The islands of Thailand can be tricky to navigate because they can often be very touristy and home to quite the party scene. But they are still a must-visit when traveling to Thailand...So where should you book your ferry if you want world-class diving in crystal blue waters, a lush jungle to explore, and you don't necessarily need a Vegas-esque experience? Koh Tao is your island jackpot.
As a lover of the outdoors looking for climbing, diving, healthy food, and a relief from the city, I felt like I landed onto a tropical dream when I reached Koh Tao. The island is small and still pretty quiet with lots of kind locals who truly love their island and want to take care of it in the midst of rising tourism. Koh Tao is also famous for some of Asia's best diving, where you can explore incredible underwater landscapes of coral, fish, and marine wildlife. And thankfully, the island isn't lined with luxurious clubs. Instead you'll meet a lot of traveling backpackers from all over the world who've come to dive, chill out, and enjoy the local bars overlooking Koh Tao's beautiful sunsets.
We flew from Chiang Mai to Koh Samui with one stop-over in Bangkok. Then we ordered a shuttle from the airport to Bangrak Pier and rode a ferry for about an hour and a half from Koh Samui to Koh Tao. You can book ferry tickets here.
There are plenty of cheap island resorts on Koh Tao, but a great place to check out is Montalay Bay Resort. The resort sits on the east side of the island and is a 10-minute drive from the ferry pier. Highlights: very friendly staff, a shuttle ride to and from the ferry port, a really delicious restaurant on-site (we ate there three times!), a very large and clean room surrounded in lush greenery (you pay extra for air conditioning), and a pool overlooking the beach. And most importantly: walkable access to a quiet, stunning, white-sand beach.
Rent a scooter so you can zip around the island! There are plenty of scooter shops around the island for about 150 to 200 baht per day ($4 to $6). The downtown streets are very ridable, but remember to get a helmet and consider insurance as the roads on the higher island paths (to get to viewpoints) are pretty steep and often deteriorating due to natural causes.
There is what seems like a limitless number of dive groups on Koh Tao island, but Ocean Sound Diving + Yoga has a fantastic group of dive masters that will give you an incredible diving experience. They offer discovery dives, fun dives, dive certifications, and yoga classes that will not disappoint. We loved our time with them, and they are our top recommendation for an unforgettable day of underwater exploration with an awesome staff who will treat you right.
Although diving is the number one activity on Koh Tao, there is climbing too! I was told that there was only bouldering available on this island, but there is actually a decent amount of sport climbing available now thanks to a group named GoodTime Adventures. I highly recommend visiting their office to get information on all the best vistas and directions to hikes on the island as well. They know the island like the back of their hand, and you can rent all your climbing gear or book a guide for a half day or a full day. They've bolted the climbing routes themselves and have done a spectacular job of gathering beta. But be warned, though: The rain can be unpredictable, and the mosquitoes are ruthless.