Backpacking Koh Tao Itinerary: What To Do & Travel Tips

view from koh nang yuan while on the backpacking koh tao itinerary

Find out how to see the best of this paradise island with our perfect backpacking Koh Tao itinerary. Let’s talk about the best things to do, restaurants, where to stay, and more for your 2 days in Koh Tao!


If you’re looking for a quiet island to relax on in Thailand surrounded by incredible marine life look no further than Koh Tao. There are plenty of things to do here which will really allow you to experience the beauty of this place. This includes amazing snorkeling, incredible diving, mind-blowing viewpoints, and palm tree-covered beaches. It’s certainly a must when backpacking Koh Tao.

This Koh Tao itinerary will include where to stay, where to eat, and what to do. Basically, it’s all you need to know to have an incredible time backpacking Koh Tao!

Koh Tao is famous for being a diving hot spot in Thailand and one of the cheapest places to become PADI certified. If this is something you are interested in then there are numerous dive schools around the island that will be able to sort this for you. Though for the focus of this backpacking Koh Tao guide and Koh Tao itinerary I will be focusing on travel tips and what to do if you have limited time on this island.


Backpacking Koh Tao: My 2 Day Koh Tao Itinerary


How Many Days To Spend On Koh Tao

Before you find out the Koh Tao itinerary and check out my backpacking Koh Tao travel tips. First off, we need to figure out exactly how many days to spend in Koh Tao. This place is an island paradise where some people spend weeks and where many digital nomads relocate to.  Though I understand I am not the majority, nor is that a reasonable amount for most people when you are on an adventure to explore the whole country.

Honestly, I recommend spending about 2 days in Koh Tao during your Thailand itinerary. Though this will depend on how many islands you plan on a visit before or after. As if you are beach hopping your way down Thailand 2 days will be enough.

Personally, I think that Koh Tao is a beautiful island, though it certainly wasn’t a stand-out on my trip. There were other islands which had better beaches and were easier to travel around etc. Though again, this is just my personal opinion and you may have a completely different experience.

Spending 2 days in Koh Tao will also you to spend some time checking out the incredible viewpoints, experiencing nature, and enjoying the beaches.

small long tail about on the ocean in front of the island
a local fishing boat around the waters of koh tao

Day 1 Of  2 Days In Koh Tao Itinerary

Morning- Koh Nang Yuan

For the perfect introduction to your Koh Tao itinerary, I recommend booking a snorkeling tour around the island. This will showcase the best Koh Tao has to offer both above and below the water. Though before we get too far ahead of ourselves it’s best to start the day with a delicious breakfast that will have you energized.

Make your way to Coconut Monkey which is located in the main town in Mae Haad Beach. They have an extensive menu that includes vegan and vegetarian options.

The main pier is just a short walk away making it easy to board the snorkeling tour. There are plenty of tour operators and travel agencies on Koh Tao that offers snorkeling tours. Personally, I went with Oxygen Tours Koh Tao. Though this was simply because they were the only company operating over the Thai New Year.

The first stop was the famous Koh Nang Yuan. This is a small set of islands off the coast of Koh Tao which is connected via a sandbank. It is a real Instagram hot spot in the Gulf of Thailand and as a result, is a very popular spot when it comes to tour groups. If you can’t do large tour groups then you can hire a long tail boat to take you here and do your own DIY style snorkeling tour. Though if you are on an organized tour you will visit this island as well as Mango Bay, Hin Wong Bay, Aow Leuk, and Sharks Bay. There will be a variety of underwater life to explore which plenty of coral reef systems to check out. Lunch is also included as the tours generally run until the afternoon.

Personally, the only downside of the tour was that we booked going into the wet season which meant to in the afternoon the waters got quite choppy and visibility wasn’t good as storms rolled over. Of course, this is of no fault of the company, but just something to be aware of. Sharks Bay, which isn’t a sheltered cove, was not suitable for people not confident swimming. I have also read that the best chance to see sharks here is in the morning, but we visited in the late afternoon.

sting ray on snorkeling tour in koh tao
a small sting ray hiding in the coral- it is definitely worth doing a snorkeling tour on your backpacking koh tao itinerary

Afternoon- Sunset Viewpoint

With getting back from the snorkeling tour between 4pm and 5pm it doesn’t leave much of the afternoon free which is why we are keeping it simple. The Sunset viewpoint in Koh Tao is the perfect way to chill out at the end of a busy day. Though we will need to get there first.

