As someone who’s been living on Koh Tao for three months without a motorcycle or scooter, I know a thing or two about life on the island sans wheels.
Renting a bike or scooter is an excellent way to get around in Asia — but only if you’re an excellent and confident driver! I’ve seen far, far too many people get in accidents or get ripped off for returning their bike to the rental people with a new scratch or two to recommend renting a scooter on the island. Plus, it’s an extremely hilly island – like way more than other places in Thailand. People are falling off their bikes and getting injured all the time here.
So yeah I thought I would write up a walking only guide to Koh Tao for those of you who plan to skip the motorbike. This will be extra useful if you’re staying in Sairee (which I recommend if you’re going bike-less) as that’s where I live!
Here’s a map showing most of the places I’ve mentioned below:
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Where to stay on Koh Tao
This hostel is about ten minutes walk from the main area in Sairee. It’s in the forest (and yes this does mean there are a lot of mosquitoes here). I think this might be the cheapest hostel you’ll find in Sairee. I’ve heard good things.
This one is a tiny bit further up the street but it’s still very easy to walk around the island from here. I’ve heard great things about this hostel. It always looks bustling with people.
Another hostel in Sairee. They are bigger and have a restaurant and dive shop attached so it’s a bit more expensive to stay here. Seems like they have more organized activities and parties than the others.
If you’re traveling in a couple or group or just looking for some privacy, you can book one of these bungalows right near the water.
Another bungalow place right by the beach.
This place has comfortable private aircon rooms with hot water and is excellently located just off the main street in Sairee (but far enough from any party to be quiet at night). My friend Christie stayed here when she came to visit me on Koh Tao, and I’ve stayed here as well when traveling solo but not feeling up to the whole hostel thing.
A collection of nine uber-private luxury villas, each with its own infinity pool with sea views. Great for couples — super romantic and dreamy!
I stayed here when my parents came to visit and it was super gorgeous and luxurious. Incredible sunset views, semi-private pools, and a delicious breakfast buffet spread were some of the perks. They offer free rides to and from Sairee’s town center but do note the resort is at the top of a hill (hence the views!).
There’s always Airbnb as well ($40 off your first stay!). You just have to be careful not to choose a place at the top of a very steep hill which would necessitate a scooter.
Places to eat
$ Samosa Restaurant – A local favorite. I really like her ginger chicken. Food can take a while though so be prepared to wait.
$ Zest Café – Zest also has great breakfast options. Plus the woman who works here is so friendly and sweet. You can get two eggs and toast for 60THB here.
$ TeTe’s Soup – It’s on the left side of the road on the way from Sairee to the big 7. They have beef brisket and noodle soup that’s souuuper yum!
$ 95 Roasted Duck – This is one of my favorite restaurants on the island and bonus it’s also super affordable! I recommend the spicy roasted duck soup with egg noodle (#7) as well as the sukiyaki soup. Prices are as low as 70THB. They also have chicken and pork options e.g. chicken fried rice if you’re not into duck, although the duck is their specialty.
$$ Cantina de Koh Tao – This is my go-to spot for Mexican food when I have a craving. They have veggie and vegan options.
$$ Shalimar – Indian food! They have great shareable platters.
$$ La Pizzeria – My go-to place for pizza. They deliver too!
$$ Sairee Sairee – Great for pizza, pasta, and people watching. Watch out for the 2-for-1 pizza deal they have on sometimes.
$$ Vegetabowl – They have healthy/vegan/veggie options like Buddha bowls with all fresh ingredients. I recommend trying the vegan cookies if they have them.
$$$ Thaita Italian Restaurant – If you’re looking for a special occasion or #treatyourself moment, I recommend this really charming candlelit Italian restaurant. They’re only open for dinner and I recommend making a reservation ahead of time. The food is fresh and delicious.
$$$ Baia Burger Concept – Come here for fancy, dense and meaty burgers with all types of toppings. Meals are around 300 baht or more.
Koh Tao walkable beaches
~10 min walk
Sairee is the island’s main and longest stretch of beach. It’s lined with restaurants and bars and has a lot of longtail boats (boat taxis) and SCUBA boats docked there. It’s good for a quick beach fix and for watching the sunset (it faces west), but not good for swimming or snorkeling or beauty if you’re looking for that.
2 km, ~45 min walk
I only just discovered this beach but it has quickly become one of my favorites on the island. It’s small and secluded, surrounded by rocks and has just one restaurant and one bar. The water is deep enough for good swimming and there’s a lot to see in terms of snorkeling. Try going to the rocks to the right of the beach for snorkeling.
You’ll have to buy a drink at the beach bar to stay on the beach.
To get here from the 7-Eleven in Sairee, walk up the road away from Sairee beach towards Smile Mart/the Gym. You’ll pass a sign for Mango Viewpoint on your left. Keep going straight and down the hill until you hit the beach. It’s a hilly hike and you’ll be nice and sweaty by the time you arrive.
