Suitable for: 4 days & more
Koh Tao is said to be a backpacker’s paradise. I understood why when I arrived. The laid back vibes, the affordable accommodation, food and activities makes it a temporary paradise. It is also one of the best places to get certified for your PADI / SSI Diving Licence, which I will write about in a separate post. It was also a place where strangers gathered, and left as good friends. We actually went on to Koh Phangan for the Full Moon Party together and it was so much fun with a group that you are familiar with.
Being a reasonably small island, Koh Tao is only accessible via ferry. You either take a ferry from Surat Thani (if coming from mainland areas [Bangkok, Krabi, Phuket, Khao Sok] , or from neighbouring islands like Koh Phangan or Koh Samui. Lomprayah is the recommended transport company for this journey.
Read more about my guide to transportation Koh Tao (mostly from Bangkok) here
I actually got my SIM card from the airport in Bangkok (Don Mueang). It was from DTAC, which I had read provided good connections on the islands in Thailand. The network was efficient, and I was mostly well-connected, except in one particular part of Koh Tao near Shark Bay. Overall recommended!
There are also other companies providing SIM cards (AIS, True) : , My friends on Koh Tao, some of whom had bought SIM cards from these companies had no problems with their connections as well. From what I remember, there was an AIS shop at the arrival hall in Don Mueang Airport as well.
You can also purchase SIM cards / top up your current SIM card from 7-11 stores all over Thailand, the example being above.
Company: DTAC (Unlimited Data Packs)
Pack 1: THB 300, 7 Days
Pack 2: THB 600, 15 Days
Pack 3: THB 700, 30 Days
What can I say, this was one of the most social hostels I’ve ever been to. The people I met here were one of the most diverse, and culturally varied that I’ve ever interacted with. My stay at Summer Hostel was definitely a defining factor during my amazing experience in Koh Tao.
They had a great kitchen, with available fridges. There were bean bags outside just outside the dorms where you could chill and socialise. I was extremely impressed by the layout of the hostel. By placing the common area just outside of the dorms, you essentially force people to meet each other and socialise. For those who arrive early, you could shower in the communal bathrooms located near the basement.
Rooms wise, it was perpetually clean,there was good AC that was switched off from 10am-5pm everyday (you could request for them to switch it on earlier), great hot showers, comfy beds, big lockers, individual reading lights and power plugs. I stayed in the 6-bed dorm and it was perfect. Do note that the 8-bed dorm is non-air-conditioned.
The hostel also helps in booking of snorkel tours, ferry tickets (for the Full Moon Party), and other activities including Muay Thai events and Sunset Yoga. More pictures on activities offered by the hostel are located below. Nikki offered to call the individual dive shops to enquire on their dive sites for following days (so nice of her!) However, to book the dives you have to turn up physically at their shops.
The hostel does not provide breakfast but there is a 24 hours supermarket just opposite the hostel. This, is what quintessentially makes its location perfect. It also takes around 10 minutes to walk to the main part of Sairee Beach. They also provide a pick-up from the pier which costs THB 200 (cheaper if shared).
I always feel that this is what makes or break a hostel, especially for a solo traveller. Just thinking about the nightly talks and fun times I had with the friends I made here makes me really happy. Every night, there will be tons of people socialising in the common area, for those wishing to head to the clubs they start pre-drinking around 9.30-10pm then head out at 11pm (when there is a noise curfew).
The staff here were so helpful! Nikki helped me with planning my fun diving, Apple and the rest of the cleaning staff were just awesome at their jobs (be warned that Apple will thrash you at Beer Pong!), but Luke (guy in black tee above 🙂 ) was the main man, who went out with the group almost every single night. I don’t know where he gets his energy from, but his enthusiasm was incredibly infectious 🙂
Thank you Summer Hostel, I had a great stay, and I will stay again if I return to Koh Tao.
A more in-depth guide to Diving in Koh Tao will be written soon! 🙂 It will explain how to choose a dive school, the pros & cons, and my various experiences.
This is one of the most common, but also most worthwhile thing to do in Koh Tao. It is one of the cheapest places in the world to obtain your Basic Open Water Diving Licence. Most get hooked onto diving and continue to take their Advanced Licence after. (or, at least I hope you do!)
Diving is one of the most amazing things you’ll ever experience. It’s a whole new world of marine life down there. It doesn’t require lots of energy to move around underwater, the key is to maintain your buoyancy (to prevent sinking too much and destroying coral, or floating up and getting decompression sickness). Sounds complicated here but it gets better with practice, like everything.
The best months to go diving in Koh Tao are from February to May, where the seas are calmer and visibility is better. The visibility was not so great when I went (December).
