also one of the busiest, being immediately to the north of Mae Haad and home to a lot of budget accommodation.

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Tanote Bay

The largest of the east-coast beaches, this is the busiest and most populated area on this side of the island.

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Two Views

Probably the most challenging viewpoint to get to, on Koh Tao’s highest peak, Two Views is part of a circular hiking route starting from Sairee. The namesake views are over Sairee Beach to the west and Tanote Bay to the east. On a clear day, you can even see Koh Phangan, Ang Thong Marine National Park and Koh Samui.

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Koh Tao Activities

Koh Tao is famous as a diving destination and many a visitor has come away from their visit with an Open Water Diver qualification. The dramatic coral landscapes are home to turtles, stingrays, reef sharks, barracudas and, if you are very lucky, whale sharks. Popular dive sites include the underwater sculptures of Ocean Utopia, the wreck of HTMS Sattakut, Lighthouse Bay, Japanese Gardens, Chumphon Pinnacles and many more. There are dozens of diving shops selling daily trips and training courses, particularly in Mae Haad.

Virtually anywhere along the Koh Tao coast is a great spot for snorkelling, though the so-called Shark Bay of Haad Tien and around Koh Nangyuan are among the most popular. Other activities available include sailing, rock climbing, abseiling, cliff jumping, wakeboarding, kayaking, fishing, mini golf, hiking and mountain biking. There are also cooking schools, yoga studios and Muay Thai camps available.

Koh Tao Nightlife

Sairee Beach is the home of Koh Tao’s fairly notorious nightlife. Many nights start in the beach bars at the northern end of the beach and gradually work their way south from nightclub to nightclub. Fire shows are very common at the beach bars while house music is the top choice for the clubs, both attracting the young party crowd. Notable establishments include FIZZ Beach Lounge, The Castle, Lotus Bar and Vibe. Most of the other beaches on Koh Tao have little or no nightlife, save for a few beachfront restaurants.

Koh Tao Dining

Being an island, there is naturally quite a large selection of Thai seafood restaurants on Koh Tao, with prices for simple rice dishes starting at around 60 baht. There is also an impressive choice of international cuisine restaurants, ranging from Aussie grills, English pub grub and Indian curries to authentic Italian and French fine dining, Chinese noodles and Tex-Mex. Most of these are found in Mae Haad and Sairee Beach.

Getting To Koh Tao

The only way to reach Koh Tao is by boat to Mae Haad Pier. Ferries sail from Chumphon, Surat Thani, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. Journeys can be as short as an hour (from Koh Samui, with the Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran) or as long as six hours (from Chumphon, with the overnight sleeper ferry). Prices vary according to the speed and distance of the journey and start from about 250-300 baht per person. Tickets can usually be bought at the pier you are sailing from (where they are also usually cheapest) and need not be booked in advance.

Getting Around Koh Tao

Motorbike or ATV rental are the most common methods of getting around Koh Tao, though they can present some challenges. The island is very hilly and the roads are in quite poor conditions, increasing the likelihood of an accident for riders unaccustomed to off-roading. There are often plenty of taxis in Mae Haad and Sairee, but their prices for journeys to other beaches are usually very high, with an official minimum fare of 300 baht. Hiring a long-tail boat can often be a pleasant and safer method of getting from beach to beach, with short journeys costing as little as 100-200 baht.


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Map of Koh Tao

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