GETTING HERE

If you are flying into Bangkok you have two options:

  • The Slow & Cheap Option: Take an overnight bus/train from Bangkok to Chumphon followed by a ferry from Chumphon to Koh Tao. After arriving in Bangkok, walk into the first booking office you see (tourist areas such as Khao San Road are riddled with them) and say you want to go to Koh Tao. They will give you all of your options. The overnight buses and trains both take about ten hours. On the bus you get to sit in an uncomfortable seat all night. On the train you can get a little bunk in second class, or a private sleeper car in first class. The booking office will give you all of your tickets and stickers to wear and then you get herded around based on what sticker you're wearing from point A to point B. Lomprayah offers a bus/ferry combo for 1100 baht ($35). 
  • The Faster & More Expensive Option: Take a flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui followed by a ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Tao. Koh Samui, which is two islands south of Koh Tao, has a small airport that you can fly to for about $120 US. The flight only takes an hour and the Thai airlines rock! You will be served a nice meal on your one hour flight. These flights run roughly every hour. When you walk out of the airport in Samui, there is a little tourist desk set up at the exit. Tell them you are going to Koh Tao and they will write you a ticket for the next ferry out, including a transfer to the pier. This should cost around $15 US. The ferry ride is two hours long. 

SLEEPING

I recommend staying in Sairee. That is where the majority of the night life is on this island, so you will be within walking distance of anything you could want: beach, booze, food, dive schools, shopping... Scroll down to the Tips & Tricks section and I mention a guide book available here that is really awesome. It lists every place of accommodation on the island.

For the budget traveler try:
For something a little nicer try 
If you are diving, your dive school probably offers discounted or even free accommodation so definitely check into that. 

EATING

Here is a list of all of my favorite restaurants and street food vendors on the island. And I love food so I put a good deal of passion into this list. For your convenience, assuming you're following my advice and staying in Sairee and don't have a bike, the majority of these places are in Sairee.

