On my bucket list for the last 3 years now is getting my scuba diving license.
What better place than Koh Tao to do it in?!
So, off I went to plan this little getaway.
Here’s my mini-guide on how to get to Koh Tao from Chiang Mai, where to stay, and most importantly, where to EAT!
- How to get to Koh Tao from Chiang Mai
- Where to Stay in Koh Tao
- Nomad Community & Coworking
- Koh Tao Gyms
- What to do in Koh Tao?
How to get to Koh Tao from Chiang Mai
There are a few ways to get this little paradise island, you can:
- Take a long overnight bus ride OR
- Fly to 1 of 3 closest airport, then do the bus/ferry combo.
Since time and budget were both constraints, I chose the latter.
1) Book Flight to Preferred Closest Airport to Koh Tao
I booked my flight about 6 weeks out. I found a few combinations:
From Chiang Mai, you can either connect through Bangkok or get a direct flight to Chumphon, Surat Thani or Koh Samui.
A) Any Airline: Flying into Koh Samui
Time: The fastest
Verdict: I flew into Samui before – there’s a premium price tag attached because it’s a private airport. As long as I can get to Koh Tao on the same day, I’m good with alternatives.
B) Thai Airways: Chiang Mai to Bangkok to Surat Thani
Time: 1H layover in Bangkok
Notes: No, a bit pricey, there’s a layover and flight time is too late.
C) Nok Air: Chiang Mai to Bangkok to Surat Thani
Time: Layover in Bangkok
Notes: No, pricey (will probably have to travel Nok X-tra) and layovers for domestic travel are not ideal.
There is a Nok Air route to Chumphon, but same deal – even pricier and layover in BKK.
D) Air Asia: Chiang Mai to Bangkok to Chumphon
Time: 9H layover in Bangkok…WTF for domestic travel?!
Notes: No, flight times aren’t good (would need to overnight), need to book 2 separate flights and the shortest layover in BKK is 9H long.
E) Air Asia: Chiang Mai to Surat Thani
Time: <2H direct flight
Notes: Affordable, good flight time & direct flight from Chiang Mai
Naturally, I chose option E) direct flight from Chiang Mai to Surat Thani, followed by bus and ferry.
The most ideal route would be a direct flight to Chumphon (but couldn’t find an airline that operates that route), followed by a shorter bus/ferry ride.
2) Book Bus & Ferry
You can buy the ticket when you arrive at the airport, but I didn’t want to risk them selling out, so I bought it ahead of time.
The difference between the price and commute time isn’t much, so it doesn’t really matter which company you go with.
I don’t mind paying $6 USD more to get there faster, so I booked directly through Lomprayah.
It cost 950 baht ($32 USD) and I was able to pay through PayPal!
I also looked into these options:
- Ferry Samui – 880 baht ‘discount’ instead of 1000 baht (I wonder why…) but it wouldn’t let me book…
- 12go.asia – 950 to 1000 baht
You’ll be transitting for 4+ hours, so 1000 baht ($34 USD / 4 = $8.33USD per hour) is worth it.
Here’s how it went down:
Landed at Surat Thani airport at 1:05pm.
A whole 30 minutes ahead of schedule – I’ve never arrived THIS early on a flight before. Wow!
Waited 10 minutes for my checked bag, then proceeded to find the Lomprayah counter (still inside the airport) to “check-in”, get my bus sticker and put tags onto my luggage.
At 2pm-ish, I went outside the entrance the counter lady told me to wait at.
The bus driver was very attentive and called me over right away.
He said he recognized me by my sticker.
Bus left on time at 2:30pm.
No assigned seats.
It was roomy, new and comfortable enough to fall asleep.
An hour later, we rocked up at the actual Lomprayah ticket center.
Here, we exchanged our print out for actual ferry tickets and waited for another bus to take us to the actual ferry port.
That ride was another 1-1.5H long.
It’s a good time to take another nap if you’re still tired.
Don’t panic if you don’t find a lot of people going to Koh Tao getting off to wait here.
Everyone who needs to take the ferry – regardless of their end destination – will be traveling on this new bus and getting on the same ferry.
Not going to lie, it felt like a really long time.
This is the ferry route:
Surat Thani Pier > Koh Samui > Koh Phangan > Koh Tao
We probably left the Surat Thani Pier around 5pm and I didn’t get to Koh Tao Pier until around 8:30pm or so.
I sat right in the middle of the boat, so I wouldn’t feel the waves as much.
Pier to Koh Samui was fine, I was able to nap and check my phone. Lots of people got off at Samui.
Next stop was Koh Phangan – the ride was still alright.
Everyone gets off here.
Even if you’re going to Koh Tao – you need to switch boats.
Grab all your luggage and get on the Koh Tao boat.
A staff member will tell you which boat it is – usually the next to it. If not, ask someone at the dock.
Before you get on, they’ll ask to see your ferry ticket – so don’t throw it away!
Going to Koh Tao was ROUGH.
You’re on a smaller boat so the waves were – or just felt – bigger. I felt dizzy half the time and almost puked.
