Ko Tao, literally Turtle Island, is an island off the Central Gulf Coast of Southern Thailand.
Historically, Ko Tao was once a detention place for political prisoners similar to Ko Tarutao of Satun Province, but today it is a great place for divers or anybody who wants to get away from the hustle and bustle of Ko Samui and want more than the Full Moon Party on Ko Pha Ngan. The island is geared towards diving tourists more than backpackers on a budget. You won't find cheap food stalls here. Ko Tao is a great place to learn how to dive. There are hardly any currents and a wide selection of dive sites and dive shops, schools and resorts. Activity options are growing outside of diving and the food and nightlife options are some of the best in the Gulf of Thailand.
Ko Tao is a small island of approximately 21² km and receives over a 100,000 visitors per year. To minimize your impact on the eco-system, notice that there are no garbage disposal facilities, so everything that can't be burned has to be taken away. Try to avoid plastic bags that are given out for every purchase you make. There is also no department to clean the roads or other public areas, so don't dump your waste on the open landscape. Water is scarce and electricity expensive, so don't waste them.
Peak seasons in Ko Tao are from December to March and July to August. It is a quite popular destination among Thais also, so it can be nearly fully booked on Thai holidays.
The nearest airports are in Ko Samui and Surat Thani, which are fairly well connected to major cities in the region such as Bangkok, Penang and Singapore. Only Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways operate from the private airport in Ko Samui and both charge artificially high rates. Bangkok Airways runs many more daily flights to and from Ko Samui than Thai Airways. When flying out of Ko Samui keep in mind that there is a 300 baht departure tax, the highest in Thailand.
Several airlines, including Thai Air Asia, China Southern Airlines, TransAsia Airways, Nok Air, and Thai Airways, operate from the Surat Thani Airport at lower prices.
Once you fly in, you'll have to take a ferry to Ko Tao.
From Surat Thani
If you're coming from the south, you can take a ferry from Surat Thani on the mainland with a travel time of around 3 hours for the morning ferry, or from Ko Samui, 1.5 hours, or Ko Pha Ngan 1 hour. If you're taking a boat from Surat Thani, one possibility might be an overnight ferry. These depart around 23:00 and arrive in the morning, about 06:00 (subject to changes). It's advisable to arrive early to grab a mattress. As most of the boats are formerly cargo boats the passenger facilities are basic.
The northern terminal for the island ferry service is Chumphon. Numerous agents sell tickets for a variety of boats of varying size and speed travelling in from the north. The fastest takes about 90 minutes, the slowest almost 5 hours. For Lomprayah, they have a pickup service from your hotel to the pier which will cost 100 baht. The ticket itself is 600 baht wherever you book it.
These ferries only depart Chumphon at 07:00, 13:30, 23:00 and midnight. The ferries at 07:00 and 13:30 are the normal passenger ferries offered by Lomprayah , Seatran , and Songserm 
The late night ferries are normally vehicle or cargo ferries, making for a slower (5-6 hour trip, arriving at 05:00) and are a less comfortable ride. If you are arriving via bus or train, be sure to arrive well before the ferry times, as the ferry terminal is around 1 hour travel time from the train station, and a missed connection either results in a late night trip on the vehicle/cargo ferry or an overnight stay and a 05:30 start to catch the bus to the ferry terminal for the first ferry the next day.
Sangserm offer "VIP" combined coach and boat tickets from Bangkok, claiming to take 6 hours by bus and 1.5 hours by boat. In fact, it takes closer to 9 hours by bus and 3 hours by boat, neither of which are particularly comfortable. Also, Songserm does not go when there are high waves and they do not inform their customers about it upon arrival. Furthermore, they deny refunds and are extremely rude about it. This agency should be avoided.
A good solution if coming from Bangkok is to book Sleeper Train #85; leaving Bangkok around 19:30 and arriving in Chumphon at 04:00 and then have a ticket booked for the 07:00 ferry. Most ferry operators can pick you up from the station where you can while away the 3 hour connection gap. You can also buy your ferry ticket at the station when you get off the train at 04:00. Lomprayah have a ticket office and a ticket on a waiting comfortable large bus is included in the price.
From the other islands
You can also day trip on diving charters from Ko Samui. Many have high speed boats that can make the trip to Ko Tao in about 1 hour.
Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran  or Seatran  are the fastest and most comfortable way to get to Ko Tao. They run twice a day from Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Surat Thani, and Chumphon. They also have online booking - useful for checking availability at peak times and all their boats have air conditioning and movies for passengers.
There is one main road running north to south on the island with many smaller roads diverting off it. Some roads lead over the spine of small mountains that run along the middle of the island and are all dirt, can close out after rain, and can be challenging even to a skilled driver. If you are looking for an adventure the dirt roads are a good place to find it, also be aware distances can be quite deceiving due to the quality and elevation changes of the trail. There are usually plenty of taxi cars available on both Sairee village and Mae Haad, however they tend to be expensive given the actual distance you travel. The best way to travel is by renting a small scooter or motorcycle. This gives you the freedom to explore all of the treasures of the island without paying the large taxi costs.