The dives shops generally do deeper dive sites in the morning, and shallower (& easier) dive sites in the afternoon.
Explorer Dive: THB 2000
PADI Open Water: (3-4 days): THB 9000-10000 / (THB 7000 with E-learning if available)
PADI Advanced Open Water (2 days): THB 8500
Fun Dive (each): THB 1000 / 900 / 800 / 700
(1 / 2-5 / 6-9 / 10+ dives booked) price gets cheaper with more dives booked
Specialty Courses (Nitrox, Wreck etc.): THB 3800
Rescue Diver (3-4 days): THB 12000
Divemaster Internship (2 months): THB 30000-35000
Please note that all prices are estimates and may vary from shop to shop.
Best Dive Sites: Sail Rock (whale sharks!), Chumpon Pinnacle, SouthWest Pinnacle
Reporting / Ending Times (varies)
Morning Dives: 0730 – 1100
Afternoon Dives: 1100 – 1530
Koh Nangyuan is just a short 10 minutes ride away from Koh Tao via long tail boat. Although touristy, it has the right to be so. A long sand spit connects 2 outcrops of land on this geological formation.
Getting the long tail boat is simple. Walk out to the beach, where many vendors will be plying for your attention. If you don’t get a good price on the first, move on.
The long tail boat brings you to a flimsy pier, made up of wooden planks which connects eventually to the sand spit. When I was here previously, the sand spit was so clearly seen that throngs of people were literally sprawled on the entire stretch sun tanning.
However, this time I went it was an entire different scenario. It was high tide, and the waves from opposite directions were crashing against each other on the sand spit. It was definitely an exciting but perilous journey crossing the sand spit with my camera bag held high up away from the waves.
There are lockers for rent on the island (great for solo travellers). There is one restaurant, and one resort. However, there are no shops selling beachwear. I had forgotten to bring my swimming shorts and thus was resigned to sitting on the beach, and snapping photos of my friends and the surroundings.
The second thing you need to do is climb up to the viewpoint. The route up is located on the left while walking from the pier to the sand spit. There was a 5-minute queue at the top when we reached the peak. The view was spectacular and one that should not be missed. Postcard. Perfect.
Return journey via long tail (from Sairee Beach): THB 250 / person (after haggling from THB 350)
This is one of the few highlights of Koh Tao. The famous Pub Crawl happens every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. It is great fun, a little overpriced, but something you should experience at least once. I went out with a group of friends I met at the hostel, but I am sure that it will be equally good doing it solo. They have some activities that gets everyone moving to get to know one another, which is vital in a good pub crawl.
Duration: starts at 6pm
Time : lasts till 1am – late
We purchased our tickets on the day of the pub crawl itself. Its first-come-first-serve so they don’t do pre-bookings online. I tried going the day before to enquire but they told me to purchase it the day itself. You receive your ticket, a slip of paper entitling you to the free shots and a 10% discount voucher at Rocktopus Diving.
You start at Choppers Bar, which is located near Sairee Beach. You exchange your ticket for your tee, and the unofficial start actually occurs around 7.30pm (follow my tip). After returning, you get a brief introduction by the captains for the night, who will be bringing you around. At this point, everyone will still be segregated into their current groups, just having a great time with the pumping music.
Lotus Beach Bar was the next destination. I followed my group to this beachside club with comfy beanbags, cheap drinks and a stunning fire show. Get the face paint (located at the front) and get your (hidden) artistic talents flowing! This is also where they start the ice breakers. Having to join your obtained “word” with another person’s to form a phrase was no easy feat. However, I got to mingle quite a bit with the rest of the crew that night.
We went to watch a live cabaret show after this. It was so amusing and the way they acted was definitely worthy of applause. There will be a couple of games along the way, in which you win prizes like free yoga sessions, and free fun dives with Rocktopus (I really really wanted this one.)
Hint: Be prepared to run up and pass the host either a slipper, a KT Pub Crawl tee, and other items (message me if you’re interested in knowing more). I saw this girl face-planting on the table while she was rushing out. Terribly embarrassing, but a tad amusing.
The captains brought us back to Choppers for live music by a duo. They were so good that I couldn’t help but head to the dance floor for long periods of time. They play a variety of songs (from Taylor Swift, to Ed Sheeran, to oldies from Bon Jovi and The Wonders), and take song requests. I really liked this part of the pub crawl!
