Koh Tao is my paradise in Thailand
Koh Tao. This place has a very special place in my heart.
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My first encounter with Koh Tao
But I wasn’t always so into Koh Tao. In fact, I couldn’t stand it the first time I was there and I swore never to go back. Ever (yeah, I know – what’s wrong with me?) It was back in 2006, and my friend and I spontaneously decided to go there before heading to Phuket.
With no knowledge of the island whatsoever, we arrived at the dock and sought a bungalow near the harbour. Since it was just after the Full moon party, all huts were unavailable. So we were forced to suffice with a tacky bungalow built on poles that swayed back and forth every time we took a step inside.
* A word of advice: Don’t ever get accommodation near a harbour – most often the beach is terrible and so are the huts.
The bungalow was very hot and the only ventilation was supplied by the ceiling fan above the bed. One that was barely hanging by its loose, untrustworthy wires and looked like it would collapse and land on us any time! Frustrated and hoping to catch the sunset and cheer up, we rushed to the beach without our mosquito repellent.
By the time we got there, we were brutally attacked by a hungry swarm of mosquitos. Within minutes my arms and legs were so itchy that I had to rub them with sand from the beach not to go insane, which only made it worse. Way worse.
My conclusion? KOH TAO, YOU’RE EVIL!
… and with that note, we fled the island on the first boat the morning after.
In the following months, I met lots of travelers who only spoke highly about Koh Tao. I couldn’t believe my own ears.
Was it really the same place we were talking about? Had I been wrong? And was I seriously considering going back and giving it a second chance?
Apparently I was because five months later I found myself back on Koh Tao. I found a great place at Sairee beach (the best beach on the island). Also, I was introduced to the magical neighbor island Nang Yuan, and I remembered to wear mosquito repellent after sundown.
On my second visit, I fell in love with Koh Tao. So much in fact that I now consider it my home away from home. It’s my safe place and the place I go to in my mind whenever I’m in a lousy situation and need to think about something nice. Today, I heart Koh Tao, and I can’t imagine how I could ever not like it. It has become one of my favorite places in the world.
KOH TAO IS EASY AND FUN TO EXPLORE
Koh Tao, which in Thai means Turtle Island, is smaller and less developed than Koh Samui and Koh Pha ngan. It’s a haven for scuba divers or people seeking to achieve a diving certificate as the island offers relatively inexpensive classes.
Last time I was there, Thomas and I rented a scooter and head out to explore the island. It’s only 21 km long, so how lost can you get (?) did I ask myself rhetorically when we didn’t buy a map at the rental store.
Well.. a lot apparently when your scooter goes on strike in the middle of I-don’t-know-which jungle. The result? We had to lift it for several kilometers until a passerby told us that it had self locked as a safety precaution. Apart from that, Koh Tao is easy to explore and a scooter gets you from one side to the other in no time.
If you decide to rent a scooter, remember to look for defects so you won’t be charged for them when you return it. And check if it has enough gasoline. Also, don’t give the rental store your passport or driver’s license as a deposit – bring a copy instead!
FUN NIGHTS OUT
Being a small island makes it rather limited in entertainment. Aside from the restaurants showing movies all night (I absolutely love this concept), you can play pool at one of the bars, check out a cabaret show or get a pancake. Or all of the above.
If you just came from Haad Rin, expect Koh Tao to be much more quiet in comparison. You won’t see hordes of people here as it’s mostly divers staying on the island.
IT’S CLOSE TO NANG YUAN
Another reason I love Koh Tao is that it’s so close to the national park of Nang Yuan, which is heaven on earth. Because it’s protected, the waters are even clearer and beaches are even whiter than on Koh Tao. It’s so beautiful here, and there’s a hill you can climb to get a panoramic view of the island and Koh Tao.
If you’re in the area, go here. That’s all I can say.
My absolute favorite place on Koh Tao is the beach, especially Sairee on the West coast. The water is clear and turquoise and there’s a restaurant nearby that serves the best fried rice with chicken and cashews I’ve ever had. Sitting there on the beach, just looking over the water, watching the sunset later on and daydreaming – that is my paradise. Both in my mind and in real life.