You can rent bicycles and motorcycles at a few places on Sairee Beach, Mae Haad, and Chalok. Be careful if you rent a motorbike as the dirt roads can get dangerous. ATV's (all terrain vehicles) are dangerous (ask any medical clinic) and expensive (500+ baht/day) and should be avoided in favour of Honda Dreams (150-200 baht/day) or Sonic's (200-250 baht/day).
It is normal practice for motorcycle rental places to ask for a passport as deposit, this is due to the fear of drunken tourists crashing their bike and not returning it. You should be wary of handing over your passport unless you are positive of the legitimacy of the operation.
Be aware that an increasing number of rental shops are charging large amounts of money for non-existent scratches on bikes when returning them, notably the shop next to 7-11 in Sairee Village (Save Way travel) and Owen Bikes opposite the petrol station in Sairee Beach. Make sure you note down and photograph all scratches and dents before you rent a bike from anyone. Your best bet is to hire a bike from your bungalow/resort.
Longtail boats offer rides to and from certain beaches on the island. They are a more comfortable way of getting to isolated beaches than attempting to ride over the mountains, however they are noisy. Round island longtail can be as much as 2,000 baht, whereas some short trips will only be 100-200 baht.
Sunset view from Mae Haad
Take a bike around the island. Shark Bay is a good place to go snorkelling for the day (don't worry too much about sharks, they are only small black-tip reef sharks). Ko Nang Yuan, Freedom beach, Laem Thian, Mango Bay, Hin Wong Bay and Tanote Bay are good day excursions, accessible by road or boat. If you rent a scooter, be prepared to turn around or continue by foot since some roads (e.g., to Mango Bay) may be in such condition that you need a dirt bike or a car to ride them.
Many rental scooters come equipped with dirt tires, which help tremendously with navigating the crevasse riddled dirt trails. Mango Bay and Laem Thian are accessible by scooter, these are challenging rides and suited to more experienced riders.
However, to see the best places, go by foot as some are inaccessible to motorists. There are a number of good viewpoints around the island such as John Suwan Mountain Viewpoint in the south of the island, Two View in the centre, and Fraggle Rock in the north.
All beaches in Thailand are public. Some property owners will try to give the impression that "their" beach is private, but this is not so.
Freedive training and education worldwide is generally done through AIDA , SSI , Apnea Academy  and Apnea Total  freediving courses.
- Blue Immersion Freediving, (off Sairee Beach by longtail boat), . Freedive with accomplished instructor trainer, Akim. AIDA and SSI courses available. Blue Immersion is also a school that profits from high training experience, training many of the new elite freedivers.
- Apnea Total, (on Sairee Beach), . Ko Tao's first and longest-established freediving school. Apnea Total profits from experienced teachers and a private boat for a safe and successful learning experience.
Scuba diving is still the biggest attraction on Ko Tao. Diving in Ko Tao is easy, fun, and you can see turtles, stingrays, barracudas, lots of small fish, reef sharks, and there is a very small chance of seeing a whale shark.
At Chumphon Pinnacle you are likely to see juvenile bull sharks which have, until recently, been misidentified as grey reef sharks. Caution: the bulls are curious and very aggressive though for many years thousands of people have dived this site without a single shark-related incident.
Nearly any time of the year except November is good diving weather in Ko Tao and visibility can exceed 40 m. Average visibility is around 15-20 m. In November visibility is reduced to 5 m and the seas are choppy.
It is possible and perfectly comfortable to swim and dive without a wetsuit year round. However, as with most diving, a wetsuit is recommended to help reduce risk of cuts or injury. Avoid contact with coral reefs.
Various dive locations around Ko Tao are:
- Chumphon Pinnacles
- Southwest Pinnacles
- Green Rock
- White Rock
- Red Rock
- Japanese Gardens
- Twin Pinnacles
- HTMS Sattakut (wreck)
- Hin Pee Wee
- Mango Bay
- Ao Leuk
- Shark Island
- Hin Wong
- Lighthouse Bay
- Laem Thien
- Anywhere along the Ko Tao coastline
There are a huge number of dive operators on the island, many offering budget accommodation (sometimes described as free accommodation, but this is not really true as you will usually get a discount if you stay elsewhere). Currently (2012) the price for PADI open water certification including the new PADI training manual, professional instruction, rental equipment, boat dives, and certification is around 9,800 baht and for SSI open water certification including, professional instruction, rental equipment, boat dives, and certification is around 9,000 baht; insurance and basic accommodation may also be included. Shop around as not all shops teach the course in the same way. Look for experienced dive instructors rather than a low price.
A common method for teaching new divers is to train in a pool first by being taught about 20 basic skills before being taken out into the open water. Others will instead take you to a secluded beach so you will see fish and coral from the start and you might be able to squeeze in a short extra dive in this way, depending on your group and instructor. Some shops have a private pier, some shops depart with a longtail from the beach, and some use the public pier, where you will have to climb some other boats. Ask if this matters to you. Most important: find out the maximum number of dive students in a group, and make sure you get an instructor who speaks your language if you are not absolutely sure about your English. These are the little things that will make the difference between an OK course and a great one.