Fishbowl was the last stop. This club had 2 main areas, indoors and outdoors. Indoors was mostly devoted to beer pong tables, while the outdoors portion had a wide dance floor, and an elevated stage should you feel like it. It was also by the beach, and there were fire performances happening at various times. I loved the music here (I’m more of an oldies / mainstream pop person). I remember singing the lyrics to almost every song they played 🙂
I remember quite a bit about Fishbowl as it was the main club that everyone in Summer Hostel went to after pre-drinking at the hostel. It is actually Ban’s Diving School’s restaurant by day which transforms into a club / bar at night.
The beer pong sessions were great fun, and the atmosphere here was amazing, especially with the influx of Koh Tao Pubcrawlers on those nights. It was busy, but not yet too packed that you feel stifled and uncomfortable. Definitely worth a visit while you’re here!
Besides coming here for their outstanding fire shows, its a great location to chill and sip a cocktail while waiting for the sunset. Basically, the whole of Sairee Beach are good vantage points for the sunsets. Lotus Bar has one of the best vibes, facilities and atmospheres compared to the others.
There is also a variety of roadside stalls along the way selling food, banana pancakes, sandwiches for your hungry tummy after a big night out dancing. This particular shop had signs saying. “Best Sandwich in the World”. I bought one (THB 80) at 4am in the morning. Nope. The pancakes are decent though (especially the cinnamon ones (THB 60)!)
THB 450 (includes one bucket, 4 free shots, trademark Pub Crawl tee, and special prices in the respective pubs / clubs)
– gets THB 100 cheaper with each consecutive pub crawl attended
A Koh Tao has a list of beautiful beaches for you to explore. However, I only visited a few of them due to the shortage of time (I did a lot of diving, instead of snorkelling here.). For the first time ever, I spent an entire day beach-hopping. I have never done this in my entire life. I usually can’t spend more than 2 hours on the beach lying down and tanning. Now, I finally understand how my fellow Western friends spend their entire day on the beachfront.
This was the first beach I visited in Koh Tao and it boasts a small bay area, with one bar. You had to pay THB 50 / person to enter. The snorkelling here was not that good (it got better further out), and the crowds were aplenty. There were also a number of trees which obstructed the view of the ocean. However, there were some hammocks which possibly provides a brilliant Instagram picture, and a good place to chill. Overall, I did not like the overcrowding on this beach.
One of our friends brought us to Tanote after our (or rather, my) disappointing experience on Freedom Beach. The beach was white and pristine, and definitely made up for the lacklustre experience previously. I loved the fact that there were not many people on this huge stretch of sand. There was a cute little restaurant present as well. I did not go snorkelling here, relaxing on this beach was just too tempting an idea.
Tanote Bay has a giant rocky outcrop approximately 50 metres away from shore, that you can do some cliff-jumping off. My friend, Dom, hurt his feet while climbing up though. He ended up with some coral in his foot, which we got the local masseur to remove via a crude safety pin without anaesthesia. Just be safe when you tread on the coral, and always be wary of sea urchins hiding underneath the rocks.
This was the last beach that I visited in Koh Tao. We originally wanted to visit Shark Bay but somehow we wound up here, and didn’t realise we weren’t at Shark Bay until the end of our trip. This proves how good this location was.
This was the backpacker’s route pictured above.
There are 2 methods to enter the beach. The first, and free, method would be to climb over this precarious fence of a small cafe over the side, which brings you to the overpriced restaurant of the resort that is affiliated to this bay. My heart was literally jumping as I gingerly carried my camera across this perilous journey. The second method, which was safer but more costly, was to pay THB 200 per person to access the bay via the resort. I would recommend this method, as security actually screened the beach-goers for their little ticket obtained via the THB 200 purchase. (Thank goodness Rochelle and I purchased the ticket, or our entire group would have been chased off.)
The snorkelling here was really good compared to the rest of the bays. I managed to see a cute pufferfish which I stalked for a good 10 minutes. And, there were plenty of Koh Tao regulars : parrotfish, butterflyfish and the ilk.
The beach was also really clean and well-maintained. We had the freedom, and space, to switch on some music without hindering the rest of the beach-goers. It was just satisfying sitting / wading in the shallow waters as the sand was really soft as well.
I heard amazing stories about this bay, that you can spot turtles and reef sharks just snorkelling. Unfortunately, we got lost and didn’t make it here but you definitely should give this place a shot! The beach is apparently owned by Haad Tien Beach resort but I am sure that there’s a backpackerish free method to enter.
There are so many other beaches that offer excellent snorkelling. Koh tao Complete Guide’s website offers a comprehensive list of beaches and bays in Koh Tao, its good to have an idea of what to expect in that particular beach! Link’s on the right.
