Koh Tao’s towering silhouette is unmistakable as the ferry approaches through the Gulf of Thailand. Made up of volcanic rock, there are more than 70 climbing routes around the island, from mountaintop walls and trails with panoramic views, eroded seaside cliffs, and beautiful lowland bouldering areas. The Koh Tao Climbing Project specializes specifically in climbing training and camps, tailoring options suitable to any level and time commitment. Or head over to Goodtime Adventures to try your hand at abseiling, one of their a range of courses, or hire a guide and equipment if you’ve already got some of your own experience. Rather keep your feet firmly on the ground? Check out any one of Koh Tao’s gorgeous hikes, like the trail to Mango Viewpoint, Fraggle Rock, or Two Views.
What better way to take in the island’s panoramic views than by gliding across the water? Koh Tao’s near year-round glassy sea is a SUP dream come true. Wander down to Maya Beach Club, the headquarters of SUP Tao, and take a paddle across the coral rich waters before heading back to shore for some happy hour sunset cocktails. You might even get a friendly beach dog or two join along for the ride. The friendly owners can also arrange other watersports activities as well, like snorkeling and booze cruises, wakeboarding, and sunset voyages on their speedboat. During certain times of the year they offer SUP Yoga led by experienced professionals as well, so get your inner peace on in a whole new way.
Muay Thai, an ancient form of fighting, remains one of the most popular sports in Thailand today. Also known as The Art of Eight Limbs, due to the technique’s heavy reliance on elbows and knees, just one session practicing your moves can easily burn off last night’s beers. Island Muay Thai specializes in Muay Thai training, offering programs tailored to individual goals, from single introductory sessions to full-on training camps. Monsoon Gym and Koh Tao Gym and Fitness also have drop-in Muay Thai classes among their other offerings, like Krav Maga and HIIT, as well as full set-ups of gym equipment for those craving their own workout routine. Island Muay Thai also puts on regular fight nights showcasing local talent, so you can see how your skills (or lack thereof) measure up.
Tanote Bay’s legendary cliff jump is not for the faint of heart. Measuring at up to 12 meters high, adrenaline junkies can climb a permanently anchored rope to the top and launch themselves into the deep, crystal-clear sea below. Prefer working your way up to the big leagues? Goodtime Adventures runs a cliff jumping tour in Laem Thien bay during the summer months. There, they guide you through three- and nine-meter jumps before you take to the 12. All of the jumps in both Tanote and Laem Thien have been cleared for safety, but still mind the risk!
Truly take a leap of faith and try out your aptitude for the flying trapeze! The programs cater to everyone, from absolute-never-jumped-off-anything-before beginners, to seasoned flyers. Sessions are individually focused and run by experienced instructors, which together produces an incredible success rate – an overwhelming majority of beginners make a mid-air catch in just one lesson. All ages and fitness levels are welcome as well. The program has made fliers out of people ages six to 76 years old!
Have too much fun at the infamous Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan? Many a weary-eyed, body-painted traveler earmarks Koh Tao as their destination of choice to detox and unwind. Head down to Oceansound Yoga in the south of the island and take advantage of the great daily and weekly rates to mend your body and mind from the fatigue of travel. Highly experienced instructors lead open-level sessions achievable for complete beginners, while adding in options to cater to much more advanced students. To mix it up, Shambhala Yoga in Sairee also has a good range of classes, held in their beautiful, teak-style setup.
During much of the year, the New Heaven Reef Conservation Program in Chalok is home to a batch of newborn turtles. The hatchlings are a part of a pioneering program supported by the Thai Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, which aims to raise the young turtles in a safe and healthy environment to the point where they are strong enough to enter the wild, usually within one year. In natural circumstances, only one in 1,000 sea turtles survive to adulthood, and so programs like this give the hatchlings that extra boost and potential to live a full and productive life. The centre invites the public to daily feedings at 4:00PM, during which you can learn more about this species very dear to Thai culture, and the other great projects the program has operating around the island.
If you’ve been waiting for the opportunity to treat yourself, this is the island to get your value for money. Koh Tao is home to tons of incredible villas, yours at the price you’d pay for a mediocre hotel room in Europe. Stunning vistas, infinity pools, the quiet of the jungle – it’s all part of the de facto package on Koh Tao’s villa market. Many are available through Airbnb, and the local hosts are consistently attentive and accommodating to guests’ desires.
Thais have long celebrated a festival-driven culture, and as Western influence has gradually expanded so to has Thailand’s festival circuit. Koh Tao holds annual celebrations for traditional Thai holidays like Loi Kratong, and of course, Songkran, and has long held its own annual Koh Tao Festival every March celebrating the community’s annual pledge to sustainability initiatives. The year-end Experience Festival has drawn a crowd of psychedelic trance lovers since 2008, featuring live acts and DJs hailing from all around the world, packed with art, music, and good vibes. Can’t travel to make festival dates? There are always events happening throughout the month. The Secret Party hosts great parties at different, often unique venues each month, The Factory’s Sunday Sessions feature a rotation of regionally-famous DJs, and Blue Water hosts weekly Saturday beach parties right on the main strip of Sairee.
No trip to Koh Tao would be complete without a night out on its legendary pub crawl. Running four times a week, the pub crawl starts out with a bang in the form of a generously poured “Thai bucket.” As the night unfolds, the endlessly-energetic staff carry the party onward along Sairee Beach from one epic Koh Tao bar to the next, including a stop at the locally-renowned Queen’s Cabaret show, all offering great discounts on drinks exclusive to pub crawlers. Signups start at 6:00 PM at Choppers Bar and Grill on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, and the 480 THB ticket more than covers the many free and deeply discounted drinks throughout the night.
One thing visitors to Koh Tao note is its high quality of food, and for quite the value at that. On this island of only 21 square kilometers you can find Tex-Mex straight from SoCal, savory Indian, fresh sushi, and truly anything else you can possibly crave. Barracuda‘s surf-and-turf menu is a good place to start, while Sundays mean traditional English roasts from La Hacienda or Reef Bar. Hippo, South Beach, Juicy Burger have been vying for the title of best burger on Koh Tao for years now, while Lorenzos, the Godfather, and La Pizzaria are in a similar face-off with their Italian offerings. Vegans and vegetarians are well looked after as well by the likes of salad-mecca Vegetabowl, Coconut Monkey, and Big Bite. While of course, incredible Thai food dots every corner. You can’t go wrong stopping into any Thai kitchen around the island, but definitely don’t miss P.Oy’s Place and Idjangs Kitchen.
Alas, don’t leave Koh Tao without checking out the beauty that lies beneath. With dozens of schools catering to every individual preference and language, there is no shortage of options to embrace your inner siren. From fun dives for certified divers, to full ranges of course offerings for every level and interest, there is no limit to what you can discover within Koh Tao’s rich waters. Or ditch the tank and join the growing movement of freediving, learning how to dive deep on one breath of air. While you won’t find better prices to dive anywhere in the world, those on the tightest of budgets can still easily rent a snorkel and mask and take in the magnificence of the underwater world in any one of Koh Tao’s easily accessible bays.