The island of Koh Tao is located in the bay south of Bangkok and to the north of the islands Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. Koh Tao is the diving mecca of Thailand with dive centers practically on every corner of every street. But since I have yet to taken up that particular hobby I won’t address that further except to say that my friends all recommend Phoenix Divers on Sairee Beach.
The main beach is Sairee Beach and that’s where you’ll find most of the visitors to the island as well as lodgings and restaurants. At day you can stroll on the beach, enjoy any water-activity of your choice and at night indulge in copious amounts of food, beverages and entertainment.
Getting there and getting around
The island can only be reached by boat and there is constantly boats arriving in the small harbor. You can catch transport directly from Bangkok with shuttle bus and boat, the same can be done from Krabi. The island of Koh Samui that lies south of Koh Tao has as airport and from there it’s just a few hours by boat.
For getting around you can easily rent a scooter almost anywhere, but make sure to give it a good look over and preferably photograph and note any scuffs or marks you find. Just in case the rental agency decides to give the “it wasn’t there before and it will be very expensive to fix” speech.
But not all of Koh Tao has paved roads so the urge to explore deeper hits a quad bike would be preferable. If in doubt ask at someone how you get where you want and remember cabs aren’t expensive and readily available.
There are plenty of places to stay on Koh Tao so there is no need to worry. If you plan on doing any diving many offer combination deals with diving and rooms so that might be worth looking into. If not and you simply need a place to lay your weary head I would set my eyes on somewhere along Sairee Beach. Along the main walkway there is plenty to choose from and you’ll be close to the action. But if you’re like me and like it reasonably quiet when it’s sleepy time choose a bungalow or a room a step further up from the walkway since it’s likely to be quite noisy at night (read pub crawls).
The accommodation on Sairee Beach caters to most budgets but if you really want to pinch those pennies check further in land or in the town.
The People & The Tourists
As in most of Thailand the locals are friendly and helpful. As for the tourist it is a combination of backpackers and the more package trip type of travelers. But be sure that there certainly are a lot of them so if you’re looking for the secluded private beach type of place you’re perhaps better of checking out one of the smaller coastal villages on, for example, Koh Phangang.
Since the island is popular among tourists you can pretty much get whatever you can think of. But to what degree it resembles the original dish is often debatable. My advice is the same as for the rest of Thailand, Eat thai-food!
That’s what they do best and it’s always much cheaper than any, to them, foreign dishes. So if taste and budget is a concern stick with local cuisine.
Now I do understand the urge to get something familiar and comforting after weeks of thai-food. When the time arises that you have to satisfy that urge and the need for a fix becomes to much to handle I have a recommendation, at least if you enjoy burgers that is. Seek out Hippo Burgers, a great place a few street above the main street along Sairee Beach, heavenly burgers, in fact one of the best burgers joints I’ve ever been to. And in my believe a lifesaver to many a homesick backpackers.
One thing is for certain you won’t be bored for a while if your into water-based activities and if not there’s a few things you can do on dry land as well. Firstly I would recommend trying a dive if that’s something you’ve been eager to do and if so check out Phoenix divers. If underwater isn’t your thing you can go snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding or just hang out on the beach. For any of these activities Sairee Beach is a safe bet. For more good times you should check out Good Times a place that does all manners of activities from diving to climbing and trapeze. We’ve been climbing with them a few times and they are a great bunch. You can also rent equipment from them if you have the necessary knowledge and would like to venture out on your own. One a side note they also have really nice hot wings in their restaurant. Insert picture of my crying in pain (don’t have one, but believe me when I say that it wasn’t tears of joy).
There is plenty of nightlife to be had along Sairee Beach. It ranges from relaxed restaurants to clubs to fireshows on the beach so there should be something to suit everyone.
So one might wonder why a separate heading on tattoos, well that because Sairee Beach is littered with tattoo parlors and alcoholic beverages. And let’s be honest that isn’t always such a good combination specially when combined with a holiday spirit and the once in a lifetime opportunity of a genuine bamboo tattoo. Every time I walked past one of these parlors after dark and seen an over inebriated guest point to a image in one of the books on the counter I’ve had a strong urge to say “You’ll be sorry in the morning.”.
Not that I’ve got anything against tattoos I have several myself, two of them were in fact done on Koh Tao. But just be sure you know what your doing. Check out the parlor before hand, discuss the motif with the artist and get a price.
If it’s to good to be true it probably is. I as well as several of my friends have been to a studio that’s called Thai Art and I can highly recommend them. They’ve got two studios, one on Sairee Beach and one just up the main street from where the boats dock. The one in town hosts two awesome tattooers, Tong and Pui, great guys who do great work.
If you’re near Koh Tao, in Koh Samui or Koh Phangang for example, the island is well worth a visit. If not it’s still well worth a visit. There is both plenty to see and do, despite what you’ve read before this is true even if you’re not into diving, and it’s a great place to meet up other explorers and backpackers. And if you have any thoughts or questions leave a comment and I’ll be sure to reply.