A week on the idyllic beaches of Koh Tao
If you guys want beauty overload, Koh Tao needs to be front and center on your 2019 bucket list, because boy oh boy is it something special. The beaches, the food, the sunsets… seriously, it’s like nowhere else on earth.
A few months ago, Dom and I made the decision to travel over to Koh Tao for our first stop in Thailand, which turned out to be a looooong journey - lucky me got a touch of food poisoning the night before, so it wasn’t the most pleasant thing i’ve ever done. Word to the wise: don’t trust the food they sell on Khao San Road! But anywhoo, our journey to get from Bangkok to Koh Tao went a little like this:
Traveling from Bangkok to Koh Tao
I didn’t book our ticket ahead of time, because i’m consciously trying to be a little more ~laid back~ with my travel planning (I still did all my research beforehand though!). And to be honest, when traveling in Thailand, i’ve found that if you book things online ahead of time, you often end up paying slightly more than if you just rock up and book it from the office directly. Not sure why, and you shouldn’t trust that information 100%, but it has definitely worked for me!
Since i’m all about that budget travel life, I looked for the cheapest way to get to Koh Tao, and one of them was via bus/ferry joint ticket with Lomprayah. Upon arriving in Bangkok, we headed over to Khao San Road and looked for the Lomprayah office to book our tickets. We chose Lomprayah over Songserm because they have more comfortable boats, despite costing a few dollars more.
The booking process was super easy, and we just needed our passport, money, and they gave us our ticket leaving at 6am the next morning. So, this is what the next day looked like:
6am: hopped on a 6-7 hour bus from the Khao San Lomprayah office. The bus was spacious and had a bathroom onboard, so that was a decent trip.
1pm: switched from the bus to a ferry from Chumphon to Koh Tao
3pm: arrived in Koh Tao
Getting around Koh tao
When we hopped off the ferry in Koh Tao, it was a bit of a clusterf****, so it can be quite overwhelming even if it’s not your first time on the island. You grab your bag, follow the crowd walking down the pier and onto the main road, and have a million songthaew drivers shouting at you and asking where you’re going. Sidenote: Songthaew’s are the island equivalent to a taxi - basically trucks with bench seats in the back.
All I could manage to do was shout back at them, “we’re just going up the road!!”. They didn’t back off, which was probably good all in all because our hostel was not, in fact, “just up the road”. We found a guy willing to drive us for the questionable price of 100 baht each ($6 in total), which was a bit of a rip off but he knew we had no other choice.
We hopped into the bed of his truck with our bags, and drove the 2 minutes down the road to reach our hostel for the next few days. We ended up getting a scooter for the time we spent on Koh Tao, but i’ll talk more about that process below!
Where we stayed
For the first 3 days on Koh Tao, Dom and I were invited to stay at the luxurious beachfront hostel, Savage Koh Tao. I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels over the past few years, and I promise you none have even come close to the quality of Savage. When you picture a hostel, I bet a rooftop pool, gourmet breakfast, and a modern 5-star room doesn’t really pop into your mind, right? Well, Savage has it all, and more. We arrived to Koh Tao feeling dirty, nauseous, and exhausted from the bus/ferry combo, but reaching Savage turned our whole moods around instantaneously.
We were welcomed with a modern private room with a gorgeous bathroom, giant tv (which we didn’t turn on but it’s still a nice touch!), mini fridge, and even matching robes. We took an embarrassing number of photos and Instagram boomerangs in those matching robes. All I kept thinking that whole first day was “why can’t all hostels be like this?!”
If you’re not the type to be sold by gorgeous rooms and rooftop pools, then their food will definitely win you over. We had the choice of a few different breakfasts; I went with the healthy option of tropical fruit with granola & yogurt (trying to get my bikini bod in order LOL) while Dom chose the sweet breakfast. Savage gets a 10/10 for food options, a 10/10 for presentation, and a 10000/10 for how freaking amazing it all tastes. I swear Koh Tao spoiled me with their awesome Thai food. Dom and I woke up each morning, had breakfast and coffee, hit the pool for a morning swim, and then headed over to Sairee Beach which is just steps from the hostel. If you want the ultimate experience, then i’d definitely recommend staying at Savage. The staff, design, food, location, and atmosphere are impossible to beat and have set my standards exceptionally high for hostels now!
If you book a room at Savage, please please please make sure to give their cute kitty a pet for me. Maybe give it some food. Maybe use that food to lure it into your suitcase and bring it to me. Thanks in advance!
