Koh Tao itinerary: How to spend 3 days on Koh Tao island

Situated in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Tao is a place that combines gorgeous beaches, lush jungles and turquoise waters brimming with marine life. Although quite small in size, the island has a lot to offer and this 3-day Koh Tao itinerary will help you make the most of your trip.

Located just a short boat ride from its neighboring islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, Koh Tao is an excellent destination for those seeking a quieter and less touristy island. It is also one of the top scuba diving destinations in Thailand so if you’ve ever been curious about experiencing the underwater world as a diver, this is the place to try it out. 

I really enjoyed my time on this island (especially the diving!) and in this itinerary post, I’m sharing my favorite spots and things to do if you have 3 days in Koh Tao. You’ll also find my tips on how to get around and which hotels to stay in as well as a map that gives you an overview of where all of the best places are located.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links from which I may make a commission at no additional cost to you if you make a purchase.

A top-down drone photo of June Juea Beach with its strip of white sand, palm trees and clear turquoise water on Koh Tao island.
June Juea Beach

How to get to Koh Tao

The only way to get to Koh Tao is by boat. Ferries and speed boats to Koh Tao depart from Chumphon and Surat Thani on the mainland and from the islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan.

Here’s how to get from Bangkok to the different ferry departure points:

  • Chumphon: You can either take a bus or a train or fly from Don Muang Airport. 
  • Koh Samui: You can fly from Suvarnabhumi Airport.
  • Surat Thani: You can fly from either Don Muang Airport or Suvarnabhumi Airport.

The best website to see the bus and ferry schedules and book your tickets is 12GoAsia. The website also allows you to buy combo tickets that combine buses and ferries, which makes it super easy to book your transportation to Koh Tao.

We decided to fly from Bangkok to Surat Thani as the flights there were significantly cheaper than those to Koh Samui and the schedule suited our travel plans better. From Surat Thani, we took a night ferry to the island of Koh Tao. The ferry departs at 10pm and arrives at Koh Tao at 6am. 

Unlike the modern ferries that run during the day, the overnight ferry is very old and basic. Besides toilets and the large room with bunk beds where you’ll sleep during the night, there are no amenities on this ferry so don’t expect anything luxurious if you choose this option.


How to get around

The best way to get around Koh Tao is by renting a scooter or an ATV. Although it’s quite a small island, the distances between the different beaches and points of interest are too long to walk. Therefore, it’s handy to have a scooter as it gives you the flexibility to go wherever you want and you can be in control of your schedule.

There are lots of places on the island where you can rent scooters. We rented our scooter from the hotel we were staying at and paid 200 THB (6 USD) per day, which seemed to be the standard price. 

If you don’t want to drive a scooter, you can also use taxis to get around or take taxi boats to the different beaches around the island.

A man wearing a helmet, driving a scooter along a small paved road surrounded by lush forest.
Driving around Koh Tao

3-day Koh Tao itinerary

Day 1: Explore the south of the island

On the first day of your Koh Tao itinerary, rent a scooter to explore the best spots in the southern part of the island.

June Juea Beach

For the first stop of the day, head to the beautiful June Juea Beach (marked as Aow June Juea on Google Maps). Surrounded by towering palm trees and lush jungle, this small secluded white sand beach is one of my favorite beaches in Koh Tao. Surprisingly, there were no other people on this beautiful beach when we were there. If you want to escape the crowds, this is the place to be!

It’s a great spot for snorkeling since the water is crystal clear and there are lots of colorful fish right by the shore. There’s also a small restaurant and a bar on the beach but during our visit in September, they were closed.

An aerial drone photo of the vibrant blue water and white sand of June Juea Beach, one of the highlights of this Koh Tao itinerary
June Juea Beach

John-Suwan Viewpoint & Freedom Beach

Next, drive to the very southern tip of the island to visit John Suwan Viewpoint. The entrance fee here is 50 THB per person and you’ll have to hike for 15 minutes to get to the viewpoint on top of a hill. 

The hike up is not particularly hard but the trail is steep and requires climbing some large rocks so I recommend wearing sturdy shoes. At the top, you’re rewarded with a panoramic view of Koh Tao and its lush green landscapes.

The entrance fee also gives you access to Freedom Beach and Taa Toh Beach, which both are located near the start of the trail. We briefly stopped at Freedom Beach, which is a small beach with super calm water, a nice beach bar and lots of trees offering shade from the sun.

A panoramic view over the bays and forest-covered mountains of Koh Tao, viewed from John-Suwan Viewpoint
John-Suwan Viewpoint
Me sitting on a rock surrounded by palm trees, with vibrant turquoise waters of Shark Bay in the background.

