Located in the Gulf of Thailand in the Koh Pha Ngan district in Surat Thani province lives a small but popular island of Koh Tao. This island has grown in popularity as the cheapest place to get your divers certification, but there are more things to do in Koh Tao besides diving which I will be discussing in this post.
Some say Ko Tao and/or Turtle Island. All are correct, but for the sake of this article, I will refer to it as Koh Tao. I got to spend 4 days in on this lush island, relaxing and exploring while my boyfriend got his PADI divers certification via Simple Life.
Yes, Koh Tao is a divers island – attracting budget-conscious students who want to become PADI certified. The dive sites are not the best in the world, so I’ve been told, but the classes are affordable. If you’re like me and terrified of what lurks in the deep end of the ocean, you will be on the hunt for things to do besides diving. I can say with absolute certainty that Koh Tao is an island not to miss. It took me by surprise.
You can come and spend days relaxing on the beach and leave perfectly happy, or you can experience all the wonderful food, hikes, and shopping options things this island has to offer.
Psst. . . Looking for more tips for your trip to Thailand? Check out my other posts.
How to get from Bangkok to Koh Tao
We booked our transportation on Lomprayah.com. They are a high-speed catamaran service to the island, but partner with coach buses to transport mainland travelers to the Lomprayah docks. We took an overnight bus from Bangkok (meet on Khao San Rd) to Thung Makham Noi Pier in Chumpon. I recommend doing the same to save on hotel costs. The coach bus seats recline nicely for sleeping. My advice would be to get on the bus asap if not first, go upstairs and take the first row. You will get extra storage and legroom. From the pier, the catamaran ride is 2 hours to Koh Tao. The total cost per person one-way was around $40.
The great thing about Lomprayah is they operate services to islands around Thailand if you plan to hop around.
Where to Stay in Koh Tao
There is a wide array of accommodation options in Koh Tao from high on the mountains to beachfront bungalows. We opted to stay in the heart of everything at the Simple Life Resort. It was conveniently located in the city center near shops, nightlife, and steps away from the popular Sairee Beach – the main focal point of Koh Tao. Simple Life Resort will put you in the center of this beach.
We booked their Deluxe A/C Room – a spacious room that features air-conditioning (a must), Satellite TV, fridge and minibar that comes stocked with beer, water, and Snickers (which I ate), a huge balcony with outdoor seating overlooking the pool area and en-suite western bathroom. Lastly, every room has free WIFI. You can catch a glimpse of this room on my “Day in the Life” Instagram story.
Additional amenities and perks include an on-site swimming pool, a popular restaurant with pizza deals, a traditional Thai spa, free pickup from the pier, and a daily breakfast buffet.
The total cost of our room was on the higher end at 12,000 Baht for four nights ($100/day), however, the room provided the comfort and space needed to get some work done. Plus, the views from our balcony were so lush and serene. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I had easy access to all the popular spots on the island which is what I wanted considering I spent the majority of my time exploring solo.
Runner up to Simple Life Resort was Simple Life Cliff View Resort. This hotel newer and more secluded. If you’re looking for a quiet place then consider staying here.
Cliff View Resort is located at the southern tip of Koh Tao’s Sairee Beach and offers luxury studios, 1 and 2 bedroom suites. There is a fabulous restaurant on the property offering scenic views and international cuisine.
Taco Shack Hostel & Restaurant is a colorful hostel with an amazing garden, game room, and tacos! Stay here if you’re ballin’ on a budget and/or if you prefer jungle to beachfront.
Top 10 Things to do in Koh Tao Besides Diving
While I’m still working to overcome my fear of the ocean, I made the best of dry land and explored as much of the island as possible. Over the course of 4-days, here are my top 10 things to do in Koh Tao besides diving.
1. Start your day at an adorable coffee shop
There are dozens of coffee shops in town. I made it a point to venture into a new shop every day (sometimes twice) to find the cutest one with the best coffee and snacks. I found myself enjoying the Local Cafe the most. Mostly because their coffee was affordable for the size and they had honey.
If you get hungry they also make delicious waffles with sliced bananas – so yummy! I spent a good chunk of my afternoon chilling here – people watching and typing away on my laptop.
