A Guide to Ko Tao

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It was my first time in Thailand, a country that ends up on many backpackers' lists as an easy and beautiful country to travel around. I wholeheartedly agree, and already can't wait to come back to explore more of Thailand. I only had ten days to cram in as much as possible with Ina, a close friend from Salzburg, who I met up with in Phuket.

We based ourselves in Ao Nang for our first few days which was beautiful, what with sunsets from Ao Nang Beach and the day we spent exploring Hong Island. But we were eager to get to the islands - one of the many "Ko"s that are are limitless in number and based all along the long coastal regions of Thailand.

We had three nights on the tiny little Ko Tao, far and away our favourite spot of the entire trip. We could easily have spent a month on this darling little spot in the Gulf of Thailand.


HOW TO GET TO KO TAO

From Ao Nang, we took a long bus across the Krabi peninsula. We pre-booked with 12GO and a van picked us up at our hotel in Ao Nang at 9am. The bus ride took about four hours and dropped us off at Don Sak Pier from where we'd be getting our ferry to Ko Tao. The closest airports are in Krabi or on Ko Samui.

The ferry departs from Don Sak and hops to all three of the islands here: Ko Samui, Ko Phang Ngan and then to Ko Tao. We caught the same ferry from Ko Tao a few days later back down to Ko Samui. We flew out of Ko Samui and on to Bangkok, so flying into Ko Samui and then taking the ferry to Ko Tao is a great route.

TIP: Get a mango banana smoothie at Don Sak Pier while you wait! We had one every single day throughout Thailand.

We arrived to Ko Tao just as the sun was setting at about 6pm and were picked up by our hotel in their truck. Sitting in the back of the truck with the hot air blowing past as we drove down the island roads... was paradise. The whole journey took about nine hours and cost us each 1400 Thai baht (approximately €36) including the van and the ferry ride.

We booked all our ferries on 12Go which meant it was a bit more expensive but we had peace of mind that we'd get where we were going on time.

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Smoothies at Don Sak Pier

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From the ferry

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Golden hour on the ferry

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WHERE TO STAY ON KO TAO

We had three days on Ko Tao and wished we had stayed a month. We stayed right on Sairee Beach, which is arguably the best part to stay on. It's away from the busy ferry terminal, is right on the beach which boasts the best sunset on the entire island, is in walking distance to tons of yummy food options as well as massage parlours, boutique shopping, fun dancing spots and tour shops where you can book snorkeling and diving tours.

We booked into the Sairee Cottage which saw us in our very own jungle hut nestled a few steps back from the beach. It was truly perfect. They've also got a dive school on site.

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Walking through the jungle at our hotel

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Featuring my new bucket hats


WHERE TO EAT ON KO TAO

Near Sairee Beach there are endless options for food - both the fancy sit-down restaurants and cafes, and local street food where you can get delicious mango banana smoothies and freshly cooked Pad Thai. I can't remember the name of every place we tried; we usually just walked the street and stopped where we felt it looked yummy, but I've included names in the captions where I can.

  • Family Fruit Shake - the cutest lady from whom we got our daily mango banana smoothie
  • Cactus Cafe - for delicious (and very Instagrammable) brunch
  • Bella Thai - a little outdoor local restaurant with mouthwatering Pad Thai
  • TIK Restaurant - arguably one of the best Pad Thais of our trip
  • Duck 995 - I have no photos, but it's a SUPER popular casual Thai restaurant in the heart of Sairee
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We had a smoothie from this lovely lady every day

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Mango banana smoothie every day

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Cactus Cafe is right on the beach

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jana meerman ko tao sairee thailand-72
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TIK Restaurant

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Bella Thai


BEST THINGS TO DO ON KO TAO

Ko Tao is a tiny island, but there are so many things to spend your days with. We were only here for three nights so tried to squeeze in as much as we could:

1. Hike up to John-Suwan Viewpoint

We grabbed a taxi from where we were staying at near Sairee Beach, just up on the main road. A hand-painted sign indicated a set fee of 400 Thai baht (about €10) each way, which was fairly pricey, but that included as many people as you could squeeze into the back of their open-back trucks. The ride from Sairee to the parking lot at Freedom Beach was so beautiful. Then, before we hung out at the beach, we figured we'd do the viewpoint hike first so we could swim and relax post-sweaty climb.

Check out my guide to hiking to the John-Suwan Viewpoint!

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jana meerman freedom beach john suwan viewpoint ko tao thailand-55
jana meerman freedom beach john suwan viewpoint ko tao thailand-55

2. Spend the day at Freedom Beach

After hiking up to John-Suwan Viewpoint, we spent the rest of our day at the idyllic Freedom Beach. It's quiet and absolutely gorgeous, making it the perfect spot to snorkel above the corals, tan on the white sandy beach and swim in the warm waters.

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jana meerman freedom beach john suwan viewpoint ko tao thailand-23
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jana meerman freedom beach john suwan viewpoint ko tao thailand-12
jana meerman freedom beach john suwan viewpoint ko tao thailand-12
jana meerman freedom beach john suwan viewpoint ko tao thailand-12
jana meerman freedom beach john suwan viewpoint ko tao thailand-12
jana meerman freedom beach john suwan viewpoint ko tao thailand-12
jana meerman freedom beach john suwan viewpoint ko tao thailand-12
jana meerman freedom beach john suwan viewpoint ko tao thailand-12
jana meerman freedom beach john suwan viewpoint ko tao thailand-12

The drive home

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jana meerman freedom beach john suwan viewpoint ko tao thailand-12

3. Watch the sunset at Sairee Beach

As we were staying right on Sairee Beach, we spent every evening down on the beach watching the beautiful colours paint the sky.

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4. Go on a snorkeling trip around Ko Tao and Ko Nang Yuan

Ko Tao, and the little island jutting off the northwestern tip, Ko Nang Yuan, are renowned for having some of the clearest and best underwater habitats in the region. It's the reason that plenty of people flock to Ko Tao to complete their PADI scuba diving certifications. While we didn't have time for a full scuba diving course, we did make time to do a snorkel tour circumnavigating Ko Tao. We booked the day before at one of the many tour companies dotted along the beach in Sairee, where we were based.

Check out my complete guide to snorkeling around Ko Tao and Ko Nang Yuan!

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jana meerman snorkeling ko tao ko nang yuan thailand-15
jana meerman snorkeling ko tao ko nang yuan thailand-15
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jana meerman snorkeling ko tao ko nang yuan thailand-15

5. Watch the fireshow and go out dancing

We went out twice to AC Beach Club where we watched the iconic Thai fireshow, participated in the limbo contest and danced all night right next to the beach (we even skinny-dipped when we got too hot from dancing!). A must-do on Ko Tao.

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Photo by AC Bar & Beach Club

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Photo by AC Bar & Beach Club

6. Shop!

Sairee is full of delightful little boutiques and we spent most of our evenings when it was cooler wandering between them all, bargaining for bucket hats, jewelry and pretty new clothes to take home.

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jana meerman ko tao sairee thailand-65

May & Co. General Store

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Ko Tao
Ko Tao
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Jana Meerman

Hi! I’m Jana, a British-Dutch-Canadian with a dream of seeing every country in the world. I am a storyteller, photographer and adventurer passionate about documenting and sharing my travels.

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