THB 200 (ticket to enter Chalok Kao Baan Bay via the resort method)
THB 50 / person (to enter Freedom Beach)
Sorry to disappoint, I did not actually ride to the viewpoints on Koh Tao (I really wanted to though!). There just wasn’t enough time, and the fact that most evenings were cloudy did not help. However, there are 4 viewpoints that are said to be beautiful.
1. John-Suwan viewpoint (apparently the most amazing one!)
2. West Coast viewpoint
3. Mango viewpoint
4. Deisha viewpoint
My time in Koh Tao, whilst not diving, was more often than not spent chilling and relaxing with friends and more friends. Its like this really relaxed vibe envelopes you as soon as you enter the island from the pier. It seemed like everyone was taking life one day at a time here, which was really in contrast to the fast-paced lifestyle back at home.
I loved listening to reggae while chilling out by the common area. Have a massage if you like, there are plenty around. I miss those times when I would simply walk down to Sairee Beach and reflect. I reminisce about the friends I made here, and I laugh silently at their quirks. Koh Tao always gave me time to reflect on my life so far. It was always generous in that aspect.
You realise that life does not require many amenities and luxuries. You realise that waking up in the morning at your desired time, is simply bliss. You realise how international Koh Tao is, and you feel blessed to be on this simple backpacker’s haven.
There are plenty of stories, where once a floundering backpacker, have stumbled onto Koh Tao, and called it home. I might even do that in the future, who knows.
The most ubiquitous, and cheapest way of getting around Koh Tao is via scooter.
Drive safely, and take pictures of the scooter before you rent it. (to prevent claims that you have scratched the scooter when in fact you didn’t)
Also, try to give something other than your passport as a deposit (especially if the company is not connected to your hostel)
Price: THB 250 / day (from hostel)
The cheaper version of the taxi in Thailand, the tuktuk is an open-air ride which can ferry multiple people , which reduces the price each person pays (usually) the more person there are, unless it’s an event that everyone is going to (e.g.: Full moon Party), in that case the price will most probably be based per person.
Dive schools tend to use tuktuks to ferry their students from their accommodations to the dive centre early in the morning.
These are usually used by tour groups to fetch their customers from their accommodations to the respective tour locations.
Car rental is available but it is definitely more convenient to have a scooter if you’re travelling alone or in a pair.
All the transport options are open to haggling. Use the 1/3 rule. Cut the original price by 2/3. and work up to final price.
Another reminder again, always take pictures of your bike guys!
This was the first eatery I tried in Koh Tao. Being recommended by my hostel, this cute little restaurant serves quality Thai food at affordable prices. The Pad Thai with Chicken that I ordered was fantastic. I loved the huge portions and the massive sprinkling of condiments and other sides. Su Chilli really gives you a bang for your buck. The serving time was decent as well, and I loved the smiles the staff gave when doing their job! If you want delicious local Thai food that comes in massive portions, Su Chilli is the place to go!
It was well located around Sairee Beach, turn left at the perpetually-flooded main junction when you walk down (when you see 7-11 opposite you) and it will be on the beach side of shops.
Essentially an Italian restaurant, this formed the mainstay of my dinners and (sometimes) lunches. l went here whenever I’ve had enough local Pad Thai or Fried Rice. The pastas here were incredible, and I heard the pizzas were as well.
It gave a really good atmosphere at night, the lights were not too dim and they played decent music. The one thing that I loved about this restaurant was the short waiting time for food. One minute I’ll be ordering, and in the next 10 minutes freshly chewed penne will be peristalting (is that even a word?) down my oesophagus.
Recommended dishes to order would be Tagliatelle Al Pesto , Spaghetti Alla Carbonara & Arrabbiata Pizza
Their Facebook page has the whole menu with updated prices 🙂
Barracuda was one of the classiest restaurants I visited on the island, yet it was still cosy unlike typical high-class restaurants in the cities. It also played a good selection of oldies and slow soulful tunes. The prices here were, of course, slightly elevated from the usual.
But the food was phenomenal, not the mention I’ve never eaten a barracuda wrapped with Parma Ham, stuffed with tomatoes & feta cheese, AND topped with pesto (maybe I’m just a peasant) but it was amazing. I don’t know what sauces or flavouring they put in but it was just a whole lot of different flavours that will make your tastebuds go awry. Doesn’t the food look good! I saw the seafood platters go by to the other tables and I literally felt like snatching them out of the waiter’s hand. Amazing.