PADI 5 star dive centres and resorts
Watch out for dive instructors who may offer you the Nitrox-course without telling you they charge extra for it.
- Alvaro Diving/Freediving & Taraporn Bungalows, (at a small quiet outer beach of Chalok Ban Kao, south Ko Tao), . Small family-run dive and freedive shop with new equipment, recently established, flexible boat schedules and friendly multilingual staff. They teach PADI & SSI diving and AIDA & SSI freediving courses in small groups in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. The Bungalows are clean and directly at the beach, where you can play volley ball, go kayaking, or swim.
- Asia Divers Resort, . In Sairee, a 5 min walk from the beach. Gold PADI Instructor Development Centre offers a full range variety of diving courses, from bubblemaker to staff instructor, including divemaster internships. Multiple languages are used for the courses and the resort's bar is always a nice place to chill out after diving.
- Ban's Diving Resort, . In the centre of Sairee Beach. PADI open water courses up to professional PADI Instructor courses. A full range of technical diving courses are also available.
- Big Blue Diving Resort, . PADI Dive Resort with a fantastic location directly on Sairee Beach. Soak up the amazing sunsets viewed from their beach side bar and restaurant. With over 50 rooms this dive centre offers all courses from beginner to instructor and all technical diving & also offers eco-internships and has for the last 3 years won PADI's Project Aware Environmental Achievement Award. One of the longest-established dive centres on Ko Tao.
- Big Bubble Dive Resort. Main street (also located in Chalok Baan Kao),. One of the longer established dive centres on Ko Tao. Relaxed, fun diving. Scuba diving lessons from beginner to PADI Divemaster training with well-trained, professional staff.
- Buddha View IDC Dive Resort, Chalok Ban Kao Beach, (south Ko Tao) . PADI 5 star IDC gold palm resort with friendly staff, good facilities and a BBQ and beach bar to relax in the evenings. Dive instructor courses and professional training programmes with a divemaster. Watch out for bad equipment.
- Calypso Diving Koh Tao, (next to Family Resort in Tanote Bay), ☎ +66 77 456 745 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Dive training (hands on, no video teaching) from beginner to professional level following CMAS and PADI standards in small groups. Located in a quiet and party-free bay with a house reef in front of the premises.
- Coral Grand Divers & Resort, . Located in a much quieter area than the other dive shops, at the far end of the beach. The hotel is more upmarket and better suited for families. Operates 2 dive boats plus a speed boat.
- Crystal Dive Resort, . PADI scuba diving resort. All PADI dive courses, diving internships, eco-diving and professional divemaster and instructor development courses. Free accommodation.
- Davy Jones Locker, ('next to Sairee Beach'), . Divemaster Internships and PADI Instructor Training, and MCA Boat Handling courses in their RIB. Accommodation and gear packages are available for all courses.
- Dive Point, . PADI dive shop run by an Austrian. Offering diving classes in German, French, Italian, and English. Small groups and individual care for the students special needs.
- Diving On Koh Tao, (http://www.divingonkohtao.com). All PADI Courses, From Open Water up to Professionnal level. Low-budget or deluxe accommodation, free nights with courses. Information about Ko Tao, how to get there and all about scuba diving.
- Easy Divers . PADI dive shop with friendly experienced instructors. Professional and fun with great accommodation, and the only dive centre on Ko Tao with all-inclusive packages. With a private pier and a maximum class size of 6 students to 1 instructor.
- Impian Divers 5star Dive Center, . Impian Divers is nicely located on the beach of Mae Haad. They place great value on individual support, by keeping the groups for diving limited by 4 divers per professional dive leader, and they conduct a diving course in 5 different languages. The school is European-owned/managed with high safety record/procedures, but is still easy going. They differ from most dive centres because of the daily different locations for the dive trips, long dive times, and non-early morning departures. Twelve years of experience diving around Ko Tao.
- Island Dive Club, . In the centre of Sairee Beach. Does good deals on course and accommodation packages. The Thai staff can be annoying, so deal with the foreigners, they really make the effort. The dive shop is not that busy, meaning you might get an instructor for yourself or be taught in a small group.
- New Way Diving, . One of the oldest and most reputable dive shops. This small school has the first dive boat out in the morning. The car leaves for the harbour at 06:00 to avoid any crowds. Small groups, friendly and professional instructors. Some basic accommodation is available.
- Ocean Sound Dive, ☎ +66 82 412 6240, . PADI Dive Courses - Personal service, small groups. Open Water course, 9,800 baht, including 3 nights of accommodation. Includes all equipment, e-manual and certification fee.
- Planet Scuba Koh Tao (Planet Scuba), 9 Moo 2, Mae Haad, ☎ +66 77 456 110 (email@example.com), . Over 25 years of experience, Instructor Development Centre, full range of PADI Scuba diving courses for complete beginner all the way through to Instructor level.
