• koh tao island thailand

Koh Tao’s Chilled out Diving Vibe

Before I tell you about Koh Tao, I’ll share what else I’ve been up  too online. Couchsurfing’s Tumblr posted my tips for safe couchsurfing which brought me some new readers! That was a nice surprise. This next one is a little old, but I never shared a blogger collaboration on best coffees around the world, where I mention Bosnian coffee. 

I also shared with Twenty-Something Journey my photo of a sadhu in Varanasi which is worth taking a second to pop over and see. 

Now, on to Koh Tao!!

Of all the Thai islands I went to, Koh Tao was by far my favorite. Instead of being a full on party scene all day and night like Koh Phi Phi, it was more relaxed during the day and came alive at night. It has a chill surfer vibe, even though there is no surf! I guess scuba divers give off the same vibe. Other than scuba, there are great places to eat, see sunsets, snorkel, and sleep. Snorkeling here is actually one of the best things to do in Thailand!

koh tao island thailand

koh tao island thailand

koh tao island thailand

Koh Tao is THE place to get scuba certified. The island certifies more people than anywhere else in the world. There are companies on every corner with people begging asking for you to sign up for a class. If you aren’t into scuba/snorkeling/the ocean you probably won’t want to stay on Koh Tao too long.

koh tao island thailand

One thing I didn’t like on Koh Tao:

Some of the best places to stay are also dive companies. They won’t let you stay unless you sign up for a class, but if you do sign up for a class, then you can stay a night for free if there is availability. This is all fine, except the seasonal workers at some of these dive shops had an all-inclusive attitude, like “I live and work here, and you are just a tourist”. One chica in particular shooed us away before we could even ask for a room, she didn’t know yet if we were planning to dive or not. That is not a good sales tactic! I’m used to living in Goa, where tourists come just for “season time” then disappear and I can’t imagine having my nose up in the air at them. Hello, we were all tourists at one point!

koh tao island thailand

koh tao island thailand

Diving and Snorkeling Koh Tao

Some companies will take you to a pool first to learn, or to shallow water. My boyfriend and I have dived before but neither of us were put into the PADI system because we just went with friends. Ben dives for a living building artificial coral reefs, but they wouldn’t see past the paperwork. This is totally understandable because they could get in trouble; we knew it was a chance we took, but being Koh Tao, we hope they’d be more laid back.  I think because my unique introduction to diving in Santorini made me think no one cared about certificates. They do! We decided to bite the bullet and do the course back in India with friends (cheaper for us) that can certify us.

At this point, Ben really should have his paperwork, but hey were talking about someone who lost his ATM card 6 months ago and just sends himself Western Union, instead of getting a new card sent out.

koh tao island thailand

koh tao island thailand

koh tao island thailand

While the other two girls we were with went diving, we rode a scooter up to the north side of the island and went snorkeling. ­­­­­­­­Aow Leuk Bay on the Northeast coast was almost completely empty; the coral was gorgeous, visibility perfect, and so much marine life to see! We goofed around trying our own version of free diving (a technique where you can hold your breathe longer) with the go-pro and got some cool photos and videos. I really do love using the go-pro, and it was SO useful on the islands. The view of the sea from the top is incredible (there is a restaurants that’s yummy but I can’t remember the name or find it online- you’ll drive pass it), but unless you’re good on a bike you might want to walk! All over Koh Tao scooters are so popular, but accidents are just as popular… as well as bike scams. Make sure you weigh your options. Another cool place to snorkel is called Shark Bay, because, yes you might see sharks! Don’t worry, only nice ones.

For more scuba information check out Alex in Wanderland who has many posts dedicated to where to dive and what equipment to buy. She spent a lot of time on Koh Tao diving & living that laid back island life.


koh tao island thailand

koh tao island thailand

koh tao island thailand

Where to Stay

Although there are loads of huts to stay at, there wasn’t a lot of option on the main beach (the western coast, Sairee) because due to England’s summer break it was crowded with kids who just finished exams. It was the hardest place to find a decent priced place to stay with A/C. Ben cannot handle just a fan hut.. which is turning me more spoiled by the day. There are many cheap beach fan-only huts for about 500 baht, but then for A/C it jumped up in price straight to the big resorts. We had been slumming it on other islands, so this time we paid about 3,000 to stay at Seashell Resort so we could have a soft bed for a little while; it was a great room but offered horrible customer service.

koh tao island thailand

Where to Eat

There was a pretty good Mexican place, El Toro, and a gourmet sandwich shop that had bagels and cream cheese called Zanzibar. Other trendy places were Hippo bar and La Dolce Vita. There’s a very popular Aussie bar called Choppers.  There are lots of power outages and I got food poisoning on Koh Phi Phi from beef, so be careful. I really wasn’t even giving it a second thought; I figured after being in India a year there was no way that Thailand could take me down… but it did. Pretty hard. Thank god for IV fluids!

