Also known as ‘Turtle Island’ because of its shape, Koh Tao is a popular stop on the backpacker trail. Located right next to Koh Phangan, home of the Full Moon Party, many backpackers arrive in Koh Tao bleary-eyed and hungover, ready to chill out for a few days on this island paradise. But don’t chill out too long – as this island has too much adventure to offer!
Famous primarily as a diving Mecca; Koh Tao is where many backpackers take the plunge and get their underwater licence, PADI certification. After all, it is one of the cheapest places in the world to learn to dive! – and there is no shortage of dive schools based on the island who will help you explore the amazing underwater world. With calm, clear waters and an abundance of marine life, it’s certainly a great place to try diving for the first time.
From rock climbing to paintballing, to kayaking, wake-boarding and other water-sports, there are many other activities available in Koh Tao for non-divers! Days cram-packed with adventure followed by seafood barbecues and nights frolicking on the sands in lively beach bars. What more could a backpacker ask for?
Places to Stay in Koh Tao:
Haad Sairee is the longest and busiest beach on the island, and the paved path running parallel to the beach just behind it leads to Sairee Village. Many of the dive schools, restaurants, bars and coffee shops are located here and it’s a lively and popular place for backpackers to base themselves with a good variety of accommodation suitable for all budgets. At night barbecues take place on the shore and beach bars lit with candles play cool music into the night. If you’re looking for a quieter spot Chalok Ban Kao on the South of the island has some decent backpacker accommodation, dive schools and restaurants. The scene is a bit more low key here.
Things to Do
Diving in Thailand is second to none and with prices in Koh Tao amongst the cheapest in the world for beginners, it’s an absolute must on a backpacking trip! Completing an ‘Open Water PADI Course’, (3-4 days) will grant you an underwater license that you can use anywhere in the world. If you decide to take the plunge, there are no shortage of excellent dive schools to choose from. Once you’re carded and can dive up to 18 metres, the underwater scenes will blow your mind! Watching turtles glide by, swimming past stingrays, hunting Nemo, spotting crab lurking in the crevices of the colourful coral reef, it’s an unforgettable experience. And, if you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the incredible whale shark, a seasonal visitor to Thailand’s waters. (Compare dive courses in Koh Tao and SE Asia here.)
Courses & Trips in Koh Tao, Thailand…
Adventure on land!
Adventure schools in Koh Tao will help you explore the island in various ways. From rock climbing and abseiling to hiking and cliff jumping, adrenalin junkies will have no trouble finding things to keep them busy. There’s also kayaking, watersports, paintballing, mini golf, and even a trapeze school! Hiring mopeds in Koh Tao is a great way to get around and see the island. Mango lookout point is a must do- it’s a bumpy ride but the view is just incredible.
If you’re not quite ready for diving, the snorkelling in Koh Tao is well worth it. Great places to snorkel include Ao Leuk, Laem Thien and Thian Og Bay. And, just a fifteen-minute boat trip from Koh Tao, at the northern tip of the island lies Nang Yuan Island, which is actually three small islands connected by a double-sided white sandy beach in the middle. Day snorkelling trips can be booked here from Koh Tao.
If you want a beautiful place to relax, grab yourself a bike and venture to one of the many beaches the island has to offer, don’t settle for Sairee! As mentioned above, Aow Leuk is a beautiful place to chill out, away from the crowds. As is Shark Bay, Freedom beach and Nang Yuan Island.
Getting to Koh Tao
If you are coming from Bangkok:
- Bus/Ferry: You can book an overnight bus from Bangkok to Chumphon, then take the ferry from Chumphon to Koh Tao. Most tickets booked will include the bus and boat in the overall price of around 1050 baht. Buses are comfortable and you even get a blanket. (TIP: Take some warm clothes! Even though it is 100 degrees outside the bus, the AC is turned up to freezing inside!)
- Train/Ferry: There are several trains leaving daily directly from Bangkok to Chumphon. Once at Chumphon take one of the ferries to Koh Tao. The Lomprayah high-speed catamaran makes two trips a day at 7am and 1pm. It costs around 600 Baht and takes 90 minutes, or the Songserm leaves at 7am, costing a bit less and taking about an hour longer than the Lomprayah.
- Fly/Ferry: For travellers short on time, you can catch a quick one hour flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui, then it’s a two-hour ferry ride to Koh Tao.
Where to go next?
- Koh Phangan: The notorious Full Moon Party has made this island world famous! Also a beautiful island with deserted beaches, tropical forest and national park.
- Khao Sok National Park: One of the most ancient natural rainforests in Thailand. From Surat Thani, it’s a one hour bus journey.
- Chumphon: Just one hour from Koh Tao, Chumpon is rarely given the time it deserves on a backpacker trip. National Park, deserted beaches, hot springs – and you’re the only one there! Ssssh.