- Pro Dive Koh Tao, ☎ +66 83 388 5648 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Direct booking for PADI training courses from entry level to Instructor. Best prices on Ko Tao and tuition from experienced and professional instructors using only the best equipment. (10.06622,99.821777)
- Samui Diving Service, Chalok Baan Kao (on the beach at Koh Tao Resort), (email@example.com), . PADI diving and education in small groups of 4 students per instructor. All PADI courses and daily fun dives.
- Seashell Dive Centre, . A small local;y-run shop with helpful multilingual staff, an OK boat and gear, but no free accommodation.
- Simple Life Divers, . Popular medium-sized Western-owned and managed PADI dive centre on Ko Tao's Sairee Beach.
- Sunshine Divers Resort, Chalok Baan Kao, . PADI Gold Palm Resort. DMT’s, staff, instructors, students, resident dogs, and fun divers all contribute to the relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
PADI dive centres and resorts
- Thailand Diver, Hat Sairee, . German dive base which focuses on safety and the environment. Experienced and friendly scuba instructors.
SSI dive centres
- Carabao Diving Center & resort  A good diving centre located at Chalok Baan Kao Bay, south Ko Tao. This is a quiet beach with some nice locations to eat and drink. The staff is very friendly and helpful. Good accommodation available.
- Master Divers (Mae Haad) . A small professional dive centre located in Mae Haad. They guarantee small groups and offer private tuition and private guiding too. They have an experienced team and time their boat trips to go to dive sites when they are quietest. They take their diving and environment seriously. They provide free water refills to minimise plastic bottle waste. They re-cycle and provide re-usable containers for take-away food to minimize polystyrene waste.
- New Heaven Dive School, . Over ten years of experience on Ko Tao. Has been involved with turtle conservation, reef restoration, the We Love Ko Tao festival, the Ko Tao Under Water Festival and any other activities which help to create the eco-friendly environment they would like to see on Ko Tao.
- Roctopus Dive, . Located a short walk away from Sairee Beach, next to the Big Yellow hotel. Roctopus offers SSI, PADI, BSAC and reef conservation courses.
- Scuba Junction  Run by Natalie E Alderton, who runs a very tight ship. The equipment is beautifully maintained and they dive and teach strictly by the rulebook. Good accommodations nearby are available at the Prik Thai Bungalows and SBC Cabana. Scuba Junction is an SSI Diamond Instructor Training Facility.
If you want to learn about coral reefs.
- Koh Exist, ( at same location as New Way Diving), . A marine conservation school providing information on marine ecology, corals, fish, and how to rescue corals by attaching them to artificial structures.
- New Heaven Reef Conservation Program, 
Liveaboard sailing and diving
- Scubasail  offers a 30 m long sailing and diving yacht called the "Naga". Accommodation, diving courses, visiting pristine (dive) locations and a beautiful experience on board assisted by a helpful crew.
BSAC dive centres
CMAS dive centres
- Calypso (Tanote Bay) . German dive teachers, small boat, small group, immediate dive of the beach. Wreck diving by the beach. CMAS certified. Quiet huts with lovely views next door at family Tanote Bay Resort. From 400 baht.
PADI 5-star career development centres
- Buddha View CDC Dive Resort, (Chalok Ban Kao beach in the south of Koh Tao). PADI 5 star CDC gold palm resort with a great atmosphere, friendly staff, good facilities and an excellent BBQ and beach bar to relax in the evenings. Professional training programmes with divemaster and dive instructor courses.
- Crystal Dive Career Development Center, . PADI student diver level course and are island specialists in PADI Divemaster and Instructor training. Maximum student-instructor ratio of 6:1, a wide selection of environmental programs and courses.
Over the last couple of years more and more non divers have discovered the beauty of this island with its secluded little bays and unspoiled mountain ridges. Due to this, and the increasing number of small upmarket resorts and villas nestled in the hillsides there are nowadays a lot more activities available, including sailing, rock climbing ( Trad routes, Sport routes, Top rope routes and Bouldering), abseiling, cliff jumping, wake boarding, mini golf or bowling in Mae Haad, massage and yoga courses, and cooking courses.
- Black Tip Diving & Water Sports, . Wake boarding, tube rides, shark snorkeling trips, cliff jumping, round the island trips, hiking, kayaking.
- Bowling and mini golf, , (on the main road between Mae Haad and Chalok Baan Kao just after the turning for Aow Leuk). The bowling is "manual", there is a guy at the end of the alley that sets up your pins for you after each bowl and returns the ball down to you.
- Dive career internships, . Divemaster and dive instructor internship programs, underwater videographer training and resort management courses with experienced PADI course directors.
- GAP year diving internships, . Specialises in training highly qualified and employable diving professionals, ranging from divemaster right up to instructor, over a duration of 2-7 months.
