Koh Tao Thailand a Family Vacation Review
Recently on a family vacation to SE Asia we found the perfect island of Koh Tao Thailand for relaxing, nature, and scuba diving. Koh Tao (sometimes spelt Ko Tao), also known as the Turtle Island, is a small island in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Tao is less developed than its neighboring islands of Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, famous for its “Full Moon Party.” The population of the island is roughly 3000 people. The island is well known for its younger backpacker crowd that comes to the island for its inexpensive scuba diving certification courses. Koh Tao is well known for its great scuba diving that is perfect for beginners and yet still fascinating sites for advanced divers too. Even with a lot of younger tourists, Koh Tao is a friendly and beautiful place for family travelers as well.
Getting to Koh Tao
Getting to Koh Tao can take some time but it’s well worth it. There are several options on ways to get to Koh Tao from Bangkok. The two main ways are to take either a bus or train to Champion, or to fly to Koh Samui, then from either of those two locations taking a ferry to the island of Koh Tao. The cheapest way is by taking a bus and ferry combination. There are both day and night buses that can be taken from Bangkok to Chumphon, which is about an 8-hour journey. Then from Chumphon pier you can board a high speed ferry that will get you to Koh Tao in about 2 hours.
The quickest and most direct way to get to the island of Koh Tao is to first fly to the larger island of Koh Samui. A flight from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International airport (BKK) to Koh Samui (USM) takes about one hour. The cost of a one-way ticket on Bangkok Air will cost around $98 USD. Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways are the two airlines that fly from Bangkok to Koh Samui. From the Koh Samui airport there are van / taxi transfers to one of the main piers that has a high speed ferry to Koh Tao. Depending on the departure time the high speed ferry may leave from either the Nathon pier or the Maenam pier. Either way the ferry rides from Koh Samui to Koh Tao will take about 1 hour and 45 minutes.
The Lomprayah High Speed Ferry Company is the fastest carrier and the most comfortable for both their buses and ferries. There are also some cheaper but longer ferries like Seatran and Songserm, but they are slower and not as comfortable. You can book your tickets online in advanced by going to the Lomprayah website or you can just get tickets at the pier. Depending on when you are trying to catch the ferry they can get quit full so if you are buying at the pier it is recommended to get there early.
Culture on Koh Tao
Koh Tao has a unique culture that blends traditional Thai with an international community of backpackers and divers. The island has a laid back vibe and a high flip flop quotient. T-Shirt, shorts, and flip flops are about the only cloths you need to pack for this location. There really isn’t any places to go on the island that requires any sort of non-beach wear clothing. The local people are extremely friendly and have a general sense of gratitude for the tourist that come to enjoy their island. Koh Tao is generally very safe.
Getting around the island is typically done by motorbike or by catching a taxi, which consists of jumping in the back of a small pickup. A definite delight for the kids since they don’t get to ride in back of the bed of a truck legally back home. Many rent scooters or motorcycles for their stay on the island. Be careful though as many people tell stories that they have been scammed and charged high fees for any little scratch found on their rental, even if they had preexisting damage. So check out the bike thoroughly and make sure any damage is noted prior to riding off. For a family with small children it may be easier just to catch a taxi when you need it. A taxi ride from the far end of Sairee Village to Mae Haad (the pier) will cost you about $3.
What to do and see on Koh Tao
The main highlight on Koh Tao is the beautiful and long white sand Sairee Beach. Sairee Beach has soft sand that gently extends out in to the shallow and calm waters, making it ideal for wading out in. The beach is lined with longtail boats for hire to get you around the island or out to the small island of Nangyuan for a picnic and day of snorkeling.
Koh Nangyaun is a great snorkel spot due to its shallow reef making it also a hot spot for learning divers to do their check out dives for their certifications. If you are up for a short hike there is a path at the south end of Sairee beach that heads over the hill to a real nice smaller beach called Sai Nuan.
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Because of its calm and warm waters, Koh Tao is known as one of the best diving locations in Thailand. The island is full of PADI and SSI dive shops making it competitive and cheap to get certified and dive. One dive shop in particular, Master Divers, is highly recommended for first time divers getting certified and for family divers.
Master Divers staff is second to none and provide a great and safe diving experience. Being a certified Dive Master I can vouch for the quality of instruction and dive masters that are on staff. We had our 10-year-old son get his PADI Open Water certification and our 8-year-old daughter did her Bubble Makers with Master Divers while on Koh Tao. As a dive master I felt very confident in the safety of my children with the Master Divers team.
Eating on Koh Tao
The island of Koh Tao is filled with many great restaurants, coffee shops, and bars to choose from. Surprisingly there are a lot of really good international food options. We honestly had some of the best Thai food (Sue Chilli or Fizz Beach Bar), German food (Enjoy), Italian Pizza (La Pizzaria) and burgers (Hippo Burgers) in all of Thailand. Because the island attracts so many international travelers, many have stayed and opened bars and restaurant establishments. Not only is the food selection really good on Koh Tao but it is also very inexpensive to eat out. It is easy for a family of four to eat out for a meal for under $25.
Where to Stay on Koh Tao
There are many options for lodging on Koh Tao. For single travelers there are several hostles and small, single room hotels. For those staying longer there are inexpensive apartments that can be rented. For family travelers there are some hotels, a few resorts (Sensi Paradise on the South end of Sairee Beach has nice facilities), and a good selection of villas that can be rented.
Trip Advisor provides a great list of places to stay. If you like to be within walking distance to many good shops and restaurants you might try staying in or around the town of Sairee on the North end of the beach. Koh Tao Heights are really nice and luxurious with a private pool and a lot of privacy. The East side of the island is less touristy and much quitter. Although it can be more difficult to get back and forth to town and restaurants.
Koh Tao is a perfect place for those wanting to have more of a laid back island experience while vacationing in Thailand. Far less crowded and less developed compared to Phuket, Koh Tao offers great beaches, lush mountain landscape, and great scuba diving. It’s perfect for the single backpacker, couples and honeymooners, and for family vacations. It can be an adventure to get to but well worth the trip. Koh Tao is extremely affordable and has something for everyone. It’s a true paradise in SE Asia and will provide you with the desire to return again and again.