Koh Tao – Thailand’s Island Gem and Scuba Diving Destination
Welcome to our four day tour of Koh Tao, Thailand. We hope you enjoy traveling with us and are inspired to take your own trip. This trip was part of our seven month journey around the world which began in Flores, Guatemala. See a summary of the destinations we traveled to over our seven months here: link.
Why Travel to Koh Tao, Thailand ?
Koh Tao is a tropical island known for its abundant sea-life, white sand beaches, and endless beauty. We arrived in Koh Tao by ferry from Krabi. This tiny island jewel has become increasingly popular for many to get their certification in diving. We had a one-day training, but would’ve loved to stick around longer on the island to complete the certification.
How Long to Stay in Koh Tao, Thailand ?
If you are coming to get certification in diving, you will need at least 3 – 4 days for that alone. If you are not, we would highly recommend spending one day doing an introductory Discover Scuba Dive, another day to take a day trip to Koh Nang Yuan, and finally a full day to explore the entire island by scooter and fit in different hikes and viewpoints.
Top Things to Do in Koh Tao, Thailand
1) Dive the Incredible Reefs of Koh Tao
Koh Tao’s beautiful coral reeds and colorful marine wildlife make it a great destination for scuba diving. We had never scuba dived before so we were eager to try it out for the first time by taking a PADI Discover Scuba Course with Crystal Dive. At the time of our travel our scuba experience costed $3,000 THB (about $96 USD translated at date of article) per person which included transportation, equipment, training in the pool, and two dives at approximately 45-60 minutes each with a private instructor/guide.
We started out in a small pool for a quick training about how to use the equipment and test our skill before we went out into the open ocean.
Kurt was nervous but we were both excited to try it out for the first time. Minutes before we got to the first dive location, the sky turned gray and it started raining, adding to the nerves. Kurt kept saying to himself, that it’ll be fine “I’m sure we will start in shallow waters and work our way deeper.” Not so much! Immediately, after jumping off the boat we grabbed hold of a dive rope and lowered ourself to the bottom of the ocean floor approximately 10 – 12 meters (around 32 to 40 feet) below. We were surprised by how deep we actually went.
Once we got to the bottom we were able to swim around with our guide and view several coral species including brain & pore corals, sea whips, and gorgonian fans and many tropical fish species such as butterfly and angelfish, pink anemone fish, moray eels, and wrasses. The highlights were definitely getting up close to a large turtle and spotting a spotted stingray hiding underneath a coral cave.
After our dives, Marlena took a nice nap on the hammock on board. When we got back to the dive shop we also enjoyed marking off all of the sealife we saw in our PADI book that was provided as part of the Discovery Course.
This truly was an unforgettable experience and a must-do while in Koh Tao. We’ll see how long it takes to get Kurt back in the ocean as he explained the experience as “Beautiful and amazing”, but also said it was “45 minutes of controlled panic” haha.
2) Snorkeling Day Trip out to Koh Nang Yuan
Besides diving in Koh Tao, taking a day tip to snorkel and explore Koh Nang Yuan is an absolute must. Koh Nang Yuan is formed by three small islands connected by a white patch of sand. We took a pre-arranged day tour snorkeling day trip to get here which costed $20USD/person at the time of our travel.
There was also an entrance fee of 100 THB ($3 USD) to get on the island. Other than taking a prearranged tour to get here you can also charter a longtail boat that will drop you off and pick you up when you are done, which is the cheapest option. Koh Nang Yuan is a 10-15 minute journey from the west side of Koh Tao.
Upon arrival, you can snorkel right off the beach where fish and sea-life is plentiful.
In addition to snorkeling, make sure you walk up to Koh Nang Yuan Viewpoint. This is a MUST. It is a quick 10-15 minute hike up, but be aware, the mosquitos can be BAD at the Viewpoint.
