Most people who travel to Thailand want to spend at least some of their trip on a tropical island. The Kingdom of Smiles has no shortage of paradisiacal islands to choose from. One of the best Thai islands to visit is Koh Tao, “Turtle Island.”
Koh Tao is one of the best places to visit in Thailand if you’re looking for a diving destination, but there’s much more going on here.
I had such incredible experiences in Koh Tao and loved scuba diving, beach bumming, hiking, and wild nightlife. All this and more await when you travel to Koh Tao. Here’s my list of the best things to do in Koh Tao to help you plan your Thai island getaway.
1. Get Scuba Certified
There are few places in the world better to get scuba certified than Koh Tao. There are tons of dive shops on the island, and the competition helps keep prices down. You can get your open water certificate here for just around $300. What a deal!
If you’ve always been interested in scuba diving but have been putting it off, Koh Tao is the perfect place to start. It’s great being able to learn in the ocean, as there are spots that are shallow enough to do so.
I for one am really happy I learned out in the ocean rather than in a pool. It made the transition to proper scuba diving very smooth and we had great instructors.
Since there are many dive schools in Koh Tao, it’s important to do your research and choose the one that’s right for you. Two top contenders include the highly-rated La Bombona and Dpm Diving (which also has great accommodation available, check that out here).
Those who already have their open water certification can add plenty of other credentials here, including an advanced diver, divemaster, and more. Many dive shops also offer underwater photography classes if you’d like to get into that. There’s no doubt that scuba diving is at the top of the list of things to do in Koh Tao.
2. Unleash Your Inner Yogi
It’s not all about being in the water here. There are also plenty of things to do in Koh Tao on land, including practicing yoga. There are quite a few yoga studios in Koh Tao these days, offering classes of various types and levels.
It’s hard to think of a better way to start your day than with an ocean-view yoga class. If you’re thinking of turning your passion for yoga into a job, you can look into doing your yoga teacher training here as well.
☞ See Also: Things To Do in Chiang Mai – A List of 17 Highlights
3. Go On a Snorkeling Cruise
You don’t have to be a diver to enjoy the underwater world that surrounds Koh Tao. There are plenty of snorkeling cruises for those who aren’t dive-certified but still want to admire the abundant marine life.
In addition to seeing turtles (which you’d expect on Turtle Island), you might also spot black-tip reef sharks and blue-spotted rays. I’m a big fan of diving, but the snorkeling in Koh Tao is pretty awesome as well. It’s certainly easier and cheaper, too!
On this highly-rated trip, you’ll explore Koh Nang Yuan islands off of Koh Tao, have use of kayaks, paddleboards and snorkel gear, and enjoy a meal with drinks. Click here to learn more about this fun trip.
If you’re on nearby Koh Samui, you can do a day trip to Koh Tao to enjoy the underwater world.
4. Feast on a Seafood BBQ
After looking at all those fish in the water, it’s time to eat some of them back on land. There are plenty of beachside restaurants where you can choose from a variety of fresh seafood and have it barbecued right on the spot.
5. Play Mini-Golf
One of the most fun things to do in Koh Tao is play a round of mini-golf. Head to Koh Tao Leisure Park to play a round on their 18-hole course.
You can play as many rounds as you like for about $5, so go ahead and give the “Goofy Golf” a try. It stays open late and it’s flood-lit at night, so this is a great way to spend an evening out.
In addition to mini-golf, they also have petanque courts, pool tables, foosball tables, a cinema, and a sports bar. Bring some friends along from the hostel for a super fun night.
6. Eat a Banana Pancake
Seeing as how Koh Tao is firmly on the famed Banana Pancake Trail through Southeast Asia, you should probably eat at least one. There’s a reason you can find banana pancakes everywhere in this region. They’re sweet, delicious, and super cheap, so why not?
Check out Coconut Monkey for more of a cafe style, or hit up any of the streetside vendors for a banana pancake filled with Nutella, bananas, and more. At around 40 baht ($1.20), it’s a bargain. Eating a banana pancake is definitely one of the most popular things to do in Thailand for backpackers.
☞ See Also: Things To Do in Pai: 21 Things You Don’t Want to Miss
7. Rent Some Wheels
The best way to explore Koh Tao is definitely with your own two wheels. Most travelers choose to rent motorbikes, which are readily available and quite cheap. With a set of wheels, you’ll be able to hit all corners of the island easily without having to worry about finding a cab. Just make sure you drive safely and always ride with a helmet.
