This is a guest post by Jenna Meade.
For most people, southern Thailand is a bit of a blur. You hop from one island to the next – porcelain white sand, crystal clear water, and nights filled with beach parties and spectacular fire shows. You may not think it now, but, when you’ve spent five days in a row drinking alcohol out of buckets, you’re going to want some downtime.
Koh Tao is a good place to start your journey if you’re island-hopping in Thailand. Not to be confused with Hua Hin’s Khoa Tao beach, it is by far one of the most stunning places in southern Thailand.
Koh Tao eases you into the Thai nightlife, but it also immerses you in the true beauty of Thailand’s landscape. It’s got something for everyone, whether it’s snorkelling, diving, hill trekking or taking a scooter around the island.
This Koh Tao guide covers everything, from getting around the island to enjoying every part of your journey (not just the party vibes).
Check out these essential Thailand travel tips.
Getting to Koh Tao from Bangkok
If you are coming from Bangkok, you can book a bus and ferry through Lomprayah Bus Company. It’s an overnight journey so stock up on books, food and sleeping tablets. The bus drops you off at Chumphon pier and from there you wait for the ferry to take you past Samui and then on to Koh Tao. The bus and ferry should come to no more than £22.
When you get off the ferry you will be greeted by a swarm of people looking to bundle you into their taxi. Hold onto your belongings as it can get very busy and there may be pickpockets.
Try getting a good price from one of the taxi drivers. Have a rough idea of how far away your hotel is from the port so that you’ll know if you’re being cheated or not. Go out onto the main street where there are plenty of taxis in sight – silver pickup trucks usually with signs in their windows saying taxi. Don’t just hop into any car.
Getting around Koh Tao
If you want to check out some of the best beaches on Koh Tao, renting a scooter is the best way to see the island and the quickest if you’re on a tight itinerary. Make sure to take pictures of the scooter when you get it. Often the bikes may have a dint or two, and you wouldn’t want to be blamed for it.
To rent a scooter you’ll need to hand over your passport, which often seems a bit risky. Ask around for the most reputable scooter rentals to be sure you’re in safe hands. There are a few scams around, so make sure you’ve done your research well, or ask at your hotel about the best places to rent from.
Always try to haggle for a decent rate. You should have the bike for the whole day for a good price. Be careful when travelling by bike around the island as the roads are quite steep. It’s fun going down, but when you have to cycle back up the hill it takes either a skilled biker or plain fearlessness to get to the top.
Where to stay
The island is dotted with hotels. Some of the more expensive resorts have their own private beaches, but others, such as Queen Resort, sit on the public beach looking out onto the islands of Nangyuan, the major attraction of Koh Tao. Staying in Queen Resort is probably one of the cheapest options, and it is smack in the middle of all the restaurants, pubs and shops.
There’s also a scooter rental nearby. The owner of the resort is more than accommodating, giving any information you may need on how to get around the island and some of the best places to visit.
What to eat
It’s a lot cooler in Koh Tao in comparison to muggy Bangkok, but it’s still rather hot. Thankfully, there are plenty of restaurants where you can get fresh juices and lassis. You can also have fresh seafood, genuine Thai cuisine, or dine at international restaurant chains, such as the Cafe Del Sol.
Best things to do in Koh Tao
1. Go diving
Koh Tao is also home to the best diving experiences in the world. Padi’s scuba diving resort offers all-inclusive courses, where you pay for the course, food and accommodation for a little over a thousand pounds. This is very cheap compared to what is offered by other diving schools on the island. Padi is renowned for the standard and quality of teaching and scuba gear, as well as for combining diving with other island activities.
2. Watch a fire show
Koh Tao’s party scene is more contained and reserved than neighbouring Koh Phangnan. Pubs and small-sized clubs stay open well into the early hours of the morning.
If you’re after a chilled out place, look for Fishbowl Beach Bar. Most of the island has a relaxed vibe, thanks to the bars’ lush couches, bean bags and hammocks. As the night goes on, the beach becomes your dance floor. Every night there are beach parties with cheap two-for-one deals, or all-you- can-drink nights.
Some of the best fire shows happen in Koh Tao, with skipping ropes lit on fire. Daring drunk tourists try their hand at it and usually end up getting their crotch burnt. Proceed with caution if you’re feeling adventurous. Some well-known DJ’s also visit Koh Tao, playing international house and dubstep.
3. Go for a swim at Paradise Beach and Shark Bay
One of the beaches you might want to check out is Paradise Beach to the south west of the island. This is also a resort, but open to the public. Bamboo huts are strapped to the rocky cliffs overlooking the sea, and a large reception and bar serve cocktails and food. The beach isn’t overly crowded, giving you time to pick the perfect spot to settle on.
There is also Shark Bay, which looks out onto Shark Island, where there are in fact sharks and stingrays. Not your cup of tea? Keep to the bay where the beach is enclosed by cliff and rock outcrops. The beach is rocky and covered in shells. There are trees with branches decorated with white coral strung up on ropes.
Another great way to explore some of the best parts of Koh Tao is to simply follow the signs. Often there are signs for viewpoints all around the island, and you can stumble upon some real gems this way.
4. Explore Nangyuan
Visiting Nangyuan is a must. You can take a long boat from Koh Tao’s pier to the island – it takes no more than 15 minutes. Nangyuan is composed of two islands connected by a sand-bar that makes up part of the Chumphon archipelago. Relax, sunbathe and climb up to the viewpoint to look out over the island. It’s a steep climb but well worth it.
The best thing about Nangyuan is that you don’t have to snorkel to be able to see some of the most spectacular fish. They come in every colour and size and are cheeky enough to swim up close to you as you stand in the crystal clear water. You can rent snorkelling gear on the island but you’re better off buying snorkeling gear for cheaper in a store on Koh Tao.
You have to leave Nangyuan before 5pm as the tide comes in. However, you do find resorts on the island if you want to stay the night and watch the sunset from the viewpoint.
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