Oh, Koh Tao. The little Thai island that has it all: palm tree-dotted beaches with colorful longboats anchored offshore, bumping nightlife, diving for days, and a bevy of restaurants and brunch spots that would make any foodie swoon. I spent a full two weeks on Koh Tao, and left enamored with this little rock in the sea.
If you like diving and partying, this is your island. Here is where I recommend you stay, eat, and party on Koh Tao.
Where to stay:
Koh Tao has two main towns – Mae Head Village and Sairee Beach. I'd recommend staying in Sairee as it's the true hub of the island where most of the restaurants, nightlife, and diving schools are located.
I stayed in four different places during my time in Sairee. Some accommodation is MUCH better than others!
Budget accommodation: If you're on a budget, Prick-Tai Resort is a great choice. While there's no wifi or hot water, at ฿600 ($17 USD) a night the room is clean, comfortable and equipped with a fan.
Mid-level accommodation: If you're looking for something a little more luxurious, check out Ban's Diving Resort. It's super central and has AC and wifi.
And where not to stay? Lotus, if you'd ever like to sleep again. It's the same hotel that throws the nightly pool party so if you'd like to be in bed before four a.m. I'd consider different accommodation.
Where to eat:
When I asked my diving instructor where her favorite place to eat on the island was, she replied without hesitation, “You HAVE to go to FIZZ.” And after dining there once, I couldn't help but return twice more during my stay on the island.
With relatively inexpensive prices, delicious food (both Western and Thai) and prime beach real estate, FIZZ really is a the perfect place to enjoy an ocean breeze as well as a delectable dinner.
Craving Italian food and zippy wifi? Head to Portobello. While their food is on the pricier side for the island, I loved their goat cheese and pesto ball salad.
You can't say you've been to Thailand until you've sampled the street food options: I particularly loved the spicy papaya salad, grilled chicken skewers and banana pancakes, which I ordered slathered with peanut butter. Yum.
What to do:
Motorbike around the island
Taxis on Koh Tao are absurdly expensive, so why not rent a motorbike for a day at the price of only a few hundred baht (about $6 USD)?
Victoria and I had a blast riding around the island (well, I had a blast riding on the back). We spent a full day scoping out the best view points and beach bars on the island.
Note – if you're planning on renting or riding motorbikes, I would HIGHLY recommend purchasing travel insurance. Motorbike injuries are super common in Thailand so it's smart to be protected in case of injury. I use and recommend WorldNomads.
One of the most fun things I did on Koh Tao was watch the lady boys dance at Queen's Cabaret. From an extremely convincing Celine Dion impression to twerking like there's no tomorrow, Queen's Cabaret is a great opportunity to watch some lovely lady boys break it down.
Koh Tao is a mecca for beginner divers- and for good reason. There are more than 50 dive schools on the island as well as a myriad of great dive sites- and for only about $250 you can become a certified Open-Water diver.
Here's my review of Roctopus, which is where I did my Open-Water. Highly recommended!
Muay Thai training
Island Muay Thai is the best spot on Koh Tao if you're looking to learn Thai boxing. It's a brutal work-out as well as a great opportunity to get to know some locals- the trainers are super friendly!
It's an open-air gym make sure to wear bug spray – I was eaten alive at the afternoon session.
Where to party:
Koh Tao is undoubtedly a party island, and there's no better place to dance 'til dawn than Sairee Beach.
From the fire jump rope to the fire limbo, it's a pyro's paradise, so it's best to be careful.
Personally I'd rather sip a bucket on the sidelines than jump a rope that's been soaked in gasoline and engulfed in flames, but that's just me. (And okay fine– I did try the fire limbo. Twice.)
Lotus Hotel Pool
After the beach bars shut down at around 2:30, head to the pool party at Lotus for some poolside debauchery. Trust me- you'll have fun.
Koh Tao Pub Crawl
While I sadly missed out on the pub crawl, it looked like a lot of fun- and plus, you get a free t-shirt! It costs ฿300 ($8 USD) and the tour takes you to three or four different bars.
I saved the best for last- Babaloo Bar is by far the coolest place to grab a drink on the island. While the vibe is far more chilled-out than party-centric, there's no better place to lazy around in a hammock with a beer in hand, listening to reggae.
From the mermaids…
To the hammocks…
You can rent a motorbike at many shops in Sairee Beach. A day rental costs around ฿200-300 (about $6-8 USD). There are steep hills on Koh Tao so rent a motorbike that is at least 150cc – our 125cc was seriously struggling! See more of my motorbike rental tips here.
To watch the drag show at Queen's Cabaret you have to purchase a drink, which costs ฿150 ($4 USD). But $4 is a bargain for a beer and an hour-long show!
You can train Muay Thai at Island Muay Thai for ฿300 ($8 USD) an hour. Island Muay Thai hosts two sessions daily- the morning session from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and the afternoon session from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Make sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip to Thailand. I've used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.