I was here for four days over Aug/Sept 2017 and am now posting my notes in October 2017.

About

  • Koh Tao is famous as a SCUBA diving island in the Gulf of Thailand.
  • Koh Tao means “Turtle Island” because it was formerly inhabited by turtles.

How to get there from Bangkok: I flew into Koh Samui. This is the quickest and maybe most expensive way. I bought a boat ticket at the airport. (Lomprayah boat company, there are 2 or 3 fast ones) Free airport shuttle to the pier, and then 2 hours later I was at Koh Tao. The boat stopped at Koh Phagnan en route.

Me on the fast boat from Koh Samui to Koh Tao


Neighborhoods, Bays, and Beaches

Sairee

Sairee is the commercial heart, main drag, and tourist central. Very busy and loud. Both of the freediving schools on Koh Tao are located along the main strip here. If you’re taking SCUBA diving lessons, they are probably near here. If you don’t plan to rent a motorbike in Koh Tao, then staying in this area is the most convenient spot.

Sandy beach and green hill in background of Koh Tao, Sairee Beach

View of Sairee Beach from Blue Immersion, where I took my freediving lessons on Koh Tao

Chalok

Chalok Baan Kao, or just: Chalok. Quieter than Sairee with many restaurants and hotels. Described well as a “Good place to stay if you want somewhere quiet but still near local conveniences” like shops and restaurants. You could probably spend an entire visit here and not have to visit Sairee, if you wanted. A motorbike would still be recommended.

Chalok on Koh Tao, looking at the water and the sandy beach

View of Chalok Beach on Koh Tao from my bungalow hotel room

Aow Leuk

Aow Leuk was my favorite bay because of its picture-perfect views and excellent snorkeling. Relatively deep water with coral and underwater life immediately off the beach. I would go back, although I was irritated with the staff service at my hotel.

Indoors, looking outside on Aow Leuk beach on Koh Tao, Thailand

Looking down on Aow Leuk beach from my bungalow

Freedom Beach

Go here for swimming and watch the sun set! Freedom Beach was an excellent, picture-perfect spot to watch the sunset. I enjoyed swimming in the ocean here. It is the most popular small beach on Koh Tao, but also very quiet. I would go back here! Recommended.

Beautiful colors including orange, blue, and deep blue with small waves in the water

Sunset at Freedom Beach on Koh Tao, Thailand

Large rocks, and a restaurant on the shoreline. Nice color water

The only restaurant on Freedom Beach is very photo-friendly. The staff was not as nice.

Motorbike or Scooter Rental

I paid 200 THB per day from a travel agent shop (RPG Travel) on Sairee’s main Walking Road. They requested my passport to be left as a deposit. Without a motorbike, my time on Koh Tao would have been much less fun and interesting. I highly suggest renting a motorbike and couldn’t imagine visiting Koh Tao again without one.

Favorite Restaurants

I Love Salad

I Love Salad, near Chalok. Well-run, clean, and great salads. The healthiest I ate during my entire time on Koh Tao. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Black signboard with I Love Salad logo and lots of items for sale

Menu board at I Love Salad, my favorite healthy restaurant on Koh Tao

995 Roasted Duck

995 Roasted Duck, Sairee. Affordable street-side dining featuring duck. Friendly staff, and delicious duck dishes on rice, various types of noodles, soup, etc. Other options beyond duck (veg, chicken). Often crowded and a line at night. Closed 4-5:30pm for a break before dinner.

Bang Burgers was a very good, very decent burger. They even did it as a lettuce wrap for me. I’d imagine other spots have good burgers.

Hotel Experiences

Good

Aow Leuk II Bungalows, right on the beach in Aeo Leuk. Recommended, but note there is no A/C and the head of staff seemed inconvenienced and sometimes rude whenever I asked for anything (wifi password, and a late checkout). Bungalows are standalone units with incredible views into the bay. Each has two powerful fans, large bed, closet, etc. My favorite of all my rooms on Koh Tao. I think I paid 1500 THB for my room.

Sandy beach and hotels on the hill in Aow Leuk, Koh Tao Thailand

Here’s where I stayed. It took a few minutes to walk to the beach.

More hotels: There are much nicer hotels on the island, including many resorts in different areas with great restaurants. I had a mental block towards spending more than THB 1500 per night since I was diving all day and rarely in my room or on the property.

JP Resort in Chalok was recommended to me by a few travelers taking the freediving class. Likely priced 600 THB fan room, 1100 THB a/c. It looked busy and clean when I drove by.

Not Good Hotels

Ban’s Avenue, next door to Indie Hostel on Walking Road in Sairee. Do not recommend due to extremely loud club music next door that easily reaches all rooms through paper-thin doors. Otherwise, excellent rooms and a great price (1000 TBH / night, with A/C and wifi and room with closet, desk, shower, kettle, etc). The music was so loud at 10pm that I could only laugh at how absurd the situation was. I considered abandoning the room to find other lodging, but eventually fell asleep.

Kae Big Fish Resort, on the beach in Chalok. Do not recommend, but not terrible. My motorbike needed gas, so I stopped at their shop. Realizing how late it was, I inquired about lodging. They offered me a beachfront bungalow for 1100 THB including A/C. It and the onsite restaurant were just OK. I wasn’t impressed with the beach.

Fish That I Saw Snokleing in Aow Leuk

  • Malabar Grouper
  • Longfin Bannerfish
  • Tailfin Batfish
  • Titan Trigger Fish
  • Very small harmless shark (gray, with black tipped fins)
  • Lots more!

Freediving

I did an introductory course with Blue Immersion and I really enjoyed it. They were friendly, helpful, and challenged me in the water at just the right times.

Me diving deep! I took a class, click for article

Conclusion

I’m glad that I went to Koh Tao. If I go back, I will look at nicer hotels in advance. I’ll know some good restaurants (I Love Salad), I’ll go to Freedom Beach and Aow Leuk, and I would probably hire a private boat taxi to take me around the island for private snorkeling. And I would definitely do more freediving classes.

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