Guide to Koh Tao
How to get there
In any case you don’t need to book transport to get to Koh Tao until the day before, if that (I always do it on the day).
From Bangkok you have a few options. You can take a combined bus and ferry taking you straight there for about $30. Otherwise you can fly to Surat Thani (where the bus goes) for about $40 and then get a shorter 2 hrs bus ride and ferry.
From Koh Samui or Koh Phangan you can take a short 1hr- 2hrs ferry. There are two ferry companies: the Lomprayah, which is more expensive, but shorter travel time. Alternatively there is a cheaper boat company with tickets for under $10.
Often when you book the ticket they will automatically sell you one to the Lomprayah, but always ask if there is a cheaper company (because there is). You can be sardined with 100 other sweaty backpackers, but its great if you’re saving money (not so much if you’re hungover). I have strong memories of the applause that broke out on the front deck as soon as we could see the shore!
From Phuket Province, you can take a combined bus and ferry ticket for around $12 and it will take around 8hrs. Alternatively you can fly to Koh Samui and take a 1hr ferry from there.
Stay in Sairee beach! This is the backpacker area and consists of a long strip of beach filled with bars, dive schools, hotels and cafes.
Most people who come here are doing their diving certification, so their accommodation is where the dive school has an affiliation with. However if you aren’t doing this, anywhere on the main pedestrian road or beach along the Sairee strip will be a great location.
There aren’t street names as it is a pedestrian road that runs parallel to the beach, however some typical landmarks are Choppers bar, Lotus Bar and Big Blue diving. For hostels I would recommend Koh Tao Backpackers Hostel, but a lot of the hotels are cheap so it depends if you want to ‘splurge’.
Things to see and do
1. Get your dive certification
This is the cheapest place in the world to become a certified Open Water diver. Every second place on the island is a Dive School and are full of gorgeous dive instructors from Cairns. It is a three day course that you can do in small groups of 2-10 people. You spend the mornings learning about your breathing techniques (often we were asleep and hungover for this), and the afternoons diving in some of the most magical places I’ve ever seen.
You make great friends with your group and instructor, and on the last day they film you, so you end up with a great DVD feature film of your underwater adventures. I would recommend Roctopus and Big Blue dive schools, they’re usually around $300 for the 3 day course and 3 nights accommodation.
2. Hire a kayak for the day and visit the Three Islands
You can hire a kayak at a few hotels on the beach for $10 or so for the day. Bring a waterproof camera and a bottle of water and make your way to the Three Islands (you can see it from Sairee beach shore). This is absolutely stunning stretch of sand surrounded by three islands. You can spend the afternoon relaxing here and enjoying the crystal clear water.
3. Visit the beaches around the island
You can either rent a scooter yourself, or if you’re too scared to do that (like me) meet someone who has one and go with them to venture around the island. These are where all the abandoned beaches are and they are to die for.
4. Do the Koh Tao pub crawl!
This is well known on the island- see below in Night life!
Koh Tao has an insane night life that stays strong until daylight every morning!
If you’re there on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday you should definitely do the Koh Tao pub crawl! Meet at Choppers Bar at 8pm to get your ticket and you visit 4 of the most popular bars on the island.
The last two times I’ve been there I got there at 8:15pm and it was sold out so get in quick! It’s super popular and rowdy. If you miss out, you can just stalk them from bar to bar (this is what we did), after all, it’s a walking pub crawl so they don’t know the difference.
If not, you have many other options. Choppers Bar is a popular Aussie sports bar filled with English lads watching soccer (‘football’ if you must) so there’s great talent, however they won’t have a bar of you. because they’re preoccupied. But it does serve the best parma on the island (and probably the only one).
Best of all are the beach bars. Head down to the beach and you will quickly find where all the people are going. Lotus is the most popular after 11pm and features insane fire shows every night, drawing in all the backpackers on the island. Alternatively, walk down the main pedestrian strip and find where everyone is going (it is that easy to meet people). It isn’t that long and you can quickly find out where is good to go that night.
There are always advertisements for ‘Full Moon Partys’ floating around- don’t be fooled they have one every night and it is often empty!
How long to spend in Koh Tao
If you’re doing your diving certification, this usually takes four days and you need at least a few more days to see the island, so I would allow a week minimum. Otherwise you can enjoy a nice full four days here at the minimum.