  • Su Chili - This restaurant serves the best Thai food on the island as far as a wide selection goes. I love the fried cashew with seafood and the massaman curry with tofu. Whatever you eat as your main course though, save room for dessert and order mango sticky rice. You will die and go to mango heaven. At check out ask for a punch card; if you eat there five times you get a free meal. Location: Sairee. Price: 150-200 baht per dish. 
  • Barracuda - Best seafood restaurant around. If you like fried food, order the platter that serves two and you will get a really nice selection of fish, muscles, calamari, crab cakes, shrimp, and everything else you could possibly want. Easily enough food for at least three people. If you're into a fresh fish fillet, order any of the tuna dishes. I swear they have their own tuna fisherman because it melts in your mouth it's so fresh. Save this place for a nice night out as it is one of the pricier places on the island. It is also one of the few restaurant where you will need a reservation. Call 08 0146 3267. Location: Sairee. Price: 300-350 baht per dish. 
  • White Elephant - The best and the cheapest curry on the island. 80 baht for more curry and white rice then you can eat in one sitting and they are all amazing. Green curry is made with coconut and can be very spicy. Yellow curry is spiced with turmeric, cumin, and nutmeg. Massaman curry is derived from Indian curries and is very comfort foody. Panang curry is made with dried chilis and usually has a lot of peanut flavor. Location: Sairee. Price: 80 baht per curry. 
  • Orange Shop - If you're in need of something cheap and yummy after 6pm then head over to this little stand across the street from Banyan Bar and watch as they cook one dish at a time. I usually go for the pad thai or fried rice with tuna and cashews. I'm very picky about pad thai and this is my second favorite on the island. Location: Sairee. Price: 50-70 baht per dish. 
  • Zanzi Bar - If you get sick of Thai food head over to Zanzi Bar. There are plenty of western restaurants on the island but Zanzi Bar has the best bang for your buck. All of the burritos/wraps are fantastic. I always (roughly 6 days a week) eat breakfast here. Try the spinach egg and cheese breakfast wrap and you will feel good all day. Location: Sairee. Price:120-180 baht per dish. 
  • Fizz - One of the better western food restaurants but also overpriced. I add this to the list because it's a good spot to sit on the beach in beanbag chairs and drink an espresso martini or two while watching the sun set. Location: Sairee. Price: 200-300 baht per dish.
  • 7-Eleven Pancake Man - There are plenty of pancake street vendors around the island but the old guy who sets up in front of the corner Sairee 7-Eleven is the best. He looks like an Italian pizza chef on crack when he whips you up a pancake in less then a minute. You may be thinking breakfast but these 'pancakes' are actually fried crepes that you eat for dessert. Location: Sairee. Price: 30-50 baht.  
  • Quail Egg Lady - Go to the other 7-Eleven in Sairee, the big, new one, and there are usually street vendors set up in the parking lot in the evening. Look for a lady selling what looks like four crab cheese wontons on a skewer. Pay 20 baht and enjoy. This is not a crab cheese wonton, but a quail egg, hard boiled, wrapped in a wonton wrapper, deep fried, and served with sweet chili sauce. It is unbelievably good. Location: Sairee. Price 20 baht per skewer.  
  • Papaya Salad Man - Also set up in the 7-Eleven parking lot, look for anyone with a mortar and pestle, that is what you make papaya salad in. The guy who is currently in charge of the papaya salad has glasses and a long, stringy ponytail. Street papaya salad is better then what you will order in a restaurant. When he asks if you like spicy, specify one chili for a little bit spicy, two chilis for still-just-tolerably spicy, or three chilis if you want to spend the next half hour crying. I actually like three chilis. Location: Sairee. Price: 50 baht. 
  • Donut Man - Ask any of the locals, they all know donut man. He walks up and down the beach road and the main road all day long, wheeling a little silver cart filled with baked goods. Try the banana bread. It will change your world. Location: mobile. Price: 20-50 baht. 
  • Sairee Sairee - This is another fancy sit down restaurant serving western cuisine that is a little overpriced. The chocolate brownie for dessert though is a must have. Location: Sairee. Price: 200-300 baht per dish. 
NIGHTLIFE

This part is easy. Just walk down Sairee beach and you will find a party. It is not a big island and all of the main bars are concentrated on Sairee beach. There are only a handful of bars on the island, and the party crowd tends to drift from one to the next as the night progresses. If walking down the beach still has you uncertain, then head over to Choppers at 7:00 on any Monday, Wednesday, or Friday night to sign up for the Koh Tao Pub Crawl. Pay a fee of 500 baht and you will get a tshirt, a bucket, and discounted drinks at all the bars you go to. Then follow the crowd of fellow drunken tourists to three or four bars throughout the night. The list of bars changes every week, but usually includes pool parties, drag shows, and live music.



DIVING

Koh Tao is the diving island of Thailand because it is sunny and the weather is fair eleven months out of the year. It is one of the cheapest places to get certified in the world, and over 60 dives shops on the island keep the prices competitive. The water is usually around 80 degrees fahrenheit, meaning a wetsuit isn't even necessary. This little island as a lot to offer as far as diving goes, and if you're not an enthusiast by the time you leave, then you haven't spent enough time here.


When it comes to diving on Koh Tao, there are about 60 dive shops to choose from. That can be a little overwhelming, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for. The dive schools in town are going to offer the best rates, but that means strict schedules to follow, sometimes larger group sizes, and more work that you're going to be doing yourself such as putting your rental gear away at the end of the day. If you are looking for something more relaxed, and someone to do everything for you, think about spending a little more and going to a resort. At a dive school you're going to feel more involved and like part of the team. At a resort you're going to be catered to. Here are four options, all of which I have had a fair amount of experience with.