2 km, ~45 min walk
Laem Thian is a very secluded small beach at an abandoned hostel. It’s good for snorkeling and cliff jumping (but be careful!). The size of the small little beach there will depend on if the tide is high or low. I recommend bringing well enough food and water because there are no restaurants nearby.
To get here from the 7-Eleven in Sairee, again walk up the road away from Sairee beach towards Smile Mart/the gym. When you get to Tarna Align Resort turn right off the main road and take the small path into the jungle. Walk straight and veer to the right when the path splits to reach Laem Thian. The hike can be very steep at points so prepare to burn some calories! This beach is also accessible by boat taxi (as are they all honestly, it’s just more expensive than walking!)
4.2 km, ~ 1-hour walk
Sai Nuan is a small, secluded beach south of Mae Haad (the pier). I used to love this beach for swimming and beach-laying but now they’ve cordoned it off and are charging 100 baht to enter, which I feel is ridiculous. Finger’s crossed they’ll figure out how dumb of a move this was and will open it back up for free.
Even though the walk here is quite long, it’s mostly flat and it’s along the coast so can be very beautiful at points. To get here from Sairee, take the walking street south towards Mae Haad (the pier) and walk past the pier. Then follow signs to Sai Nuan. You can also take a longtail boat here from Sairee.
Accessible by boat
These are the small islands off the northwest coast of Koh Tao connected by a strip of sand. The viewpoint from the top of one of the islands is the Koh Tao postcard shot on everyone’s Instagram (see below under ‘Hiking’). Anyways, as far as a beach goes, this one can be very busy and isn’t that big to begin with – especially at high tide – so you might be fighting for a spot in the sand. There’s only one restaurant here and it can be quite expensive so I recommend bringing all the water and snacks you’ll want for the day. All that said, the viewpoint is pretty stunning.
To get here, you’ll need to hire boat taxi from Sairee beach. It should be between 100-250THB per person return. Also, it’s 100THB to enter the island as it’s privately owned, and it closes at 5!
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Koh Tao hiking
Koh Tao is incredibly hilly and the hikes here will have you dripping sweat and gulping for air – but the viewpoints are breathtaking and totally worth it. I recommend wearing good shoes (e.g. sneakers or comfortable sandals with an ankle strap) for any hiking on the island. Even going barefoot is better than trying to climb a nearly vertical hill in flip-flops. I always hike in my Chacos.
For you intrepid [/lazy] backpackers out there, I don’t recommend trying any of these on a motorbike. I’ve seen and heard of too many accidents on steep, sandy hills with blind spots to think this is worth it at all.
2.7 km, ~ 1-hour walk
This is a popular viewpoint and is great for sunset. There’s a restaurant at the top where you can chill and paint your name onto the wood if you want. If I remember correctly, it’s 50THB to enter the viewpoint.
From the 7-Eleven in Sairee, walk up the road away from Sairee beach towards the gym and Tarna Align Resort. You’ll walk up a big hill after you pass the Tarna Align. You’ll see a sign for Mango Viewpoint on the left. For more details on hiking to Mango Viewpoint, check out this Alex in Wanderland post.
2 km, ~ 1-hour walk
This is my favorite trek on Koh Tao so far. It’s a pretty jungly hike and feels more naturey and remote than the hike to Mango Viewpoint. Plus you get TWO viewpoints on this hike: the first over Hin Wong Bay and Sairee and the second facing west over Sairee (pictured below). Since it does face west, this is a good choice for sunset – just give yourself enough time to get back down before dark because there are no lights.
To get here, again walk up the road towards the gym and Smile Mart, pass the Tarna Align Resort. Keep going up the hill until you see Mango Viewpoint sign on the left. A few meters farther on the right is the unmarked trail up to Fraggle.
Nang Yuan viewpoint
~ 20 min walk
Honestly, the viewpoint is one of the main reasons to go to the islands in the first place. You’ll see a sign for the viewpoint as you walk along the dock when you enter the island and it’s about a 20-minute hike up. I’ve seen it extremely busy at times where you have to wait in line to take your photo so I recommend doing the viewpoint first when you arrive to the islands then try again later before you leave if the line was too long for your liking the first time.
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Nightlife in Koh Tao
This is where the party is at basically every single night. It’s the most popular bar on Koh Tao. Fishbowl is a restaurant during the day then they transition to live music then a nighttime bar/club scene. They are the final stop on the Pub Crawl and are also known for their multitude of beer pong tables.
Fishbowl is located right on the beach, about 15 minutes walk south on the walking street from Sairee.
This is next to Fishbowl. It’s darker, dirtier, has better music, and stays open later. Friday nights are Latin Night at BND with Reggaeton music. Check out their rooftop bar if it’s open.
