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I spent a couple of days on Koh Tao and this is how it went

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Koh Tao

Joanna Horanin

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Last updated at 23/05/2024, 21:30

Hi, I'm Joanna, the author of The Blond Travels. In the worlds of Thailand and Portugal, I feel like a fish in water - and it's no coincidence! I've been exploring Thailand for over a decade, and I've settled in Portugal for 6 years now. My mission is to support Dreamers - just like you - in discovering these fascinating countries and helping those in love with them find their own place on Earth, preferably for good! Let's uncover these unique corners of the world together.

I finally managed to go to the famous Koh Tao. I mean, I’ve been there once, a long, long time ago, but all I did was go on a trip by a boat from which I fell off at the end. And that was it, that was my experience on that little island. After 2 days I moved out of there because I was bored. At that time I was there alone and I was at a very bad time in my life. I don’t think it was the place for me then. Recently I managed to stay longer. In this post I will tell you what my impressions were and what exactly I did.

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    Many people want to go to Koh Tao in Thailand, but are scared because they have heard this and that. I can tell you straight away that, admittedly, accidents do happen, but it really is worth visiting Koh Tao. Not only will you find amazing beaches, but a cool vibe, especially if you’re looking for something quieter.

    Koh Tao is an island that is touristy, but it is much better and more pleasant here than, for example, on Koh Samui, which is a large, developed island. Read on to find out more about my experience.

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    Koh Tao – Location

    Koh Tao, or Turtle Island, is located in the south-west of Thailand. It is part of the Chumphon Archipelago. Fairly nearby are islands such as Koh Samui and Koh Phangan.

    Travellers often combine a trip to Koh Tao with a visit to those two.

    A wooden bridge on the beach in Koh Tao.
    The water here has this amazing turquoise colour

    It’s worth visiting the island because…

    The island itself has many advantages.

    First of all, it is famous for its good diving and snorkelling conditions. The waters here are very clear and there is a lot of coral reef. It is not uncommon to see turtles or other marine animals.

    The island is tiny, but very beautiful. It is surrounded by blue waters and the grounds are covered with lush forests and tall palm trees. You could say that this is what you have in mind when you think of Thai beaches.

    Palm trees on a hill on Koh Tao, overlooking the water and the beach.
    What a view! This is what you get when you go on a view point on Koh Tao

    Although the island is small and popular, you can still find quiet corners here, although perhaps not as many as on Koh Chang or Koh Lanta, for example. However, even on the busier beaches, it is peaceful, blissful and relaxing.

    Local tourist offices organise many activities for visitors, such as cruises to nearby islands and beaches, diving, cooking courses or pub crawls. Here you will definitely not be bored.

    Why does Koh Tao have bad reputation?

    In 2014, news of the brutal murder of a pair of tourists swept the world. All eyes turned to this small island. Not only were the murders on Koh Tao shrouded in mystery, but they also became famous for their rather chaotic police procedure.

    A lounge chair on the beach on koh tao, overlooking the peaceful bay.
    The island is very quiet, but has some dark stories

    When you read about the events, you are bound to think that ‘something was wrong there’. Perhaps the murderer was the local mafia, or perhaps someone at a high level. The police were hiding something. In the end, two men from Burma were blamed for the murders, which also raised many doubts among observers.

    Since then, many people have associated Koh Tao with these events. The island has, so to speak, become the object of jokes. “Take care!” – your loved ones may say when you announce to them that you are going there.

    Is it worth having concerns?

    In my opinion, something bad can always and everywhere happen, including in your own country. In Thailand, such things are extremely rare for tourists. The country takes great care of its reputation.

    And Koh Tao itself is really peaceful and beautiful. Maybe the couple there were just unlucky? We will never know.

    My few days on Koh Tao

    I decided to hook up with Koh Tao after visiting Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. I took the ferry there in beautiful weather. The cruise was short and passed quickly.

    A boat with a person on it during a sunset on koh tao.
    I really loved sunsets on Koh Tao

    The choice of the hotel

    I had problems choosing a hotel beforehand. I first booked on Booking.com a room right by the harbour, right in the centre of the main town, but after looking at the map I decided that this was probably not a good decision. True, the accommodation was close to everything, but right next door was a ferry and boat landing. I had a feeling I wouldn’t get enough sleep in that location. So I changed to another place and it was a really good decision.