ONE STUNNING SUNSET AFTER THE OTHER
I’ve watched some of the most amazing sunsets in my life on Koh Tao. Imagine sitting on the beach with a cool Singha beer, listening to Jack Johnson in the background, a few people chatting at the restaurant nearby and just feel the peace. That’s how Koh Tao is. I never get tired of this scenery or the chilled-out vibe.
Have you been to Koh Tao? If so, did you like it?
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The sunset and sunrise in Koh Tao can leave people speechless, seriously. It’s like a paradise with healthy food, wonderful weather and smiley locals. I never made it there, but we went to Koh Phangan so I know what you mean :-), similar experience.
They really can and that’s why it’s my favorite time of the day! I’m going back there in a month’s time to get some of that athmosphere and food 🙂
I agree with you this place really does look like paradise. I also love the way you say it is less developed/commercialised than more popular spots.
It is amazing how a bad first experience can really influence our perception of a place. It sounds like it was right to go back and give this place another try, it truly looks wonderful.
Thanks, The Guy! Koh Tao is definitely something special and a paradise in my mind. I believe in giving second chances and apparently it was a good choice in this case. If you haven’t been there, I would highly recommend you to. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
So glad to read nice things about Koh Tao. I’m headed to Thailand in two weeks and am planning tp spend a couple of nights at Tao, but was a little unsure, as I’ve been to Koh Phangan before and really didn’t like it. It was all about the crowded parties and didn’t feel at all like Thailand. Koh Tao seemed more promising to me, and now after reading your article I’m really looking forward to my visit and all the diving and sunbathing I plan to do!
I’m so glad to hear that. Koh Tao is such a relaxed and chilled island – by far my favorite one in Thailand. You should stay at Sairee beach when you get there, it’s so lovely and beautiful! Have a great trip!
Nice post! This makes me even more convinced to see Koh Tao when we fly from Denmark to Phuket in January next year. I have been mostly hesitant as we would be travelling with a 6-month-old. Do you have any tips about where to stay (Is Sairee beach ok? Does it have a quiet end far enough from night parties, yet still be easily accessible?)? Is the ferry ride from Samui safe enough later part of January? How can we best get around with a baby in tow? Hope you can help, otherwise, if is fine. 🙂 cheers!
Oh you’re from Denmark? I might see you in Thailand as I’m flying there myself in January 🙂
Koh Tao is a small island and also very quiet so it’s perfect to visit with children. I wouldn’t worry about traveling with a baby, and it’s very safe to take the ferry! The most important advice I can give you is to book a room/bungalow in advance. We usually stay at Sairee or close by, and you should be able to find accommodation around. Just stay clear of hotels and hostels near the harbour, because the beach and water is dirty. Have a great trip! 🙂
Great article, you made me nostalgic. Koh Tao is magical, unfortunately the weather wasn’t great when I was there. Definitely an excuse to go back… 😉
Sure is, Dalal! I haven’t been there for years, maybe that’s my excuse to go back 😉
Thanks for the recommendation. I liked the post. I am now considering to go Koh Tao which I was earlier not. I would be there next month and hope to find good weather.
I’m so glad to hear that, Rajiv! Koh Tao is such a beautiful little island and so easy to fall in love with. Have fun 🙂
Would you choose koh Tao over koh lanta? My husband and I just want to hang out by a nice beach and explore a bit, no crazy parties or scuba diving. Thanks!
Well, in that case I would choose Koh Lanta. There aren’t crazy parties on Koh Tao, but there is a lot of diving and it’s not as big as Lanta.
I also Fell in Love with Koh Tao! I was there 3 weeks ago, unfortunatelly only One Night but i will come back again. Greetings from Germany
I has that effect, right? I need to go back soon, too. It’s been way too long 🙂 Greetings from Denmark
I really enjoyed reading your blog! I like to prepare before my travels and it gave me a lot of helpful tips. I was hoping you could help me deciding between the West and the East coast as i struggle to make a decision.
I am travelling to Thailand at Christmas for 2 weeks with my friend. We are planning to spend 2 days in Bangkok, and then we travel (via overnight train!) to Chiang Mai for 5 days That leave us with 5-6 days for exploring the islands. We want to experience both the party side and the quiet paradise of Thailand. I love the idea of Ko Tao but I am not sure if Ko Samui and Koh Phangan are good substitute for Ko Phi Phi. What are your thoughts about those 2 islands?