If you’re not comfortable on a motorbike, you can also find bicycles for rent in Koh Tao. There are plenty of good bike rides you can take on the island, and you’ll get some exercise in the process.
☞ Looking for an epic motorbike adventure? Don’t miss the Mae Hong Son Loop in northern Thailand, it’s a highlight of any trip to the country.
8. Take a Hike to a Viewpoint
It’s best to head out hiking early in the morning or later in the day just before sunset, as the midday sun can be intense. Whenever you go, working up a good sweat is one of the top things to do in Koh Tao.
☞ See Also: Things To Do in Chiang Rai – 21 Top Things You Don’t Want to Miss
9. Take a Day Trip to Koh Nang Yuan
Just because you’re already on a gorgeous island doesn’t mean you can’t leave for the day to visit another one. Nearby Koh Nang Yuan is a tiny island that makes for an excellent day trip.
In addition to relaxing on the postcard-worthy beaches and enjoying some world-class snorkeling, you can get a nice adrenaline rush here on the awesome zipline.
Koh Nang Yuan is home to the world’s first island-to-island zipline, which features some pretty incredible views. Be sure to put it high on your list of things to do in Koh Tao. Click here to learn about this amazing day trip.
☞ Looking for a stunning island with pristine beaches, but fewer tourists? Don’t miss all of the incredible things to do in Koh Lipe.
10. Climb On Rocks…and Jump Off Them
If you can manage to climb out of your beach chair, why not give rock climbing a try in Koh Tao? Whether you’re an absolute beginner or a pro, there’s a climbing route here for you.
There are a few shops offering climbing courses on the island, so get out there and give it a try. Another experience worth trying is cliff jumping. After that serious workout climbing, it’s tons of fun jumping in the water and cooling off.
Have a look at the popular Koh Tao Climbing Project for more details.
11. Rent a Kayak and Snorkel
A great way to spend a half day in Koh Tao is renting a kayak and snorkel and heading out on your own. It’s not hard finding a shop that will rent the gear out to you for a couple of hours.
There are plenty of bays in the south of the island where you can head out from – Jansom Bay, Shipwreck, Sai Nuan Beach, June Juea Beach, Viewpoint Cape, Cape Je Ta Kang, and Freedom Beach (to name a few).
An afternoon of paddling around the bay with a bit of snorkeling mixed in is hard to beat. Wherever you go out in Koh Tao, you’re sure to see plenty of marine life. The kayak/snorkel combo is definitely one of my favorite things to do in Koh Tao.
*Note: always check the wind and sea conditions before setting off and seek local advice about where (and where not) to kayak.
12. Drink a Bucket
When partying in Koh Tao (or any Thai island), the drink of choice is definitely a bucket. The concept is simple – take a beach bucket, and fill it with booze, ice, and a few mixers. Add several straws (preferably bamboo or glass ones), and share it with friends!
Dipping your toes in the sand, dancing to some music, and sipping on a bucket with some of your best travel buddies definitely makes the list of top things to do in Koh Tao. Fishbowl is a popular spot to grab a drink.
13. Train in Muay Thai
If you’re looking to get into shape, you should consider training in Muay Thai while you’re visiting Koh Tao. Even if you’re not into the idea of getting into the ring for an actual match, signing up for some Muay Thai lessons is a great way to get fit. After all those banana pancakes and buckets, it’s probably not a bad idea.
Island Muay Thai on Sairee Beach is a good place to try.
14. Watch a Fire Show
Do you know that old saying about playing with fire? People in Koh Tao have never heard of it. One of the quintessential things to do in Koh Tao is watch a fire show on the beach.
Every night of the week, you can find beach bars with fire shows going on. Grab a drink, pull up a beanbag, and sit down to enjoy a scorching hot performance.
15. Learn About Marine Conservation
On this tiny island that’s a very popular tourist destination, marine conservation is extremely important. Thankfully, Koh Tao takes this topic very seriously and there are many great organizations hard at work there.
If you want to learn about marine conservation, you should drop by Eco Koh Tao and the New Haven Reef Conservation Project. Both are doing great work and have a variety of courses and projects you can participate in.
