When it comes to exploring the Thai islands, you’ll find there are some seriously cool things to do in Koh Tao. We put together this ultimate guide to visiting Koh Tao, Thailand with everything you need to know to help you plan your trip.
Written by guest author: Louisa Smith
It would be a difficult task finding a tropical paradise more beautiful than the islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Although it’s the smallest island in the trio (next to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan), Koh Tao offers plenty of things to do.
The enchanting island of Koh Tao is a haven for diving enthusiasts, adventure seekers, beach lovers, and anyone in need of relaxation and rejuvenation.
Because of its small size, it’s possible to visit Koh Tao in just a few days, but those who have more time to their schedule could easily spend a week here and not feel the need to rush off to explore some other islands in Thailand.
Whether you’re eager to explore colorful coral reefs and look out for whale sharks and black tip reef sharks, or you’re a sun-worshiper seeking pristine beaches, Koh Tao has something for everyone.
If you’re not sure what to do in Koh Tao and need some inspiration for attractions to visit, then you’ve come to the right place!
In this guide, we’ll unveil a curated list of hidden gems and the most unmissable things to do in Koh Tao. Plus we’re including everything you need to know to plan the ultimate trip to Thailand’s diving paradise.
Koh Tao Travel Guide
For more tips and advice for planning your trip to Koh Tao, jump to the following sections (or just keep scrolling to see it all!).
- How many days do you need
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
- How to get around
- Tips for visiting
- Where to eat
- Where to stay
- What to pack
Top things to do in Koh Tao
If you’re looking for the very best things to do in Koh Tao, here are our top recommendations.
- Go snorkeling in Shark Bay
- Relax on the beach in Ao Tanot Bay
- Dive with whale sharks
- Chill out on Freedom Beach
- Catch the views from John Suwan Viewpoint
Keep reading for more detailed information on each of these things and more ideas of fun things to do in Koh Tao.
1. Go on a snorkeling or diving cruise
One of the biggest draws to Koh Tao is the exceptional diving and snorkeling sites. Koh Tao’s waters are a protected nature reserve, and as such, you will find they are teaming with marine life.
And not just small, colorful fish either. You can spot whale sharks, black tip reef sharks and hawksbill sea turtles.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced diver, or you just want to have a go at snorkeling, the best way to experience the mesmerizing underwater world that surrounds Koh Tao is on a boat tour.
If you want to get your PADI certification, or it’s your first time diving, then be sure to check out our guide on how to find the best dive schools in Koh Tao to learn more.
2. Visit Ao Tanot Bay
Ao Tanot Bay is a picturesque bay that’s more relaxed and peaceful than other parts of the island. It’s known for its crystal clear waters, white sand beach, and stunning scenery.
This idyllic beach is also teeming with vibrant marine life, making it a paradise for snorkeling enthusiasts.
As you venture further into the bay, you’ll discover rocky outcrops adorned with colorful corals, creating a mesmerizing underwater world to explore.
Ao Tanot Bay provides a tranquil escape from the backpacker vibes you find at Sairee Beach, allowing you to bask in the serenity of nature.
3. Check out John Suwan Viewpoint
If you’re looking for somewhere with insane views, head to the southern tip of Koh Tao to John Suwan Viewpoint.
The viewpoint is reachable by a short 15-20 minute hike through rugged terrain, before opening up to reveal stunning panoramic views of the Koh Tao coastline and azure waters.
Grab yourself some 7/11 beers and some travel mates, and experience one of the most beautiful scenes on the island.
4. Discover Koh Nang Yuan
Just off the northern shore of Koh Tao is a tiny island named Koh Nang Yuan, which is famous for its pristine beaches and scenic sand bar, which connects two small islands together by a pure white strip of sand.
To reach this little island, you should catch a boat from Sairee Beach, and then pay a small entrance fee to step on the island. The island is pretty remote and has only a few facilities, but that’s part of its charm.
If you’d rather not pay to visit the island, you can get some wonderful views of it by taking a scooter to the Top Point panoramic viewpoint, which is located on the north of Koh Tao and overlooks Koh Nang Yuan.
Be careful on the scooter though, as the roads are quite steep.
5. Relax on Sai Nuan Beach
If you want a quiet and somewhat secluded beach to enjoy in Koh Tao (that’s also free), then the hidden paradise of Sai Nuan Beach is the ideal place.
This unspoiled gem boasts not one, but two pristine beaches adorned with soft white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters. As you step foot onto this idyllic shoreline, you’ll find yourself surrounded by lush palm trees and a serene tropical ambiance.
Like most beaches on the island, Sai Nuan Beach is a haven for snorkeling enthusiasts, with an abundance of colorful marine life dancing beneath the waves.
This is a great beach to visit to escape the tourist crowds, even during peak season.
