Koh Tao travel guide

Backpacking in Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao Backpacking Guide

Koh Tao has always been a ‘must visit’ destination for people backpacking Thailand with its amazing sunsets, beautiful beaches and brilliant viewpoints attracting thousands of travellers every month. In fact ‘Turtle Island’ was recently voted as the number 1 Island destination in South East Asia making it the favourite island destination for travellers and backpackers in the region.


The Island has become a ‘mecca’ for people wishing to get certified as a scuba diver, offering cheap dive courses and great diving conditions for most of the year.

Need To Know

Koh Tao itself is quite small, being just 21km2 with a good majority of the land covered in tropical Jungle. The Island was named ‘Turtle Island’ and is a direct translation from ‘Koh Tao’ by its original settlers for its shape.


Koh Tao has 3 main villages….

Mae Haad – This is the area that you will first enter as you step off the ferry. A small port town with the main shopping area, a wide variety of restaurants and plenty of accommodation options.

Sairee – Just a 20 min walk from Mae Haad this area contains most of the nightlife and beach bars.

Chalok – Small village on the South of the island that contains some of the best beaches, snorkeling and chill out areas.

When To Go

Koh Tao is open all year round with daily ferries shuttling people back and forth from the mainland 3 times a day, meaning it is possible to visit any time. For more information on how to travel to Koh Tao visit our travel page.

Koh Tao weather is generally good all year round with the monsoon season being between November – December but it is nowhere near as intense as other monsoons in South East Asia. Other than this you can expect hot and sunny weather sometimes interrupted with a quick cooling rain shower from time to time.

The island tourist population ebbs and flows in conjunction with the monthly full moon party on Koh Phangnan with the island peaking just after a party has finished as people travel over to Koh Tao and try scuba diving. The peak seasons are January – March and July – August meaning the island will be busier during these months.


There is a wide variety of accommodation on Koh Tao to suit all budgets from luxurious private villas to good hostel dorms. Mae Haad has the larger selection of cheap hostels and guesthouses for budget travellers, most rooms are dotted along the 2 main roads leading up away from the pier.

Pricing for Dorms start from 250 THB per person while guesthouse rooms will start at around 500 THB depending on what amenities you want in your room.


For a little more money around 800 – 1,000 THB you can stay in a beach bungalow, this type of accommodation is offered all around the island and can be a nice way to experience the Island feel.

If you are signing up for a scuba diving course it is most likely that you will get some sort of accommodation included as part of the package, so if you are interested in taking a course best not pre book accommodation.

Getting your ‘PADI’

Koh Tao has become the epicenter for diving and scuba culture in Southeast Asia. More divers get certified on Koh Tao than anywhere else in the world. The Island has a large variety of dive shops to choose from, giving you the chance to shop around to find a place that you get good vibes from.


few things to consider when making your choice….

Group Sizes – You don’t want to be lost in the crowd but on the other hand it is nice meeting people and making new friends. Groups of 4-6 people give you the best chance to have the most fun whilst also being under continual supervision.

Facilities – Taking your initial training in a clear and calm swimming pool offers a relaxed environment for you to get to grips with your new hobby. This is far better, and much more beneficial than going straight to the sea. A/C classrooms mean you will be nice and relaxed as you complete your knowledge development sessions and watch the training videos.

Equipment – Well maintained equipment and diving with dive computers should be a must when taking your PADI Open Water Course.


Sairee is the a popular location for a night out, with many beach bars and restaurants dotted along Koh Tao’s famous yellow brick road that leads from Mae Haad up central Sairee. The walk takes around 20 mins to get from one end to the other and makes for a nice walk when the sun has gone down and the heat subsided.


Koh Tao has taken on somewhat of a party culture over the last few years with Sairee beach becoming like a little Haad Rin during the night with its numerous beach bars pumping out music and buckets.

The main beach parties get going around 10pm and carry on until around 2am the next morning with fire dancers, challenges and drinking games to keep revellers entertained.


If not wishing to take part in scuba diving while staying on Koh Tao then the island still has plenty to offer with a wide range of different activities.

Go Snorkeling in one of Koh Tao bays

Kayaking around the island

Longtail boat to nearby Koh Nangyuan

Visiting the beautiful viewpoints

Yoga on the beach

Rock Climbing

Or even Mini golf

If booking your PADI course does not appeal to you and you would like something a little less active then you can always just relax around a swimming pool or enjoy a day at one of Koh Tao’s beaches.

Author: Neil Davidson (PADI MSDT #294100)

Crystal Dive Koh Tao

7/1 Moo 2
Tambon Ko Tao
Koh Tao
Surat Thani

E-mail: info@crystaldive.com

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