48 HOURS IN KOH TAO
Updated: Apr 18, 2022
Is Koh Tao worth visiting? This popped up in my mind before making a trip there.
Living on a beautiful island of Koh Phangan, you can see enough beautiful beaches, viewpoints and enjoy amazingly good food. So what can be so special about this smaller neighbour island?
And the answer is YES – Koh Tao is totally worth visiting when you are into stunning white sand beaches and marine life activities. The island is surrounded by large rock formations covered with incredible coral reefs and an abundance of marine life. Crystal clear, calm and shallow water makes it perfect for snorkelling. The coral reef starts just from the beach, so you don’t need to rent a boat or go on a tour for this activity.
Koh Tao is also known as one of the world’s top diving spots. In fact, it’s second only to Cairns in Australia. It’s simple to see why this place is so highly regarded in terms of divings as the courses are among the most affordable in the world, teaching standards are high and the conditions are great. There are about 70 diving schools on this little island, so a bit of research goes a long way when it comes to finding a suitable one for your time and travel budget.
It’s popular to do snorkelling day tours from Samui or Koh Phangan islands to Koh Tao, but we decided to get to know this island more and stayed there for 2 days.
Koh Tao is a small island and it’s possible to explore most of it in 3-4 days. Since we only stayed on the island for two days, I did research and picked the activities and viewpoints that we would like to enjoy the most and will write about them more specifically in this blog post.
In this Guide
Facts about Koh Tao
Koh Tao means ‘Turtle Island’ in English
Total area is 21km²
Island has 11 bays and 10 capes
The island is fairly remote, lying 47 km north of its closest island Koh Phangan
Prior to 1943 Koh Tao was uninhabited and the first travellers came to dive and explore the island in 1977
The registered population is 2240, recorded in 2016, but the amount of people that actually live there is around 8000.
Koh Tao can be visited all year round. There is always somewhere calm should the weather be windy on one of the coasts.
Monsoon usually arrives between the end of November and lasts a few weeks. Heavy rain, strong winds and waves are normal at this time.
Check the weather forecast: www.yr.no/koh-tao
How to get to Koh Tao
The only way to get to Koh Tao is by boat. There is no airport, bus or train station on the island.
Koh Samui & Koh Phangan Route
Chumphon & Surat Thani Route
Both are from the mainland. Chumphon is the closest part of the mainland to Koh Tao, so travel time by boat is quickest and shortest compared with Surat Thani. Boat services between the mainland and Koh Tao are Lomprayah speedboat and Marine Passion. There are also night boats (aka ‘sleeping boats’) that offer bed-like comfort mattresses. Boat operator is Axara Travel and journey time on these boats is 6-9 hours.
Check boat timetables from here: https://12go.asia/en
Getting around Koh Tao
It is easy to get around Koh Tao. Island is small and roads are mostly concrete, we saw only one dirt road on our trip, which was in the middle of the jungle.
Hiring a scooter is one of the easiest and most efficient ways of getting around Koh Tao and prices start at just 200THB per day.
Keep in mind that Koh Tao is a very mountainous island, only 30% of land is flat. With steep hills and sharp curves it is not a good place to learn to drive.
Walking around Koh Tao is a great way to see the island. Distances between towns, beaches and bays are not far. At its widest part, Koh Tao measures 3.4 km and is 7.6 km long.
Although the roads do not have a sidewalk so you need to take care as the space is shared by vehicles, humans and crossing dogs.
Koh Tao’s roads are easy to get along by pedal power, and some of the twisting routes that lead over to locations on the east coast provide amazing scenery and lots of places to make a quick stop for photo opportunities. Some resorts and a few shops around the island rent them out. I recommend Oli’s Motorbike Rental.
Taxis on Koh Tao are pickup trucks with the word ‘Taxi’. Taxis charge on a per person basis so they will often rather wait until they have a few more people before they go. Taxis can be found easily at the three main bays of Mae Haad; at the pier, Sairee; at the junction and at Chalok Baan Kao; at the 7-Eleven there.
Almost all resorts offer transfers between the pier and resort if you have a reservation.
Taxi boats are ‘longtail’ boats that can easily be found along the beaches, at the pier and at some of the larger resorts. All taxi boats also offer trips around the island.
Things to do in Koh Tao
John Suwan Viewpoint
Most visited viewpoint on the island, the views are stunning and the hike doesn’t take more than 20 minutes. It is located on the southern tip of the island and you can access the hike from the same car park as Freedom Beach Resort. It's a little bit challenging to get to the top of the hill, so proper shoes are required.
