Thailand is one of our most favorite countries by far… no doubt about it. It is a country that has a lot to offer, in ways that would intrigue almost any traveler, and it is remarkably affordable as well. It has a diverse landscape, a wide array of adventurous activities and it is also considered by many as the diving capital of the world. The islands in the south boast more dive shops per capita than any other location on the planet and people flock to the islands for good food, beautiful beaches and unforgettable underwater experiences. If there is one island clearly known for all these things it is certainly Koh Tao.
We have spent countless months in Thailand, exploring both the mainland and the islands, but no matter what new experiences we have we always picture the country as Koh Tao in our minds. We have explored almost every inch of the island in all the time that we have spent there and we have loved every minute of it. While Thailand is considered to be a relatively budget friendly location to travel you should expect the islands to have a slightly raised price tag when it comes to lodging and even food at times. They all have their ‘boutique restaurants’ that provide a more westernized dining experience but they also have the local, mom and pop restaurants just like you would find on the streets of Bangkok. Koh Tao has certainly risen in price over the most recent years but you are still looking at private rooms for 2 at around 20-30 USD and meals can range anywhere from 1-15 USD depending on where you want to eat. You have choices here and that is something that definitely creates appeal for us.
Our most favorite restaurants there provide quality, filling meals and rarely result in a bill over 10 USD per person - normal average being about 5 USD with food and drink. We love the local spots more than anything and that is where you will find the best Thai food and the most fair prices. No matter how much tourism the diving industry brings in we have never noticed a change in the quality and quantity of the local restaurants. It is amazing to return after months away and see the same smiling faces, encounter the same menus and receive the same delicious food that you remember from the previous visit.
Arrival to Koh Tao is quite simple but can be time consuming depending on the route you take. From Bangkok and Phuket you have bus options available that will take you via bus and ferry, island hopping and traversing the mainland but you can also fly to a nearby island if it is within your budget and you prefer to speed up the process. Close to Koh Tao is another beautiful little island, Koh Samui, and flights come in quite often that depart from Bangkok and Phuket. We have done both routes a few times and certainly find the flight to be worth the extra money. Once you arrive in Koh Samui, assuming it isn’t late at night, you can catch a ferry over to Koh Tao. Just like with most SE Asian travel destinations you will want to rent a motorbike for the duration of your stay here. Even though the island is small the motorbike gives you an unbelievable freedom here, allowing you to explore the island in its entirety in a short amount of time.
If diving is your thing then you should check out options with Sairee Cottage, Bans, Rocktopus, and Big Blue. These are the shops that we have experience with and we love each one of them. The dive sites here offer a wide array of aquatic life that includes but is not limited to black tip reef shards, turtles, octopus, barracuda, titan triggerfish, and even whale sharks. Be sure to book dives for Twins, Chumphon and Sail Rock if you want to hit all the top spots. If you are looking for courses you should turn your attention to Sairee Cottage. While all the shops mentioned certainly provide incredible instruction we only have experience learning from Sairee so that is the recommendation that we can give. I (Kody speaking) did my Instructor, MSDT and IDC Staff Instructor courses all with Sairee and absolutely loved it. The team there is incredible and I doubt I could have received a better education than the one I received with them.
Touching back on food here for a moment… our favorite restaurants are Bingo, Coconut Monkey, Barracuda, Zest, VegetaBowl, Hippo Burger, Sairee Cottage Restaurant, The Living Room, and Coffee Boat. Be sure to hit all these during your time there and you will not be disappointed!
Now, if all of that isn’t enough to make you want to go there… you should know that Koh Tao also has an incredible night life. Spend your day enjoying the sunshine on any of the beautiful beaches along the coast, taking a dive course or going out for fun dives, eating healthy local food, and then top it off with an epic beach party in Sairee. There are always huge fires on the beach, local entertainers playing with fire and putting on incredible shows while you sit back, listen to the water and enjoy whatever beverage you choose to order from any of the resto-bars along the beach front. Trust us… you will not be disappointed!