The best things to do in Koh Tao, Thailand, from scuba diving and snorkeling to exploring local markets, hiking, and more!
Koh Tao is undoubtedly one of the best islands to visit in Thailand, along with Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, and more.
The small tropical paradise of Koh Tao is most well-known for its scuba diving, as it offers some of the best diving conditions in South East Asia.
With calm, warm waters, mesmerising marine life, and plenty of dive schools to take a course or go fun diving, Koh Tao is the perfect place for introductory or certified divers.
Koh Tao is also surrounded by plenty of unique snorkel and dive sites, as well as truly magical islands.
Koh Nang Yuan is a beautiful location to spend the day and photograph, and Shark Island is an iconic dive site right off the coast of the best Koh Tao beaches.
When you’re not frolicking through the colourful underwater world, there is so much in store for you on land as well!
Koh Tao has all the iconic aspects of any Thai island or village. Delicious, flavourful cuisine, bustling markets, beach bars, rewarding hikes, and smiling locals are all abundant. And the beaches on Koh Tao are gorgeous as well!
So whether you’re an adventurous traveller looking for constant excitement, or you’d rather relax and soak in the serenity of this little oasis, Koh Tao has it all.
Check out our ultimate Thailand Travel Guide for more tips, itineraries, and recommendations!
Keen to explore Koh Tao? Let’s get into the article!
Table of Contents
The Most Awesome Things to Do in Koh Tao, Thailand
If you’re stuck on what to do in Koh Tao, Thailand, check out our complete guide to the island’s top activities!
From taking your first breaths underwater, to enjoying the view from the famous John Suwan Viewpoint, to lounging on Freedom Beach, Sai Nuan Beach, or the other stunning Koh Tao beaches, you’re going to love these top things to do in Koh Tao!
1) Learn Scuba Diving with an Open Water Course
Koh Tao is one of the best places in the world to learn how to scuba dive! With a vibrant underwater world full of unique dive sites such as Chumphon Pinnacle, Sail Rock, and Shark Island, there is no shortage of places to explore beneath the surface.
The waters around Koh Tao create the perfect environment for learning scuba diving. Warm temperatures, great visibility, and calm conditions are ideal for first-time divers.
In addition to the pristine and safe scuba diving conditions, Koh Tao is teeming with top-rated dive schools and dive shops.
There are lots of affordable options for getting certified and learning how to dive with excellent local instructors.
So if you’ve always wanted to learn how to scuba dive, Koh Tao is the place to be!
With top-notch dive schools that are also affordable, plus a wide range of fascinating dive sites and prime conditions, you can become an experienced diver in no time at this world-class diving destination.
So which scuba diving schools do we personally recommend?
The first one is Ban’s Diving Resort, who are not only the biggest dive school on Koh Tao, but one of the biggest in the entire world!
As a PADI 5 Star Career and Instructor Development Centre, you can be guaranteed of the attention to detail when it comes to education and their commitment to providing a fantastic experience for new divers.
Their on-site accommodation is also truly lovely, and while it’s a bit pricier than other options on the island, you get what you pay for.
The other Koh Tao dive school we recommend is Black Turtle Dive.
These guys are a bit more specialised and small-group focused than Ban’s, and their courses are world class.
Black Turtle focus heavily on conservation and sustainability, and these ethos are built into their products.
They also take safety extremely seriously, providing all students and fun divers with dive computers, and keeping guide to diver numbers limited.
We dove with both Ban’s and Black Turtle on our most recent trip, and honestly recommend both.
Wondering how to get to Koh Tao? Check out our guide to Transportation in Thailand!
Once you learn to scuba dive you’ll be hooked for life!
2) Upskill Your Dive Certificates
If you’ve already completed your open water scuba course, you can further advance your dive skills in Koh Tao!
Many of the organisations that offer scuba courses also offer more advanced dive courses.
So if you want to take your skills to the next level, consider a more unique and challenging type of dive cert.
From general advanced open water courses, to rescue courses, to becoming a divemaster yourself, there are many ways to upskill your dive certificates in Koh Tao!
At the absolute minimum, if you love diving we recommend getting your advanced diver certification asap.
It allows you to dive to 30m, which opens up an entirely new world, and helps progress your skills.
The next we recommend is going for your enriched air (nitrox) and deep diver specialties.
Finally, if you feel as though diving is something you’ll do a lot, we highly highly suggest doing your rescue diver course.
This added an entirely new level of confidence for us, and made us feel so much more comfortable diving in any conditions.
3) Learn about Reef Conservation and Do an Ecological Monitoring Program with Black Turtle Dive
Once you start diving, you’re going to fall in love with the ocean, reefs and marine life you find every time you head underwater.