2. Enjoy ariel views of the island
Viewpoints are everywhere if you’re willing to hike. Mango Viewpoint is located on private property. You can either pay 30 baht ($1) to enter or buy something from the owner’s shop. We bought a Coke to share at the top. No this is not sponsored by Coke but it should be haha.
While the views from here were amazing, my memory from this place will always be the time I got Wendy the drone stuck in a tree and a French family helped me get her down. It took a team and one tree climber to save the day and all the photos you see in this post. I will forever be grateful for that family.
3. Soak up some vitamin sea
This is an island after all and if you’re not using your time to relax and enjoy the sound of the waves while getting a golden tan, you are doing it wrong. That said, I suggest spending some of your time on the beach. If you don’t want to lay on the sand, claim one of many swings. You will find swing sets up and down the beach for the taking.
4. Go for a run on the beach
There is no better way to take in the scenes and get some exercise than a run on the beach. During low tide, you will have tons of room to run around – joining in with the dogs. So many dogs around. Makes me sad I couldn’t give my dogs a beach life.
5. Get a fresh manicure with afternoon tea
220 baht including tip got me one hour manicure and tea with a friendly Thai woman. It was so nice to talk to the locals about everything – life, family, and food. She was so sweet and provided even more insight into the way Thai people live. Chit-chat aside, she gave me a great manicure. If you’re in Phuket, be sure to stop by the nail salon outside of Simple Life Resort. They offer full spa services as well, and hotel guests get a discount.
6. Explore on Your Own Scooter
Can you even say you’ve traveled Thailand is you never got on a scooter and rode around? Taxis in Koh Tao are often more expensive for a one-way trip than it is to rent a scooter for the whole day. If you can handle driving it then I recommend exploring the island via scooter. We had a crazy climb to the top of a mountain and the little scooter that could, got us up and down safely.
I know I’m talking about my hotel a lot but they really are located in a great spot with a super helpful staff including a reputable source for scooter rentals. One that doesn’t require us giving them our passports, unlike all the other scooter rental places we came across.
7. Do some “boutique” shopping
One of my favorite things to do was window shop all the boutique stores around the city center. Just remember to wear slip-on shoes, because many stores require you to remove your shoes upon entering. Annoying I know but what can you do.
8. Explore the Diverse Culinary Scene
Koh Tao surprised me with their dynamic culinary scene. For a small island, I was shocked by their dynamic culinary scene. From Mexican food to the best risotto I’ve ever had.
Head to Blue Water for the best butternut squash risotto I’ve ever had. It was so good I had it two nights in a row. Blue Water not only offers a delicious menu but beachfront views. You can dine with your toes in the sand and enjoy live music nightly.
Taco Shack is a Mexican restaurant located inside the hostel I mentioned above. It wasn’t that bad considering how far they are from Mexico. In fact, I was surprised to find anything other than Thai food on this island let alone tacos. Needless to say, I was impressed.
Bai Burger Concept is an American style burger bar with delicious burgers and boozy milkshakes.
Street Pancakes are a must to cure that late-night sweet tooth.
9. Nightly Burlesque Show
The ladyboys are everywhere including Koh Tao. If you missed them in Phuket, you can still catch a nightly burlesque show here. The bar turns into a nightclub if you’re looking to live it up. If not, you can bar hop. They also run nightly bar crawls.
10. Craft Beer Bar
Koh Tao will surprise you, especially when it comes to craft beer. The Beer Masons is a cozy gastropub offering dozens of craft beers from around the world. The owner of the bar is an Australian man who moved to Koh Tao a few years ago and has called it home ever since. We enjoyed a few beers with him while learning about the island. Apparently Koh Tao hates chains but made an exception for Dairy Queen because they love ice cream.
So what do you think of Koh Tao? I arrived with the expectation of being bored seeing as I was told it’s a major diving destination. However, that was not the case. Koh Tao provided me with plenty of things to do besides diving. I was treated to great food, views, and relaxation.
P.S. If you change your mind and decide to get your diving certification I recommend Simple Life PADI course. For 11,000 Baht you will get everything you need to become certified over a 3-day course.
Psst. . . Looking for more tips for your trip to Thailand? Check out my other posts.
Are you adding Koh Tao to your bucket list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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