Shark Bay

In the afternoon, head to Shark Bay. With its turquoise water, long strip of white sand and rows of palm trees, this beach is often considered one of the most beautiful beaches on Koh Tao

What makes this bay special is that you can often see green sea turtles and harmless blacktip reef sharks there. I was told that the best time to see the turtles is around 3-4pm. Unfortunately, when we were there, the sea was too rough for snorkeling so we couldn’t go look for the sharks and turtles. 

To get to Shark Bay Beach, you have to enter through Haad Tien Beach Resort (which looked like a pretty amazing place to stay!). The entrance fee is 100 THB, which includes wifi and shower. Alternatively, you can access Shark Bay free of charge through On The Rock Bar but then you won’t have access to the large sandy beach.

White sand, emerald water and hills covered with green vegetation at Shark Bay Beach
Shark Bay Beach

Sairee Beach

Round off the first day of this Koh Tao itinerary by watching the sunset at Sairee Beach. This is the biggest and most popular beach on Koh Tao. Here you’ll find lots of beachfront restaurants, bars, shops and tour operators. You can also watch fire shows on the beach in the evening.

Read my detailed Sairee Beach guide for more info on the best things to do there and my recommendations on where to stay and where to eat.

A longtail boat parked in the clear blue water of Sairee Beach, the biggest beach on Koh Tao
Sairee Beach
Me and my fiancé relaxing in a pool surrounded by lush vegetation at our resort at Sairee Beach
Our hotel at Sairee Beach (Ban’s Diving Resort)

Fun fact: The name ‘Koh Tao’ means Turtle Island in the Thai language. Some say the reason behind this name is that the island is shaped like a turtle (I can’t see it though), whereas others say it’s because the island used to be home to large populations of hawksbill and green sea turtles.


Day 2: Diving or snorkeling tour

On Day 2 it’s time to experience the amazing underwater world of Koh Tao. With its abundant marine life and kilometers of coral reef, the island is a fantastic destination for scuba diving and snorkeling.

Diving

Koh Tao is one of the cheapest places in the world to get a diving certification and you’ll find many companies offering scuba diving courses on the island. If getting a scuba certificate is something you’re interested in doing, be aware that you’ll need more than 3 days in Koh Tao.

If you don’t have a diving certificate but you’d still like to see the vibrant marine life, you can do this half-day Discover Scuba Diving experience.

As we already had our diving licenses, we did several dives around Koh Tao. The visibility was excellent and we saw countless beautiful corals and cool sea creatures – from barracudas and titan triggerfish to turtles and blue-spotted rays. It was definitely the highlight of our Koh Tao trip! The dive sites we visited were Tanote Bay, White Rock and Twins.

If you visit the island between March and June, you might even see whale sharks.

A huge school of yellowstripe scad fish at Tanote Bay dive site in Koh Tao
A giant school of fish we saw in Tanote Bay

Note: If more than 6 months have passed since your last dive, the diving companies will probably ask you to do a short Scuba Review course before you can go diving in Koh Tao.

Snorkeling tour

If you’re not into diving, go on a snorkeling tour instead. On these tours, you will typically sail around the entire island of Koh Tao and stop at the best snorkeling sites along the way. This highly-rated 7-hour snorkeling tour includes hotel transfers, snorkeling equipment, 5 different snorkeling stops and a traditional Thai lunch.

A group of small yellow fish eating seaweed in crystal clear shallow waters

Massage or a spa experience

In the evening, after a long day of swimming, you might want to treat yourself to a massage or some other spa treatment. There are lots of little massage parlors on Koh Tao, especially at Sairee Beach, and the prices are very affordable. 

We went to this beachfront massage parlor at Sairee Beach and paid only 300 THB (8 USD) per person for a really good aloe vera massage. During the day, you can often just walk in and get a massage right away but in the evening there might be some waiting time.

A palm tree leaning horizontally over the sand at Sairee Beach
Sairee Beach

Day 3: Koh Nang Yuan or Koh Tao east coast

On your final day, visit the gorgeous Koh Nang Yuan Island situated next to Koh Tao. However, if you took a snorkeling tour on Day 2 and it already included a visit to Koh Nang Yuan, you might want to explore some cool spots on Koh Tao instead (more on that below).

Koh Nang Yuan Island

Koh Nang Yuan is a group of three small islands connected by a white sandbank and surrounded by pristine blue water. It’s a true slice of paradise and although it tends to get a bit crowded, it’s a must-visit spot that should be on every Koh Tao itinerary.