If you’re anything like us, you’ll then start to form a deeper appreciation for conservation efforts, and may even want to contribute yourself.
Until recently the work of marine conservation was usually a task people only associated with marine biologists.
These days though anybody with some basic skills, passion and the ability to invest time can help out, and that is exactly what I did on my recent trip to Koh Tao.
I signed up for the Ecological Monitoring Program with Black Turtle Dive, which is a course designed by the non-profit Conservation Diver to learn how to conduct coral, invertebrate and fish surveys.
And wow, what a truly eye-opening experience.
The guys at Black Turtle have been monitoring the health of the coral reefs and fish around Koh Tao for decades, and are qualified to contribute their scientific findings to an official, global database. And that’s exactly what I learnt to do too.
Looking for fish, invertebrates and substrates during my reef survey. Thanks to Steve from Black Turtle Dive for the photo.
For 3 days I studied all about the reefs and marine life of Koh Tao, then went out and did practical surveys in a designated part of the bay.
Over a 100m by 5m zone I’d document every single indicator species of coral, invertebrate or fish I could see on a slate, as well as the health and estimated numbers of each finding, and this information would be analysed against the years of data Black Turtle have uploaded.
This gives an overall view of the health of the reef and how things like tourism, sea temperatures and weather events affect the area.
As a passionate diver this opened up a whole new world for me. I developed a newfound appreciation for marine science and now want to be even more active in the conservation of the world’s reef and marine life.
Now I’m also certified to help out the team of biologists and conservation divers next time I’m here.
Black Turtle Dive are the only dive school offering the Ecological Monitoring Program course in Koh Tao, Thailand. If you love scuba diving, it’s well worth checking out!
Thanks so much Steve from Black Turtle Dive for stepping me through the course and taking photos while I focused on the survey.
- Address: 8 Moo 2 Mae Haad Koh Tao, Surat Thani 84360, Thailand
- Hours: 6:30am – 8pm
My survey slate after doing the EMP course with Black Turtle Dive on Koh Tao.
4) Go Snorkelling
If scuba diving is not your thing, snorkelling is another fantastic way to discover the vibrant marine life of Koh Tao island.
Rent snorkel gear from one of the many dive shops in town and just walk down to the shores of the best Koh Tao beaches like Freedom Beach, Sairee Beach, Sai Daeng Beach, Sai Nuan Beach, Mango Bay, Tanote Bay, Ao Hin Wong Bay, or Aow Leuk Bay.
Shark Bay is another great snorkel spot. You have a good chance of spotting black tip reef sharks while you’re exploring underwater, hence the name Shark Bay!
In fact while I was scuba diving at this site, a whale shark came right by the island and the snorkellers above got just as good a viewing as I did from below!
Don’t want to just go from the beach? Never fear, because you can book a snorkelling tour on Koh Tao!
Guided snorkelling trips give you some extra mileage and insight because your local guide will take you off the coast to all the best snorkelling spots.
Learn from the locals and enjoy a bit of sightseeing in addition to epic snorkelling!
Popular snorkelling spots that require a boat to get there include Shark Island and the nearby Koh Nang Yuan Island.
Once you grab some snorkelling gear you’ll find no shortage of beautiful seas to dive into and explore.
5) Try Rock Climbing
Adventurous travellers looking for a fun challenge can try rock climbing while visiting Koh Tao.
The small island is packed with natural granite cliffs that offer the perfect landscape for climbing and bouldering.
There are rock climbing routes for both beginners and experienced climbers. Koh Tao is even home to a few climbing gyms where you can take lessons and practice indoors.
Otherwise, visit a local climbing shop to rent gear and book a lesson outdoors. Or just go for it if you know what you’re doing!
Top rock climbing spots on Koh Tao island include Mek’s Mountain and Secret Garden near Sairee Beach, as well as Jansom Bay and Lang Khai.
READ MORE: Check out what else to get up to in the Land of Smiles with our expert guide to the best things to do in Thailand!
6) Eat All the Local Thai Cuisine
Another one of the best things to do in Koh Tao is, of course, eat Thai food!
Full of fresh veggies and aromatic spices, Thai cuisine is one of the most beloved around the world.
When you visit Koh Tao, be sure to try as much authentic local food as you possibly can!
Indulge in delicious dishes such as Pad Thai, Green Curry, and Mango Sticky Rice at the many restaurants and street food vendors.
Most restaurants are centered around Sairee Beach and Mae Haad Pier, but there are hidden gems scattered all over Koh Tao.
Read next: The Ultimate 1, 2, and 3 Week Thailand Itinerary
Is Thai food seriously the best cuisine in the world? We’d say so!