  • Big Blue - Dive school in Sairee
    • Max group size: 6 people. 
    • Price for one fun dive: 1000 baht. 
    • Price for Open Water certification: 9800 baht. 
    • Pros: Fun, young crowd. Affordable. Have their own bar where everyone hangs out at the end of the day. 
    • Cons: Big school which means multiple groups on the same dive site at once (their new boat will hold 80 divers.) Primarily certify through SSI. 
  • Scuba Junction - Dive school in Sairee
    • Max group size: 4 people. 
    • Price for one fun dive: 850 baht.
    • Price for Open Water certification: 9000 baht. 
    • Pros: Small group sizes meaning more individualized attention. Small dive school, max number of people on the boat is 28. Affordable. Will give every fun diver a dive computer to use. Consistently get excellent reviews on TripAdvisor. 
    • Cons: Must adhere to a strict schedule.  Must wash your own gear at the end of the day. Don't have a pool to train in so you will be doing skills on the beach. 
  • Jamahkiri - Resort in Shark Bay
    • Max group size: Private.
    • Price for two fun dives: 3500 baht. 
    • Price for Open Water certification: 14400 baht. 
    • Pros: High-end facilities. Relaxed schedule. One main dive boat as well as a speed boat meaning you don't have to be on the same schedule as other divers at the resort. Beautiful private pool for training.
    • Cons: $$$. 
  • Montalay - Resort in Tanote Bay
    • Max group size: Varies, usually around two people for classes and up to six people for fun dives. 
    • Price for one fun dive: 1000 baht. 
    • Price for Open Water Certification: 9000 baht. 
    • Pros: Relaxed schedule. Private pool to train in. Some shore diving as part of the open water course. Small scale resort and in my opinion, the best compromise between the price you'd get at a dive school and the service you'd get at a resort. 
    • Cons: Do not attempt to drive the road unless you are confident on a dirt bike. Rental gear is very well used. 

HIKING

Koh Tao is a mountainous island and hence has some amazing hikes. As the entire island is only eight square miles, it is possible to hike to any point of the island, but these two are my favorites. Both lead to bays so be sure to bring your snorkel gear!



  • Hin Wong Bay - Begin in Sairee, where the main road intersects with the road that Big Blue and Roctopus are on. There may or may not be a 7-Eleven on the corner there as they are constantly being torn down and rebuilt. Head east towards Roctopus and follow that road until you reach the fork at the big white hotel that's under construction (or maybe it's finished by the time you're on Koh Tao). Go left at the fork and just stay on that road. The hike will take an hour to an hour-and-a-half if you go by foot the entire way. The distance isn't really that far but the slopes are steep. When you reach the end, stop at the restaurant and order pad thai. It is the best pad thai on the island and I am pretty sure I have tried it all. I would make the hike specifically for the pad thai. On your way to the beach you will pass an eclectic structure of old dive gear that is the bar. Depending on if someone is working there you may have to pay either a 50 baht fee or buy a drink to use the beach. (Hint: you can buy a nestle coffee drink for 20 baht). The beach is rather rocky so may not be ideal for laying out, but the snorkeling is fantastic. If you're not digging the hike back, go into the restaurant and ask for a taxi. The ride in itself is an adventure. Read more about my experience with Hin Wong Bay here.
  • Laem Thian -  Begin in Sairee, where the main road intersects with the road that Big Blue and Roctopus are on. Head east towards Roctopus, and this time when you reach the fork at the big white hotel that's under construction, go right. The hike will be pretty intense for the first ten minutes or so after the right at the fork, but afterwards the stroll is pretty level and relaxing. After about an hour-and-a-half to two-hour hike, the trail will end at an old abandoned hotel. Climb up the stairs to the top of the hotel for a breathtaking view of the beach. Then backtrack a few meters and carefully make your way over the boulders until you reach the cliff. This spot is perfect for cliff jumping. There are rocks at 3, 9, and 12 meters. Grab your snorkel gear, brave the jump, and enjoy some of the clearest visibility around Koh Tao. Finding your way across the boulders at the end can be challenging, so the first time you go it might be helpful to go with someone who knows the way. If you don't know anyone, a shop in Sairee called Goodtime Adventures offers tours. A group of you will hike there, play on the rocks, and then take a speedboat back to Sairee. 