- Good Time Adventures, Diving, Beach Cafe and Bar , South Sairee Beach, ☎ +66 87 2753604. Very small group Scuba Diving courses with flexible schedules. Dedicated speed boat taking divers diving. The only shop on Koh Tao with a weekly trip to Sail Rock. A wide range of adventure activities including: rock climbing instruction up to lead climbing and a guiding service, abseiling/rappelling, cliff jumping, snorkeling, wake boarding, boat cruises around Koh Tao and the New Island 2 Island zip line adventure. Bouldering equipment is also available and includes a free map of sites on the island. Beach Cafe and Bar serves a tasty variety of western, Thai and Burmese dishes on the beach. Doorstep sandwiches, healthy salads and wraps, big burgers and a great variety of dinner options. Weekly beer can chicken, ribs or fresh fish BBQ (check flyers). Try the Suicide Wing Challenge.
- Hike to one of the secluded bays on the northern and eastern side of the island. On the 2 hr walk through the jungle to Mango Bay you will hardly meet any people. The snorkelling there is good.
- Koh Tao PROvideo, . A new and dynamic underwater videography company. Run by experienced underwater videographers and instructors who film and teach every day. Each course is tailor made.
- Monsoon Gym and Muay Thai Camp, . For those looking for a serious workout. Muay Thai courses are provided and you can step in the ring for a real bout when you're ready.
- 'Mountain biking.' There is a shop hiring mountain bikes next to the bowling and mini golf course. Mountain bikes are in reasonable condition and have suspension. 100 baht/day with a 1,000 baht deposit.
- Oceans Below-underwater video training, . 3 and 5 day courses in underwater videography and offers professional-level training for those looking to make a career of it. All training done with HD video cameras and quality Gates and Aquatica housings.
- Ocean Hiker sailing courses, . Seamanship courses and competent crew sailing courses Koh Tao based and live aboard on ocean going yacht.
- Ocean Sound Yoga , phone 08 2412 6240. Hatha, Vinyasa and Yin yoga classes offered daily.
- Pub Crawl , phone +66 8 0690 5337. Enjoy drinks promos, prizes and join the crowd on a tour of the best bars in Koh Tao.
- Thailand gap internships, . 1-7 month internships in Pro HD video training, Muay Thai, freediving, PADI instructor, divemaster and Technical Dive courses.
- xtreme Gap, . Lots of different activities based on koh tao, freediving, diving, Muay Thai and yoga.
- Dive4Photos, . Tel: +66 908 718734. Dive4Photos, Koh Tao’s only dedicated underwater photo facility. Workshops from beginner to advanced, covering macro & wide-angle, plus technique workshops for fluorescent photography & more. Photo editing workshops with Lightroom. All camera equipment included.
Abseiling on Koh Tao at sunset
Climbing the Koh Tao granite
A huge selection of Thai food is available, including lots of sea food. Barbecue fish is one of the local favourites. As a large portion of the population are expats, you will find plenty of other cuisines too. 2011 prices ranging from 60 baht for stuff-on-rice through to 250 baht for a nice hunk of fresh barbecue fish at a decent restaurant. 30 baht would get you a fresh banana pancake, and 60 baht a bowl of porridge with honey at a budget resort's restaurant. 200-300 baht would get you a bowl of freshly made Italian pasta, and 160-200 baht for pizza. Fresh fruit juices are available at many stalls for 30-40 baht.
- A Taste of Home, (East Sairee past Monsoon Gym). 18:00-22:00 M-Sa. Homemade dishes, large portions, and friendly relaxed atmosphere has made this Trip Advisor's top listed restaurant on Ko Tao.
- Bhan Thai, (Sairee Plaza, next to the Cabaret Show). Average Tex-Mex, cosy, small restaurant with free pool in the terrace. It serves Thai food, including curries.
- Bingo Thai Food, South Sairee Beach. Thai and Western food.
- Cafe del Sol, Mae Haad Square (Mae Haad). Authentic French and Italian style cuisine, homemade pasta and pizza, smoked salmon and first choice steaks, excellent wine collection
- Chinese Noodles, Mae Haad (next to Thai Art). Noodle soup.
- Choppers Bar and Grill, Sairee village, . Australian sports bar. Live music, live sports, pub grub and a wide selection of beers.
- Dolce Vita Italian Restaurant, Mea Haad Square. Run by 2 brothers from Apulia (south-east of Italy ), this place offers traditional Italian cuisine in a cosy ambiance. Lavazza coffee, daily house-made pasta and authentic pizza, meats from New Zealand, fresh seafood, house-made desserts, wine bar. Open 4PM until late.
- El Toro Restaurant, (between Ban's and AC bar). Average Tex-Mex, pizza and Thai food.
- Farango Pizzeria, Mae Haad and Sairee Village. Italian style pizza and pasta, always busy with dine in or take away. Expect to pay 140 baht for a pasta dish or 200 baht for a pizza from the wood-fired oven. Delivery available.
- Greasy Spoon, Mae Haad. Full Monty English breakfast bar. Eat in or delivery.
- Safety Stop Pub, Mae Haad (beachfront at Seatran pier), ☎ +66 77 456 209. 7AM-late. Comfy English pub with tropical beer garden. Draught beers, Wild buckets. English pub grub. Weekend BBQ's, Sunday roasts, daily specials, live sports.
