Koh Tao Travel Guide
The furthest north of the Thai gulf islands, Koh Tao has long been a favourite of avid divers and snorkelers. With plenty of amazing reefs and walls to discover, anyone with an interest in marine life will love this place, but there is more to do here than slap on a pair of fins. With plenty of beaches, lush jungle, and friendly locals, it is a great place to simply chill out for a week as well.
As an island centred largely around diving and pursuit of pleasure, there are few (if any) stand out cultural sites on Koh Tao. That said, the everyday lives of Thais on this isle in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand make for interesting encounters for Westerners unaccustomed to life in Southeast Asia.
Experience and understand the differences in how people live here by going on a culture tour soon after arriving on Koh Tao. During its duration, you’ll be taken to a local Buddhist temple, where your guide will explain the basics of the religion, and the various meanings behind the statues and design features you’ll find there.
You’ll also get a rundown of the island’s history as you travel from one end to the other, making this tour one you won’t want to miss.
The food on Koh Tao is another basic cultural aspect you’ll get to experience every time you head out to eat. However, if you want to immerse yourself a bit deeper, look into taking some cooking classes while you are on the island.
Doing so will put you in touch with food professionals who know where to go to get quality ingredients first thing in the morning, how to prepare dishes so they have the flavour and kick for which Thai cuisine is famous, and how to coach neophytes to produce meals their loved ones will surely enjoy.
From massaman curry to a simple plate of fried rice, you’ll come away with the knowledge to do this style of cooking justice when you get home.
While soccer (or football) is definitely popular in Thailand, and basketball is gaining a foothold, no sports captures the collective imagination of this nation quite like Muay Thai kickboxing. Deeply rooted in its past, you’ll find gyms in every corner of the Land of Smiles – and Koh Tao is no exception to this rule.
As such, there will likely be at least one or more Muay Thai fights going on during your visit to the island. Book a ticket in the front row (it doesn’t much more than the general admission tickets), and enjoy the theatrics and the drama of one of the more physical combat sports you’ll see in your life.
With no shortage of young people on this island to dive, snorkel, or to just enjoy life, you’ll have plenty of nightlife options to choose from while on Koh Tao. The bulk of these are found in the Sairee Beach area, where you’ll find everything from relaxed cocktail lounges to sports bars to clubs.
Elsewhere, night spots are more subdued in nature, with beach bars and establishments attached to resorts and accommodations supplying people in smaller centres with alcoholic refreshments.
If you are thinking of travelling to Koh Tao, there’s a good chance you are interested in partaking in its world-class diving and snorkelling. With plenty of amazing reefs ringing this rocky isle, the biodiversity of this area is stunning, making a great place to descend beneath the waves.
Want to join the SCUBA divers dozens of feet below you? Fortunately, there are many outfits who offer open water courses which teach the basics of this exciting and addictive sport. If you do this, be forewarned: the beautiful sights of underwater Koh Tao plus the diving culture here may turn a visit of several days into several weeks.
Back on land, get a great view of a sizable portion of the island and the sea which surrounds it by working your way up to John Suwan View Point. Starting from the trailhead at Freedom Beach, you’ll make your way through the lush jungle to a high point where you’ll be able to survey the decadent beaches lining the shores of Koh Tao, and the green low peaks which make up its small interior.
Like the other islands found in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Tao is famous for being home to a variety of outstanding beaches. Sairee Beach used to be on that list, but the amount of commercialization it has undergone means it now pales in comparison to places like Ao Tanot Bay.
An isolated bay on its sparsely developed east coast, Ao Tanot impresses with its world-class snorkelling and cliff jumping opportunities, as well as its short but sweet strip of sand.
Sai Nuan Beach also fits the profile of an amazing beach on Koh Tao. Cut off from the main road in the interior by mountainous terrain in the southwestern portion of the island, it is a slice of paradise, as it has pitch-perfect white sand which is shaded by palm trees. Accessible only by boat, a trip out here is the perfect antidote to the madness which can rule Sairee from time to time.