Backpacker’s Guide to Koh Tao – My Thailand Diaries

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Thailand, a beautiful multi faceted country that boasts both turquoise waters with thriving aquatic life and lush green mountains home to monkeys, temples and world heritage sites.

 My best friend and I took a trip around modern day Siam and filled 16 days with as much of the country, culture and cuisine as we possibly could.

I fell in love with this little nook in South East Asia and wanted to journal it for myself but also for you, dear reader, to possibly help inspire you to consider Thailand for your next adventure. 

Welcome to my Thailand Diaries!

Visiting Koh Tao

Koh Tao became one of my top three favourite places in Thailand and this was after spending only 3 days on the island.

There’s so much to do on Koh Tao and we absolutely could have stayed there for several weeks. We met so many travelers who had arrived intending to stay for a few weeks, but have now been there for several years! That should tell you what an effect the island seems to have on people.

There are plenty of hikes to explore, beaches to discover, incredible Thai food to eat and best of all, an underwater paradise to dive into in the oceans of Koh Tao.

Getting to Koh Tao

Before you go on! Be sure to check out our journey backpacking through Phuket and Koh Phi Phi!

To get to Koh Tao, I traveled from Railay Beach (which is near Krabi) to Koh Tao, which made the trip a bit longer than if you were going straight from the mainland.

We had to take a 6 hour bus across the mainland from Krabi but then it was a 4 hour ferry across to Koh Tao from Chumphon and Surat Thani.

Where to Stay on Koh Tao

Hostel life is the way to go when visiting a place like Thailand. It’s both cheap and provides the perfect opportunity to meet likeminded travelers. During our 16 days backpacking through Thailand, my travel buddy Mel and I stayed in about 9 hostels, most of which were fun and interesting experiences, but the one we stayed at on Koh Tao was definitely one of our favourites.

We stayed at Taco Shack Hostel and I would go back there for several reasons. It was very comfortable and the decor of the common area was bright and welcoming, with a pool table and cozy common area. Everyone was super friendly and it’s perfectly located a walking distance from Sairee beach with all it’s fun bars, restaurants and dive centers.

The first night we were there, the hostel was having a karaoke night, which both Mel and I love so absolutely had to join in on! Additionally, the hostel is attached to Taco Dive center which provided the perfect opportunity for me to try out my first ever scuba diving course. Last but not least, the food at Taco Shack was amazing! We ate their tofu cashew nut for lunch and dinner every day that we were there!

Want to go backpacking but never stayed in a hostel before? Trust me, I know it can be a bit daunting. But here’s everything you need to know about hostel life!

Diving in Koh Tao

Koh Tao has become a popular destination for scuba divers, because the aquatic life around the islands is an ethereal realm of wonders. Also because the prices are so much cheaper than many places in the world. So, obviously, I had to try my hand at scuba diving.

I’d never done it before but everyone that I had met assured me that it was an experience that would change my life. And it absolutely did.

I did my dive with the PADI dive center that was attached to the hostel I was staying at, Taco Divers. The company was the perfect balance of professional and fun, and the experience itself was amazing.

In the morning we had some classroom time, where my dive master Julie explained to us the effects of diving on our bodies, all about the equipment and what we could expect from the experience. Then, in the afternoon, we finally went on our dive.


After my first dive at the Twins

Taking that first leap into the water, removing the pressure from the vest and submerging into the underwater world is what I imagine taking your first steps as a baby is like. Being beneath the glistening waves, being able to breath underwater and looking up to see the surface so very far above your head is nothing short of magical. It puts so much of the world into perspective.

Seeing all of this thriving life around you, being able to reach out and skim your fingers along with the bewildered fish, and gazing down at the corals, makes you think about how there is so much that we don’t understand of our world. How much kinder we ought to be to it and how much of a duty we have to take care of it.

We have so many environmental issues plaguing our world at this very moment. If only we took the time to understand the worlds closest to us, the life on our front door, maybe then we’d all be moved to take more action.

What lies beneath the glittering waves and underneath the canopies of the trees that we fly over? Don’t you wonder? If we had the desire to know and see for ourselves, maybe we could flip the switch that would lead us to case, just a tiny bit more.

