I moved to Koh Tao five months ago as my first experiment in the digital nomad lifestyle.
Why Koh Tao? Because I had lived in Bangkok for a year back in 2012 while teaching English and Koh Tao was my favorite island I had traveled to while exploring the country back then. And come on, if you had the freedom to work and live anywhere in the world, why wouldn’t you pick a tropical island as your first destination??
I was familiar with Koh Tao and knew what to expect coming in (which was what I wanted for a first digital nomad living experience because I was so irrationally afraid of my business falling apart while abroad).
I didn’t plan to live here for 5+ months…but to be fair, I didn’t have any plans at all. I also like to move slowly and really get to know a place. Let me say, my goal in being location independent was never to really nomad in the sense of moving around a lot but rather to have the freedom to move to other countries and stay a while.
So! Was Koh Tao a good place to live as a digital nomad? (Spoiler: it wasn’t the best, but it also wasn’t the worst…)
Here I’ll review the island in terms of liveability for people who work online based on my five-month stay. I’ll look at community, WIFI and workspaces, cost of living, and activities and social life. Each category will get a rating out of 5, with 5 being the best and 1 being the worst.
Koh Tao digital nomad life: Lehgo!
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Digital Nomad Community: 2/5
If you’re looking to surround yourself with other digital nomads, you won’t find that here. In my five months, I only met 3 other people doing the #digitalnomad thing. To be fair, I didn’t spend a lot of time on my laptop in coffee shops and I live in a hostel, which is not a place that would attract digital nomads typically.
TBH I don’t get why there are no/very few digital nomads here…? It feels like the kind of thing where if people just started coming to live here then other people would come to live here and we could have a community…?
Instead, there is a rich community of…DIVERS! If you know anything about Thailand, you’ve heard Koh Tao is known for its diving. Every other person here is either an instructor, divemaster, or backpacker getting their diving certification.
Divers are cool folks: easygoing, always up for a good time, SUPER passionate about the ocean and marine life…I enjoyed being surrounded by diving culture and even partaking in some dives myself.
If you’re a digital nomad with a diving hobby on the side, this could be a really great place to park yourself for a while. In terms of community in general (not limited to digital nomads), Tao gets a 5/5 for sure.
WIFI and workspaces: 3/5
There are a handful of spots you could go to during the day to get work done, but I would think after a while you might feel kinda weird doing it. Like I said, there aren’t a lot of other nomads here so you might be the only one going in every day to sit on your laptop for hours. I honestly have been more productive working in my room.
As for island WIFI, I don’t have any evidence-based opinions on the WIFI on the island in general (like speed tests or whatever), but I can say it kinda sucks where I live so I often hotspot off my phone’s unlimited data plan (highly recommend: I got it from AIS for like 300 THB/month).
There’s one coworking space in Mae Haad (near the pier) called Tao Hub but if I remember correctly it’s pretty basic and didn’t seem worth the price to me. There isn’t even aircon, it’s just outside from what I’ve seen.
Important caveat: I don’t know how to ride a scooter so my main (only) form of transport is by foot. This means I’m basically limited to my ‘neighborhood’ of Sairee when it comes to workspaces since I’m not going to lug my laptop on a sweaty hike across the island to sit in a cafe. If you plan to drive a scooter here, you’ll have a lot more freedom than me.
Places I have worked:
The Coffee House (When I Google this, I get the one in Mae Haad but there’s one in Sairee at the end of the main street where Chopper’s is. It’s air-conditioned and such a nice spot to work!)
Other spots around the island that seem like places you could work if you wanted to:
Cost of living: 3/5
It’s affordable to live on Koh Tao when you compare to the cost of living in most Western cities, however it is way more expensive to live here compared to living in, say, Chiang Mai or Bangkok. So if reducing your living expenses to a bare minimum is your goal, Koh Tao probably isn’t the best spot for you.
Listen: of course living on an island is going to cost more than living on the mainland pretty much anywhere you go in the world. But the value you’re getting is often worth it. For me, this was the case.
Here are some average costs for me (and note I’m NOT trying to squeeze by on the cheapest lifestyle possible – I want to be able to enjoy myself and not be on a strict budget all the time like when I was younger and backpacking):
Rent: 12,000THB ($378)/month for A/C room with hot water, basic kitchen, private bathroom, balcony, including all utilities and WIFI
Food: 100THB ($3.15) average meal (I eat a variety of things both Western and Thai)
Yoga: 2500THB ($79) for 10-class pass
Laundry: 40THB ($1.26)/kilo (I do my laundry about once every week or week and a half)
Drinking water: 55THB ($1.73)/6 liters (I buy one of these once every 3 or 4 days)
I calculated it and I’ve spent $820 a month on average in the past 6 months. This is consistent with the cost of living listed on Nomad List.
For comparison, when I was living and teaching in Bangkok, I spent about $500 a month. Note: I almost never ate Western food then, I didn’t have hot water in my apartment, and I belonged to the cheapest gym I could find. Back then, I stuck to a strict budget and didn’t treat myself at all because my goal was to save as much money as I could. Aaaand also Bangkok is a way cheaper place to live.
Activities and social life: 5/5
Remember what I said about value? Activities, social life, and island beauty is where you’re really winning in terms of living on Koh Tao.
There is SO much to do here constantly: diving, snorkeling, hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, partying, driving around…
I mean no, it’s not the most cultural place to live. There are no museums or even movie theaters. Thai culture is even hard to find. But if you love being outside and near the sea, then you’ll find a lot to do here.
It’s also a really social place. It’s super easy to meet people. Although I will say, it’s hard to establish deeper and longer-lasting friendships because everyone here is basically in transit. This is my first digital nomad ‘home’ so I don’t have anything to compare it to — I would bet it’s like that in most digital nomad hubs anyways but we shall see once I move on from here!
Have you ever done the digital nomad thing on Koh Tao? What was your experience like?
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