6. Snorkel Shark Bay
Shark Bay is possibly the most famous beach on Koh Tao, aptly named because of the population of black tip reef sharks that swim in its waters.
While there is an entrance fee of 100 baht to walk on the white sands of Shark Bay, there is a way to experience the bay for free. Drive up towards John Suwan Viewpoint, but make a left turn before you reach Taatoh Seaview Resort (you’ll see a row of scooters parked and you know you’ve found the right place).
From here, there is an alleyway behind a restaurant that takes you to a tiny beach that’s free to visit.
This used to be a hidden gem, but it’s now a popular spot, so make sure you get there early to find a good spot to lay your towel down.
7. Visit Aow June Juea Beach
By now you’ve probably discovered that the top things to do on Koh Tao are to visit the beaches, though some of the most famous and accessible ones have an entrance fee.
If you want to visit a free beach that’s also stunning and quiet, then head to Aow June Juea on the south side of the island.
This beach is simply gorgeous and has a laid-back charm. Unlike other bustling tourist spots on the island, this beach offers a serene escape from the crowds and where you can immerse yourself in the tranquility of pristine beaches and azure waters.
As well as having a stunning, pure white sand beach to enjoy, there is also a small restaurant with bean bags outside where you can find refreshments when needed, but other than that, there are no facilities.
Be warned though, the road leading to Aow June Juea is incredibly steep, though it’s doable on a scooter (just drive slowly).
8. Explore the Wat Koh Tao Temple
If you’re looking for some cultural things to do in Koh Tao, then check out the Wat Koh Tao Temple.
This modern Buddhist temple was built in 2018, so may not boast centuries of history, but its serene ambiance and picturesque surroundings is reason enough to visit. As you wander around this sacred place, you’ll discover excellent examples of Buddhist architecture, including ornate and intricate carvings on the walls and ceilings.
Remember to wear modest clothing whenever you enter a Buddhist temple. You should have your knees and shoulders covered and don’t wear anything offensive.
9. Relax at Mango Bay
Mango Bay is a quiet and remote beach on the northern side of the island. This secluded bay is well known for its crystal-clear waters that are teeming with colorful fish and marine life, so be sure to pack your snorkel mask and fins.
The water here is calm and the beach slopes gently, making it an ideal spot to relax for families with kids.
10. Hike to West Coast Viewpoint
If you love hiking, then you’ll enjoy trekking up to the West Coast Viewpoint. This viewpoint is located in the heart of the island and offers breathtaking scenes of the south and west coasts.
The hike is short but strenuous, taking you through dense jungle before opening up to panoramic views. Make sure you have sturdy shoes and plenty of water with you.
11. Sip cocktails in a beach bar on Sairee Beach
As the sun sets, there’s no better place to be than in a beach bar on Sairee Beach with a cocktail in hand.
Sairee Beach is the most lively of beaches on the island, and since it faces west, it’s the perfect place to be for sunset – and it’s also the place to be if you’re looking for nightlife.
Sit back and relax on the bean bag chairs or lounge chairs, dig your toes into the cool sand, and sip on fruity cocktails with the gorgeous scenes unfolding in front of you.
There is no better thing to do in Koh Tao at night than exploring the beach bars of Sairee Beach.
12. Relax on Freedom Beach
I mentioned earlier that there were two beaches worth paying for, and Freedom Beach is the second one.
This picturesque beach, nestled on the east side of Chalok Baan Kao Bay, is a small beach with fine white sand and warm, turquoise waters. The water here is shallow and gentle since it’s protected by the bay, making it one of the best locations on the island to go snorkeling.
What sets this beach apart is the lush trees that grow out of the water’s edge, offering plenty of shade to sunbathers (which if you’re visiting in summer months is a blessing).
The entrance fee is just 100 baht.
13. Have lunch with views at HoriZon Morn restaurant
When it comes to finding places to eat on Koh Tao, you will find the traditional Thai cuisine at HoriZon Morn restaurant is as delectable as its view.
This small and authentic local restaurant sits on the hilltops overlooking Tanot Bay, which can be enjoyed from its terrace.
Whether you want a hearty Thai curry or a quick and easy Pad Thai, there is no shortage of Thai cuisine to enjoy here.
The breathtaking panoramic views of the ocean create a surreal backdrop, making it a really memorable dining experience.
14. Get a Thai Massage
Looking for things to do in Koh Tao when it rains? Get a Thai massage!
If you’ve never had a Thai massage before, fair warning, it’s not the relaxing massage that many people think it is. Thai massages are a combination of sports massage and yoga, designed to improve circulation and release muscle tension.
You will find several massage parlors along Sairee Beach and Mae Haad Beach, each offering a similar price and service.
PRO TIP: Download the app GoWabi, which is the local beauty app. It offers discounts on beauty services such as massages and more. You can also get cheap deals on haircuts, gel nails, waxing, you name it!
