Koh Tao, Thailand
One of the main attractions of Koh Tao is learning how to scuba dive. Many travelers come to this island to get their PADI certification. If scuba diving isn't for you, this island still has great variety to offer. Hiking, scootering, and adventuring around the island are all options that can fill your days here. There is a laid-back vibe in Koh Tao with plenty of options for a relaxing on the beach or watching sunset during dinner. At the same time, if you're looking for it, there's a bustling nightlife lining the beach in the evenings. This island seems to have a little bit of everything.
DO a snorkel cruise. We did ours through AC Tours, although there are many companies offering the same cruise. The cruise stops at 4-5 different bays depending on the weather conditions, and ends at Koh Nang Yuan Island. Lunch and snorkel gear is included. Even if you don't do the cruise, make your way to this island. The beach is beautiful and the viewpoint is incredible.
Hike to Mango Viewpoint. It takes about an hour and 45 minutes round trip from LivingJuices. It's a fairly steep hike up mostly dirt/gravel roads. You'll be asked to pay 100 baht entrance fee. The views above the entire island are well worth the sweat!
Rent paddle boards from SUP Tao and enjoy a different view of the island. Or simply lounge on Sairee Beach. The beach runs almost the entire west side of the island and is lined with restaurants and bars. This is also a great spot to watch sunset.
If you happen to be on Koh Tao during a full moon party (on Koh Phangan) there is a ferry that will take you to the island and bring you back the next morning. The Full Moon party is an experience you'll never forget and it definitely lives up to the hype. A few tips: wear flip flops that can get dirty, bring enough cash for alcohol buckets, many stands will try to sell buckets with pre-opened/refilled bottles of liquor, beware there is broken glass everywhere in the sand, restrooms cost 20 baht (or guys simply use the ocean), and you can buy neon shirts/paint anywhere near the party. The party keeps going clear through sunrise so enjoy dancing for hours with new friends! One reason to stay on Koh Tao instead of Koh Phangan for the full moon is for a cheaper accommodation.
EAT flavorful, traditional Thai lunch or dinner at Nana Thai Food. **I should note before you read on about other food recommendations that we had been eating traditional Thai food for two months by the time we made it to Koh Tao. We weren't feeling the greatest and needed some basics other than traditional options. Thus, our recommendations are quite touristy.**
Have breakfast at Zest or Cappuccino. Both restaurants offer a huge variety of Western options and breakfast is served all day by a friendly staff. For a healthy option we recommend LivingJuices. Their Copabanana smoothie bowl is very tasty and filling! And if you are craving Italian food on Koh Tao you're in luck. Famoso Pizza near the marina offers many options of thin, authentic pizza.
DRINK while watching the incredible fire show at Lotus Bar. Free shows are offered nightly from 8-10 PM. The shows are very entertaining and often the crowd gets involved (fire rope jumping, fire limbo, etc). If you are afraid of fire we do not recommend sitting on the cute spots on the beach as the fire gets very close to you.
You can also go to Fishbowl Beach Bar for a chill atmosphere and live music right on the beach.
CAFFEINATE and have a working breakfast at Coffee House. The atmosphere on the second floor is lovely and the coffee is tasty. (But know the power outlets are limited.)
STAY near Sairee Beach to be in the center of "town". We've heard great things about Sairee Beach Cottages but they were fully booked when we were on Koh Tao. The location is central to the beach/shops and the pool is a great bonus as well (especially since sometimes due to weather the beach itself doesn't offer many places to lounge).
KNOW the ferry between Koh Tao and Koh Phangan can make you seasick. It's never a good sign when the crew hands out throw up bags and toilet paper once the boat starts moving. Luckily it's only about an hour ferry ride between islands. We took some ferries that were much more calm than others.
*Please note: All photos in this post were taken on an iPhone only.