MAR 24 Koh tao
The remaining week on Koh Tao, we booked ourselves into a place called MAR24 Koh Tao which was clean, had a nice pool, and a hot water shower which was a perk. It was only $20/night for a private room, so not bad… It did however have a terrible karaoke singer next door, a pretty awful fan, and the occasional cock fight out back which I was unfortunate enough to stumble upon, so it was a pretty massive step down from Savage unfortunately.
Where we ate
Anyone who knows me well knows about my obsession with Massaman Curry. So much that I even make up songs about it and how good it is. Yup yup yup, i’m in love (and weird). But my point is, when it comes to Thai food, I know my shit. So when Dom and I discovered Yin Yang, a small restaurant on the road to Freedom Beach, I knew exactly what I was going to try first.
YOU GUYS. It was literally the best thing i’ve eaten in life. I’m not kidding. I was skeptical at first because the restaurant didn’t look too fancy - just a regular bamboo-style restaurant on a fairly busy street, but the food was out of this world, the staff were super nice, and the food was cheap!
The restaurant owner is an exceptionally hard working Thai woman who we met briefly, and you could tell this place is popular with both tourists and locals, because it was packed the whole time we were there (and we went almost every night!).
The prices were cheap at around 150 baht for a curry (roughy $4.50 USD), and I would honestly have paid way more because IT WAS AMAZING. Seriously, go there. 100x better than any fancy restaurant I ate at in Thailand, and I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
If you want to check it out, here are directions!
Most instagrammable Beaches
So this is probably the part you’ve all been waiting for. The best, most Instagrammable beaches on Koh Tao. Well, over the course of 10 days living the island life, I visited almost every beach, and decided to list my most favorite beaches below.
My favorite beach has to go to Sai Nuan. It has the whole nine yards: quiet peaceful vibes, huge rocks to climb on, towering palm trees, and crystal clear water. It’s a little harder to find than other beaches since you have to drive up a super steep and mildly dangerous hill, then drive down a hill, then pass through a restaurant beside a little beach, then follow a path through some garden resort area, AND THEN you reach it, but that’s why it’s a little more quiet than your average Koh Tao beach.
This was me and Dom’s go-to sunset spot, and the rocks make for an awesome place to chill while watching the sun go down. There’s also a beautiful swing between two palms, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good old swing photo? I’ll let the photos do the talking, but take a look at why it’s one of the best beaches on Koh Tao!
Koh Nang Yuan
If you saw any of my instagram stories from Koh Tao, you probably already know that I killed my beloved Canon 6D and 24-70mm lens while on Koh Nang Yuan, and i’m going to tell you just how it went down (but if you just came for the pretty pictures, that’s ok too). Well, it wasn’t totally completely 100% my fault.. buuuut overall, it boiled down to a touch of stupidity and way too much confidence in a cheap Amazon tripod.
This fateful day all happened while visiting probably the most beautiful place i’ve ever been, Koh Nang Yuan. KNY is a group of islands set just off the coast of Koh Tao, and can be reached by booking a long tailed boat from Sairee Beach. It’s around 300 baht ($9) for a return ticket, and you also have to pay a 100 baht entrance fee, but totally worth it. Dom was doing his scuba course, so I was on my lonesome for the day and brought the tripod with me. I reached Koh Nang Yuan and it was a blue sky, crystal clear water kind of day, so photos were a necessity.
Fast forward an hour, my tripod was set up on a rock, my camera bag was hooked on as a weight to secure it and I was in the water below with an epic photo spot set up. Next thing I knew, the camera was plunging towards the water as I was lunging to catch it before it hit. I managed to catch it within a split second of it hitting the water, saved the memory card, but the salt water still got into the camera and RIP Canon 6D + 24-70mm lens, you were much loved. I found out the plastic hook on the tripod broke, and the sudden movement propelled it forward… stupid stupid stupid!
A little life lesson: INVEST IN A GOOD TRIPOD!! I now have the Sirui Carbon Fibre T025SK and I highly recommend it. Another life lesson: get good camera insurance. Anyways, that’s the end of sad story time, now take a look at the picture above that caused that whole mess!
My personal tip: there are two must-visit spots on Koh Nang Yuan. The viewpoint is one of them, which requires a fairly sweaty hike up the hill, some clambering over rocks, and potentially waiting in line. Don’t let that stop you though, because it’s totally worth it to see the world famous view. It’s also been my profile pic for the last two years because I just love it so damn much. To find the viewpoint, you simply walk left towards the smaller island, and follow the path. Easy!
The second spot is on the opposite end of the beach near the big boulders (when you arrive to the islands, just walk right!). In the morning it’s quiet before the influx of group tours, so head over towards the rocks for some gorgeous photos along with some peace and quiet.