16. Dive at Sail Rock
Once you’ve got your open water certificate, you might as well stick around Koh Tao to do a few free dives. One of the best dive sites in the area is definitely Sail Rock, so put a trip out there at the top of your list.
Most of the dive shops in Koh Tao offer trips out to Sail Rock. You’ll get two dives, lunch on the boat, and plenty of awesome views along the way.
17. Visit Ang Thong Marine Park
One of the most popular day trips out of Koh Tao is the Ang Thong Marine Park. This gorgeous archipelago of islands is just a short boat ride away, and just about every tour operator runs trips there.
On a trip around Ang Thong, you’ll get to enjoy some snorkeling and a short hike to a beautiful lagoon. You’ll likely spot some wildlife as well, including dusky langurs, hornbills, silver-haired bats, and hawksbill turtles. Visit Island Travel Tour Company for tickets – they also rent scooters.
18. Sip on Sundowners
After a long day out in the water or up on the rocks, the best way to wind down is with some sundowners on the beach. Pretty much every bar on the beach has a good Happy Hour around sunset, so plop down in that beanbag and get yourself an adult beverage or two!
There are also a few bars up the hill that offer a panoramic view of the sunset. Cruise up to the aptly-named Sky Bar, grab a drink, and enjoy the show. (note: drinking at a sky bar is also one of the top things to do in Bangkok – put it on your list for the capital!)
19. Take a Thai Cooking Class
When you leave Thailand, you will inevitably miss a lot of things about the country. One thing you’re sure to long for is the food. Thai cuisine is some of the best in the world, so why not learn how to cook it yourself?
Signing up for a Thai cooking class is definitely one of the best things to do in Koh Tao. Learn how to cook some classic Thai dishes and then impress your friends back home with your culinary prowess.
Parawan’s Thai Home Cooking Classes are highly rated on the island. Half-day classes (3 hours) with 3 different dishes cost around 1,500 baht ($45). Click here to learn more about this authentic cooking class in Koh Tao.
20. Party it Up on the Pub Crawl
If you’re looking to let loose, have a good time, and meet fellow travelers, there’s nothing better than the Koh Tao Pub Crawl. This epic pub crawl is so much fun that they now run it four nights a week!
Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, you can join in the madness and experience a wild night out in Koh Tao.
The pub crawl includes stops at a few bars, a pool party, and a ridiculously fun ladyboy cabaret show. The entrance fee of about $15 gets you a tank top, a bucket, a few shots, and drink specials at every bar. In all my travels around Southeast Asia, the Koh Tao Pub Crawl stands out as one of the most fun nights out.
21. Be a Beach Bum
After that jam-packed list, it’s fitting that the last spot goes to simply being a beach bum. There’s so much to see and do in Koh Tao that you’ll need to take at least some time on your trip to just do absolutely nothing and enjoy the beach.
While you’re sitting there in your beach chair, why not go ahead and plan your trip to the next Thai island? After all, both Koh Pha-Ngan and Koh Samui are just a short boat ride away. There are so many awesome things to do in Koh Phangan, including the famous Full Moon Party. Or, try your hand at digital nomad life on these beautiful Thai islands.
Where to Stay in Koh Tao
There are some great accommodation options in Koh Tao. Here are a couple of our recommendations:
1. Big Tree Boutique Hotel: located near Mae Haad Beach, this beautiful hotel offers parking, a garden, and an onsite restaurant and bar. The basic rooms have balconies and private bathrooms, while the suites include a kitchen. Click here for details.
2. MAR24 Koh Tao Hotel: located near Chalok Baan Kao Bay, this accommodation has an onsite outdoor pool, a sun terrace and free pickup from the pier. Rooms have fan or air-conditioning, private bathrooms, and complimentary snacks. Click here for details.
3. Treehouse Bungalows: these unique bungalows are located near Aow Leuk Beach. Enjoy swaying back and forth in your hammock on the deck, or hanging out in the garden. Rooms here have a sea view as well! Click here for details.
Ready to Travel to Koh Tao?
As you can see, Koh Tao offers a lot more than just diving. There are so many things to do in Koh Tao that you could skip out on the diving entirely and still fill plenty of days there.
You shouldn’t do that, though, because the diving is top-notch. So what are you waiting for? Plan that trip of a lifetime and get over to the Thai islands.