In a nutshell
Koh Tao is a hotspot for post-Full Moon Party revellers, island travellers and divers alike.
With stunning sandy beaches, lively nightlife and a huge selection of great restaurants, there is something for everyone to enjoy on this little island.
Located off the east coast of Thailand, Koh Tao is a tropical island in the Chumphon archipelago in the Surat Thani province. Although the island is situated over 500km from Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, it is one of the main spots on the tourist trail when visiting South East Asia, and it’s not hard to see why!
Why go to Koh Tao
Known as Turtle Island in Thai, Koh Tao is a haven for scuba divers who come here to complete their PADI qualifications and dive amongst the beautiful coral and marine life that lies off the coast. Whether you are a confident diver or a complete novice, the instructors here are extremely knowledgeable and welcoming and the prices are relatively inexpensive. It is therefore a great place to come if you are thinking of completing more than one course.
When you are not scuba diving, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy. Hire a moped and take a drive around the island to explore the little coves and beaches that are hidden all the way around. Shark Bay is one of the favourites, which has a stunning beach and is home to black tip reef sharks around dusk and dawn. Alternatively, simply relax in the bars and pools around the Sairee Beach resort which has lots going on throughout the day and night!
When to go to Koh Tao
Thailand has two coastlines which have very different climates throughout the year.
Koh Tao is affected by both the northeast and south-west monsoon seasons. However, luckily, Koh Tao has around ten-months of fantastic weather throughout the year. It is only really affected by the northeast monsoon from the end of October to the beginning of December. The southwest monsoon season runs from June to September, but as Koh Tao is sheltered by the mainland, this does not have much impact on travelling to the island at this time.
Generally, the island has very little rain and hot temperatures up to around 40 degrees Celsuis. The busiest period on the island each month is during and after the world-famous Full Moon Parties on Koh Phangan, when hordes of travellers flock to the islands for fun and frolics on the beach.
Where to stay in Koh Tao
There is a huge range of accommodation across the island, but the majority of hotels, hostels and guesthouses are located around the Sairee Beach area.
If you are looking to dive while staying on Koh Tao, it is worth checking whether accommodation is included in your dive package. Many of the dive centres including Davy John’s Locker and Simple Life Divers include great, central accommodation which gives you the chance to meet fellow divers and socialise together after your days at sea.
If you’re looking for something a little more high-end, Koh Tao offers some great 5 star resorts such as the Jamahkiri Resort with luxurious villas, massages on tap and huge swimming pools overlooking the sea.
Where to eat in Koh Tao
As Koh Tao is on the well-trodden tourist trail in Thailand, the island offers a wide range of cuisine. From restaurants with Thai and Western food to street food vendors selling freshly cooked Pad Thai and pancakes there is something for everyone. Imported food and drink are notably more expensive so it is best to stick to local cuisine if you’re looking for cheap eats.
How to get around in Koh Tao
Most of the shops, restaurants, dive-centres and places to stay are located around the Sairee Beach area, which means you are easily able to access the majority of attractions on foot.
If you want to venture further afield your best bet is hiring a moped. This can be organised through most hotels and guesthouses and is a cheap way to get around.
Note We only recommend hiring a moped to those who have a full driving licence and have experience riding a moped or motorbike. Some of the routes around the island can be a little treacherous and hills quite steep so experience is essential.
How to get to and from Koh Tao
As Koh Tao is an island, the only way to access it is by boat. This can be a ferry, speedboat or catamaran and the option you choose will vary greatly in price, speed and safety.
It is important that you choose a reputable company when travelling to Koh Tao to ensure you have a safe and smooth crossing. One of the most popular operators is Lomprayah whose packages you can book both online and in many travel agents across the country.
The majority of travellers choose to book a package when in Bangkok which takes them down to the east coast of Thailand to Chumphon or Surat Thani, and then meet the boat to take them across to the islands (1,100THB one way).
Koh Tao sits closer to Chumphon, so if you decide to tailor-make your journey yourself, head to Chumphon first and then hop onto a boat to Koh Tao. From Chumphon, further up the east coast from Surat Thani, you can take a ferry or catamaran direct to Koh Tao. This journey takes between three and four hours (600THB one way).
If you decide to start from Surat Thani, then you will first call to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, before reaching Koh Tao. The journey from Surat Thani to Koh Tao generally takes around five hours (700THB one way).
Tip Please be wary when companies offer very cheap or very quick speed boat services over to the islands as often these are unlicensed companies which do not follow the correct safety procedures.
If you don’t fancy taking an overnight bus and want a quicker journey from Bangkok to Koh Tao you can take an internal flight from Bangkok Don Mueang airport down to Surat Thani or Koh Samui. From there you can catch a bus to the port and connect with the boat to Koh Tao.
Is Koh Tao safe?
In 2014 a shocking murder of two British backpackers in Koh Tao shocked the country and travel society around the world. Though two men from Burma admitted having killed the couple and were prisoned, there are still a lot of unclear about that case. The government insists that Koh Tao remains a very safe place to travel – but bear in mind that cruel crimes can happen everywhere.
There may be some people who may chance their luck with petty scams, too, but if you keep your wits about you and keep an eye on your belongings at all times you are unlikely to have any issues.
Koh Tao station guide
Koh Tao - Bus
Offering some of Asia’s finest dive and snorkelling sites, the Thai island of Koh Tao is in the Gulf of Thailand around 80kms from Chumphon on the nation’s southern peninsula. There is no airport on the island and the only way of getting here is on one of the many ferries that operate on routes in this part of the gulf.
Koh Tao’s passenger port is at Mae Haad, situated on a sheltered bay on the west coast and abutting the golden sands of Sairee Beach. There are several ferry options from Chumphon. High-speed daytime ones take about 90 minutes to make the crossing. Larger cargo and car ferries depart Chumphon at 23:00 and dock around 05:00 the following morning. It is best to book tickets online to ensure availability.
Chumpon is a stop for trains running on the main line from Bangkok to Padang Besar on the Malaysian border. Taking one of the early evening sleeper trains from Bangkok leaves passengers with plenty of time to catch the 07:00 sailing from Chumpon.
There are also buses to Chumpon from Bangkok’s Southern terminal. Those in a hurry can pre-book a combined flight-ferry service as budget carrier Nok Air’s flights from Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport are timed to coincide with boat departures from Chumpon and include transport to the ferry pier.
An alternative route to Koh Tao for people travelling in southern Thailand is to take one of the ferries from Surat Thani on the mainland or the neighbouring islands of Koh Phangan or Koh Samui. Crossing times from Surat Thani are around seven hours for the night sailing and three hours on the fast boat.
Koh Tao is only a few kilometres across at its widest point and a fair proportion of the accommodation is close to Mae Haad. There are a few taxis on the island, but drivers operate on a fixed price policy. Most visitors get around on foot or rent a bicycle or motorcycle.