Koh Tao is the least developed and least trashy out of the three main islands in the western Gulf of Thailand, which is probably why everyone I met had said it was their favourite of the trio too.
If you’re in no rush, then you can take the bus (cheaper) or train to Surat Thani (9 hours each from Bangkok), then a 1 and a half hour bus to Don Sak port and finally a high speed catamaran straight to Koh Tao.
You can also get a plane and ferry package from Bangkok to Koh Tao via Chumphon with certain airlines.
Alternatively you can take a ferry straight from Bangkok which takes about 10 hours. Honestly, I was a bit shocked to see people making this journey. Not for those who get seasick!
Since I didn’t have much time, I chose a more expensive option, to fly from Bangkok to Koh Samui and then board the two hour high speed catamaran to Koh Tao.
Where to stay
Normally if you travel anywhere in Thailand, it’s fairly easy to find a suitable place to stay last minute. However, since Koh Tao is quite small, there’s limited accommodation which fills up pretty quickly during high season and even monsoon season.
We ended up only having three options to choose from. I always booked somewhere last minute while travelling in Thailand but it will save you money if you book in advance for Koh Tao.
Staying somewhere close to Sairee beach is useful as a hub for the activities you want to do on the island. It parallels a long promenade which is central for nightlife.
Koh Tao (Turtle Island in Thai) is renowned for snorkelling and diving. You can rent equipment from a local shop and pay a fair price to complete your scuba diving certificate. We snorkelled at Mango Bay and had to pay 100 baht ($3) for entrance as it’s owned by a resort.
Visit Koh Nangyuan, 20 minutes from Koh Tao. Since it’s a private beach, you will have to pay 100 baht to get on the island and extra for renting sunbeds or snorkelling equipment. You can climb the viewpoint here.
Hire a scooter to witness the breathtaking viewpoints high up in the mountains which have been converted into bars. We drove to Mango Viewpoint which was perched on a cliff with an insane view of the bay.
Grab dinner at one of the many quality restaurants near Sairee beach. The best ones are hidden in the back streets away from the fluorescent lights and defeating bass. We ate at La Pizzeria which serves wood fired pizza and delicious mojitos as well as homemade lemon hello shots.
Watch the sunset from Sairee beach. We ate seafood and sipped beers in a restaurant directly on the beach while gazing at a phenomenal orange and golden sun setting where the sea meets the horizon.
Enjoy late night Poi. We went to Lotus Bar where Thai locals danced in the breaking waves while spinning fire. The atmosphere was surprisingly chilled as families danced to the music, groups of friends drank buckets and girls were taught how to spin fire.
If you decide to rent a scooter, make sure you’re a confident driver and take insurance. We attempted to drive to Mango Bay through the steep sandy hills but one of the bikes wheels gave way and I crashed mine into a ditch while trying to get off… We met others who had also fallen on their bikes and were turning back. Koh Tao is the most dangerous place I had driven in Thailand.
Rent a long tail boat for the day with a group of friends for 2000 baht ($60) and make sure to bring sun protection since there will be no shade. You can find the ‘Taxi Boat’ sign along the main promenade beside The Seashell Resort.
In many ways, I wasn’t ready to leave Thailand. It had proved itself to be a very dynamic country, with ancient man made temples, beautiful white picturesque beaches, concealed waterfalls and emerald mountains. The people I met all over this country taught me a lot, and I knew that we would meet again.