Chilled out beach
Once almost exclusively a base for divers, visitors are slowly realizing that Ko Tao has more to offer than just a place to eat and sleep between dives. This one mile stretch of white sandy beach with a beautiful view of small islands in the horizon is Ko Tao’s most popular, with plenty of inexpensive accommodations and restaurants. The closest airport is in Samui, so getting there involves a ferry trip and keeps the beach relatively uncrowded.
The neighboring island of Koh Pha Ngan (our Number 9 pick) is known for its full moon parties but you won't find too much wild partying on Sairee.
Serious divers and travelers just serious about relaxing on a scenic, less developed island will love Koh Tao. The relatively small island is shaped like a kidney bean, with most of the popular beach area facing west. The interior is rugged and undeveloped. Koh Tao is built up enough, though, especially around the main beach Mae Haad, that it doesn't feel too secluded, but there aren't an overabundance of other tourists or anything else, really. Though the island is attracting more and more travelers just looking for pretty beaches, it still retains its diver-centric attitude.
Sairee Beach is Koh Tao's largest and most popular beach. It's only about a mile long and has plenty of resorts, restaurants and bars.
Getting Around Koh Tao:
Though Koh Tao is less than three miles from top to bottom, it's rugged and does not have great roads, so getting from one place to another can be a challenge. Songthaew and longtail boats are available from the main beach, Mae Haad, to most other parts of the island for aywhere rom 50 Baht to 200 Baht. You can also rent a motorbike to get around but roads can be very dangerous, especially after rains.
Getting to Koh Tao:
Koh Tao is accessible either by ferry from the mainland or from Koh Samui.
By plane: Fly into one of two neighboring airports and then take a boat. Take a direct flight from Bangkok to Samui, then take a ferry from Samui to Koh Tao (less than 2 hours). You can also fly into Surathani and take a ferry from there (6 hours, includes stops on Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan).
From Chumpon: If you are in this mainland city, you can take a direct ferry in less than 2 hours (depending which ferry service you use).
Where to Stay:
Koh Tao does not yet have the same breadth of accommodation choices as nearby Koh Samui or even Koh Pha Ngan and the choices are dominated by basic bungalows and hotels and a sprinkling of four star resorts.
Nearly every bungalow or resort on Koh Tao is linked to a dive shop, as that's why the vast majority of folks are visiting.