Incredible views of turquoise waters, secluded bays, fabulous beach nights. This is the tourist paradise island of Koh Tao, where backpackers and rich merge.
Be prepared to spend money – a lot of it, to truly enjoy all the island Koh Tao (photos here) has to offer, OR risk your well being and push yourself to the limits to capture the paradise on a budget, like us?. Lavish, expensive resorts dot the mountainsides and claim the beautiful beaches while backpacker hotels and hostels line Sairee Beach, the port town Mae Haad and dusty, barely there side roads. That being said, some of the best budget hotels have supreme views!
Budget travellers are seen walking the beaches and streets in flip flops or barefoot as well as whizzing around on mopeds without helmets. Many can be seen on crutches and or with bandaged body parts; Real Moon Parties and mopeds the main culprits.
It is not the quiet little island it is rumoured to be, rather it is over run with tourists. I suppose what makes it “quiet” is the lack of activities; other than scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking and drinking, there is not a lot of things to do ?. Ya, I do not understand either. That being said, a part of me likes it here very much; unrivalled beauty and snorkeling with the sharks help me like it?.
Our time on the island started with our arrival from Bangkok via Surat Thani with the Lomprayah Speed Boat Ferry (learn how to here). As it was late, rather than going straight to our room, we decided to eat first. The small port town Mae Haad has many eateries; we chose the Pool Restaurant, a short walk from the pier.
Following a satisfying, albeit expensive dinner at 540 baht (USD$15.60) of Cashew Chicken, Green Curry with rice, 2 beer and a coke, we went in search of a transportation to our hotel. The Taxi trucks are expensive and unwilling to bargain; roads, other than the main road are rough, bumpy and often time, barely there. 300 baht (USD$8.70) later and we were dropped at our bungalow in the Secret Garden Village.
Our very cute, comfortable Secret Garden cabin was pre-booked through Orbitz for USD$40 including tax for 3 days; each night thereafter, we paid 1100 baht (USD$32). It was outfitted with air conditioning, fan, kettle, instant coffee, tea, tv, big bed, fridge, asian bathroom and a deck with chairs and table.
First on the agenda the following day was renting a motorbike (Secret Garden rents mopeds, but they were all gone, so we did a short walk to the next rental place); 200 baht (USD$5.80) per day for the first 3 days, plus 900 baht (USD$26) for the 5 extra days (fyi:saw long term 1 month for between 70 & 90 baht/day). We made sure we had helmets, although most people do not wear them and checked the bike carefully before scooting off to the nearby Grocery Market (best prices) for iced coffee and some cold drinks.
Heading to the south, we found ourselves stopping for lunch at OK 2 Bungalows, overlooking the incredibly beautiful Thian Og Bay, better known as Shark Bay. This place is amazing! Spectacular view, great prices (for Koh Tao), tasty food. For simple well priced accommodations with possibly the best views on the island, I definitely recommend this place to backpackers / budget travelers – but be prepared to climb a lot of stairs! Our lunch of Cashew Nut Chicken, rice and Chicken fried basil with a coke and beer came to 305 baht (USD$8.80). The rest of the day we spent exploring the island.
After much searching and price comparing, we decided on Seasons Food Thai Restaurant for dinner. Once again, this was a great choice and it actually became our Koh Tao go to restaurant! Our orders of Green curry, cashew chicken, basil chicken, 2 beer and 1 coke came to a total of 530 baht (USD$15.30). Food is not budget friendly in Koh Tao.?
Following dinner, we found a wonderful little stand selling buckets!? We bought a 150 baht (USD$4.35) bucket of blueberry margarita and went for a stroll on the very active Sairee Beach. Note: This IS where you want to spend your evenings. There are quiet, candlelit bars and restaurants as well as loud, crazy party places, like Lotus Bar.
Clouds greeted us the next day, but we had a lot of things we wanted to do in Koh Tao and limited time to accomplish it, so we pushed full speed forward. After our morning grocery store coffees, we motorbiked straight to OK2 Bungalows for breakfast rice with a view. By the time we were finished our very late breakfast (noon?), the sun was shining and all of the snorkeling and dive boats had left, leaving shark bay almost completely to ourselves and a few other laggers. After renting some snorkel gear – mask, snorkel and fins – from OK 2 (250 baht each / USD$7.25), we cautiously walked down the steep stairs, across the slippery rocks and enter the sparkly blue water. As if on cue, the clouds disappeared and the sun came out!?Tip: wear water shoes or dive booties; we cut our feet all over climbing the rocks.
Shark Bay / Thian Og Bay has earned it’s name, there were black tip sharks all over the place. We spent about three hours just watching the majestic predators slowly slicing through the water; some appeared to be mother and baby, some perhaps pregnant. As if the outing had not been perfect enough, a huge turtle escorted us back to shore! The only unfortunate part of amazing Shark Bay is the vast bed of dead coral?. People, you have a responsibility – stop destroying your future. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of the great marine life, but if you do, please add them in the comment section below!