To do so, you will need to hire a motorbike which we will also be utilizing tomorrow. Day hire is around $4.92 / 150 THB. Though just make sure to research for a reputable bike hire company as there are a few different scams operating around the island. Though we will cover a bit more on that below.

Once you have your bike it’s a quick 15-minute drive to the viewpoint. Be aware that Koh Tao is a very mountainous island with some steep uphills. You may just find yourself having to push the bike up.

At the sunset viewpoint, there is a bar where you can buy drinks and chill out while watching the sun disappear below the clouds in the distance.


Evening – Sairee Beach

If you still have a bit of energy and aren’t ready to end your first-day backpacking Koh Tao, then head to Sairee Beach. First off it’s time to get dinner. It’s definitely worth checking out Chez Albert which is a gorgeous European restaurant specializing in French cuisine. This place certainly isn’t cheap but it’s worth it. Though if you are on a budget check out Baia Burger Concept.

After a delicious meal makes your way down to the beachfront for a beer. There are always fire shows going on here so it’s the perfect way to end a day and relax.

sunset from the main beach in koh tao
watching sunset from the main beach in koh tao

Day 2 Of 2 Days In Koh Tao Itinerary

Morning- John Suwan Viewpoint & Freedom Beach

Grab a cheap and cheerful breakfast from Zest Coffe Shop before jumping on your motorbike and continuing our backpacking Koh Tao itinerary.

Our first stop of the day is across the island at John Suwan Viewpoint. This is approximately 15 minutes from the tourist hub of Sairee Beach. You can park at Freedom Beach or Taa Toh Bay and then walk the 20 minutes or so to the viewpoint.

There is an entrance fee of $1.63 / 50 THB. This palm tree-laden spot is super popular with other travelers. Though getting there first thing in the morning you should have it to yourself. Once at the viewpoint look back inland and check the incredible view of Koh Tao surrounded by blue water.

Hike back down to Freedom Beach to spend the rest of the morning relaxing on one of the best beaches on Koh Tao. There are plenty of hammocks to relax on or grab some snorkeling equipment and check out life under the water.


Afternoon- Beach Hop

After you have finished checking out Freedom Beach head to the neighboring bay, Shark Bay, to find some friends. You’ll definitely need some snorkeling gear to find the blacktip reef sharks which call this beach home. Afterward, head to P.Oy’s Place for some delicious Thai food for lunch.

Sai Nuan Beach is the next beach spot which is a short drive away. This is a super chill low key spot that I happened to randomly stumble upon. There only ever seem to be a few groups here at a time so you still get quite a bit of privacy. There is a restaurant and a small resort here. Though for the most part is seems like a piece of secluded paradise.

Driving away from the south part of the island make your way to Tanote Beach. This is actually one of the best places you can go snorkeling on Koh Tao. There are plenty of corals around as well as quite a few large fish.

beach at sunset while on your backpacking koh tao itinerary
one of the many hidden beaches you will discover while backpacking koh tao

Evening- Love Koh Tao

After a busy day exploring some of the amazing coastlines around Koh Tao, we will head for sunset at the famous love Koh Tao spot. This has incredible views over Tanote Beach and is the perfect spot to relax after a busy day backpacking Koh Tao.

There is a $0.65 / 50 THB entry fee to Love Koh Tao. Though this is waived if you purchase drinks or food. It’s unlikely you will visit without grabbing a cold beer while watching the sun drop below the horizon.

After chilling out at Love Koh Tao head to The Gallery Restaurant for an authentic Thai meal to finish off our Koh Tao itinerary. Overlooking the island


Other Things To Do While Backpacking Koh Tao

If you’re staying longer here there are so many other things to do so you can extend your backpacking Koh Tao itinerary. Whether you are a water lover or not Koh Tao has an assortment of activities and attractions to keep you entertained.

Get PADI Certified

One of the most popular things to do in Koh Tao and why many people travel here is to get PADI certified. Koh Tao is known as one of the cheapest places to get your PADI license in the world. As a result, it attracts thousands of backpackers every year looking to gain some new skills exploring life under the water. With so many dive schools on the island, it helps keep the price low. It can cost as little as $300.00 to become certified here.