We went there before sunset, there were only a few people on the trek and the heat was bearable. The views were truly picturesque, one of the most beautiful viewpoints I have ever seen.
Snorkel at Shark Bay
Also known as Thian Og Bay, is a private beach of fine white sand and a quiet place to come and relax. You can access Shark Bay on your own through the Haad Tian Resort or by boat.
We decided to go snorkelling at Shark Bay, like the name suggests, to spot blacktip reef sharks and green turtles there. I saw many fishes like parrot fish, barracuda, starfishes and many more, but no sharks. I read later that to see the sharks, you need to go out about 250 metres from the beach, where it drops down deeper to 3-4 metres. I didn’t swim so far, but maybe next time.
Koh Nang Yuan Islands
When you type to google search ‘Koh Tao’, this is the first picture you see. Actually Koh Nang Yuan are 3 little islands connected by sandbar 15 minutes from Koh Tao by boat.
There is a daily boat service from Koh Tao to Koh Nang Yuan which departs from the Lomprayah pier. Also many boat operators make daily tours there. We decided to manage our own time and took a taxi longtail boat from Sairee beach. You can see taxi signs on the beach and it costs 300BHT per person for a return ride.
As soon as we arrived on Koh Nang Yuan, the first thing we did was hike to the top of the incredibly famous viewpoint. The hike uphill is from the stairs, so it’s manageable with flip-flops and takes about 15 minutes. We went there in the middle of the day, which is not the best time, so it was a little bit crowded on top of the viewpoint, and a real battle with heat and humidity.
After a sweaty hike, it was so good to have a cold fresh coconut from the bar and head to the turquoise blue water. The island has some good snorkelling sites, especially at 'Japanese Gardens'. Swim around 50 metres from the beach and you can already see corals and fishes.
It took 2 hours for us to hike, relax and snorkel at Koh Nang Yuan islands. If you are already in Koh Tao, I recommend making a trip to these islands also, it is not far and totally worth it.
Koh Yuan Island is open 10am-5pm for people that are not staying overnight at the island resort.
The island doesn’t promote plastic so upon entrance you will have to leave your plastic bottles at the gate.
Paddle Boarding at Sairee Beach
Sairee beach is the longest beach on Koh Tao, stretches 2 km long and located on the west side of the island, which makes it the perfect place to catch the sunset. It is the main hub of the island and the majority of tourists spend time there.
Capture the more memorable sunset by renting a paddleboard or kayak from the beach, and watch sundown from the sea.
Snorkel and Cliff jump at Tanote Bay
Located on the east coast of the island, Tanote Bayis surrounded by verdant high hills and large boulders, including one in the middle of the bay which is good for rock jumping. There is good snorkelling with lots of coral and plenty of fish to see.
The viewpoint is easy to access, you can drive all the way up with a scooter. There are few other viewpoints in this area, but I recommend going to the furthest one – Mango Viewpoint.
You can find a small bar at the top, with comfortable cushions, where you can relax and enjoy fruit shake.
Where to eat
The Factory Café
Wholefoods café, restaurant, and bakery serving all-day brunch, lunch bowls, wraps, as well superfood smoothies. Everything on the menu is 100% vegetarian and vegan.
Barracuda rooftop bar
Barracuda is a laid back and stylish dining restaurant. Specialising in a large selection of seafood and Thai style fusion dishes. This was our favourite restaurant while staying on the island. Everything tasted super delicious and a wide selection of cocktails.
Beachfront restaurant that offers a modern international menu. Located right on the beach in Mae Haad Bay on the west of the island, Breeze is perfect for beachside dining and provides a romantic setting with great sunset views.
Cantina De Koh Tao
Cantina de Koh Tao serves authentic Mexican food. Dishes were tasty, well spiced and enormously big portions. I really liked their homemade sauces and guacamole.
Milk & Honey
We ended up at this restaurant randomly, because the restaurant we planned to go to was closed. And what a surprise – had an amazing food experience. This hidden gem offers Israeli cuisine, with additional influences from the Mediterranean and Northern Africa.
Koh Tao gave me really positive vibes – definitely heading back there in future. Island is small in size but not in character. There is everything needed for a great holiday – tasty food, beautiful beaches, tropical jungles with amazing views, crystal clear water for snorkelling and diving. For all that at a price to suit any budget, Koh Tao is easily worth a visit.