7) Hike to a Panoramic Koh Tao Viewpoint
Get some exercise while visiting Koh Tao and go for a hike! Koh Tao is covered in rich forests and hills, meaning there are some fun trails and amazing viewpoints if you are willing to put in the effort.
One of the island’s most impressive hikes is the one to John Suwan Viewpoint.
Offering panoramic views of Shark Bay, Shark Island, Chalok Baan Kao Beach, and more, the observation deck at the end of this hike is well worth the effort.
The hike to John Suwan Viewpoint is steep but short. Find the starting point for the hike from the Freedom Beach car park at the southern end of the island.
In addition to the famous John Suwan Viewpoint, the Love Koh Tao Viewpoint is another easy and rewarding hike.
Located in the centre of the island near Sairee Beach, the Love Koh Tao Viewpoint offers a nice view of the jungle and surrounding Koh Tao beaches.
Mango Viewpoint and Fraggle Rock Viewpoint are more fun hikes with panoramic views of Sairee Beach and the Koh Tao coastline.
Many viewpoints are free, but some, like the Mango Viewpoint, have an entrance fee of 100 Thai Baht, so carry a bit of cash with you while hiking.
If you love scenic viewpoints and a good workout, hiking to one of these viewpoints is one of the best things to do in Koh Tao!
The view from John Suwan Viewpoint.
8) Learn To Cook Authentic Thai Food
When visiting any Thai island or city, do yourself a favuor and take a Thai cooking class!
Learn all about the local cuisine and get a crash course about how to prepare your favourite Thai dishes so you can impress your friends back home.
This is one of the best things to do in Koh Tao if you want to meet locals and learn about the secrets behind the most iconic Thai dishes.
Thai Cooking with Joy and Parawan Thai Cooking Class are two local businesses near Sairee Beach Koh Tao that host cooking classes.
Make sure you arrive on an empty stomach because you’ll be sampling all the food you make!
Sign up for a Thai cooking class and learn how to make your favourite dish!
9) Focus on Yoga and Wellness
Rejuvenate your body and mind with a yoga class or massage therapy session at one of the many wellness centers on Koh Tao.
All around the small island of Koh Tao, you can find businesses offering yoga classes, spa treatments, and Thai massage.
Prices are very affordable in Thailand, so treat yourself to a day of wellness and relaxation!
Thai massage is a unique type of massage that focuses on acupressure and twisted yoga poses so it’s not your traditional relaxing massage. But it is a cool experience to have in Thailand!
After a long day of exploring the hiking trails and beaches on Koh Tao, a massage or a zen yoga class may be exactly what you need!
Do a yoga or wellness retreat on Koh Tao and feel as relaxed as these two.
10) Explore the Best Koh Tao Beaches
The beaches in Koh Tao are out of this world, so make sure you spend ample time soaking in the sun and swimming in the pristine waters.
Sairee Beach is one of the largest and most popular beaches on Koh Tao.
Surrounded by hotels, bars, and restaurants, this beach is almost 2km long and has everything you need nearby!
Sai Daeng Beach is a quieter alternative to Sairee Beach. With fringing coral reefs and a lovely view of Shark Island, Sai Daeng Beach is a great spot to spend an afternoon. Chalok Baan Kao Bay is also a beautiful and chill option nearby.
Sai Nuan Beach is another secluded spot. Just 15 minutes away from Sairee Beach, Sai Nuan Beach consists of two uncrowded and breathtaking little beaches where you can swim, sunbathe, and snorkel.
Some other stunning Koh Tao beaches include Haad Tien Beach, Shark Bay Beach, Tanote Bay Beach, and Freedom Beach.
Pretty much all of the beaches in Koh Tao are fringed with palm trees and calm, glistening blue waters, so you really can’t go wrong!
Can’t beat a good sunset on Sairee Beach!
11) Rent a Scooter
Another one of the best things to do in Koh Tao is rent a scooter!
Hiring a motorbike and zipping around the countryside is pretty much synonymous with Southeast Asia.
From Vietnam to Cambodia to Indonesia, you’ll meet few travellers who haven’t explored Asia by scooter!
Renting a scooter allows you to travel further and explore the island at your own pace.
Drive beneath palm trees and granite cliffs, travel past beautiful beaches and coves, and admire the rich jungle scenery discovering hidden gems around Koh Tao.
Ride over to the remote corners of Tanote Bay, Mango Bay, Ao Hin Wong Bay, or Sai Nuan Beach, or just wind through the hills of Koh Tao and explore without a plan.
Between the busy tourist areas of Sairee Beach and Mae Haad Pier, you can find lots of rental places.