    The extent to which it was good was demonstrated by the fact that, upon arrival, the marina was in absolute chaos and noise. Travellers were mingling there with the locals, the ferry was honking incessantly. From the pier I walked ashore I could see the first hotel I had booked and I was glad I had changed my mind.

    At the port exit, taxi drivers are always waiting for travellers. It is so convenient on Koh Tao that many resorts offer a free lift. We were quickly able to locate a young chap who had been sent by our hotel. This one took us to the car park and left us for about 30 minutes, saying he was going to look for the other guests.

    The transport was free, so there was nothing to complain about. After a 30-minute wait and a 10-minute drive, we were at the hotel.

    Our resort – the Montra Resort – was tucked away in a side street. We had a large room, with a large bathroom. There was access to the beach and to the pool with sun loungers. The building itself was in need of some light renovation and the wi-fi was dire, but in the end, I can recommend Montra as an affordable, comfortable resort where you can relax comfortably.

    A trip that squeezed the last sweat out of me and relaxing on the beach

    We were due to stay 5 days on Koh Tao, so we rented a scooter at a nearby rental shop for 250 Baht per day and set off to explore.

    Koh Tao is quite a mountainous island and there are plenty of viewpoints with stunning panoramas. I had a couple of these points marked on my map and my ambition was to climb each one.

    The first point was close by. John Suwan Viewpoint is located just off Freedom Beach. Admission to the point cost us 100 Baht along with entry to the two surrounding beaches. (It turned out later that most of the beaches on Koh Tao are paid).

    A woman sitting on a rock on the viewpoint on koh tao. She is smiling at the camera. Behind her there is a beach and a forest. The view overlooks the bay.
    I was exhausted after the climb, but the view was worth it

    The climb to this viewpoint was extremely hard and steep. The temperature and humidity meant that I was slightly fed up when I reached the top. The views made up for the effort, of course, but I still decided that one such point would be enough.

    The descent proved to be a little difficult and I slid down on my bum a couple of times, getting the only shorts I had with me really dirty in the process. But you know what, Dreamer? The best thing about it was that there was a beautiful beach with crystal water right next to it, so I just jumped in the water and chilled.

    We walked along Freedom Beach some more and a little further, enjoying the surroundings. There were some people around, but the island itself has a way of feeling like it’s still quiet and peaceful everywhere, despite a lot of tourists.

    Crystal clear waters surrounding the bay on koh tao. in the distance tehre are poeple kayaking and a wooden house with a view terrace.
    Freedom Beach was really great, especially after that climb

    From there we made our way to Shark Bay. As I mentioned, paid beaches on Koh Tao are the norm and here was no different. There is a free entrance at this beach, but unfortunately due to the tide, it was inaccessible, so we ended up paying 100 Baht per person to enter.

    If you are on this beach, the free entrance is through Rocky Resort and through the bar there. At high tide it will be difficult for you to get onto the beach, but if the water is standing low, you won’t have a problem.

    Blue waters on Shark Bay, Koh Tao, thailand. In the distance we see a couple of houses and a hill with forest.
    This is probably the prettiest beach on the island

    The biggest let down was Hin Wong Bay, which looked great in the Google images but turned out to be littered and cluttered with plastic tables. We stopped there for a beer and to take photos with the drone, but in the end, I felt extremely saddened by the state of this beach.

    Hin Wong is well worth the trip though, as the access is beautiful and takes you along a winding road, amongst tall palm trees. Just remember to ride your scooter with someone who knows how to drive it. The roads on Koh Tao are very winding, steep and can be dangerous.

    Hin Wong Bay on Koh Tao, Thailand, seen from above.
    The bay looks really nice from this perspective

    We spent a good part of our time just driving around. In fact, you can explore the island in one day because there aren’t many roads. Instead, there are lots of viewpoints and beaches, so you can have a pleasant time.

    Snorkelling on Koh Tao

    The day before we left, we bought a snorkelling trip. We took a big boat out in the morning and spent most of the day sailing from one bay to another, swimming, sunbathing, snorkelling and enjoying the views. The cost of the trip was 2,000 Baht per person. The ticket price included lunch, and equipment. You can purchase your tour here.

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    The first point of the trip was Koh Nang Yuang Island – probably one of the most famous places in the area. I had been here once before. It was on my way back from this island that I fell off the boat.
    Even then, as now, the island did not make a great impression on me. It is true that the water here is nice, but it is full of people and there is a damaged coral reef by the shore.

