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9+ Incredible Things to Do in Koh Tao Thailand

There’s a reason why tourists flock to the South of Thailand from all corners of the world. Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui are three of the most visited islands in the Gulf of Thailand and each one is tailored to a different type of traveler. Families and honeymooners flock to Koh Samui for the bougie resort life. Party-goers of all ages enjoy a bi-monthly migration to Koh Phangan for the legendary Full Moon & Half Moon Parties. In this post, we’re going to focus on Koh Tao: the budget-friendly backpacker’s paradise. Keep reading to learn what to do in Koh Tao!

How to Get to Koh Tao

Getting to Koh Tao usually involves a Thailand ferry…which can be a tedious experience. We traveled to Koh Tao from Koh Phangan, which was a simple ferry. However, getting to Koh Phangan from Patong Beach was a day of travel I wouldn’t soon repeat. A crowded, 3+ hour bus ride to the coast plus a ferry with a stop in Koh Samui is not a journey I’m itching to do again. 

When traveling around Asia, I always trust 12Go for booking reliable ferries with reputable companies. Click here to find ferries to Koh Tao from Koh Samui and ferries from Koh Phangan to Koh Tao

We also used 12Go when booking our tickets for a bus + ferry from Patong Beach. Click here to search options to the Mae Haad Pier on Tao Island!

Where to Stay in Koh Tao

Koh Tao has plenty of great accommodation options for backpackers! Keep in mind, if you decide to complete your scuba diving certification on the island, many dive shops will provide accommodation free-of-charge.

Summer Guesthouse Hostel

Since there were two of us, we decided to book a double-private room in the Summer Guesthouse Hostel. Split two ways, it actually ended up being cheaper than two dorm beds! Only a short walk away from some of the island’s best bars and restaurants, Summer Hostel ended up being the perfect home-base during our 4-days in Koh Tao. 

The hostel staff was very friendly, there was a high availability of air conditioned rooms, on-site scooter rentals and – best of all – two friendly hostel dogs hanging out in the lobby 😍 Book Summer Hostel for your stay in Koh Tao.

Taco Shack Diving Hostel & Restaurant

Although we never stayed at the Taco Shack, we ended up there two nights in a row for Changs and karaoke! Their lobby turned restaurant and bar is a popular hangout for the diving/backpacker crowd and almost always guarantees a good time. Prices are a little steeper than the Summer Hostel, but still only run at about $10/night for a dorm bed.

Click here to book your stay at Taco Shack.

What to Do in Koh Tao

Moving on to the exciting part…what to do in Koh Tao Thailand! No matter your love (or lack thereof) of water, there are plenty of fun and budget-friendly activities in Koh Tao. Keep reading for my favorites.

1. Rent a Scooter

The Summer Hostel offers scooter rentals for a whopping 150 THB per day, that’s only $4! However, the problem with scooters in Southeast Asia isn’t the cost, it’s the danger. 

Many tourists hop on a scooter, having never driven one before, and immediately get into a nasty accident. Especially if they’ve been drinking…which is often the case. Our hostel offered scooter lessons for free with the price of the rental, which we gladly signed up for. 

If you’re new to driving a scooter, Koh Tao is a great place to learn. The roads in the main areas are well-maintained and almost everywhere is a straight-shot. However, you can still get seriously hurt if you’re reckless or not sure what you’re doing. Have fun, but be safe. No one wants to see the inside of a Thailand hospital (trust me, I’ve done it more times than I can count). 

Remember: Thailand drivers drive on the left side of the road, so it takes some getting used to! I was a little worried about driving a scooter, so I made sure I was well-insured throughout my whole trip. Enter your info below to get a World Nomad’s Travel Insurance quote! 

**I receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. I do not represent World Nomads. This is not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.

2. Get Scuba Diving Certified

Koh Tao is one of the most popular spots in Thailand to get your scuba diving Open Water Certification. Although the diving around the island isn’t bad, the main appeal comes with the insanely cheap price tag. In my opinion, the scuba diving is much, much better in Koh Phi Phi than Koh Tao – but it’s also a LOT more expensive. 

Since we didn’t have any dive shop recommendations, we asked our hostel to book us a day of diving. For $53 each, we booked our dives with the Koh Tao Scuba Club. Although the staff at the dive center were lovely and we had a good time, we both really disliked our scuba instructor. He swam through the reefs so fast we didn’t have time to see anything, and he never pointed out marine life during the dive. When the day was over, he got off the boat immediately and left us with no idea where to go or how to put away our equipment. 