15. Go to a Muay Thai Gym
Many people come to Thailand to learn the martial art of Muay Thai, also known as Thai Boxing. This is Thailand’s national sport and has been practiced all over the country since the 13th century.
Muay Thai is a combat sport in which fighters use their shins, knees, elbows, and hands to knock their opponent to the ground. It can be seen as quite aggressive, but it’s an excellent calorie-burning exercise and also helps boost your mental toughness.
If you’re thinking about keeping in shape, head over to Island Muay Thai for a lesson or two. Fair warning, most Thai boxing gyms are outdoors with no A/C, though are usually shaded.
PRO TIP: Download the app Class Pass and sign up for their free trial, and you might be able to find some free Muay Thai classes or fitness classes on Koh Tao. The deals change regularly, so make sure you check out what’s on offer before signing up for the trial.
16. Take a Day Trip to Koh Phangan
Koh Phangan is a short ferry ride away from Koh Tao and would make the perfect day trip from
Koh Tao. It’s most famous for its full moon parties, but there is so much to do on Koh Phangan that shouldn’t be skipped.
Hire a scooter and drive to Than Sadet National Park, where you’ll find some of the best waterfalls in Koh Phangan to cool off in. After that, head over to Thong Nai Pai Beach, one of the most beautiful and pristine beaches on the island.
Don’t miss a sunset at Zen Beach, where the island’s backpacker community comes to play music, do acroyoga, and enjoy cold beers from the beach bar.
How many days do you need in Koh Tao?
Koh Tao is a small island and so many people don’t need to spend a lot of time here to experience the highlights. It’s recommended you spend at least three full days on Koh Tao, which will give you enough time to see the most beautiful beaches and do some snorkeling.
Diving enthusiasts may want to stay 5 days in Koh Tao as there are more dive sites further afield to explore from Koh Tao.
However, you could easily spend a week in Koh Tao and not get bored. It’s the kind of place
where you can kick back and relax and just enjoy the serenity of the place.
Best time to visit Koh Tao
The best time to visit Koh Tao depends on your reason for visiting.
If you’re interested in diving in Thailand, you’ll find whale sharks and bull sharks are in larger numbers in March – June, and sometimes in September and October. The black tip reef sharks are in Koh Tao all year round, but there are larger numbers in the morning when they are out feeding.
However, if you’re visiting for relaxation, then March and April are months to avoid, as this is when Thailand is at its hottest and is also when you see huge crowds on the islands. This is because it’s the burning season in the north, and the poor air quality brings people to the islands to escape the pollution.
From May until September, it’s the rainy season in Thailand. This means that you can find cheaper prices on tours and hotels since it’s considered the off-season, but you do have some pretty thunderous storms. That being said, there are usually some clear days between the rainy days.
The peak tourist season in Thailand is November until February, as this is when Thailand sees its best weather.
Arguably then, the best month to visit Koh Tao is October, as it’s just after the rainy season so you have fewer crowds, the whale sharks can be seen in the waters, and you also avoid jellyfish season which comes in December and January.
For an in-depth guide on the regional seasons, weather patterns and other factors, check out our complete guide to the best time to visit Thailand.
How to get to Koh Tao
Before you plan your trip to Koh Tao, it’s important to note how to get to the island.
Getting to Koh Tao is relatively easy. The quickest and easiest way to get there is to fly to Koh Samui first. To get from Koh Samui to Koh Tao, you must take a ferry, as there is no airport on Koh Tao.
Alternatively, if you’re traveling from Bangkok, you can get a bus to Donsak Pier near Surat Thani and get a ferry from there. This will take longer but it will be cheaper.
We recommend using 12GoAsia to search ferry and bus schedules and purchase tickets. Tickets can also be purchased at the airport in Samui or directly at the pier.
Transportation in Koh Tao
The best way to get around Koh Tao is to rent a scooter and drive yourself – this is certainly the most economical way. However, note that Koh Tao is mountainous and the roads are pretty steep in places, especially when visiting the off-the-beaten-path beaches.
If you are not confident driving a scooter, your second best option is to walk. Yes, you can walk Koh Tao.
The island is only 21 km² and most attractions are within less than an hour’s walk from each other. It’s certainly not the best way to get around if you want to do more in a day, but it is safer than renting a scooter when you’re not confident.
Alternatively, you can look for the 4WD trucks at Mae Haad Pier which can be used to transport you anywhere on the island. The only downside to these is finding one back! For that reason, we don’t recommend you plan this as your only method of transportation.
You can also find taxi boats at the beaches but they are very expensive. I was quoted 400 baht for one way, when a scooter rental was 150 baht for the whole day. You can guess what I chose to do.
Tips for visiting Koh Tao
If you’re planning a trip to Koh Tao for the first time, here are our top tips to make the most of your visit.