- Shalimar Indian Cuisine, (opposite Sairee Plaza), ☎ +66 77 456740. Authentic Indian chefs, ingredients and tandoor. Wide variety of tasty dishes in a beautiful garden setting. Relax in the lounge for cocktails and sheesha. Take away and delivery available.
- The Snack Shack, Sairee Beach (next to Lotus Bar), ☎ +66 85 478 8753. 18:00-02:00. Late-night burgers, chicken pita kebabs, hot dogs, falafels, chips (French fries to the non-English) available with curry sauce, chili con carne or just good old salt and vinegar. One of only a few places on the island open for food after 22:00 other than 7-11. Delivery between 22:00-02:00. 70-140 baht.
- Thipwimarn Restaurant, (north island). Wonderful sunset views and a "higher class" feel, but the prices are not much different from the rest of the island. Great for dates.
- Tukta Thai Food, Chalok Ban Kao. Best Phad Thai on the Rock!
- Tongs Thai Food, Sairee Village.
- Tony & Aoi Bar/Restaurant, (Mae Haad, up the road from Songserm Pier, before Ta Chai), ☎ Tony (0807183191 - Italian) Aoi (0801458245 - Thai/English). Newly opened Italian/Thai/English place (April 2012). Imported Italian pasta starting from 100 baht along with the usual English and Thai fare. New, clean and well-priced, especially for the pasta.
- Zanzibar, Sairee Plaza. Coffee and bakery food. Pita and baguettes with an extensive range of sandwich and breakfast options. One of the few affordable places on the island with good quality imported cheeses and meats. Delivery available.
When you get a break from diving, there are a few bars on the island. The bars on the island rotate nights, so the best bet is to ask someone working at dive shop which bar will be crowded that night or check the posters. Many start off the evening at the bars located at the north end of Sairee, and after they close at 01:00, go onto whichever club is open for the rest of the evening at the south end of Sairee.
- FIZZ Beach Lounge, (on Sairee Beach). 16:00-01:00. Comfy beanbags, awesome sunsets, fantastic cocktail, authentic Thai or Western food and deep, funky house beats. 30-300 baht.
- MOOV, Songserm Pier Rd, Mae Haad (up from Whitening on Songserm Pier Rd), (firstname.lastname@example.org). 16:00-late. Club/restaurant/venue recently relocated to a garden location overlooking the beach. Check for daytime events and monthly parties.
- Vibe, north Sairee Beach. Atmospheric beach bar with happy, funky vibes, fire shows & cocktails
- Khirana, Chalok Ban Kao. Swimming pool bar on the beach.
- Lotus Bar, North Sairee, (at the horizontal palm tree). Nightly fire show, sunset happy hour.
- Dirty Nelly's, Mae Haad. The first and only Irish pub on Ko Tao with Irish management, live music, extensive food options, and live sport.
- DJL Bar, Pool & Restaurant, Sairee Village, (at Davey Jones Locker). Bar with swimming pool. Friday night pool parties, with free BBQ & shots.
- AC bar. Late night club that generally does not kick off until 2AM. Fairly dodgy crowd with lady boys, drunk tourists and average music.
- In Touch, Sairee beach, (on the far south end of beach). Late night club that is open only a couple of times a week. House music.
- Maya bar, Sairee beach, (on the far south end of beach). Very similar to AC Bar, when one is open the other is closed, same music, same crowd right next door.
- The Castle, Weekly parties at this out of the way club. Can prove to be a good night out with refreshing tunes and a mixed crowd.
You can usually find accommodation at the pier when you arrive. However, during peak times it is worth booking ahead unless you want to sleep on the beach or spend the night in one of the more expensive lodgings. If you are planning on taking a scuba diving course whilst on the island, most dive schools have an attached resort and will either discount the accommodation or throw it in for free when you book a course. During busy periods, most resorts with dive outfits will not want you to stay unless you are diving at least every second day with them. If you don't want to stay with your dive operator and use their free accommodation, you may want to ask for a discount.
The majority of the accomodations on Ko Tao are centred around two main areas: Sairee Beach and Chalok Bay.
This is the largest beach on Ko Tao, located on the west side of the island from the ferry terminal on the southwestern corner of the island and running almost the length of the island. All along this beach you will find dive schools, resorts, restaurants, and bars. The southern and central sections of the beach are well-known for their night life, and the northern end has a large number of shops and restaurants which tends to be a bit quieter at night (but with the bars only a short walk down the "Yellow Brick Road").
- AC Resort, . Budget resort.
- Blue Wind, north Sairee Beach. Bungalows on the beach. Extremely helpful manager, and friendly staff. The bakery offers a variety of good quality food. 300-1,500 baht..
- Casas del Sol, (Sairee), (email@example.com), . Boutique villas with modern tropical designs. Open-plan living, dining, kitchens, and private swimming pools. From 4,200-8,500 baht..
- Koh Tao Backpackers Hostel, (central Sairee Beach), ☎ +66 88 447 7921 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . checkout: 10:00. Eight bed dormitory rooms with air-con, hot water showers, lockers in rooms, free Wi-Fi and swimming pool use. Close to many restaurants, shops and bars. 300 baht.
