You may find Koh Tao too rustic and too simple after experiencing glamour of Koh Samui’s nightlife venues, expensive spas and fancy boutique hotels, but there is one thing in which no other Thai island can beat Koh Tao. 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. Be ready to hear a lot of diving stories of personal success and failure every evening in every tiny bar, restaurant or guesthouse. 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 Samui
To get to Koh Tao from Samui you have a choice of three ferry companies, namely Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran, Seatran Discovery and Songserm.
Lomprayah takes about 1¾ hr to bring passengers from Koh Samui’s Maenam pier to Koh Tao’s Mae Haad pier. There are two departures a day at 8am and 12.30pm with tickets sold at THB 650.
Seatran Discovery offers similar service but is a bit slower and cheaper: two hours and THB 624. Note that Seatran uses its own pier on Samui, Bangrak Seatran pier. There are three departures a day at 10am, 1pm and 4.30pm.
There is also Songserm boat which is the cheapest one (THB 450). It departs from Samui at 11am and arrives to Koh Tao (also via Koh Phangan) at 2.30.
Tip: As your sea travel between Koh Samui and Koh Tao will last from two to three hours, have all the necessary medications at hand if you are prone to seasickness. When the sea is choppy, opt for Seatran instead of Lomprayah, as the catamaran actually rides the swell, while Seatran cuts through it, which help avoid endless ups and downs.
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!