Just make sure you follow all of the safety precautions and drive safely while you explore Koh Tao on two wheels!
And remember, if you don’t have a motorbike licence in your home country, you won’t be covered by travel insurance if you have an accident.
Planning a trip elsewhere in Thailand? Our guide on what to do in Phuket is great place to start!
Rent a scooter and hit the road.
12) Visit the Turtle Conservation Center
New Heaven Reef Dive School and Conservation Program is an education and tourism center located in Chalok Baan Kao Bay on Koh Tao.
Offering diving courses for beginner and advanced divers, freediving courses, yoga classes and teacher trainings, and even accommodations, New Heaven has so many incredible things to offer travellers in Koh Tao.
One of the most rewarding activities you can try is learning about sea turtle conservation efforts at the New Heaven Reef Conservation Program.
“Koh Tao” in English means “Turtle Island”, and the waters surrounding the beaches in Koh Tao are full of green sea turtles.
Get up close with these fascinating creatures and learn about protecting them at the Turtle Conservation Center!
The organisation also has reef building and coral spawning in addition to turtle protection efforts, so you can really get involved in the inspiring research and conservation practices during your Koh Tao trip.
- Address: 48 Chalok Baan Kao Bay, Koh Tao, Surat Thani, Thailand
Everybody loves turtles, so why not visit the conservation centre on Koh Tao and learn more about how these legends are protecting this beautiful species?
13) Learn How to Freedive
In addition to scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking, and paddleboarding, Koh Tao is known for yet another water activity: freediving!
This challenging and meditative sport involves the art of breathwork and endurance as you dive deep underwater without any scuba gear.
It’s a truly fascinating way to experience the coral reefs of Koh Tao, but it requires a good amount of training and preparation.
To try this unique activity, take a freediving course to learn how to explore the underwater world in a single breath!
There are some great local Koh Tao companies that offer safe courses with pool and ocean training, including Apnea Total and Black Turtle Dive.
14) Experience the Famous Koh Tao Nightlife
Like many other locations in Thailand, Koh Tao has a bustling nightlife.
With year-round warm weather, beachfront bars and clubs, cheap prices, and a healthy international tourist population, the nightlife here is incredible!
Whether you want to dance all night at a club, have a few casual drinks, or take yourself on a self-guided Koh Tao pub crawl, there is no shortage of options for you.
The main walking street beside Sairee Beach is a great place to start. There are clubs and bars galore, with Fishbowl Beach Bar, Lotus Bar, and Fizz Beach Lounge being some top spots on Koh Tao.
Read next: The 22 Best Things To Do In Koh Samui, Thailand
Lotus Bar is right on the beach, making it perfect for a sunset drink and a game of volleyball.
15) Visit Koh Nang Yuan Island
Koh Nang Yuan is a tiny island off the coast of Koh Tao that also offers incredible snorkelling and diving.
Famous for its unique sandbar connecting three separate islands, taking a day trip over to Koh Nang Yuan Island is easily one of the best things to do in Koh Tao island.
Snorkel, sunbathe, kayak, or hike up to the Koh Nang Yuan Viewpoint for a breathtaking panorama.
You can reach Koh Nang Yuan via a short boat ride from Koh Tao. Or you can book a guided day trip to Koh Nang Yuan and have all your transport and activities organised for you, which is what we recommend.
On this top-rated day trip, you can go paddleboarding, kayaking, and snorkeling in the turquoise waters surrounding Koh Nang Yuan.
You’ll also get to explore Mango Bay, Hin Wong, and Ao Leuk Beach, and lunch is included.
Koh Nang Yuan is an amazing place to spend the day chilling, snorkelling or hiking.
16) Try Kayaking and Paddleboarding
Get a new perspective of the Koh Tao island coastline by trying some water sports!
Paddle past the stunning white sand beaches on Koh Tao on a kayak or paddleboard. For an extra burst of colour, try it at sunrise or sunset!
The sea around Koh Tao is usually very calm, so you can explore the island’s hidden coves and secret beaches and bays with a kayak or paddleboard!
Rent your gear at any local tourism or water sports operator in town! CV Divers is a popular business that has decent prices on board rentals.
Grab some kayaks and find a gorgeous plot of sand to pull up.
17) See a Muay Thai Boxing Match
Make the most of your time in Koh Tao by watching the country’s most beloved spot: Muay Thai boxing.
This unique form of martial arts is a fascinating sport, and most towns around the country have local matches that you can attend.
Around the main streets of Sairee Beach and Mae Haad, there are a few local venues where you can buy tickets to a Muay Thai boxing match.
Prices can vary, but the entrance fee for a match is usually around 1,000 or 1,500 Thai Baht.