The Koh Tao Pub Crawl is a fun boozy party if you’re looking to meet people. It’s 480THB including a shirt, a bucket, entrance to the Cabaret show (Ladyboy show), and shots throughout the night. It starts at Chopper’s on the main street in Sairee at 7:30 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays (I think – check their Facebook page for info).
FIZZ beachlounge – If you’re looking for more of a chill drinking scene, check out this place right on Sairee beach. They have bean bags you can relax into, mood lighting, and chillstep to set the vibe.
I mean if you’ve come to Koh Tao, chances are you’ve at LEAST thought about going diving. This is what Koh Tao is known for. If you’ve never dived before, you have the option to do a highly-supervised fun dive (I suspect it costs around 3,000 baht) or go get your Open Water certification for 11,000+THB. The latter will take three days at least so you’ll need to have the time to stick around and do the course.
In terms of which dive school to go with…The main thing you’ll need to decide is if you want the big dive school vibe or small. The former will feel airtight in terms of safety and regulations while the latter will allow you more one-on-one time with instructors and a more tight-knit feel with your classmates.
I recommend Mojo Divers. I’ve been on fun dives with them and did my advanced SSI course as well.
Snorkeling/beach day trips
I’ve seen a lot of people come through Koh Tao and sign up for half- or full-day snorkel trips around the island. For like 800 baht, a longtail boat takes you to different beaches and snorkel spots around the island + lunch and probably gear. I’ve never been on one of these trips but could be a fun thing to do with friends or a good way to meet people.
SUP and Kayaking
You can rent a standup paddleboard or kayak from a few different spots along Sairee beach if you want. I’ve seen prices at around 200-250THB/hour. Check out SUP TAO for paddleboard info.
There are a few Muay Thai gyms on Koh Tao. Island Muay Thai is the closest one to Sairee.
I do yoga at Shambhala in Sairee. They offer Hatha yoga classes twice a day: at 10 am and 6 pm, except Sunday evenings. Monday and Thursdays evening classes are restorative yoga.
To get to Shambhala from the main 7-Eleven in Sairee, go to the right of the 7-Eleven (if you’re facing it) and you’ll see signs for Shambhala a few meters down on your left. Drop-in classes cost 300THB but they also have packages you can buy for lower per-class prices.
BONUS: If you DO have a bike…
Or decide to splurge on a taxi somewhere, here are some spots I recommend checking out:
Tanote Beach is one of Koh Tao’s bigger and more popular beaches. It’s good for swimming and snorkeling, and there’s a big rock just off the coast you can swim to and jump off of. There are lots of restaurants nearby.
A fairly big restaurant serving up really yummy and cheap Thai and Western dishes. Their portion sizes are enormous and prices are as low as the 70THB range.
Western-style cafe with everything from kombucha to vegan dessert balls. Lots of veggie and vegan options, as well as meat options here. It’s right on the water so you have a nice view. I love their chili bowl, chicken satay, and build-your-own breakfast.
This is another Insta-famous viewpoint on Koh Tao. It’s the one where you can see both sides of the island/sea at once (reminiscent of the viewpoint on Koh Phi Phi in my opinion). You’ll have to pay 50 baht to enter Freedom Beach and another 50 baht to climb to the viewpoint. You can go to Freedom Beach afterward to cool off after the short hike but I’ve never felt like that beach is anything special.
Well, what’d I miss?? Let me know if there’s anything I should go explore on the island next!
Great write up.
I’ve been to Koh Tao twice, many years ago. Loved it. This article brought back memories.
A good traveler tip is to do a divemaster scuba course with one of the many schools, and then say to them “Can we work out a deal?”
I got to stay on Koh Tao for three months taking out divers for a dive resort. I didn’t get paid but I did over 200 dives and really notched up my experience. It was awesome meeting all the tourists and learning about the operation of a scuba resort. All you need is to pay for your food and accommodation, which is damn cheap.
To follow up the divemaster you could become an instructor and live the dream teaching scuba on remote exotic islands.
Have fun guys.
Hey Brian! Ah I’m glad it brought back some good memories for you. Yeah a lot of people stick around on Koh Tao to do their divemaster training and/or instructor training. It’s a great idea. And there’s a whole community of divers on the island to befriend if you stay awhile.
I’m also a digital nomad looking for my next place to travel, but I’m a little worried about accommodation since I’m bringing my laptop with me. I think I’m leaning towards a bungalow, but how safe do you feel leaving your personal items in either hostels/bungalows? Are there any reasonably priced hotels that you recommend on the island?
There are a lot of monthly rental places on Koh Tao. Most are single bedroom or studio but you can also find places with more than one room and share with roommates. I would look for a place more like this rather than the beach bungalows meant for daily rental and you should be fine in terms of security. Only time I had a problem with this type of thing in Thailand was when a cleaning lady stole my necklace (but none of my electronics). I recommend looking for a place in the Koh Tao Rooms for Rent Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/244495382382251/
Enjoy, you’ll have a blast!