Koh Tao was probably our favourite place during our travels and that really says a lot because half the stuff was closed due to the Coronavirus (we were there early March). Thailand + Island life = a recipe for a good time! So sit back and relax as we take you through our favourite ways to pass the time on Koh Tao!
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Go Diving with PADI!!! – The island is pretty famous for scuba diving as it boasts being one of the cheapest places in the world to do so and thus; there are a massive amount of diving schools and centres on the island which we’re certain are all fantastic. We, however, chose Crystal Dive School and couldn’t recommend it more! Everything about it was amazing; incredible instructors, great training courses, full safety at all times and they even discount room rates if you stay at the diving school bungalows when enrolling on a course.
We did the PADI Open Water course with Crystal and were super tempted to book on to do the advanced (we’re very glad we didn’t as the school sadly had to shut the next day due to the virus) because it was just an immense experience. It took 3 and a half days over which we had some classroom theory, a day in the pool getting to grips with the equipment and then 4 dives out in open water. If you’re a fan of marine life and have a little extra change laying around, you simply HAVE to give diving a go!
It costs 11,000 baht (roughly £250) per person for the Open Water Diving course which can seem quite daunting but with the amount of fun you have and just how much you learn on the course, it’s totally worth it! As mentioned above, Crystal discount rooms for students so we ended up paying 600 baht (roughly £15) for 4 nights which was really cheap considering we had a double room. We’ve included a link to Crystal Dive School’s Instagram below!
Party at The Fishbowl – This place was sick! We ended up going there with our instructors after we graduated our course (we’re now certified Open Water Divers wooooo!) and had a great time. Loads of beer pong and snooker tables are scattered around the place and it’s guaranteed to be jam packed full of travellers. It can seem quite intimidating to walk in if you’re a solo traveller but fear not, most people there are in the same boat and everyone just wants to have a good time. There are 3 different bars, one of which is pretty much on the beach (who can say no to a cocktail on the beach?). This was definitely our favourite bar on Koh Tao and the prices for drinks really weren’t that bad! We ended the night by having five too many and having a cheeky skinnydip!*
*DISCLAIMER – We do not encourage or condone drunk swimming but if you’re gonna do it, at least wear some swim shorts and don’t make our mistake of going commando. Even though the island is hot at night, the sea sure wasn’t!
Explore the Island – Koh Tao really does have a lot to offer for such a small island. There are some spots on the island that may seem to be non-existent (Freedom Beach & Shark Bay) but just take a little bit of digging to find. It only takes about 20-25 minutes of driving to get from one end to the other on the island which makes it great for those early starts to see amazing sunrises on viewpoints that will leave you feeling like you’re in Jurassic Park. That is what really makes Koh Tao and exploring it that much better, the fact that you’re transported to another world in doing so. While there isn’t a fat lot to do on the island other than chill on one of several beaches or go diving, that’s what makes it so beautiful!
Your best bet for getting around the island is by scooter, which you can rent for 100-200 baht for 24hours. You’ll need a driving license or passport to leave with the shop you rent the scooter from as a deposit but it is totally safe in most cases. We’d also recommend taking pictures and/or videos of the bike you’re about to rent before you leave the shop as we’d heard many horror stories of people being charged A LOT for damage that was already on the bike so just be vigilant and drive safe as the roads are quite bumpy.
Swim at Shark Bay – Yes, there are apparently sharks at Shark Bay but they’re only really small little reef sharks that aren’t dangerous. No, we didn’t bloody see one (Mik was very thankful for this as he would’ve shit himself). It’s quite hard to find and actually resides on a private beach that is part of the Haadtien Beach Resort (we WISHED we could’ve afforded to stay there) which requires a 100 baht (about £2.75) entry fee and prohibits outside food or drink except water. It’s worth it though as the beach is really well maintained and doesn’t seem to get that busy due to people not being able to find the bloody place!
It’s truly next level for snorkelling though, we saw so many different types of cute little fish and even got nipped and headbutted by a few of them, which was even cuter. There’s a ton of corals at Shark Bay though so please be careful, for yourself and the marine life, to take care when swimming. Touching the corals is a total no go, they may be sharp but they’re very easily damaged. Put your sun cream on an hour or two before getting in water to ensure as little chemicals as possible are washed off in the water, reducing any impact you may have on marine life.