For dinner, we went to the very popular Hippo Burger, the place with a Hippo price. They have a patio with quite a few tables; a good atmosphere with music playing. Their Happy Hour is from 8 pm to 10 pm; the Passion Fruit Mojito is regular 160 baht / USD$4.65, reduced to 100 baht / USD$2.90 – we bought 2! Our very delicious ? Cheese Bacon Burgers with Fries were 280 baht / USD$8.10 each. Our most expensive meal on Koh Tao and although delectable, will not be repeated.
Following our mouth-watering meal, we grabbed 2 buckets from BAKbc and made our way to the Lotus Bar on Sairee beach for drinks, glow paint and fire show! Oh, in other words, the Real Moon Party. It was a incredibly fun, crazy night, I suppose a very soft version of the famous Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. Many of the crowd had actually come from the Full Moon party a few days ago, here for the next party!
At breakfast the next morning, we ordered a chicken baguette and got a burger ?. This was actually very common throughout our stay on the island and not specific to any one place. Just smile and eat it!
After filling our moped with petro 70 baht / USD$2.00 we drove to some lookout points where truly breathtaking views from around the island greeted us! Our last planned destination was Mango Viewpoint / Mango Bay and eventually beach. Needless to say, it is an ⚠️ extremely hazardous ride there – no exaggeration⚠️. This is NOT for the faint of heart; steep hills in both directions with a narrow cement road which turned to slippery dirt at times. A few, like myself chose to walk part of the way. We got as far as Mango Viewpoint, where we were charged 100 baht / USD$2.90 entry fee each, before I had more than enough and begged for mercy. Most did not make it that far, but a few brave souls made it all the way to Mango beach and said it was fabulous. A better, safer idea is to go with a taxi boat.
The next days found us hanging out, driving around, walking the beach, and eating. One nice little spot we discovered on the main road was the Naa Krua Thai Restaurant; they plate the food beautiful (hearts etc), the vegetables were fresh and crunchy, the chicken tasty – fabulous experience, great place, check it out! Our Lemon Shake, Chiang beer, Fried Basil Chicken and Pad Thai came to a total of 270 baht / USD$7.80.
One day, we drove out to the Haad Thien Beach Club where we had to pay 100 baht each / USD$2.90 for entry to Shark Bay Beach. On the plus side, we assume that fee allows you access to the swimming pools and lounge chairs, however, we only used the beach. An alternative, is to snorkel in from OK 2 Bungalows; either way, don’t forget to bring your own drinks and food or your platinum credit card?. The beach has a restaurant, a bar and fresh water showers.
Another good eatery we found was the Bingo Restaurant. Although they also serve Thai food, we had a fabulous western meal of schnitzel and french fries with lemon shakes! Yummy?.
Saan Jao Beach in Taa Toh Bay, is a wonderful place to spend some time. Take a towel and go for a swim or sit in one of the many restaurants and enjoy a drink or meal while taking in the beautiful views. To see more beaches, and photos with tagged info, feel free to visit my photo gallery.
Across Thailand there are slight variations on the Thai food; in Kho Tao it is sometimes completely different than what you ordered, but they will insist it is what you asked for. The most drastic was when I ordered a green curry chicken and ended up with some almost dry chicken and vegetables on a small plate, but the price was the same as the real dish! Keep smiling?
Koh Tao in a nutshell: Incredibly beautiful, expensive food, affordable lodging, lots of sharks, not as quiet as you think.
Costs for Two People, 9 nights Taxis: $9.00 Lodging: $312.00 Laundry: $5.00 Moped and gas (8 days): $34.00 Food and Drinks: $283.00 Entertainment: $20 Total: USD$663.00 ? A whopping total of $73.60 per day for 2 persons
Koh Tao Tips, Costs & FYI:
– Very good deals with great views to be found on Sairee Beach Happy hour etc.
– stay with accommodations at the port and rent a moped (saving huge on taxis) – the main road to Sairee beach (for night driving) is excellent/ safe
– Secret Garden Bungalows have dorms called The Best Hostel – 48 beds including 1 towel, 1 blanket, coffee and tea included – 400 baht per night
– The cheapest hostel price we saw in Koh Tao was 100 baht per night, per person, if you were 3 people; not sure what the catch was…
Express laundry 50 baht per kg
Regular laundry 30 to 40 baht per kg
Canned iced Coffees 50 baht
Bottled water, Large 50 baht
Fruit Shakes 40 baht
Smoothies 50 baht
Chang Beer, large 70 baht
How to get out of Koh Tao (read how step by step): We took the Lompraya Boat and Bus to Bangkok for 1100 baht per person / USD$31.80 (duration 10 hours), 8:30 am hotel pickup – be sure to book from where you are staying, because you get picked up at your hotel; this way you avoid paying the expensive taxi trucks!!!!
Your thoughts, experiences and budget tips are appreciated! Please use the comment field below.