Imagine this: for the first time in your life you jump into the ocean to take a dive. You explore the amazing underwater world, before returning back to the island on a speedboat. You eat a delicious Thai curry on the beach, with a stunning view over the ocean and palm trees. During the night you will entertain yourself with a cocktail in a cozy beach lounge or in a club where the party already started hours ago. You get to know a lot of incredible people and decide to explore the rest of the island with them the next day. And all that for, well, a really cheap price. Welcome to Koh Tao island.
The turtle island Koh Tao
Don’t get scared when I am saying this: every year around twenty million people will visit the Thai island of Koh Tao. Say what?! Yes, it’s true. And the island is just about 21km² in size. So you won’t probably be surprised when I tell you that Koh Tao is not really a quiet island, although during the day it isn’t that busy either in general. And of course there is a good reason why all those people are coming to this bounty island. It’s one of the cheapest places on earth to get your diving certification (PADI), there is always a party going on somewhere and there are tons of beaches to go to. And it’s fairly cheap.
Koh Tao literally means turtle island. These days you won’t find a lot of turtles around anymore (they moved to other islands in the neighborhood, can’t blame them), but I like the name. You can find Koh Tao island in the Gulf of Thailand and the island has several beaches with bungalows, hostels, resorts, restaurants and tons of diving schools. The biggest and most popular beach is Sairee Beach and it’s just a fifteen to twenty minute walk away from the harbor in Mae Haad.
The best time to travel to Koh Tao
Thailand does have his rainy periods, but the weather on Koh Tao is in general pretty good year-round. The best time to travel will be from January until September, with a chance of rain in May and June. But normally the rain won’t last that long during the day (we where there in May, had rain several days in row, but every day just for about an hour or so). The rainy season will start in November and will last till the end of December. If you like to dive or to snorkel, the best time to come is from October till March, when the water levels are way higher. May is the hottest month, with temperatures far above 30 degrees Celsius. In general the temperature on the island will be between 22 and 30 degrees Celsius. Doesn’t sound that hot? Well, with the humidity it can be bloody hot, trust me.
Our budget for Koh Tao
Ok, I will admit it straight away: our expenses on Koh Tao might not be a hundred percent realistic to every Koh Tao visitor. Let me explain why. When we were on Koh Tao we had an extremely tight budget. We just came there to relax and not to dive or to party. So I realize that our budget doesn’t fit the bill to everyone, because you will probably go there to do a little bit more than we did. Well, the good thing is: I will also show all the expenses you can expect when doing activities and going out. That will make it a lot more easier for you to calculate a budget for your time on Koh Tao.
In two weeks we spent ฿ 20.787 (Thai baht) for two persons, what will be the same as around € 543,65 or $ 667,50. Per person we spent around € 19,41 or $ 23,83 per day. Isn’t that cheap?! Here you see an overview of our budget for Koh Tao (I’m sorry, the overview shows prices in euro’s, but I will explain everything in dollars under the overview as well):
So, most money we spent on accommodation (€ 7,52 / $ 9,24 per day). We almost spent the same amount of money on foods (€ 4,82 / $ 5,92) as on drinks (€ 4,52 / $ 5,55). We didn’t do a lot of activities so we just spent around (€ 1,56 / $ 1,92) per day per person on that. And next to that we had to buy some important stuff like sunscreen and mosquito repellant for around $ 1,22 / € 0,99 per person per day.
Transportation to Koh Tao
You can get to Koh Tao in a lot of different ways. From the mainland you can take a ferry from Surat Thani or Chumpon or take the same ferry from the islands Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan. You can fly to the three places I mentioned first (they will open an airport on Koh Pha Ngan as well in the future) and from there you can continue your journey by ferry to the Mae Haad jetty on Koh Tao. Surat Thani and Chumphon are of course also accessible by bus.