Hikes in Koh Tao

Koh Tao is a mountainous island which means that are many popular viewpoints and hikes to discover. We only had time to for one, so we obviously picked one of the most popular ones, John Suwan Viewpoint.

We didn’t anticipate the actual nature of the hike up to the viewpoint so at first we got a bit lost and by the end of it I had to get rid of my flip flops to be able to manage the climb. It starts off quite easy but once you get 3/4 of the way you have to maneover around some ropes and climb rocks and eventually pull yourself up onto a narrow outcrop to admire the view.

Was it worth the climbing and the hot island sun and the effort? Absolutely! Not only did we feel great afterwards but the view at the top is worth every bit of the climb.

Other popular hikes and viewpoints on Koh Tao that you can explore if you’re got more time are the Love Koh Tao Viewpoint, Sunset Viewpoint Koh Tao, Mango Viewpoint, Tanote Peak viewpoint and West Coast viewpoint.

Beaches on Koh Tao

Framed with towering coconut trees against a backdrop of lush green mountains, the beaches on Koh Tao are as romantic as you would imagine. Whether it’s enjoying brunch by the beach, spending the day in the sun and surf, or watching the sunset with a cocktail in hand, the beach will always be one of my favourite places.

The beach where we spent most of our time was Sairee Beach.

This is where you’ll find a lot of the thriving bars and restaurants on the island. There are a lot of hotels and other forms of accommodation in the area as well as most of the popular dive centers on the island.

During the day, take a walk along the beach and take in the families on holiday and gentle island life under way. Sairee beach is also perfect for the evenings since it faces the setting sun.

In the evening, after a day of diving and fun in the sun, the slow rumble of music begins, the day vendors start to pack up their shops, the evening food stalls open and places like Fishbowl Beach bar start to fill up with people. Stay late enough and you’ll get to enjoy a popular form of entertainment in Thailand, the fire jugglers!

Whether you’re participating in a wild pub crawl or enjoying a chilled night with friends, life on Sairee beach has something for everyone.

For more secluded beaches and great snorkeling and swimming, head to Taa Toh beach, Ao Tanot beach, Aow Luk beach or even Chalok Baan Koh beach.

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Where to next?

We watched our last sunset on Koh Tao from the balcony in Taco Shack and our hearts wished we could stay forever and just explore the magical underwater world. There were so many more restaurants to eat and and things to discover but we had to move on.

We had seen Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and had more of Thailand we wanted to discover.

The last leg of our 16 days in Thailand would see us heading back to the mainland, to the current capital of the Kingdom of Thailand, Bangkok, as well as the ancient capital of former Siam, in Ayutthaya. We spent only a day in Bangkok because personally I didn’t enjoy the busy and crowded nature of the city. Ayutthaya was worth seeing for all its rich history and temples.

Finally, to end the trip, we would head north to Chiang Mai for 3 days, to enjoy the last bit of the Thai sun and try our hand at cooking the food that we’ve been eating so much of this trip! Stay tuned!

Check out my Backpacker’s Guide to Minimalist Packing 

A few things to note about visiting Thailand:

  • DO NOT flush toilet paper down the toilet, their pipes can’t handle it. If you do number 1, just place the tissue in the bins provided, if you do number 2, read up about the bum gun
  • Don’t drink the tap water. In order for us to be sustainable, we had to fill in our water bottles every day at the hostel when we could (they usually have refill stations for 10 baht)
  • Don’t worry too much about laundry. There are soooo many places that offer laundry services and prices depend on where in Thailand you are (40 baht/kg in Koh Tao and 100 baht/kg in Bangkok)
  • Don’t be afraid to barter with the taxi drivers or vendors on prices
  • Most places will ask you to take off your shoes before you enter
  • It’s normal for hostels to ask to keep your passport while you’re staying with them
  • Don’t expect everyone to speak English and don’t be that person that gets annoyed and complains when locals don’t speak your language, it’s their country so be kind and patient

Travel Insurance

Don’t forget to get travel insurance! World Nomads is a reliable and cost effective insurance provider to cover you while you’re on your epic world adventures.


Stay tuned for the next chapter of my Thailand adventures! If you don’t want to miss out, be sure to sign up for email updates in the sidebar on the right (don’t forget to check your email where it might ask you to confirm your subscription). 

Sit back, grab some Oreos and I can’t wait to see what life has to offer us next



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