Because of this experience, I would not recommend diving with Scuba Club. Instead, try booking your course with Crystal Dive! A good friend of mine completed his Advanced Certification here and had nothing but wonderful things to say. 

3. Snorkel in Shark Bay

If scuba diving isn’t your thing, don’t fret! Snorkeling is a great option for non-scuba divers who still want to experience the beauty of Thailand’s coral reefs. Koh Tao is famous for having some of the best snorkeling in Thailand, so it definitely deserves its spot on the list of what to do in Koh Tao. 

On our first day on the island, we rented snorkeling gear from our hostel and headed down to snorkel Shark Bay – A.K.A. Thian Og Bay. Unfortunately, Shark Bay was the only snorkeling we experienced – since we were a bit more interested in diving Koh Tao. 

If you want to snorkel your ass off, make sure to hit Ao Leuk, Ao Hin Wong, Mango Bay and Koh Nang Yuan in addition to Shark Bay. You can rent a scooter and do it yourself, or consider booking a half-day tour! This snorkeling tour on Viator for 29 USD is a great option that takes you to all the hotspots. 

4. Relax on One of Koh Tao’s Many Beaches

While deciding what to do in Koh Tao, make sure to take advantage of Thailand’s crystal clear water and enjoy beach days galore! There is no shortage of beautiful beaches here, so no one would blame you for spending your entire vacay beach hopping.

Sairee Beach is one of the busiest and most popular beaches on the island. Relaxing by day, this area turns into nightlife central when the sun goes down. If you’re looking for somewhere a little quieter, consider the more secluded Freedom Beach, Sai Daeng Beach, Tanote Bay, Sai Nuan Beach or Ao Leuk.

Remember: there’s nowhere to better enjoy a Thailand sunset than from a Thailand beach.

Sairee Beach

5. Visit the John Suwan Viewpoint

It’s no secret that I LOVE a good viewpoint. If you’re wondering what to do in Koh Tao, visiting one of the island’s many viewpoints should be first on your list. 

The Juan Suwan Viewpoint was the first spot we hit to experience the true beauty of Koh Tao. We hopped on our lil’ red scooters, zipped down to the parking lot/trailhead and hiked the 20 minutes to the top. Although the hike isn’t very strenuous, Thailand is HOT so prepare to sweat. Since the entrance fee is only 50 THB ($1.50), this hike is definitely a budget-friendly activity in Koh Tao. 

Disclaimer: if you’re afraid of heights, this might not be the viewpoint for you. 

john suwan viewpoint

6. Hike to the West Coast Viewpoint

Another viewpoint to check off your Koh Tao bucket list is the West Coast Viewpoint. The entrance fee for this hike is a whopping 100 THB ($3), but it includes a drink of your choice (water, beer or soda). 

The views from this viewpoint were stunning – don’t get me wrong – but if you only have time for one hike I would recommend the Juan Suwan Viewpoint. Sadly, we didn’t have time to make it to the famous Love Koh Tao Viewpoint. 

what to do in koh tao

7. Watch the Queen’s Cabaret Show

We LOVE a good drag show in Thailand. If you agree, then the Queen’s Cabaret Show should definitely answer the question of what to do in Koh Tao. 

This fun cabaret club near Sairee Beach was the site of one of the best nights we spent in Koh Tao. The 150 TBH ($4.20) entrance fee includes a drink and a whole night of laughing, clapping and singing along!

8. Take a Yoga Class

Full disclosure…I’m not a yoga person. Never have been. BUT, when in Koh Tao, do as the tourists do 🤷🏽‍♀️

We took one night off of the heavy drinking and signed up for a 10AM yoga class at Living Juices & Yoga. The 1-hour class cost 200 THB ($5.60) and you can browse their class schedule here

9. Kayak or Take a Longtail Boat to Koh Nang Yuan

My favorite activity we enjoyed in Koh Tao was the day we rented paddle boards and paddled out to Nang Yuan Island. Many of the bars and restaurants along Sairee Beach offer these rentals and, if you’re a strong paddle boarder or kayaker, I would definitely recommend taking this route over the longtail boat. The views are unbelievable and it’s such a relaxing way to spend a day on Koh Tao.

If you’re dead-set on taking the longtail boat, you can hire one right outside of Lotus Bar on Sairee Beach. They should charge you around 300 THB ($8.50) round-trip. Don’t get overcharged!