We flew to Surat Thani and after that we took the ‘fast’ ferry to Koh Tao. The journey from Surat Thani to Koh Tao took around nine hours (two hours by bus and seven hours by boat) and we had to pay 1000 baht (€ 26,- / $ 31,93) per person, which wasn’t that cheap in my opinion. Especially when you compare it with the journey we took from Koh Tao to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. This journey took 27 hours (crazy, right?!) and we had to pay 1250 baht (€ 33,- / $ 40,53) per person for a journey that took way longer. Anyway, on Koh Tao we saw tickets back to Surat Thani for 600 baht (€ 16,- / $ 19,65). Have we been ripped off in Surat Thani? Nah, I don’t really think so. Everywhere we came the prices were the same. But it might be something for you to keep in mind.
Transportation on Koh Tao
The most lively places on Koh Tao are found in Mae Haad, where you arrive by ferry, and Sairee Beach. When you arrive there will be a lot of people trying to get your attention and offering you a taxi ride to your accommodation. You can decide if you want to use a normal taxi (most of the times a pick-up) or a water taxi. Taking a taxi on Koh Tao is an interesting thing. Koh Tao is cheap, but if you compare the taxi prices with all the other prices around, you will be shocked. A pick-up will cost you 400 baht ( € 11,- / $ 13,50) (or 100 baht per person starting from four persons). It’s in general a fixed price and you even have to pay it when you just go to Sairee Beach. If you want to save some money here, definitely share a taxi. A water taxi can easily be more expensive and will cost you 600 baht (€ 16,- / $ 19,65) for one of the destinations in the north (or 3000 baht to go around the island).
Another option is to rent a scooter on Koh Tao, but please do consider first if this is really something you want to do and if you are able to do it. The roads on Koh Tao are often terrible, and you will see a lot of people crawling around with bandages. Also, not every travel insurance will cover the costs in case of any accident (the scooters in Thailand are officially seen as motors in other countries, so your driving license might not be valid in that case) and Koh Tao is famous for his scams. We have met several people who got scammed for huge amounts of money because they ‘damaged’ their scooter. And remember: don’t ever give your passport as a deposit.
Ok, you still want to rent a scooter after my ‘don’t do it monologue’ (sorry for that)? The best tip I can give: check the reviews on the internet before you rent a scooter somewhere. We decided to walk into Oli’s Motorbike Rental to ask for prices. It’s a well-known renting company on the island and although they might be a little bit more expensive, you might also end up paying way less by the end of the day. A scooter here will cost you 250 baht (€ 6,50/ $ 7,98) per day and you can buy extra coverage for 100 baht (€ 2,60 / $ 3,19) or 200 baht (€ 5,20 / $ 6,39) more. We didn’t rent a scooter in the end: we were too afraid to end up like a mummy.
You can sleep on Koh Tao for almost every price. We slept in two different hostels in Mae Haad. One of them was Koh Tao Central Hostel, which wasn’t really a social hostel, but it was definitely a good place if you want to have a good night of sleep (or two) as the beds are really comfortable and the rooms clean and tidy. Especially the price made it a perfect place, as we payed 250 baht (€ 6,50 / $ 7,98) per person in a dorm with air-con.
You can also decide to sleep in one of the many bungalows you will find around the island. They roughly start around 500 baht (€ 13,- / $ 15,97) for two persons, but these bungalows are really basic and only contains a fan (or nothing). If you would like to have so more luxury in a bungalow or a private room, you have to deal with prices starting from 1200 baht (€ 32,- / $ 39,31) until 1500 baht (€ 39,- / $ 47,91) for two persons per night, depending on the season. Hotels and resorts will mostly start from 2000 baht (€ 53,- / $ 65,11) per night for two persons and the really luxurious resort? Well, you probably won’t have to read this article then anyway.
When you book your accommodation by using this link, you will get a € 15,- discount on the price!
Foods and drinks
Thai food is just amazing in my opinion. But if you have other thoughts about that, you don’t have to worry. There are lots of restaurants around the island with different dishes from all over the world. We really liked the small restaurant R R Aroi in Mae Haad where grandmother is still running the kitchen. The greatest part of this restaurant was also that we literally had the most amazing food here for such a little price. Here you can get a delicious curry for just 60 baht (€ 1,60 / $ 1,97) and fresh fruit juice for 50 baht (€ 1,30 / $ 1,60). Please do eat the pinda curry when you go there. Take a right turn from the jetty and you will find the restaurant on your right-hand side.