    A woman on a boat going snorkelling on koh tao, thailand.
    I really loved snorkelling on Koh Tao

    There is a viewpoint on Koh Nang Yuang that I went to as part of a tour. The queue to get there was huge, and at the top you had to quickly climb up to the rock, snap a photo and get down quickly because there were dozens of people standing right behind me.

    The view is beautiful, but is it worth it? That depends on you. If I had to go there again, I definitely wouldn’t go. In fact, it was a waste of time and effort. After all, I could then go swimming and watch the small sharks that have their habitat not far away.

    Koh Nang Yuan island seen from the viewpoint.
    The island looks pretty from above.

    On Koh Tao, one of the attractions is the ladyboy show, a cabaret made up of transgender women. That’s where I took Pyś on the last evening and he really enjoyed the show. It was my third time attending such a show and I had a great time. I recommend you to go to this cabaret in Thailand. Also, don’t forget to familiarise yourself with the very concept of ladyboys.

    What else can I say about Koh Tao?

    Koh Tao is a quiet island, geared towards relaxation and leisure. The island is small, with only a few roads that you can actually drive down in half a day.

    A street with shops on koh tao, thailand.
    The island has a very nice, chilled vibe.

    Along the coast you will find small, beautiful beaches with crystalline water that is perfect for snorkelling. The only thing that bothered me was that you have to pay for everything. I believe that no beaches should be paid for and should not belong to hotels. If you want to see them all, you can spend a small fortune on Koh Tao. 100 Baht per person here, 50 there and at the end of your stay you spend 2,000 Baht to lie on the beach or see the sights.

    I really enjoyed the main beach, extending from the marina. It was wonderfully quiet in the mornings and in the evenings the bars would open for the sunset. Yes, there were a lot of people on it, but there was still that special atmosphere of relaxation.

    A sunset on the main beach on koh tao.
    Make sure that you see the sunset here at least once.

    If you’re looking for parties, you’ll also find them in the town. At night you will take advantage of pub crawls, happy hours and dance a bit in the bars and clubs. Keep in mind that everything closes quite early here, as there are resorts and hotels nearby.

    Overall, I think Koh Tao is an enjoyable island. If you plan to visit it, I’m sure you’ll have a great time.

    How to get to Koh Tao?

    You can get here in a few ways:

    • Fly from Bangkok to Surat Thani and take a bus and then a ferry.
    • Take a boat or a ferry from Koh Phangan or Koh Samui. You can do ‘island hopping’ here and visit all of these islands during one stay.

    The cost of the trip is between 1000-2500 Baht, depending where you’re travelling from.

    I recommend booking your tickets on 12GoAsia – my trusted partner for transportation in Asia.

    Where to stay on Koh Tao?

    On Koh Tao you have an abundance of resorts, hotels and hostels. You’ll find something here for every budget. I can recommend the Montra Resort to you. The hotel advertises itself as a 4-star hotel and perhaps it used to be so, but it needs a bit of renovation. I would recommend it to you because of how quiet and peaceful it is. The rooms are very clean, it is close to the beach, the pool is well maintained. The staff are also lovely.

    Check out the price of a stay at Montra Resort here.

    Where to eat on the island?

    The islands have it that it’s easy to come across bad, overpriced food here. I have the following recommendations for you, which I have tried myself and find they offer really tasty dishes at a reasonable price.

    Croissants laying on a plate in a french bakery, koh tao, thailand.
    Sometimes Thai food is just not enough and you need to eat something like this.
    • Family Kitchen – an excellent restaurant for lunch and dinner, offering delicious Thai food.
    • Zest – good sandwiches for breakfast.
    • Sandwich lady – a very simple Thai sandwich stall. Best to go early in the morning when everything is very fresh.
    • Coconut Monkey – great for breakfast and lunch.
    • Milk&Honey – Israeli cuisine.
    • Joy – simple Thai dishes from the north of Thailand.

    My stay on Koh Tao in Thailand was extremely enjoyable and relaxing. I would definitely go back there to just lie on the beach and enjoy the tranquillity that the island offers.

    I am curious if you have been to Koh Tao in Thailand? What were your impressions? Or are you going there and have questions? Leave a comment!