Koh Tao has long been described as a “Diving Island with a Drinking problem”. In recent years it seems that this has been skewed to reflect a new breed; it is now known as a “Drinking Island with a Diving problem”. So, dive and drink, drink and dive. But what if you’re looking for something else to do?
Maybe, like us, you’re not really into that scene. Or maybe you already had enough of the party scene on Koh Tao? Maybe you spent all of the dollars you needed to fill those last few days with diving?
Fear not woeful traveler, for we have a few things to get you out and about on the cheap on Koh Tao. And no, they don’t include cheap Smirnoff from 7/11. Take a few pointers from here! We assure you you will have much more to write home about than you thought possible!
Note: Most of the roads on Koh Tao do have steep sections, and sometimes there is a layer of sand or gravel. So please be careful if you are riding a scooter. In June 2016 many of the dirt roads were in the process of being paved so the really dangerous parts should be good to go in a few months.(I’m talking uneven, eroded gutters in the dirt on steep or turning roads). We saw numerous people walking around even in low season with large white bandages that scream “scooter accident”. So please be realistic about your abilities and don’t hoon around.
For full disclosure: I (Tara) never drove and would not be able to! My own scooting skills are only for use on flat roads with minimal traffic! Luckily Shab has been riding scooters in Asian countries for years and even owned his own for a little while in Australia. Please don’t over estimate your skills, you will get into trouble!
Visit one of the many viewpoints! Take a picnic and enjoy the endlessly breathtaking views from one of these spots:
Mango Bay View Point:
100 baht for entry, no food or drink allowed. The road up here is very sketchy, so unless you are an absolute pro on a scooter or bike, I’d recommend taking a taxi, and walking the last section because they won’t drive you the entire way.
I love Koh Tao:
100 baht for a photo with the sign over looking the east coast of the island. The road leading here is in great condition, and you can continue higher up the to get to…
Free and a great place for a picnic. Named two views because it offers views of both Sai Ree beach and Nang Yuan. The road after I love Koh Tao is a little sketchy but you can always drive until you don’t feel comfortable, then park up and walk the rest of the way, or just get a taxi.
Nang Yuan Terrace:
Free, not to be confused with the view point that is actually on Nang Yuan- the terrace offers a view of Nang Yuan from Koh Tao. The platform area is accessed through a Resort but you can easily get away with bringing your own food and drinks if you’re not too obvious about it. Just follow the main road from Sai Ree to the North, it’s in great condition, and walking distance from town if you don’t have a scooter.
Free entrance, views over Sai Ree beach. Food and drink is allowed as this is a public place, you can walk here in about 50 minutes from Sai Ree, but you can also drive part of the way. The below picture is actually from John Suwan, I didn’t get a photo at Fraggle- sorry!
Just 50 baht entrance to our personal favourite Koh Tao view. From this point on the southern end of the Island you can see both Chalok Baan Bay and Shark Bay at the same time. This is also the best place to hang out and watch the sunset in my opinion. There are trees for shade, and you are allowed to bring food and drinks up here. Take a drive out to freedom beach resort on the south coast and you will see the sign for the view point, and from there it’s a sweaty 10-15 minute scramble over rocks to the top.
Snorkelling! Hire a scooter if you are confidant and explore the reefs right off the beaches! It is super rare to find such abundant sea life and healthy reef that is accessible without hiring an expensive boat.
Famous for it’s healthy population of black tip reef sharks. On our first snorkel here we saw about 6 of them, 4 babies about 60cms in length and 2 that were almost 2 meters long! I know. We both freaked out! Reef sharks are generally known not to attack humans, so just keep calm and don’t do something stupid like chase or touch them and you’ll be ok. They can feel/sense your heart beat so stay calm! I’m probably making it sound far worse than it is-they had no interest in us so don’t let them scare you! The bay is also home to a ridiculous amount of sea cucumbers, and many schools of fish, but the reef is not much to brag about here. There is a good road leading here and easy access from the first set of bungalows on the left.
One of our favourites, this beach has a healthy reef system almost as soon as you get into the water, so watch where you put your feet! All the usual suspects live amongst the corals here, so you will easily be able to spend an hour or two exploring. The other draw card of this beach is the large central rock that, for the courageous, has become a cliff jumping destination (pictured). There is a rope attached to a drilled in hook to help you scale the rock, and the height of the drop varies between 8-10 meters depending on the tide. The roads are steep but they are well paved on the way to this beach.
Hin Wong Bay:
There is no beach here to lounge on, only large boulders, but this is what makes the underwater world so enjoyable. Actually, I lie, there is a beach but you must pay or purchase food or drinks from the little restaurant there.