Prices are really divers and are often between 60 baht (€ 1,60 / $ 1,97) for a simpel rice dish, 300 baht (€ 7,90 / $ 9,70) for a big pizza and 500 baht (€ 13,- / $ 15,97) for lobster. Sandwiches are roughly between 60 baht (€ 1,60 / $ 1,97) and 100 baht (€ 2,65 / $ 3,25) and you can get a fruit juice for around 40 baht (€ 1,05 / $ 1,29) to 70 baht (€ 1,85 / $ 2,27). A small beer you can get for around 60 baht (€ 1,60 / $ 1,97) and a big one for 80 baht (€ 2,10 / $ 2,58). Most cocktails will be between 100 baht (€ 2,65 / $ 3,25) and 150 baht (€ 3,95 / $ 4,81).
Ok, we might be the exceptions because most people won’t only come to Koh Tao island to relax on the beach, but also to do some of the many awesome activities. There are so many things to do. Most people will definitely come to follow a diving course, that’s why there are so many diving schools around. The reason for that? What I said before, it’s one of the cheapest places around the world to get you diving certification (PADI). For example: an Open Water Course will cost you around 8500 baht (€ 225,- / $ 276,-). This course will take up to four or five days and include accommodation, breakfast, your PADI and rental of diving equipment. I tried to take this course in the Netherlands once. It was double the price and was without accommodation and breakfast. Do you already have your PADI and would just like to dive? Two fun dives will be around 1700 baht (€ 49,- / $ 60,-).
If you are not keen on diving there are plenty of other activities to choose from. You can join a snorkel tour around the island for example for 500 baht (€ 13,- / $ 15,97) or rent or buy your own snorkling set for a small amount of money. You can also rent a kayak. One hour will cost you 100 baht (€ 2,65 / $ 3,25) and for a whole day you pay 400 baht (€ 10,50 / $ 12,90). Supping is also a really populair activity to do. For one hour of supping with Sup Tao during sunset you will pay 250 baht (€ 6,60 / $ 8,10). And for around 300 baht (€ 7,90 / $ 9,70) you can get ultra relaxed during an one hour massage.
Also a fun thing to do: the Koh Tao Pub Crawl. For 450 baht (€ 12,- / $ 14,74) you will get to know the most populair places to party and a bunch of fun people. The price also includes a shirt and some drinks. Keen on learing Thai boxing or doing some sports? There is a Muay Thai-boxing school (one lesson cost 300 baht (€ 7,90 / $ 9,70)) and a gym (one day cost you 200 baht (€ 5,25 / $ 6,45)) on the island. Or rent a scooter for 250 baht (€ 6,50 / $ 7,98) and enjoy one of the many viewpoints you can find across the island. There are plenty of them.
Budget Koh Tao
If you compare Koh Tao with other places in Thailand, it won’t be the cheapest place to go to. Everything is just a bit more expensive than for example in the north of the country. When you’re backpacking around, this might scare you off a bit. But with just a little creativity you can still live the paradise life on a really small budget.
If you live like we did, you will spend around € 20,- / $ 25,- per day. For this amount of money we slept in a dorm in a hostel, we had a banana pancake for breakfast on the street, we had a cheap but good lunch and dinner in a small restaurant, we drank a coconut every day, we joined a snorkel tour and we had some beers now and then. You can definitely live a good life on this budget. And good to know as well: there are plenty of ATM’s around the island, so no need to worry about that.
But if you want to do some activities as well, you have to keep a higher budget in mind. If you have the same lifestyle as we have, but you also rent a scooter, go supping during sunset and eat and drink a bit more expensive, you easily spend 500 baht (€ 13,- / $ 15,97) more each day. That will top your Koh Tao budget up to € 33,- / $ 40,- per day. You really want to party as well? Well, then make it € 40,- / $ 49,– to € 50,- / $ 61 per day. If you like to follow a diving course (accommodation, breakfast etc. included), keep a budget in mind for at least 2500 baht (€ 66,- / $ 81,-).
This article contains an affiliate link. You can read more about the use of affiliate links in my disclaimer. The prices in this article may vary cause of seasonable reasons or simply because things getting more expensive. Also the calculations between valuta may vary.