- Koh Tao Coral Grand resort, Sairee Beach, . On the beach. 2,650-10,700 baht.
- Koh Tao Cabana, Sairee Beach, . 2 major room types; Whites, a wooden cottage style room and a villa, a rounded concrete structure with a king sized bed, spacious terrace and newly renovated daybed section.
- Koh Tao Montra Resort and Spa, Mae Haad, . Boutique spa resort with large swimming pools, Jacuzzi, international bar-restaurant, spa treatments and in-house PADI dive centre. From 1,500 baht/night..
- Ko Tao Resort (formerly Ko Tao Cottage), Sairee Beach, .
- Sairee Hut Resort, Sairee Beach. 1,800 baht.
- Silver Sands Beach Resort, (central Sairee Beach), . Fan & A/C bungalows and hotel-style rooms. Close to many restaurants, shops, and bars.
- Simple Life Resort, (Sairee Beach), . Air-con rooms, swimming pool, bar-restaurant, spa and massage room and free Wi-Fi.
Chalok Baan Kao is a much more chilled, relaxed environment than Sairee Beach, while still giving access to a great range of restaurants, beach bars, and BBQs plus a wide range of accommodation from luxury resorts to budget rustic, beach-side bungalows.
- Buddha View Dive Resort, . A resort primarily for divers with a range of budget to deluxe accommodation. Beachside cafe, bar, and nightly BBQs.
- Freedom Beach Resort, Chalok Baan Kao Bay, ☎ +66 77 456 596 (email@example.com). checkout: 09:00. Beach front bungalows for every budget although many are in need of refurbishment. All the bungalows have A/C and hot water although they lack fridges and TV. Two private beaches in front and a quiet location 10 minute walk to the Chalok Baan Kao Beach. Unfortunately there is quite a lot of old construction material dumped around the resort and nearby coastline. Inconsistent electric supply. From 500 baht for fan, up to 2,500 baht for A/C bungalows.
- Sunshine Resort 2, Chalok Baan Kao Bay. checkout: 09:00. Bungalows with 24 hr electricity. Windows have screens. Some bungalows have no electrical outlets. Friendly staff. European-style toilets, but with a pail and water replacing the normal flush function. 300 baht bungalow with double bed and fan..
- Woodlawn Villas, Chalok Baan Kao, ☎ +66 878 898 675 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Family-run with 6 fully-serviced private residences and a selection of villas and suites. Quiet, secluded, and 300 m from the main street at the end of a private road. Surrounded by 2 acres of coconut palm trees and tropical gardens. Supermarket, a variety of restaurants and bars, coffee shops, pharmacies, massage treatments are nearby. Daily maid service, free Wi-Fi & server with unlimited movies, series and music, fully-fitted kitchen, living room, air-con bedroom with en suite bathroom, hot water shower, cable/sat TV, DVD player & DVD library. Electronic in-room safe, hair dryer, towels & bed linen provided. From 1,200 baht.
More populated than other east coast beaches, but this doesn't mean it's busy. There is no town or village here and only 4 resorts, each with an attached restaurant and one really tiny shop which is up the hill behind the resorts. There are no ATM machines. There are no really cheap places to eat as there are in Mae Haad.
The sand on the beach is coarse and there is an unbelievable amount of broken glass in it. Likely because of people drinking while sitting on the rocks. Careful where you step and do your bit to pick up some of the glass. The shore is rocky and there is plenty of coral right off the beach. You can rent snorkelling equipment for 100 baht per day. There is a large rock just out to sea for those interested in cliff diving.
There are regular trucks that go back and forth 3-4 times per day at 100 baht per person. Ask at your resort for taxi times. Alternatively you can charter your own truck for 400 baht minimum or 100 baht per person.
- Poseidon Bungalows, (near the middle of the beach), ☎ +66 77 456 735. Free Wi-Fi in the restaurant when it works. Thai food is 80-140 baht. The low-end huts are quite shabby, but are the cheapest no-frills fan rooms on the bay. 400 baht.
- Aow Leuk II Restaurant & Bungalows, (on the south hillside in Aow Leuk bay), .
- Black Tip Diving & Water Sports Resort, ☎ +66 77 456 488, +66 77 456 489 (email@example.com, fax: +66 77 456 489), . Peaceful resort great for families, romantic holidays or just to get away from all the rest. Located on a quiet beach with one of the best bays on the island for snorkelling. 24 hr electricity, swimming pool, Wi-Fi. 400-3,000 baht.
- Bohemia Resort, Ao Thian Og (southern tip of Ko Tao), ☎ +66 87 906 5619 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Thai-style eco-resort on the top of the hill with amazing view on the Ang Thong National Marine Park and Ko Pha Ngan, with quiet surroundings in the middle of nature only 10 min walk from the beaches. From 1,000 baht.
- Charm Churee Villa, Jansom Bay, ☎ +66 77 456 393 (email@example.com, fax: +66 77 456 475), . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 12:00. One-of-a-kind, low-impact, eco-friendly, rustic resort with a quiet beach near the jungle. From 4,200 baht.