TIPS & TRICKS
  • Go to a 7-Eleven or 4P or some other touristy place and pick up this guide book. It is better than any guide book I've ever spent money on and it's free! It lists pretty much every business on the island, has nice descriptions of the different bays, has maps of the roads and the road conditions, and is just overall really helpful. They also update it every quarter so the picture on the cover might be different by the time you arrive. 
  • If you have an unlocked phone it is easy enough to buy a tourist sim card for it. These sim cards will usually come pre-loaded with some data and minutes. To top off the calling credit just go to any 7-Eleven and tell the clerk your phone number, who your data carrier is, and how much baht you want to add. 500 baht usually lasted me a few months. To add data for internet usage there is a phone shop across the street from Choppers. All you have to say is "add data." 500 baht will get you 3 gb that expires after 30 days. 
  • Do NOT rent a bike. Tourists show up here having never ridden a scooter / motorcycle and think this is the perfect opportunity to learn. It is not! The roads here are in horrible condition and none of the locals drive with any common road courtesy. Everyone who rents bikes either leaves with wounds or empty wallets from the fines imposed by the companies who rent the bikes and can see as you're driving away that you have no idea what you're doing. When you return your bike they will find a small random scratch and make you pay an arm and a leg for it. 
  • When doing high risk activities like riding scooters please remember that there is not a hospital on the island. There are clinics that can clean your wounds but anything more serious and you will have to take a speedboat or ferry over to Koh Samui. 
  • If you do end up wounded, no matter how minor, get yourself to a clinic and have them clean it! You are in a different part of the world and your body doesn't have any antibodies to the germs and bacteria here so even a paper cut can easily get infected. There are three clinics on the island, one each in Sairee, Mae Haad, and Chalok. The visit will cost around 200 baht. 
  • Toilet étiquette! In Thailand you cannot flush any paper products down the toilet, including toilet paper. There is a trash bin next to the toilet to throw any paper products in. Also, public bathrooms don't always have toilet paper so you might want to carry some around. When you are done doing your business there is a hose next to the toilet that sprays water. This is the bum gun. You will hate it at first but by the time you go home you will wish you had one. It is so much more sanitary spraying water down there then merely wiping with toilet paper. Some toilets have a flusher. Some only have a giant bucket of water sitting in the corner with a small bucket floating inside. Use the small bucket to pour about three or four bucketfuls of water into the toilet and that will make it flush. 
  • It is really rude in Thai culture to walk around in a bikini. We forget that here since we are on an island, but to the Thai people, us walking down the street in a bikini is looked at with the same frown you would look at someone back home with if they went grocery shopping in a bikini. 
  • It is also rude in Thai culture to touch your feet or point at anything with your feet. 
  • The majority of the Asian population you see on Koh Tao is not actually Thai but immigrant workers from Myanmar (or Burma as we farangs call it (farang means white people)). So those Thai cultural courtesies are sometimes overlooked. 
  • Clothes are super cheap here and super cute as well, so if you're planning on doing some shopping, save the room in your luggage and buy a couple sets of clothing once you get here. 
  • A large expat community on the island means that everyone speaks English, but learning a few Thai words is always appreciated.
    • Hello if you are a woman: sawadee-ka
    • Hello if you are a man: sawadee-kop
    • Thank you if you are a woman: kop-koon-ka
    • Thank you if you are a man: kop-koon-kop
  • Join the Facebook group Koh Tao Community Board. It is a very active board of all the expats living on Koh Tao and if you have any questions they will be happy to answer. Read through a few of the posts first though to make sure no one has already asked your question. If one more person asks where you can buy coconut oil on the island, the admins might boot you from the group. (Answer: coconut oil is available everywhere. Go into the nearest shop. They have it). 
Please feel free to contact me with any questions you have regarding this amazing island, and I hope you love it as much as I do.