Thai-Riffic was recommended by TripAdvisor for some decent cakes and sweets on the island. I’m such a sucker for these sweet sugary sins. Anyway, this place really lived up to its reputation! The cakes actually were not that sweet, just the right amount, and the owner was so hospitable! I would say that the service complemented the quality of the cakes, which resulted in me taking home more desserts that I had imagined. One night he was closing the shutters, and I felt so disappointed as I wanted to grab a treat before returning back to the hostel. He actually opened the shop for a little while and that made my day (or night?), honestly.
Their homemade treats are carefully curated every day and they offer birthday cake delivery service! Expect to wait 2-3 days for your full cakes though, but rest assured that the end result will impress. Its worth just to take a look, even if you don’t intend to purchase anything (let’s see about that)!
A hipster cafe at its prime.
It was tea time when I chanced upon this cafe. The first thing that attracted me to this cafe was the minimalistic wooden architecture and high ceilings that gave a spacious feel to it. I (most happily) gave in to my growling stomach and ordered a chocolate croissant, with a latte to boot. Both were absolutely surprisingly amazing, and I loved the way everything was presented, on wooden platters, very becoming of a true (indie) hipster.
I then became quite obsessed with taking the perfect hipster cafe picture of my food, all the while painfully aware of my staring neighbours. Well, I’ve been stared at for plenty of narcissistic shots with my camera on a tripod in the distant background, what’s a few more gonna do?
The only downside was the dozen of so mosquito bites I obtained after the meal, they should spray it more often.
I had breakfast at this place as I wanted a change from the backpacker’s favourite : bread and jam. I had actually noticed this place a couple of times from walking back and forth down the road, but never ever got down to trying the food here.
I saw that they had breakfast sets available, and decided to order one. I literally gobbled down the scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. It had a great ambience for a morning meal, and a good hearty American breakfast made for a great day ahead!
This place is actually affiliated to the property just above, I don’t know whether the guests get free breakfast, but if they do, they’re really lucky (get it? hehe) indeed. Good quality breakfast at prices that won’t break your bank.
• THB 200 (American Breakfast pictured above)
• THB 50 (Fresh Fruit Shakes)
It is located on the road that leads up to Summer Hostel. I cannot seem to find the TripAdvisor Page but I looked on Google Maps and it seems to be near this place called AJP Guesthouse.
We went in a group mid-morning to Cafe Culture as my friend had tried it the previous day, and was raving about the coffee being served here. I couldn’t wait.
This cute cafe was located right by the beach, where you could look out, and see the waves gently crashing on the shores of Koh Tao. I was already loving it. Even the menu was cute, with headers all in different typographies.
I ordered the Mushroom & Ham Omelette and Cafe Latte. It came within 10 minutes and everyone’s food was so aesthetically pleasing (except mine [it was an omelette), but it tasted great). I loved the general vibes of the area and would recommend it to anyone searching for a cool , chilled-out place which serves great brunch dishes. Especially if you’re staying right down the beach!
TripAdvisor Review: here
Prices (refer to pictures taken)
• AUD 16 (Fried Rice with Pork Chop)
• AUD 13 (Platter of 8 Xiao Long Baos)
Walk down the beach road from Sairee to Ban’s Diving Resort. You’ll pass it along the way.
This night market only served food, and with good reason. We biked there, the parking wasn’t looking very good for cars or other big vehicles. It was a pretty small compound for a night market, but the food was cheap, and well into our budget.
There was a plethora of stalls to choose from, whether you liked ready-made sausages / meats / salads, or chose to sit and wait for some local delights. Did I ever mention that I love watermelon juice, in fact I ordered it so much that my friends noticed 🙂 You can order juices from the restaurant just beside the night market.
• THB 80 (They called it Big Noodle with Chicken, but here in Singapore it’s literally just called Hor Fun -.- )
Ride a bike down the main road and ask for directions, thats the best I can give unfortunately!
This little shop was just beside Summer Hostel and whipped up affordable and delicious food that you mostly take away. It is a good choice for a fast, convenient and cheap meal if you’re staying in one of the nearby hostels.
Reminder that it only opens after 6pm. Its mostly a dinner take away option.
I highly recommend their Pad Thai with Chicken. The waiting time is approximately 10 minutes so you can order, go back to your hostel and chill, and pick it up. How convenient is that!
Smile Supermarket was just beside my hostel. That was the supermarket most frequented by me, and the only one I know. There are plenty of mini marts down the road, and I am sure that there are more supermarkets around the island, but unfortunately, I only had contact with one during my stay.
Visiting Koh Tao has been a trip of a lifetime. What friends I made! I will definitely return, if not for my friends, for the unbeatable prices of the rest of the dive courses (Nitrox, Rescue & Divemaster). I hope that this guide has been useful, at least a little. I really can’t wait to get back to this little slice of backpackers’ paradise 🙂
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