Grab a drink, sit back, and get ready to observe Thailand’s national sport!
Or go a step further and learn Muay Thai yourself! There are plenty of gyms you can join on the island for everything from one-hour sessions right through to monthly intensive programs.
18) Visit the Local Night Market
Visit the local Koh Tao night market to experience authentic Thai culture, try street food delicacies, and shop for unique souvenirs to take home.
One of the best things to do in Koh Tao is checking out the night market across from Koh Tao Leisure Park.
Full of aromatic street food and some local trinkets, the night market is a great place to spend a night in Koh Tao.
Though the night market is centrally located, you’d be surprised to find few other tourists here.
This is a popular spot for locals, so prepare to learn a few Thai phrases and taste some truly authentic dishes!
Hit the streets at night for some shopping and eating.
19) Take a Day Trip to Koh Samui or Koh Phangan
Depending on how long you plan to stay on Koh Tao island, it’s definitely worth venturing to some of the neighbouring Thai islands as well (if you aren’t already coming from them via Surat Thani or Koh Samui airport).
Most people visit Koh Tao as part of a Thailand island hopping adventure. But some people solely visit Koh Tao island for scuba diving courses.
Either way, try to dedicate at least one day to visiting either Koh Samui or Koh Phangan. Both of these islands are just a short boat ride away from Koh Tao, and they are both incredible!
Koh Samui is a relaxing holiday destination with waterfalls, abundant marine life, markets, and temples to check out.
Koh Phangan is more famous for its nightlife, and it is home to the famous Full Moon Party!
But even if you don’t want to party, Koh Phangan has lots of epic hiking, snorkelling, and sightseeing to be done as well.
Taking a day trip to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan or even Ang Thong Marine Park is a great way to spend a day.
20) Admire the Wat Koh Tao Temple
Another must-do in Koh Tao is take a look at the island’s majestic temple located right in downtown.
Wat Koh Tao Temple is a modern Buddhist temple that reflects the local religion, art, and traditions.
With its impressive architecture, serene atmosphere, and ocean views, this beautiful temple is one of the most amazing landmarks on Koh Tao.
Even if you just pop by quickly on your way to hit up the Koh Tao beaches, it’s still worth checking out! There is no entrance fee as well.
- Address: 3RPG+GVG, Koh Tao, Ko Pha-ngan District, Surat Thani 84280, Thailand
Ahh Koh Tao, you are beautiful.
The Best Places to Stay in Koh Tao, Thailand
Now that you know what to do on Koh Tao, Thailand, it’s time to look for a place to stay.
There are incredible options for all budget ranges and travel styles, and most accommodations can have you within walking distance of the best Koh Tao beaches and amenities.
Let’s take a look at the best places to stay in Koh Tao island!
Best Hostel on Koh Tao Island: Taco Shack Diving Hostel
If you want to save money, make friends, and learn how to dive, this is the perfect Koh Tao hostel for you!
Taco Shack Diving Hostel is just 5 minutes away from the bustling hub of Sairee Beach and is close to other top Koh Tao beaches, and it has glowing reviews from over 1,600 travellers on Hostelworld.
Travellers love that this hostel offers cheap dorm prices in addition to excellent dive courses.
Enjoy delicious food from the on-site restaurant, relax with other travellers on the rooftop and terraces, or make the most of the fun games and activities on offer.
Best Mid-Range Accommodation on Koh Tao Island: Ban’s Dive Resort
Another incredible accommodation option for those looking to take a dive course on Koh Tao is Ban’s Dive Resort.
This 4-star hotel has onsite restaurants, a bar, and a pool, as well as a professional dive center where you can sign up for classes.
Plus, the rooms are beautifully designed and have all the best amenities, including private balconies with lovely views of Koh Tao and air-conditioning. You can get all these amazing features for decent prices as well!
My beautiful bedroom at Ban’s Diving Resort.
Best Luxury Accommodation on Koh Tao Island: Freedom Beach Koh Tao Resort
Freedom Beach Koh Tao Resort is one of the top places to stay on Koh Tao if you want a bit of luxury!
Located just a 2-minute walk from Freedom Beach, and within walking distance of Shark Bay Beach, Chalok Baan Kao Beach, and Sai Daeng Beach, this lovely hotel puts you right near some of the best Koh Tao beaches and snorkelling spots.
Freedom Beach Koh Tao Resort has rooms with ocean views, bungalows, and villas perfect for families or couples looking for a magnificent stay.
Enjoy a free airport shuttle, an on-site restaurant and bar, a garden, and a picnic area to enjoy when you’re not out exploring Koh Tao!
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