The 2 most popular diving schools are Big Blue Diving & Ban’s Diving School. If you decide you would like to become PADI certified while you are backpacking Koh Tao then make sure you set aside 3-4 full days to complete this.

Ang Thong Marine Park

If you snorkeled all of the beaches while backpacking Koh Tao why not head out a bit further afield on a day trip to Ang Thong Marine Park. It is made up of 42 separate islands and is one of the best spots to snorkel in the Gulf of Thailand.

Prices generally start around $30.00 for the day trip on a group tour.

Cooking Class

Before coming to Thailand I had never taken a cooking class. Though having done a few now I completely understand the appeal. It is a great way to experience a new location, interact with locals and gain some new skills.

There are a couple of different cooking classes located here which will teach you how to make delicious curries and stirfries.

Pub Crawl

Being such a small island with relatively limited things to do, partaking in the famous Koh Tao pub crawl has become a bit of an institution for backpackers in Thailand. It a pretty cheap thing to do here and you will also receive a free teeshirt or singlet. You will also meet a bunch of new people so it’s definitely worth adding to your Koh Tao itinerary.

Koh Tao Night Market

How the Koh Tao night market isn’t huge but is enough to keep you busy for a couple of hours. You will find it down my Sairee Beach which numerous street food vendors set up selling favorites such as pancakes, kebabs, and pad thai.

 


When To Travel Koh Tao?

Located in the Gulf Of Thailand, Koh Tao, has 2 distinctive seasons, the dry season and the wet season.

The dry season runs from late December through to March. This is when you will have hot dry sunny days and is the peak of the tourist season. Because of this, many accommodation providers increase their nightly rates so you may find yourself spending a bit more than planned. Though this is basically the case for anywhere you travel around the world.

Personally, I traveled to Koh Tao during Songkran in April. Their monsoon rain generally only hit once per day during the afternoon. This rain would only just around 20 minutes and then as quickly as it came, it disappears again.

The wet season, also known as the monsoon season, is from April to November. These days will be hot, humid, and wet. Downpours are frequent, though they never seem to last long and always seem to be followed by blue skies. Though from September to November this is when the weather truly starts to get bad with seemingly constant downpours. The only problem you may have will be getting to and from Koh Tao as the waters may be too rough for the ferry companies to safely operate. Though there is nothing wrong with being stranded in paradise for a couple of extra days. The prices during the wet season are also a lot cheaper than during the dry season. Making it a lot easier on your backpacking Koh Tao budget.

drone view of viewpoint in koh tao
the incredible landscape of koh tao

Cost Per Day To Travel Koh Tao

Being more towards the southern end of Thailand as well as being an island prices here are generally a bit more than on the mainland. This is because of 2 reasons. Number one, the South of Thailand is more touristy, when backpacking Chiang Mai, its incredible value for money. Though down here in Koh Tao it is unfortunately not as much. The second reason is because of the cost of transporting the goods from the mainland across the water to the island. Though this is essentially the same for any island around the world. Prices will just generally be more expensive which isn’t the best for your Thailand budget.

When it comes to accommodation there are so many options available and at widely different price ranges. The cheapest hostels start at around $5.00 per night. Though this is for a room you’ll be sharing with 12+ people. For smaller-sized dorm rooms, you’ll be paying around the $10.00 mark per night.

For a private room, you can plan to spend around $12.00 to $25.00 for a fan room in a decent guesthouse. This may not be a beachfront room, but you will never too far from a dip in the ocean. Best to do a bit of research though as the options for private rooms are endless as there are so many available. I stayed in Baan Rock Inn for $20.00 per night which I shared with my partner. Push up your budget by an extra $10.00 or so and you can find yourself in a beautiful bamboo fan room with an oceanfront view.

Personally I never really fell in love with any particular restaurant in Koh Tao and found it quite pricy as this was my first experience in Southern Thailand. Most meals we ate at Yang Thai Food as it was one of the cheapest spots around a nearby our accommodation. Meals were around $3.92 / 120 THB.