Once you arrive on the island, you can relax on the white sand beaches or hike up to the famous Nang Yuan Viewpoint. My friends chose the former, I chose the latter and scored this awesome picture (below). The hike itself was only around 15 minutes and the views are spectacular. When deciding what to do on Koh Tao, Koh Nang Yuan deserves a spot at the top of the list.

🏝️ Things to Know Before You Visit:

  • There is 250 THB (7 USD) entry fee to visit Koh Nang Yuan.
  • Unless you are staying at the Nangyuan Island Dive Resort – you must leave the island before 5:00PM.
  • Plastic water bottles are banned on the island, so be sure to bring a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated in the Thailand sun ☀️

6 Restaurants to Try in Koh Tao

Next on the list of what to do in Koh Tao comes where to EAT in Koh Tao. Keep reading for my favorite restaurants we tried on this little Thai island. 

1. Mama Tam (Mama’s)

After a helpful recommendation from our hostel, Mama Tam’s was the first restaurant we tried in Koh Tao. Mama definitely did not disappoint when it came to delicious Thai food. We were starving when we got off the ferry, so we absolutely demolished our plates of Pad Thai, green curry and Tom Kha Gai soup.

what to do in koh tao

2. Barracuda Rooftop Bar

Although they are unfortunately missing an image, because your author prefers not to bring her camera out when she’s tipsy, Barracuda Rooftop Bar is one of the nicest restaurants in Koh Tao for a reason. 

I wont lie, this place is expensive by Thai standards. However, I definitely had my best meal in Koh Tao at this charming, rooftop bistro. My advice? Eat a ton of street food, save up your baht, and make a reservation at Barracuda to celebrate your last night on the island! 

3. Coconut Monkey

When discussing what to do in Koh Tao, a lunch at Coconut Monkey always makes the list. This quirky beach bar & restaurant is a well-loved hangout for scuba divers in the area. After our day of diving, we feasted on iced coffees and tasty wraps! …and enjoyed petting the owner’s adorable dog – all with some gorgeous ocean views. 

what to do in koh tao

4. Portobello Bistro

Trust me – I LOVE Thai food. But after living in Thailand for two months…sometimes you need to switch up the cuisine. On our second night in Koh Tao, we had a hankering for some Italian food and ended up at Portobello Bistro. 

This quaint little Italian spot is the perfect place for a few cocktails (Aperol Spritz anyone?) and some hearty Italian. Although you’ll definitely find international food much more expensive than the local restaurants, it’s worth it to mix it up once in a while. 

5. Cafe Culture

We stumbled upon Cafe Culture after a fantasic day paddle boarding to Koh Nang Yuan. We were in search of a sandwich and a sunset…and Cafe Culture checked both boxes.

We settled into a table on the beach and people watched as we enjoyed our food. Pro tip: go for the Caprese baguette, that bread was life changing! 

where to eat koh tao

6. Sairee Cottage Restaurant

When it comes to views in Koh Tao, Sairee Cottage Restaurant has definitely got it covered. Located right on the beach, this spacious Thai restaurant serves delicious local dishes for a great price. We decided on some classics: spicy Pad Thai with chicken and Tom Yum Soup. Everything was delicious and it was a great spot to relax for a couple hours!

Next Stop…Khao Sok National Park!

Now that you’ve learned what to do in Koh Tao, it’s time for your next Thai adventure – Khao Sok National Park!

After four amazing days in Koh Tao, we spontaneously decided to skip our Koh Samui plans and instead embark on a 2 day/1 night adventure in Khao Sok National Park! We hopped on the night ferry from Koh Tao to Surat Thani, waited at a sketchy train station for three hours, then bused our way to Khlong Sok. 

We booked our Khao Sok tour through Coco Hostel – a quaint hostel in the heart of Khlong Sok. They also offer luggage storage, since jungle trekking and canyoning are not luggage-friendly activities. We spent the next two days zipping around on a longtail boat, kayaking, feasting on delicious Thai food, playing cards and laughing with our group and emptying out the beer cooler. We also went on a canyoning expedition, which was not for the faint of heart. Pitch black cave + a ceiling covered in bats + amphibious spiders = a little spooky.

If you have the time, I would highly suggest making Khao Sok a priority in your Thailand itinerary. Even though it was the site of my nasty foot injury, it was one of our favorite weekends in Thailand and we met some awesome travelers along the way!

If you enjoyed this post about what to do in Koh Tao, make sure to check out my related posts below! And be sure to follow along for the adventure on Instagram @madisonsfootsteps.

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