After exploring the right side of the bay, we jumped out of the water and wandered over to the left. The staff were a bit rude to us as we approached so we just stayed on our side rock. We swam around to the left side of the bay instead. The large rocks are home to lots of fish and corals and will keep you busy underwater for a good few hours. We left our things on the rocks to the right and then climbed into the water with the ladder off the jetty. This bay is easily accessible with well paved roads, but they are steep!
Sai Nuan Beach:
The most beautiful beach on the island, and that’s a big call. Take your snorkel and swim out to the left and around the big boulders. That’s where you’ll find the best sea life. Keep reading to the hiking section to find out more about how to get here.
Is the only beach that you will have to pay entrance to (100 rupees). This stings a little when there is so much natural and free beauty around the island. But you do get free Wi-Fi! The water remains deep enough to swim and snorkel at low tide which is great as no one likes smashing their knees into the reef while swimming!
There is a great reef offshore of this wonderfully quiet beach. You can also rent a Kayak and paddle out to Shark Island too. The road is steep but well paved.
There is a small reef not too far offshore from this popular beach. It is super easy to access but doesn’t rank as high on our list of favourites as the other listed.
Volunteering- there are so many volunteering options on Koh Tao if you just take a second to look.
Save the environment:
Most dive companies arrange some kind of island clean up, either weekly or monthly. These can include beach clean ups where you may be able to score a free ride to a new bay. Or ocean clean ups where you can score a free dive or two in exchange for removing waste from the water. Diveboat runs a monthly dive clean up just after the full moon, and there are many others. We dove with ScubaShack and they were part of a Monday afternoon beach clean up- ask them about it! Have a look out on dive notice boards for more information or just start asking the locals!
Save the animals:
If you happen to be more of an animal lover than an eco warrior, why not pay a visit (or three) to the Koh Tao Animal Clinic? They are always in need of helping hands, whether it be for a simple task of cuddling an animal in recovery, washing or walking a dog, or taking Happy to the beach for a swim (Pictured). Every minute helps and it really is inspiring to see their great work first hand. Read all about our experience volunteering at the clinic here.
Hiking- There are a number of hikes that lead to beaches or temples on Koh Tao. Just looking at that mountainous interior I know there must be even more than I have been able to list here.
Home to a deserted resort, and some beautiful snorkelling areas. For this one, from the main road in Sai Ree you’ll take the road towards Hin Wong Bay. Keep walking past Banyan and Asia Divers and once you reach the bottom of the hill you’ll need to walk through the new resort on your right to continue. There will be a dirt road to follow after this that will take you all the way to the beach. It will take you about 45 minutes each way, take a picnic to make it a lovely day trip.
You can see this golden monument from some parts of the island. This is a super easy one to find! The pathway is paved the entire way so you can’t possibly get lost on the way. Start at grounded yoga. Heading away from Sai Ree beach on the road to Hin Wong bay take the first right and the yoga studio is a little way down the road. From there take the stair way up the hill. The climb will take you about 20 minutes, it’s quite steep but the reward is well worth it.
Sai Nuan I:
As I mentioned earlier, this happens to be our favourite beach on the island. We saw some magical photos on Instagram of people sitting on a swing hitched between two palm trees. Obviously we had to find that place! When we researched and found that this tiny beach could only be reached one of two ways. It was either by long tail boat, or by a 20 minute walk along a jungle path that winds through two other resorts, past Jansom bay, and over some rocks before opening up to the beautiful, sheltered, white sand beach.
We walked this route and found that this paradise is well worth the effort of finding. If you feel likes a few days away from the hustle and bustle of Koh Tao, you can even stay in a bungalow with your own balcony and hammock over looking this beautiful beach. Aside from the beautiful swings, t you can practice your balancing skills on a slack line too. All while listening to the soothing sounds of the coral wind chimes that hang from the bamboo shacks here.
Note: if you don’t feel like walking here….. I have a secret! We actually found an easier way! If you drive towards Jun Chua all the way to Char Bungalows, you can actually follow a trail through to Sai Nuan I. This will take just 5 minutes!
Now if you aren’t sold on Koh Tao-I literally don’t know how that’s possible. We can’t be friends anymore! JUST KIDDING! What about not drinking in Bangkok? Or even Bali? Check out these things to do in Bangkok, and this guide to Bali from #LJOJLO that tells you How to enjoy Bali when you’re sober.
Have you been to Koh Tao? Did you manage to tick a few of these off your list? Tell us about it in the comments!