Koh Tao is a small island in the Gulf of Thailand, and well known as the place to get your diving certification. However, that’s not the only thing to love about this piece of paradise. As two non-divers, Tom and I went to see what else this island has to offer. Here’s our top 10 things to do in Koh Tao.
1. Relax at the Beach
One thing this island doesn’t lack is beaches. From easy to access destinations (such as Sairee Beach and Chalok Baan Kao Bay), to more secluded ones that take a bit of effort to reach (Freedom and Sai Daeng Beach), there’s a sandy patch to fit all travellers. So pick your favorite, or go exploring to see them all.
Chalok Baan Kao Bay was our favorite. It’s the third largest beach on the island, yet away from the main tourist area of Sairee, so the crowds are lighter. There’s a long stretch of sand to camp on, but near enough to bars and restaurants to get some snacks when hunger strikes. If you’re staying in Sairee, it’s reachable by a quick motorbike ride or 30 minute walk.
2. Get a Thai Massage
As in many places around Thailand, there’s a plethora of massage parlors available. Grab a friend, your partner or go alone. Either way, this is a perfect way to relax and soothe any aching muscles after a long day of activities.
3. Tour Around the Island
Even though the island is small, on a hot day it’s not one that you’ll likely want to cross by foot. To make exploration easier, rent a motorbike and cruise around. It’s a fun way to see the island and get to the further away destinations that you might otherwise miss. Additionally, some of the best hiking is reached via motorbike.
There’s plenty of rental companies on the island, but we recommend going with Buddha View Travel. They are one of the only companies that we found to accept cash over your passport for a deposit. While anteing up a larger sum of money may be challenging, we think it’s worth it. Even though most companies will give your passport back, the risk of losing it (or having someone use it as leverage for “damages”) isn’t worth the risk, so we always look for a place that takes a cash deposit instead. Additionally, the owner of Buddha View Travel was reliable, friendly and had well maintained bikes.
4. Hike to a Viewpoint
Koh Tao has multiple viewpoints that you can hike to. We love getting outdoors and as most people are spending their time at the beach or underwater, it’s easy to get away from the crowds. Just strap into a pair of sneakers, grab a bottle of water, some sunscreen and hit the trail.
Tips for Hiking on Koh Tao
You can easily spend an afternoon or full day outdoors, it just depends on how much time you want to spend on the trail. Starting from Sairee beach can take you hours to reach most of the viewpoints by foot, so if you’re looking for a quick jaunt, use a motorbike or catch a taxi ride.
Be prepared to spend 50-100 THB entrance fee for some of the more popular destinations, such as John-Suwan Viewpoint or West Coast Viewpoint. Locals have monetized the trailhead and will likely ask for the fees before you continue on.
ProTip: Beat the entrance fees by going early in the morning, before the “ticket booth” is officially open. You can find a full list of free vs paid viewpoints on Koh Tao’s Complete Guide.
5. Take a Yoga Class
There’s at least one yoga studio in each burrow of the island to attend. Or grab a mat and limber up at the beach, with the sun and waves in the background.
6. Go on a Snorkeling Cruise
Snorkeling is a great alternative for people who don’t scuba dive (like Tom and me). Taking a tour gives you a chance to see the entire island from a different perspective and visit some snorkeling spots that you can’t easily reach via foot.
Tips for Booking a Snorkeling Tour
There are 3 tour companies that offer ½ or full day snorkeling trips around the island: Oxygen, Diamond and Sangthong.
All the tour companies charge the same for their snorkeling trips, so don’t worry about spending your time trying to find the best deal. Instead decide what type of experience you’d rather have. We went with Sangthong Tours because it was less advertised than the others, meaning less people and a more intimate experience throughout the day. Other companies, such as Oxygen, provide more of a party vibe with loads more people and music pumping.
We took a full day tour and one of the stops it made was to Koh Nang Yuan, a set of 3 small islands connected by a sandbar. You can visit this island separately if you want to make longer trip of it, as the snorkeling tour only visits for an hour. We personally found our stopover to be plenty of time to get in a little snorkeling and hike to the Insta-famous lookout (although we didn’t take any photos as the crowds were horrendous!).
I should note that reports from more seasoned divers say the coral around the immediate island is bleached. While sadly true, if you’re main goal is to see fish, then don’t let it stop you from booking the tour. There’s still plenty of wildlife in the water. This day trip was one of our highlights while visiting the island.
7. Watch the Sunrise
There’s something magical about watching the sun rise over the ocean. The best place to do this on Koh Tao is from the restaurant Love Koh Tao. To get there you’ll have to rent a motorbike, but trust us, the views are worth it. Only a few people seem to make it every morning, so it’s a very peaceful experience. Plus, as the restaurant isn’t open yet, you get free entrance for the view, whereas other times of the day you’ll need to purchase a food item.
8. Toast the Sunset
If sunset is more your thing, then grab a couple drinks and head to the beach. While there are multiple places around the island to watch the sunset from, nothing says island life more than sipping drinks on the beach. Just sit back, and watch as the sun fades from blue to hues of pink and orange.
Our favorite place for this was Freedom Beach. It’s tucked away on the southernmost tip of the island, and you can either enjoy the view from the sand or take in an aerial perspective by heading up to the John-Suwan Viewpoint. Although you need to pay an entrance fee for the viewpoint, it includes a soft drink, and is a fun way to watch the sun go down.
9. Rent a Kayak
Another fun way to get on the water is by renting a kayak. Get off the beaten track a little and find a nice secluded beach that only a few people can access. If you’re into snorkeling, you can even take masks and jump in the water to cool off.
10. Play Miniature Golf
If you’re looking for a more unique way to spend an evening (beyond another session at the beach), then go inland and try your hand at mini golf. Koh Tao Leisure Park hosts an 18 hole course set amidst the jungle.
When you visit make sure to play at least two games. The first will use standard rules, allowing you learn the course. On the second round then go wild and try your hand at their goofy golf rules. In goofy golf every player spins a “wheel of fortune” before they start a new hole, which alters the rules. You may find yourself standing on one leg the entire game, or swapping points with anyone your ball hits.
ProTip: The course is located in the jungle, not along the shore, so remember to bring your insect repellent. You’ll need it!
10. Enjoy Awesome Food
Koh Tao is a hotspot of good restaurants. From regular Thai specialties, to hip new-age dining, you can find it all across the island. The best place though to grab a bite is in Sairee Beach. There’s so many good options to choose from. So head out for a leisurely stroll and follow your eyes (or nose) to your next great meal.
Some of our favorite establishments include Tukta Thai Food, Cafe del Sol and Permpoon Cafe.