Overall I would budget approximately $30.00 per day for backpacking Koh Tao to stay on the safe side. This will allow you a decent bed to sleep in, a few beers, and scooter hire so you can travel around.


Where To Stay While Backpacking Koh Tao?

Unless you have a rather large budget it’s likely you will be staying in the main township in Koh Tao. This is where I stayed and where you will find the more affordable accommodation.

Sairee Beach: Sairee Beach is one of the more popular places to stay in Koh Tao simply because this is where the majority of accommodation options are located. There are some quaint bungalows here as well as a handful of hostels for backpackers on a budget.

Mae Haad: Mae Haad is the main area of Koh Tao and where all the ferries depart from. There isn’t too much of a nice beach here due to boat pollution. I stayed in this area on my first trip to Koh Tao and found the options quite limited. There are more hostels here as well as a few affordable resorts. I stayed in Baan Rock Inn for $20.00 per night which I shared with my partner.

Chalok Baan Kao: Away from the township in a more peaceful location is the area of Chalok Baan Kao. Here you will find more affordable beachfront bungalows. This is definitely an area for backpackers who want to be more in nature and the seaside without having to pay ridiculous prices.

Ao Thian Og: If budget isn’t a limit for you, it’s likely you will be staying in Ao Thian Og. This is a super-luxurious area with some of Koh Tao’s best resorts and hotels. A night here will cost you a few hundred dollars.

Here are my top picks for the backpacking Koh Tao travel guide:

abyss hostel

Abyss Hostel

One of the cheapest hostels around. From $8.00 per night in a shared dorm.

BOOK NOW
baan rock inn

Baan Rock Inn

A modern guesthouse. From $20.00 per night in the main town.

BOOK NOW
dearly hostel

The Dearly Koh Tao Hostel

A hostel set in nature with an incredible pool. From $15.00 per night for a shared dorm.

BOOK NOW
tropicanna resort

Koh Tao Tropicana Resort

A beautiful beachfront location from $15.00 per night for a basic fan room.

BOOK NOW

Getting To Koh Tao From Bangkok

Unfortunately getting to Koh Tao from Bangkok isn’t the easiest. This is because, no matter which type you choose, you will need to take multiple types of transport to get to the island. Though don’t worry too much about it because it gives you an opportunity to break up a lot of travel over multiple days, or to make things easy you can book the entire journey through a travel agency who will make sure everything runs smoothly. I recommend checking out 12.Go Asia for booking such trips. I have done a detailed breakdown of how to travel from Bangkok to Koh Tao which explains fully how to get there and how much it costs.


Traveling Around Koh Tao

Koh Tao is not a large island. Though it is relatively mountainous so you’ll need some good shoes if you plan on walking.  Sure if you are happy chilling on the beach next to your resort or in the main town you should be fine hanging in the same spot. Though if you are wanting to travel around and explore some of the best sights of the island you will need to take some sort of transportation.

I highly recommend downloading the offline map of Koh Tao on the Maps.Me app for your cell phone. It’ll be super helpful navigating your way around if you do not have data.  This is one thing I always make sure I have before arriving at a new destination. 


Walking

I did not quite a lot of walking in Koh Tao and in all honesty, this was definitely not the easiest way to get around. It is a super hilly place so you do need decent shoes. If you are staying in the main town it is a crazy long walk to the viewpoints or beaches on the southern part of the island.

There are no footpaths on the main road and I would only recommend walking them during daylight. If you’re happy chilling at your resort and staying put you will be fine walking. Though if you’re like me and wanting to check out the best beaches this awesome tropical island has to offer you’ll need to have some form of transport.


Scooter

Not always the biggest scooter fan (generally because they often can get wound up in scams). Though if you are in Koh Tao you are going to need one to get around. This was one of my biggest regrets during my visit is that I didn’t hire one. Though there are plenty of scooter hire shops around the island. Just remember to look at reviews online or ask the staff in your accommodation for recommendations.

There are both long-term and short-term hires available in Koh Tao. For the longterm, you will get a much better rate per day. Though for the short term expect to pay around $4.92 / 150 THB per day.