Here you can sunbathe, swim and snorkel to your heart’s content in the crystal-clear sea full of colorful fish. Visit also the Koh Nang Yuan viewpoint for one of the most famous views in this part of Thailand. It’s a 15-minute hike through a steamy jungle to get there and the views are totally worth the effort.

A view over the narrow white sandbank of Koh Nang Yuan island surrounded by tropical blue water and hills covered with forest.

Getting from Koh Tao to Koh Nang Yuan takes just 15 minutes on a taxi boat. At Sairee Beach, you’ll find many guys with longtail boats offering to take you to the island. The price for a round trip is 300 THB per person. In addition to that, all visitors have to pay a 250 THB entrance fee upon arrival at Koh Nang Yuan.

Be sure to check the tide schedules before visiting Koh Nang Yuan because the beautiful sandy beach disappears during high tide. Read my detailed guide to Koh Nang Yuan for more important information on visiting the island.

Me standing in a bay with neon blue water surrounded by huge rocks at Koh Nang Yuan island, a must-visit spot on every Koh Tao itinerary
Koh Nang Yuan Beach

More beaches and viewpoints on Koh Tao

In case you already visited Koh Nang Yuan on your snorkeling trip the day before, then stay on Koh Tao, rent a scooter and discover the east coast and the interior of the island instead.

Two beaches that you should check out on the east coast are Tanote Bay and Ao Hin Wong Beach. Both of them are beautiful secluded beaches with clear water and good conditions for snorkeling. For an amazing panorama of the island, visit the Mango Viewpoint and the Exotic Hive Viewpoint. They’re both great spots for watching the sunset.


Where to stay in Koh Tao

The best area to stay in Koh Tao is Sairee Beach if you want to be close to restaurants, bars, shops and tour operators. However, if you prefer a more secluded location, staying on the south coast of the island – at Chalok Baan Kao Bay or Shark Bay – might be a better option for you.

Below are my Koh Tao hotel recommendations for different budget levels.

BUDGET: Savage Hostel Koh Tao
For those looking for affordable accommodation with a great social atmosphere, Savage is the place to be. Located at Sairee Beach, it’s the best hostel on the island and a popular choice among backpackers.

MID-RANGE: Ban’s Diving Resort
This is where we stayed. It’s a big resort with multiple beautiful pools, lovely gardens and spacious rooms. Despite its central location at Sairee Beach, in the heart of all the action, the resort is very quiet.

Me lying on the edge of a large round pool surrounded by jungle at Ban's Diving Resort
Ban’s Diving Resort

MID-RANGE/LUXURY: View Point Resort
This gorgeous beachfront resort has a quiet location near Chalok Bay and is surrounded by verdant jungle. They have a variety of accommodation options – from affordable bungalows to stunning luxurious villas with private pools and ocean views.

LUXURY: Phandara Luxury Pool Villas
Located on a hill overlooking Sairee Beach, this property features stylish Bali-inspired villas with private pools.


Koh Tao itinerary map

Below is an interactive map showing all of the best places to visit on Koh Tao Island and the hotels I mentioned in this blog post. Click on the icon in the top left corner of the map for more details.


Other activities to add to your Koh Tao itinerary

If you’re staying on the island for longer than 3 days or you’re simply looking for other things to do in Koh Tao, here are some activities to consider:

  • Take a cooking class – Learn to make traditional Thai food with a local chef at Thai Cooking with Joy or Parawan’s Cooking Classes. 
  • Take a yoga class – Find your zen in one of the yoga studios on the island, such as Blue Chitta or Shambhala Yoga.
  • Visit Ang Thong National Marine Park – This remote archipelago of 42 islands is home to tall limestone cliffs, unspoiled beaches and exotic wildlife. You can visit it on a 2-day boat trip from Koh Tao.
  • Go freediving – Besides scuba diving and snorkeling, Koh Tao is also a great place for freediving and has several schools offering freediving courses.
  • Go to a jungle party – If you’re looking to experience the nightlife of Koh Tao, attend the Escobar Jungle Party, a rave in the middle of the forest with several stages and even a rodeo ride!

You might also want to visit the nearby islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan either before or after visiting Koh Tao. The former is known for its nice resorts and is more family-friendly whereas the latter is famous for its Full Moon Party and has a relaxed hippy/backpacker vibe.

People relaxing on a small white sand beach with clear water and palm trees on Koh Phangan island.
Koh Phangan

And that’s it – I hope that you found this itinerary for Koh Tao helpful for planning your trip. With 3 days on the island, you can see all the main highlights, relax on beaches, do some snorkeling or scuba diving and visit the best viewpoints.

If you have any questions about visiting Koh Tao, leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Looking for more Koh Tao travel inspiration? Then read my other posts about visiting the island:

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