- Jamahkiri Spa & Resort, .
- Ko Tao Bamboo Huts, Jansom Bay, ☎ +66 77 456 394 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +66 77 456475), . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 12:00. Resort built extensively from bamboo in the interests of environmental sustainability. From 6,700 baht.
- Koh Tao Heights, (email@example.com), . Traditional Thai design and eco living on a hillside in the centre of Sairee with a panoramic view of Sairee Bay and Ko Nang Yuan Island. 500 m from the beach. From 1,100 baht..
- Koh Tao Star Villa, Sairee, . Modern, spacious villa in the hills above Sairee Beach. Very quiet with panoramic sea, jungle, and sunset views. 3,000 baht and up.
- La Cigale, (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Four private suites on 1 acre of avocado farm overlooking Sairee Bay, 250 m from the beach. From 2,000 baht..
- The Place Luxury Boutique Villas, Sairee, . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 10:00. Two boutique villas, both with private infinity pools. Private and far enough away from Sairee to offer peace and solitude, but still a short walk to the beach. From 5,000 baht..
- Villa Chacha, Shark Bay. Villa with outstanding view of Shark Bay. Located near the most popular beaches, 3 bedrooms on two levels with a Thai design and decor.
- Villa Jivarah. Private villa.
The number one way to stay safe on Ko Tao is to not drink and drive. Motorbike accidents are very common, especially when driven under the influence, on the wrong side of the road, in the dark. All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) are becoming numerous on the island. They are considered a menace by many as they are expensive, slow, noisy, and more people injure themselves on them under the mistaken belief that they are safer. Walk or hire a smaller motorbike instead. Be aware that motorbike hire is cheap, but can become very expensive if you so much scratch the vehicle. Hire an older bike rather than a brand new one.
Be careful when renting bikes. Avoid Owen Bike which has several locations on Ko Tao such as one on Sairee Beach, just as you enter along the main road on the left hand side in the same building as the supermarket, about 2 blocks before the 7-11 and a small intersection. You must give them a passport as a deposit, and even though you may take photos and return the bike in perfect condition, the lady will find small scratches and demand an exorbitant amount. If you do get in such trouble, at least in Ko Tao the police are on our side and not being bribed like in Phuket or other places. There's a friendly police officer named Chet who speaks very good English who might encourage you to file a report, saying that this happens several times a day on Ko Tao. Even if you don't file a report, the police can help you bargain a better fine. If you do file a report, contact your embassy and eventually the company will have to release your passport, because it doesn't belong to you but your government's property.
Additionally, when renting bikes, do INSIST on a receipt when you have paid the rental fee, or for every subsequent payment per rental day. Do not trust the shops to write accurate information in their own books. If you do not want to provide your passport as a deposit, some shops will ask for 2,000-8,000 baht as a one-off deposit instead. Again, take as many detailed photos as you can on the condition of the bikes. We caution against renting from CJ Guesthouse & Supermarket (13/1 Moo 1, Had Sairee Beach), situated on the same street as New Way Divers. They will not issue receipts if you do not ask, and later demand that you have not paid the cumulative rental fee when you return the bike. Without a receipt, it will be frustrating and difficult to argue your case. Do not trust the husband-and-wife team of CJ Guesthouse and be very careful on this matter even with other shops. Most bike shops on the island rent bikes for 200-250 baht per day.
Should you be unfortunate enough to need minor medical attention there are numerous clinics on the island. These, however, are only clinics, there are no formal medical facilities on the island. The closest hospitals are on Ko Samui or in Chumphon. Any medical condition not treatable locally will require a minimum of two hours ferry travel to reach a hospital. If the weather is bad, the physical rigours of such a trip can complicate medical treatment significantly.
The entire island of Ko Tao has no sewage processing. Water contamination far exceeds Western standards at nearly all times. This includes both ocean waters and tap waters. Sewer water drains across the beach and even the roads in several areas and are easily encountered by unwitting tourists. Beware of 'wet spots' in the roads that persist during dry weather and avoid the mist that rises from vehicles.
Small scratches or mosquito bites can become seriously infected if swimming, and ear/eye infections are extremely common among divers, more than many equivalent resort locations. Susceptible individuals and especially parents of young children should be aware of these dangers and exercise great caution.
Tap water supplied by shallow well pumps should be held suspect even during showering. Low-lying areas in Sairee and especially in Ban Chalok are the most polluted. The eastern areas far from the population centres are the cleanest.
Be also aware of the safety of your hotel room. There are many reports of stolen money especially in the resorts on Sairee Beach. Normally the thieves (sometimes even hotel staff) sneak into the room while you are out diving and take your cash from your wallet or from your bags.
As always, watch out for the sun. It seems to be particularly strong on the island due to the bright sand and surroundings, especially when slightly clouded.
Watch out for the gas stations, they like to let the meter start at more than zero. The red gas station on the road that goes up to the turtle is known for this.
Watch out for dive instructors teaching you the Nitrox-course without telling you that they charge for it when you check out. Ban´s is known for this.
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