Ko Tao, a beautiful island in the Gulf of Thailand, has a bit of a reputation. Are there really 72 dive shops? Yes, yes there are. Is Sairee beach packed with 20-somethings power-drinking between full moon parties? Yes, yes it is.
But that activity is concentrated in a strip of beach and town less than 2 km long. The other 99% of the island is pure paradise. So treat the noisy and congested pier area as as you would a busy airport and follow these six tips to having an amazing getaway on the island of Ko Tao
Find a Hidden Hotel
Ko Tao is quite hilly, and creative resort and bungalow owners use this geography to help isolate their property from the crowds. High-end resorts are literally built on the tops of hills, with guests shuttled to and from the pier in big, comfortable 4WD SUVs. Boutique hotels and bungalows are often nestled back in the jungle on the sides of these hills, with some are built right inside boulder-strewn coves with no road access, so the only way in or out is by boat! Speaking of that…
Take a Long Tail Boat Taxi Tour
Even if you decide not to shell out the cash for a boat-only access hotel, water taxis are a great way to get around the island. They’re cheap, readily available, and are often a quicker way to get from point to point. Plus, riding in a long-tail boat is an experience itself! Power and steering are achieved in one device — propeller attached by a 20 meter shaft to a motorcycle engine that swivels some 320 degrees. It sounds (and looks) a little crazy, but it’s actually quite safe — and fast!
Snorkel The Hidden Coves
Snorkelers paradise! Image by Sheila Dee
Ko Tao is known as a hot spot for diving, but the best sights are within reach of snorkelers! The fish life is both abundant and colorful. It’s almost impossible not to see parrotfish, triggerfish, and an assortment of other brightly colored fish just by looking at your feet as you wade out into the gentle surf. The visibility improves a bit further out, so hire one of those water taxis for a few hours or rent a kayak and take a slow paddle out for a bit. All the locals know the good spots to snorkel, and every cove has plenty of them. Be sure to hang out for an hour or so on Shark Island, a small outcrop of rocks just off the southeast corner of the island. But don’t worry about the sharks. They have plenty to occupy their attention elsewhere.
Watch a Muay Thai Fight
Muay Thai fighting is a popular sport in Thailand, and Island Muay Thai presents Fight Night about every two weeks. Fight Night is a very big deal, bringing out plenty of locals, expats, and vacationers alike. There are usually five to six fights starting with kids and moving up to The Main Event, usually semi-pro fighters on a traveling circuit. Even if you’re not a big fan of two guys kicking each other, the ceremony that starts each fight is fascinating to watch. There’s a great deal of reverence for the art form of Muay Thai, which makes it a fun and enjoyable evening for anyone.
Get to The Top
As previously mentioned, Ko Tao has lots of hills. Getting up them can be a bit of a challenge, but the view up top is worth it. If you know how to ride, rent a motorbike for a day and go exploring. Need four wheels under you? No worries, as ATVs are becoming popular at the rental shops. If you’re up for the hike, all of the hills are quite walk-able. Or if you’d rather leave it to someone else, taxi trucks can shuttle you to the top.It’s the perfect place to enjoy a drink or dinner at a local restaurant as you take in the stunning beauty of the island and surrounding ocean.
Watch The Sunset
Who doesn’t love the sunset on an island? We spent two weeks on Ko Tao at the tail-end of their high season. With the rainy season approaching, the gorgeous views from the hilltops were often a hazy, but those clouds made for some amazing sunsets. Sairee beach is the best place to catch the sunset, and every beachside bar or restaurant is set up just for that. Since the party-goers won’t be out for a few more hours, you’ll have plenty of time to linger and enjoy yourself in relative peace and serenity.
Of course, if partying and diving are your thing, then go do that too. But when you want a little down time, come back to this list. Because Ko Tao is a little island that offers a lot more than what you see on the surface!
Originally published at www.theopportunistictravelers.com on October 24, 2015.