Oh, Koh Tao. The little Thai island that seems to have 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.

Here are the reasons it was so hard to leave Koh Tao.

Side-note- almost all of these places are located in and around Sairee Beach, which is where I stayed. After a few nights at Mae Head Village I moved to Sairee Beach and I am so glad that I did, considering Sairee is the true hub of the island where most of the restaurants, nightlife and diving schools are located.

Eat

FIZZ beach lounge

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.

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More info: Trip Advisor

Portobello Bistro

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.

More info: website // Trip Advisor

Local Thai Food

I dined in countless Thai restaurants around town, but my favorite was White Elephant, a tiny kitchen that serves up the best massaman curry I’ve ever had.

More info: Trip Advisor

Street Carts

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.

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Do:

Motorbiking 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? Victoria and I had a blast riding around (well, I had a blast riding on the back) and scoping out the best view points and beach bars on the island. Warning- there are some rather steep hills on Koh Tao so try to rent a pretty sturdy motorbike- our 125 cc was seriously struggling!

Before you rent a motorbike, make sure to take pictures of the bike so the owner can’t fault you with scratching the bike. And always request a helmet!

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Stopping for an ice-cold Singha… IMG_8535-001

Grabbing some yummy pork noodles on the road.

Watch the Drag Show at Queen’s Cabaret

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.

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Note: To watch the show you have to purchase a drink, which costs 150 baht ($5). But $5 is really a bargain for a beer and an hour-long show!

Scuba-dive!

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. IMG_6235

Here’s my review of Roctopus, which is where I did my Open-Water. Highly recommended!

Muay Thai training

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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! As this is an open-air gym make sure to wear bugspray- I was eaten alive at the afternoon session.

Price: 300 baht ($10) for an hour-long session. Island Muay Thai hosts two sessions daily- the morning session from 8am to 10am and the afternoon session from 4pm to 6pm.

More info: website // Trip Advisor

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 bit of 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.)

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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 baht and the tour takes you to three or four different bars.

Babaloo Bar

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…

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To the hammocks…

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To the goldfish in the beer cooler… IMG_8627-001

To the views… there’s really no beach bar like it. IMG_8651-001

Stay:

I stayed in four different places during my time in Koh Tao. I would highly recommend staying in Sairee Beach over Mae Head village, and would argue Prik Thai as the best bungalow in Sairee. While there’s no wifi or hot water, at 600 baht a day the room is clean, comfortable and equipped with a fan.

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.

Have you ever been to Koh Tao? What did you like to eat/drink/do?

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Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is an American travel blogger and freelance writer who moved to Paris at 21, traveled the world for a year and now lives in Denver. She's usually in pursuit of skiing, languages and perfectly ripe cheese. Her writing has been featured in National Geographic, Viator and Jetstar Australia.
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