Make sure you take a video of your bike when you first get it highlighting any damage. Also, be aware that Koh Tao is a relatively hilly island. Many people end up with broken bones and a visit to the hospital for choosing this as their place to learn how to drive a scooter.

catching a ferry boat bangkok to koh tao
catching a ferry boat to koh tao

Where To Eat & Drink In Koh Tao

From beachside restaurants to delicious local eateries there is a variety of places to eat in Koh Tao. The main town has plenty of healthy options with smoothie bowls galore.  These are my top picks for my backpacking Koh Tao guide:


Cheap Eats In Koh Tao

There are some great cheap eats in Koh Tao. These are for the most part in the form of small locally run restaurants. One of the most popular and cheapest restaurants on Koh Tao is Tukta Thai Food in the center of the island. Here you can enjoy affordable Thai stirfries and curries. Most meals here are around $2.60 – $3.92 / 80 – 120 THB.

For cheap western food check out the delicious Italian restaurant which is Gambero Rosso Andrea. With a beautiful beachfront location, you can enjoy your pizza or pasta with your feet in the sand.


Western Food In Koh Tao

As with many places around Thailand, Western food is a whole lot more expensive than eating local meals. This is because a lot of the ingredients are harder to come by and generally cost more as it is imported from overseas. It may not be the best on your Thailand budget, but it may just help with that little bit of homesickness.

The French Market: If you are looking to splurge a bit you can’t go past The French Market. They have a delicious menu featuring many French specialties such as fondue and various rotisserie meats.

The Hacienda Bar & Grill: If you are after a taste of home this is one of the best spots for Western food in Koh Tao. Whether you are after meat pies, Sunday roast, or a full English breakfast. This place will have you reminiscing about home.

VegetaBowl: If you are looking for something and somewhere a little bit more instagrammable head to Vegetabowl for a healthy meal.


Safety While Backpacking Koh Tao

Koh Tao is a relatively safe place. Though has gained a bit of an infamous reputation in recent years, gaining the nickname “murder island”. You can keep yourself safe and well by using common sense and not putting yourself in difficult situations.

The water here is not drinkable. Though you are able to brush your teeth with it. You can buy cheap bottles of water from 7/11. Or even better book accommodation with a refillable water station. This is something which a lot of hostels these days have on offer.

As mentioned a bit above a common scam throughout Thailand are motorbike scams. Usually, this involves blaming travelers for scratches and other marks on the motorbike and making them pay for this. To avoid this happening make sure you hire through a recommend and highly rated company. You can also document the state of the bike via video prior to taking it so you can always refer back to that if you get blamed.

All in all, it’s best to just avoid drugs completely in Thailand. Now let’s get into the second part, alcohol. It’s cheap here in Thailand and you can very quickly consume too much and find yourself in a difficult situation. You are best to stay away from the buckets as they are lethal, instead just stick with beers.

swimming during high tide at koh nang yuan
the crystal clear waters of koh nang yuan, a nearby island to koh tao

Where To After Koh Tao?

After your backpacking Koh Tao itinerary has come to an end you have a couple of different options of where you could go:

Other Nearby Islands: Koh Phangan and Koh Samui are two other islands that are in the same area. An hour or so ferry ride will take you between islands. Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are quite different islands if you’re trying to decide between the two. Koh Phangan has been made popular thanks to the full moon party, though it is a pretty chill place. On the opposite side is Koh Samui which is the largest of all these three islands. It is more modernized and set up for tourism. There is also an airport which will be able to transport you to locations further afield.

North: If you’re planning to head north of Koh Tao your next natural location would likely be Bangkok. I wouldn’t recommend traveling any further North in one go as that is already one long trip. Best to break up your journey with a night or two backpacking Bangkok.

South: This is the route I took and recommend if you’re looking to head further south from Koh Tao. Make your way to Krabi in Southern Island. There are awesome things to do down here and you’ll be able to check out the incredible and photogenic Railey.


Any Questions? Let me know in the comments!


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Find out how to see the best of this paradise island with our perfect backpacking Koh Tao itinerary. Let’s talk about the best things to do, restaurants, where to stay, and more for your 2 days in Koh Tao!


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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. So, if you click on it and purchase something, I get a small percentage at no extra cost to you. As always all opinions are my own and your support is much appreciated.

Photo credit: “Koh Tao, Thailand Sunset” (CC BY 2.0) by Goran Has.

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