3) Visit John-Suwan Viewpoint
At less than a 10 minute drive from our hotel, Ananda Villa, near Mae Haad Pier, we chose to rent a scooter and drive to the southern tip of the island to visit the John-Suwan viewpoint. We arrived at the car park, which is also the car park of Freedom Beach and Taa Toh Bay, and then had a quick 10-15 minute hike over boulders and through the jungle to the top of the viewpoint. This quick and slightly strenuous hike is no doubt worth the trip.
Below is a map of the distance from Mae Head Beach to the famous John-Suwan Viewpoint. If you prefer to walk, it does take 41 minutes one-way. We would recommend driving, and then walking around the coast.
THE DRIVE TO JOHN-SUWAN VIEWPOINT IS SHORT
4) Rent a Scooter and Hike Scenic Koh Tao
We highly recommend renting a scooter and exploring the island. We rented our scooter for the day for about $8USD. The island is full of many hiking trails and paths only accessible by bike (not car). Overall, it’s just fun to explore this island on a scooter. For reference, you can drive from the north of the island to the south of the island in less than 20 minutes.
5) Hike the Southern Coast
The same day we did the John-Suwan Viewpoint hike we also decided to do some hiking of the Southern Coast where we enjoyed walking along the ocean, passing seemingly untouched bays, turquoise waters, oceanfront villas, and restaurants where you can stop off for some food and a refreshing beverage.
From this map, you can see the driving points, and at which point you must walk as you cannot drive.
Driving and Walking Map of southern coast Hike
6) GET A MASSAGE
Honestly, this is a top thing to do anywhere in Thailand. They are so good and so inexpensive. We got an hour massage for $11 USD/person.
7) Sairee Beach
Head to Sairee for Koh Tao’s longest, most popular, and of course, busiest beach. We didn’t spend much time here, but enjoyed the drive through seeing all the bars, restaurants, cafes, shops and more. There is even Watergate Spa where you can enjoy a massage while watching the sunset. We drove through here on the way to Vegeta, a vegan and vegetarian cafe with many delectable healthy options.
Where to Stay in Koh Tao, Thailand
We stayed Ananda Villa on southwest side of the island right near Mae Haad Beach and Pier. The location was key as the dive shop and the pier (to get to and from the island) were just a short walk away.
This small beachside resort with bungalow style suites and superb sea views is an enjoyable stay no doubt. They offer rooms that suit all budgets, from their “superior rooms” to their garden bungalows, there is not a bad seat in the house.
Where to Eat in Koh Tao, Thailand
This family owned authentic Thail restaurant is situated right across the hotel lobby of Ananda Villa. They offer a wide variety of food in addition to Thai, including western-style breakfast and entrees and even have several vegan-friendly and gluten-free options. We highly recommend you try their flavorful Thai Curry; absolutely heavenly. We enjoyed it so much that we frequented this restaurant every day of our trip. The service is also impeccable, with friendly staff that remembered us everyday we stoped in. You have the option to eat your food at a seated table or sit on a cushion on the floor (cross-legged) and eat at a floor table.
Breeze Koh Tao
This is another on-site restaurant at Ananda Villa, they offer international cuisines with incredible sunset views right off the beach.
A vegan and vegetarian cafe with many delectable healthy options including several gluten-free options.. An ideal meal for an island stay. Options include anything from burritos, quesadillas, and sandwiches to a mouth-watering dessert menu. You will not leave hungry.
Other Recommendations of Things to Do
These are all adventures that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do on our own but would have considered if we had more time:
- Get our PADI Certification – We would’ve loved to get certified in diving, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough days in Koh Tao. You would need 3-4 days to get certified, but we planned for other adventures on or around the island. This was also our first time.
- Tanote Bay (9 minute drive) – On the east coast lies this beautiful beach, a perfect place to snorkel, kayak, or relax and get away from all the business of the main towns of the west coast. If you rent a kayak, you can head over to the pristine isolated bay of Laem Thian, which is inaccessible by car.
Questions For You
- Would you get your diving certification in Koh Tao?
- Where was the best place you have snorkeled or dived?
- Have you heard of this tropical gem (Koh Tao) in Thailand before?