Good thing I didn’t really have anything to eat that day!
Finally, after 1.5 hours, it dropped us all off at Mae Haed pier.
There’s no grab, so we voluntarily got scammed 100 baht each for a taxi to our final destination.
Where to Stay in Koh Tao
Because I signed up with Roctopus – my scuba diving school of choice, they were able to offer me discounts with select accommodation providers closeby.
Since these places were pre-vetted, I naturally only looked into those ones:
- Roctopus Hotel – 500/night for a single room with AC
- Summer Hostel Koh Tao – 250/night in shared hostel
- BP Hostel – 300 baht/night in a shared room hostel
- Good dream – 260/night in a shared hostel or 520 in a private room that sleeps 2
I sent them all a message directly to test their English and customer service.
The fastest to get back to me was Good Dream with good English, then Roctopus Hotel who couldn’t fully understand the questions I asked.
I don’t remember the others getting back to me at all.
No brainer – went with Good Dream.
It was my first time in a hostel in a long time. I feel like I’m too old for that shit.
I’m glad I chose Good Dream
- It’s just for a week and I’m literally diving the whole time
- I knew other divers would be staying here too & can easily meet new friends
- It’s in a quiet area off the main street, not a party hostel
- The ensuite toilet is a nice touch
As luck would have it, the bunks were never full and not only were all the roommates all going for Open Water or Advanced, 3 of them and I were in the same course!
Our sleep schedules were the same, we ate together and I ended up seeing my new friends again on Koh Phangan 🙂
Nomad Community & Coworking
I found exactly zero.
I wasn’t actively looking for them, so maybe that’s why.
I’m sure they’re on the island…I mean, there is one coworking space called TaoHub by the pier.
At 400 baht/day and not exactly walking distance (15 min or less), it just wasn’t worth it for me.
Most foreigners are tourists and come here for underwater adventures, namely scuba diving, and snorkeling.
You’ll meet the young, 20-something Europeans on a gap year. (And by ‘year’ they mean months).
I ended up finding a handful of coffee shops to work out of.
They probably let you stay for half the day if you buy something, had decent table/chairs and electric plugs.
- Baia burger (during downtime)
- Down the rabbit hole cafe – especially the 2nd floor but not many plugs
- Good Dream Hostel – You have to be a guest but they have a big table with a plug close by that I used every morning
- The Coffee House – my favourite!
- The Factory Cafe (doable but might be too small)
Koh Tao Gyms
Watcha talking about, Willis?!
Nature is your gym.
Go take a swim in the ocean – that should work you out enough.
Honestly, I had full intentions to check out the gyms here, but I was so exhausted from my Open Water 20 that more exercise was completely unnecessary.
If you wanted to, there are 2 gyms that I knew of:
Outdoor gym, not too many machines, but promises Muay Thai, boxing, HIIT and a bunch of fitness classes.
The most advertised one on the island with AC and ‘proper’ machines.
Expensive though. See membership pricing –>
Muay Thai Gym
I saw advertisements for Muay Thai fights, so I’m sure there are boxing gyms here.
Didn’t look into it more since it’s not a sport that interests me that much.
What to do in Koh Tao?
A few things:
1) Scuba Diving (Duh!)
There are a LOT of amazing dive sites.
I’m told that some scuba tours from Koh Phangan will sail over to Koh Tao.
It’s nice because if the waves are hitting on one side, you can just ferry over to the other side, and dive there instead.
Some of the ones that I dived or want to further explore are:
Twins, Pottery, White Rock, Shark Bay & more!
2) Koh Tao Snorkeling Tour
There are only 3 tour operators – Oxygen, Diamond and Poon Phol.
Oxygen will be advertised to you on the ferry ride over, so you should familiar with the brand already.
They bring you to 5 of the same dive spots around the island. Lunch and transportation are included.
Price is all the same – 850 baht.
There is a full day and a half-day, the difference is 2 hours. Price is the same – still 850 baht.
3) Koh Nang Yuan
The tiny private island is right beside Koh Tao.
You can’t bring any plastic there – drink all the water from your 7-11 plastic water bottle before u land or you’ll need to toss it!
And, it costs 100 baht to step foot on the island.
I didn’t go, because that’s not really my thing, but I’m told there’s a 10-minute hike up to a gorgeous viewpoint at the top.
4) Koh Tao Viewpoint
Lots of lookout points for nice views. Some notable ones:
- Mango ViewPoint
- Sunset ViewPoint
- Koh Tao View Point
- And many more on the south of the island
Wait a minute – what about food?!
Fret not, homie! I got you. Check out my recommendations on where to eat in Koh Tao here.
All in all, that wrapped up my week in Koh Tao!
(I’d say a week is plenty enough time.)
I only really came here to get my Open Water 20 license, so I’m not too familiar with more local gems.
If you know of any that I’m missing, please comment below to share it with others! I’ll definitely keep it on my list-to-try when I come back next time.
Now, off to Koh Phangan I go!