I would recommend Koh Pha nang and Samui over Phi Phi any day. Personally, I think Phi Phi is ruined by tourism and there are many better places to go. On the East side, you can explore the party side and the quiet on all three islands. Koh Tao is quite relaxed and the beach is better whereas Samui is a little more touristy.
Both sides are great, but if you decide to go West, I suggest visiting Koh Lanta or Koh Lipe. They are better alternatives to Phuket, Krabi and Phi Phi.
Cn you stay on the nang yuan island? and can you recommend places? Same for ko tao? Or do you think tis best to just arrive and look around. We were thinking of going in low season (may/june of 2017)..
I don’t believe you can. Nang Yuan is a natural park so I’m pretty sure you need to stay at Koh Tao, which is just a stone’s throw away 🙂
If you’re visiting in low season, you can just find a place when you arrive. I personally always stay near or on Sairee beach, which is the best. I don’t have any hotel or hostel recommendations, but it shouldn’t be hard to find. Just don’t book anything near the harbour, the water is disgusting.
I’m reading articles regarding getting shots for Hep A and B. Did you get your health shots before going there?
Yes, and you should definitely get the shots too, no doubt! I got shots that lasts 25 years.
Your blog has saved my life! I’ve made a last minute decision to travel to Thailand and now I’m trying to get the most info as possible. I’m planning to stay just under 3 weeks in the south of Thailand and I’m completely torn between the west and east coast islands. I’m definitely not about tourism but I’m travelling alone (also a girl) so I do want to meet other backpackers. I’m mostly nervous about losing a whole day just for traveling between them. Is it easy/worth it to travel between the two coasts? Any opinion would be helpful at this point! (:
Hi Kaylee, if you have have 3 weeks then yes, it’s worth traveling between the two coasts. It will take you a whole day, but it will be worth it in the end since they’re so different. The East is more laid-back and for backpackers, whereas the West is more touristy. Koh Lanta is a nice alternative (also very relaxed) and there are many small nearby islands with AMAZING beaches, perfect for island hopping. You should stay clear of Phuket and Phi Phi though.
Any accommodation suggestions for koh Tao and koh samui?
Sorry iv just seen your previous reply! X
Yeah, sorry about that. I need to write down where I stay from now on! 🙂
You should try and find a place at Sairee beach and stay clear of the harbour. I normally check hotels.com or hostels.com, but if you want a blogger’s opinion, head over to Alex in Wanderland. She basically lives on Koh Tao and has lots of tips.
Oh, and enjoy the islands. They’re both amazing!
Unforgettable place! I was there 7 years ago, that time I’ve got OWD certificate. Amazing underwater world! Try night dive, then you will see stunning sunset being on a boat before the dive. There will be nothing between you and sun on a horizon. Clear beauty. I miss it. And this year I’ll show it to my son.
What a lovely idea! Next time I return, I’m bringing my son as well although he’ll be too little for diving.
Have a wonderful trip!
Miriam, your blog simply made me decide where to head next for my holiday! Do you reckon if late July would be a good time to spend a week in Koh Tao. I have already been to Samui and Phangnan islands and loved every bit of things that both islands offer. I wouldn’t really mind taking couple of lessons to dive this time around. Would you have any recommendations for that too? As in a trusted diving instructor/place? Best Wishes from Down Under!- Saurabh
Oh, that’s great. I”m glad to hear that, and you won’t regret visiting Koh Tao. I don’t dive myself, but you could check out http://www.alexinwanderland.com – she’s a diver and blogger, and she lives on Koh Tao. As for the time of your visit, well July is not the best time so prepare for unstable weather. It shouldn’t keep you from going through!
Hi Miriam, we are thinking of staying in the Wind Beach Resort this coming January but we have heard there is a lot of construction work going on in and around Wind Beach at present. Do you have any idea whats going on there and most of all will it all be finished by the end of this year?
Thanks for your comment. I’m not aware of the current situation around Wind Beach, unfortunately. But you could always send them an email and ask. That’s what I would do 🙂
Have a great trip to Koh Tao.
That is a great article! 🙂
Best regards and may the air be with you! 😉
Thanks, Ricardo! And likewise 🙂