- Pack lightweight. Even in the rainy season, the weather in Koh Tao is warm and humid, so you’ll want to leave jeans and heavy clothing at home.
- Avoid March and April, if possible. This is when the burning season in Chiang Mai happens, which brings all the expats and locals down to the islands (there’s said to be around 30,000 expats in Chiang Mai, so that’s a lot of people).
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. The island has a hilly terrain and if you’re not fond of driving a scooter, you’re going to be doing a lot of walking.
- Don’t be afraid of street food. Street food is the way of life in Thailand and a huge part of the culture. Most people, locals and tourists, will eat street food daily. Just make sure the food is piping hot before you eat it.
- Be sure to barter prices. If you’re renting a scooter for a few days, it’s not uncommon to be able to negotiate a lower rate because you are renting for more than one day.
- Likewise when shopping in markets, it’s ok to bargain and negotiate a price (though don’t go mad with this, it may be $0.50 to you but that’s a meal to the locals).
- Take time out. One of the best things to do in Koh Tao is actually to do nothing. Take time out to just sit on a beach and do nothing. Soak in the tranquility and let the power of nature soak in. You’ll feel so good after.
Where to eat in Koh Tao
Most people will head to Sairee Beach to eat as it’s the liveliest part of the island, but you can find some great restaurants all over the island.
Below are some of the best restaurants in Koh Tao to check out on your visit:
- HoriZon Morn Restaurant: Where we mentioned above. Low-cost, unfussy Thai food with incredible views.
- Love Koh Tao: A cute restaurant with nice views, beanbag chairs and a “Love Koh Tao” sign. They serve delicious Thai food but it’s the smoothies that people visit for!
- Yang restaurant 楊家餐館: If you’re craving Western food such as mashed potato and schnitzel, then this is the place to go!
- Sandwich Lady: This aptly named place is a small, wooden shack with a woman selling sandwiches. It’s the perfect lunchtime treat. The chicken and cheese sandwich is an island favorite!
- The Factory Cafe: A great place to get a good cup of coffee and relax in a laptop-friendly space.
- Fishbowl Beach Bar: slightly more expensive than other places on the island but the happy hour between 7.00 p.m. and 9.00 p.m. make it worth it. The location right on the beach brings people from all over the island here in the evenings. It’s one of the top places to go at night for live music and beer pong.
Where to stay in Koh Tao
Koh Tao is so small that it really doesn’t matter where you stay on the island, especially if you’re hiring a scooter. However, most travelers base themselves either in Sairee Beach, near Mae Haad Pier, or Tanote Bay.
This is also where the nightlife happens, so if you would rather avoid this, stay near to Mae Haad Pier, which is still within walking distance of Sairee Beach and has plenty of budget-friendly accommodation options.
For families and couples looking for somewhere quieter and more luxurious, you’ll find luxury resorts in Tanote Bay. This is a more secluded part of the island and doesn’t have huge numbers of restaurants, but the resorts usually have a good in-house restaurant.
What to pack for Koh Tao
When packing for Koh Tao, you’ll want to pack all your beach essentials, as you’ll be spending most of your days out on the water.
Try to pack as light as you can, as it’s better to use a backpack when traveling in Thailand – this is because the rickety piers for the ferries and the narrow streets on the islands are not fun to drag suitcases over!
Here are some specific items we’d recommend packing:
- bug repellant
- reef-safe sunscreen
- loose, lightweight clothing (leave jeans at home!)
- insulated water bottle
- rain jacket (it can rain during any season, so you’ll want to be prepared!)
- microfiber quick-dry towel
- Chaco sandals (our ideal sandals for island life, as they are comfortable for walking in,
- even through water)
Be sure to download our complete packing list for SE Asia! It’s packed with good suggestions and insider tips to help plan your Italy trip. And it’s completely FREE, so why not!?
About the guest author
Louisa Smith is a travel writer for Travel Thailand Together, a site dedicated to sharing the best resources, tips and guides on traveling to Thailand. Louisa has traveled all over the world, but returns to Thailand every six months to explore new, off-the-beaten-path destinations and experience more of this wonderful country.
Are you planning a trip to Thailand?
We have TONS of resources on travel in Thailand and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Ultimate Thailand Travel Guide for all the answers to your most burning questions, or read some of our favorite articles below.
- How to choose the perfect dive school in Koh Tao
- Best Time to Visit Thailand: When to Go & When to Avoid
- Scuba Diving in Thailand: The Best Liveaboards for Every Budget
- How to Travel Sustainably in Thailand and Why You Should Care
Save this article to Pinterest for later!
We want to hear from you!
Have your ever traveled to Koh Tao, Thailand? What was your experience like? Which of these things to do in Koh Tao is going straight to the top of your bucket list? Let us know in the comments below!