Freedom Beach – A smaller, sister beach to Shark Bay which had plenty of games, including beach volleyball, tennis and yet more snorkelling (sadly not quite on the same level as Shark Bay). It’s another beach that’s run by a hotel complex which was under construction when we visited so only the bar/restaurant was open which happened to be quite costly for alcohol. The cocktails looked and tasted amazing but they were around 150-200 baht per drink (roughly 5 to 7 British Pounds), which is still obviously a lot cheaper than London cocktail prices! Food wasn’t too expensive at the restaurant though, about 100 baht for a meal depending on whether you weren’t going for anything flashy! The food was really tasty but don’t get a curry dish, even at a medium spice level it burnt the life out of our throats (serves us right)!
We ended up spending about 4 hours here playing games, sunbathing and dancing to the great music the bar was playing! Definitely worth visiting but also worth noting that you have to give something as a deposit to park your bike at the car park just before the beach, this can be your room key, a form of identification (passport or driving license etc.) or your bike key itself.
How to Get There:
We went from Bangkok to Koh Tao and booked with Lomprayah (one of the main ferry companies that goes between the islands). We got an evening bus at 7pm which had a couple of stops (one very random and unnecessary stop at 3am at a coffee shop for around an hour and a half while we switched busses) and eventually took us to Chumphon Pier at 5am where we had to wait until 7am to get on to the catamaran headed for Koh Tao.
The journey from Bangkok to Koh Tao cost us 900 baht (about 23 British Pounds) each which we booked through (you guessed it!) Fabulous Travel & Massage Parlour in Bangkok. This was a discounted price that the owner reduced as we’d used his services many times as the original price was 1100 baht (about 28 British Pounds) per person. The pricing really isn’t bad considering it’s an overnight bus and ferry combined and the journey was decent.
*A Little Tip – When weighing up the costs of a trip while travelling, as obvious as it sounds, think of overnight busses as something that saves you a night of accommodation. We favoured night travel for this reason and the prices are the same as the day journeys but cut out the cost of an extra night in a hostel/hotel.
With all of the above being said, we personally wouldn’t recommend doing the night version of this trip (it just wasn’t the most pleasant journey and will leave you absolutely shattered) and instead opt for one of the early morning or afternoon busses available. These busses set off at around 7am and 1pm from what we can recall!
How Much Did It Cost?
Overall, the pricing in Koh Tao was actually pretty reasonable considering you’re in paradise. We used 7/11’s prices as a guideline for how much things should be, i.e, if a bottle of Pocari Sweat (LITERALLY the best ionic drink in the world, seriously these things kept us hydrated the entire day from just one) was 15 baht in Bangkok, you were looking at around 20 baht in Koh Tao.
Food was very mixed in terms of pricing depending on where you wanted to eat but here are a couple of our personal recommendations:
For Cheap, Delicious Eats – Pom Som Tam: Pom Som Tam was a great little restaurant located a 5 minute walk from the main Mae Haad Pier. It’s a family owned place and ran by the lovely Pom herself who cooks all of the delectable dishes. Prices were too cheap for the quality but that’s just a bonus for a traveller’s budget (from 60-100 baht per meal which is around 2-3 British Pounds) and literally everything we ate there was incredible! So much so, we ate there every night we could. A very cute, quaint little living room setup that only had about 6 tables which made the dining experience very personal.
For Pricier, Indulgent Eats – Coconut Monkey: Coconut Monkey is an amazing hipster restaurant/café that is again located very near to the main Mae Haad Pier. It’s constantly full of divers and was a very social environment so was a great place to meet people. Now, the food, there’s not much we can say bar from UNREAL! They have so many veggie and vegan options, if we had to recommend a couple of things on the menu, they’d be the Vegan ‘Duck’ Pancakes (the ‘duck’ is made with mushroom jerky and we’re drooling thinking about it now) and the Rainbow Buddha Bowl (healthy af and looks incredible). It was of course a little bit more expensive at around 150-200 baht per meal (around 5-7 British Pounds). You HAVE to get the salted caramel cheesecake also, it sadly wasn’t Vegan but it was the creamiest, softest cheesecake you could ask for.
Accommodation was reasonably priced on Koh Tao in terms of hostels. We knew due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus that we would have to fly back to the UK fairly soon so we splashed out on a lovely guest house which was about £14 a night for a king double room (which was great bang for our buck). But if you’re travelling on a budget, there are plenty of great finds on Booking.com and we’ve provided a handy link below!
Also if there’s one thing you must take with you to Koh Tao, it’s an Instax. Honestly, you’ll have the best memories there and taking home vintage style photos to keep forever is simply amazing! Check the link below!
That wraps up our little guide to Koh Tao, we hope you’ve enjoyed it and we really hope you’ve been inspired to visit, it truly is a magical place. For our take on Koh Tao in pictures, why not give us a follow on our socials below?
Be sure to check out our last post based on Pai too!
Stay Safe & Much Love,
Matt & Mik