Learn to dive, dive and dive again – that is what you are supposed to do on Koh Tao and that is actually what the majority of the folk you are about to meet on the island really do. A little hidden gem of the lower part of the Gulf, Koh Tao is attracting underwater world lovers with an abundance of easily reachable diving sites (over 30) and very affordable prices on diving lessons (there are more that 50 diving schools on the island), sea safaris and diving trips. Yet for those who are ready to go beyond the stereotypes there are hiking trails, bouldering, sea kayaking, fire-shows, and even jam sessions – all of them on the background of picturesque views and a laid-back island atmosphere. Priceless.
Getting to Koh Tao from Koh Phangan
To get from Koh Phangan to Koh Tao you have a choice of three ferry companies. They differ slightly in level of comfort they provide, transit time and price.
Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran calls to Koh Phangan’s Thong Sala pier two times a day at 8.30am and 1pm. It is the fastest service to Koh Tao from Koh Phangan with transit time of around one hour (THB 550). There is sometimes the third departure at around 2.05pm or 5.45pm; check in advance.
Seatran Discovery covers the distance between Koh Phangan and Koh Tao in 1½ hr. The service is similar and tickets are sold at THB 430. There are three departures a day at 8.30am, 1.30pm and 5pm.
The slowest – and cheapest – boat which connects Koh Phangan and Koh Tao is Songserm. It calls to Koh Phangan once a day at 12.30pm arriving to Koh Tao two hours later. Expect to pay THB 350 per person.
Seatran vs Lomprayah
If you know what seasickness is about, go for Seatran when waters are choppy, which is often the case between October and December.
Lomprayah can save you from ¼ to ½ hr of your sea journey, though.
There is no car rental on a relatively small 21 sq. km island. If you consider renting a scooter or a motorcycle, be warned that the roads on the island are dangerous and get their toll of injuries regularly. Renting a vehicle though gives you freedom to explore the island as the ‘official’ taxi fares are sometimes extortionate (especially for going to the eastern coast). For ‘taxi’ you normally have two options: motorbikes or songthaews, which are pick up trucks. There is longtail boat service between certain beaches, which is a good option with reasonable prices.
Where to stay
The western side of the island is much more developed, and the ferries from the mainland and the islands arrive to Mae Haad which is on the western side. Haad Sairee, where the most of the action takes place, is also there. If you are looking for some serenity and tranquillity, consider Chalok Ban Kao. The eastern side is a slow life paradise and a great place to unwind, but you will have to negotiate those treacherous island roads (or greedy taxi drivers) to get to any of the western-side night spots. The busiest seasons on Koh Tao are summer (from July to August) and Christmas & New Year, so book your accommodation beforehand. The cheapest beds sell out quickly. You may fail to find a budget option without prior reservation immediately after Full Moon Parties on the ajacent Ko Phangan, too.
Tip: If you are going to Koh Tao to dive, check with your diving school or operator whether they provide free accommodation (they normally do).
There are small clinics in every ‘town’ on the island where they can handle your motorbike scratches and minor health problems. For more serious cases you will have to get transported to the mainland or Samui. Note that dengue fever is a problem, especially in highly packed tourist areas where the virus is transmitted very quickly. Take all the necessary preventive measures to avoid mosquito bites. Well, at least bring a lot of repellent!
...And always remember that you will have to drop out you pre-booked scuba diving course if you happen to scrap your knee in a motorbike accident!