Beach Bars

Maya Beach Club, Lotus, and Castle were very popular at night and like all the other islands, everyone drank buckets upon buckets. If you’re budgeting (who isn’t?) then try to go for the popular deal of buy 2 buckets get 1 free, or get them on the street and make it up yourself. I crashed out early most nights on Koh Tao, but my travel buddies told me the pool across from the main bar had a party every night when the bar closed. As I’ve mentioned in other island posts, it’s so fun to get dressed to go out on Koh Tao. You can either wear your bikini and get covered in body paint, or wear a club dress- seriously, anything goes! The more flowery hippie jewelry and leather arm bands the better!

koh tao island thailand

koh tao island thailand

koh tao island thailand

Getting there and away

It’s as easy as all the other islands. Book through an agent and show up at the dock when they tell you to. The A.M. ferry we took to Koh Samui for full moon party was way over full ** Thai ferries have a tendency to do this… and sink**. The workers will put stickers on you, color-coded for your next stop where you’ll be herded around like sheep. You could be dumb as rock, but it’s okay they’ll get you where you need to go. There are literally no worries on the Thai islands.



About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. Alex February 20, 2014 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the shout-out girl! You’re making me homesick….

    • Rachel Jones February 21, 2014 at 2:07 am - Reply

      I’m trying to remember your 2014 plans, but aren’t you headed that way at some point?! Lucky!

  2. ablondearoundtheworld February 21, 2014 at 5:47 am - Reply

    Congrats on your new articles and readers first of all!
    And thanks for valuable advices, I haven’t been to Koh Tao, and it’s actually in my destinations list this year, so I’ll take special care of your advices :)

    • Rachel Jones February 25, 2014 at 2:12 pm - Reply

      That’s awesome you’re going to Ko Tao this year, I bet you’ll love it!

  3. Jo February 21, 2014 at 2:13 am - Reply

    Hehe.. just wrote this same article. Great minds think alike ;) Love that photo of you on the palm tree.

    • Rachel Jones February 25, 2014 at 2:11 pm - Reply

      It’s so hard writing about the thai islands because all the travel bloggers have been, and some have lived there!

  4. J in Beijing February 21, 2014 at 8:31 pm - Reply

    I haven’t been to Koh Tao but I would like to. We thought about it but picked Koh Samui in the end for ease (easy flights etc) and a little luxury after travelling around Myanmar. Plus the Samui airport is the cutest ever ha! I just read your post about staying on Samui when it’s full moon party. My colleague did the same thing and also said there was a lot of arguing, pushing and crying going on trying to get the boat back. I’d have been scared of those waves though in the long boat too though. We went to Anthong from Samui and the waves were crazy. Glad you made it ok :-)

    • Rachel Jones February 25, 2014 at 2:14 pm - Reply

      I’m glad we made it too- I had my doubts. I liked Ko Samui a lot, it was a nice luxury break for me as well from India and I would go back. I didn’t get to see the cute airport though haha. I really want to go to Myanmar this year! Maybe during Goa’s monsoon.

  5. tammyonthemove February 25, 2014 at 7:22 pm - Reply

    I have been to Thailand a few times, but never made it to the islands as I have got that horrible picture of massive crowds getting wasted at full-moon parties in my head. Koh Tao looks refreshingly different. Must try it out one day.

    • Rachel Jones February 26, 2014 at 3:00 pm - Reply

      Yeah, some of the beach bars were a little like ko phi phi but it wasn’t to that scale at all, different vibe!

  6. Agness February 27, 2014 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    Koh Tao is awesome. I’ve been to Kho Phangan last year, but it can’t be compared with Koh Tao. The sunrises… wow… breath-taking!

    • Rachel Jones February 28, 2014 at 1:28 am - Reply

      Koh Tao is SO beautiful, but koh Lanta wins for sunsets! PS Loving your Philippines posts

  7. Rashaad March 19, 2014 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    I went to Ko Tao years ago and I found it definitely more relaxed than Ko Phangan (where I travelled to Ko Tao from). That said, I can’t say Ko Tao was my favourite island – probably because it’s very much geared towards divers. That said, I had no problems (or at least, I don’t think I had any problems) finding accommodation on Ko Tao – and I didn’t do any diving.

    • Rachel Jones March 19, 2014 at 11:53 pm - Reply

      Ko Tao was geared totally toward divers! I wish I had a bigger budget/more time so I would have gone diving with them. I think it was the time of year I went. high season the brits were all on school break! So it was packed. Ferries were all booked up. Kinda nuts!

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