Freedom Beach is one of the most popular beaches on Koh Tao (it’s the 3rd photo in the gallery above), but it honestly wasn’t crowded at all when we visited. It’s most famous for the snorkeling and crystal clear waters, but we for the big boulders. Freedom Beach has these giant rocks that you can climb on, and made for some cool drone shots from a different perspective than most of the other beach photos we got. Just be sure not to go in the water over near the giant rocks because there can be sea urchins nestled in the sand, and you DO NOT want to step on one of those guys!
Shark Bay was both amazing and a lil bit frustrating to me. We had heard great things about it, but after getting to the entrance, we discovered that a resort was built right in front of the beach, and the only way to access it is by crossing through the resort’s property. Therefore, you need to pay them an entrance fee of 100 baht that they charge visitors, which supposedly goes towards them “cleaning the beach”, even though we still went home with 4 bags full of rubbish we picked up!
All beaches in Thailand are public land, so there should never be an entrance fee for visiting the beach unless you have to pay to get a boat there, but for the resort to charge you for crossing through their land.. well, that was a bit frustrating.
Anyways, the beach itself is gorgeous with blue waters, powdery sand, and gorgeous palms, so it was a stunning photo spot to chill for the day. The water at Shark Bay is insanely nice for swimming, so don’t let it’s name freak you out. No, I didn’t see any sharks, and the beach itself was surprisingly empty except for the odd snorkeler here and there!
If you want to visit Shark Bay without paying the entrance fee, Dom and I discovered an alternate way to get to the beach for free! You’ll need to drive towards Freedom Beach, and you can find a small pathway on the side of the road on your left - put these coordinates into google maps: 10.064651, 99.829775, and it should get you close to the path. Once you’ve found it and reached the bottom of the stairs, you can hop over a few rocks on your left hand side and walk along the beach until you get to Shark Bay. Voila! Free admission!
Sairee Beach for sunset
Since Koh Tao is known for its sky-on-fire, make-you-tear-up type of sunsets, I was sure to bring my camera along every night. One of the best spots for sunset is Sairee Beach, because it’s smack dab facing the west and is pretty gosh darn photogenic.
On our second night staying at Savage, Dom and I took a little beach walk and just a few minutes along the beach we found a gorgeous leaning palm, perfect for photos. Other people had the same idea, as palm trees + sunsets = the perfect instagram shot, obviously. So rather than forming an awkward line, we sat on the sand and waited for the group of gals straddling the palm tree to dwindle. Eventually, it was just me, Dom, a couple sandy beach dogs, and a perfect sunset, so we snapped a couple photos and spent the rest of the evening saying “holy (insert your fav swear word), this is so pretty” to each other over and over.
Other helpful tips for Koh Tao
renting a scooter
You have to be super careful when renting a scooter on Koh Tao. Not only are the roads dangerous, but you also have a high chance of being screwed over if you’re not smart.
Dom is an exceptional driver, but even being super confident on a bike, we also know that sh*t happens, so we decided to rent a scooter with insurance pre-added to our costs. We went to a bike rental shop called Buddha View Travel which happened to be right next to Yin Yang (and turned out to be the restaurant owners husband!), and got to chatting with the guy about how the island has changed and the shady things different bike rental shops do to make money from foreigners. Basically, if you’re renting a bike anywhere in Thailand, follow these steps:
Try to get a bike with insurance added to the price. We paid 300 baht per day rather than the regular 150 baht, because we knew we would be covered if anyone hit us, if we fell, or if anything at all happened to the bike.
Take photos and videos of any scratches, dents, or imperfections on the bike before you leave the shop with it. This is how the rentals make their money - not on the price you pay for renting it, but for anything that happens to the bike while it’s imperfections. They will charge you an INSANE price to have it fixed/replace parts, and you will be left paying hundreds or thousands.
You’ll need to leave your passport with the shop when you rent the bike, because they need reassurance you’re not just going to skip down if you crash their bike. Leave your passport, but never give them a cash deposit AND your passport. It should be one or the other.
Don’t trust the petrol in the bottles on the side of the road. They’re great in case of an emergency, but if you can make it into town, then fill your bike up at a petrol station. The bottled petrol is always watered down, and honestly doesn’t get you very far compared to filling it up at a pump.
Wear your helmet. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling safe without a helmet because i’ve been there and done that, but it’s not worth it. Just wear the freaking helmet. Your travel insurance probably won’t cover you if you get hurt and weren’t wearing your helmet, and flying down the road at 50mph without a helmet is just plain idiotic. Dogs, cats, chickens, and even the occasional monkey like to wander into the roads, and i’ve seen far too many crashes to feel safe without wearing the dorky helmet these days.
Koh Phangan: coming soon
Ang Thong Marine Park: coming soon