Our pick of the crop
Ko Tao is a small island but it offers a mind-boggling array of accommodation options spread across more than a dozen diverse bays and beaches. Plenty of the hotels and guesthouses on Ko Tao however are really pretty poor: poor quality, poor value for money or, in many cases, both.
Of course, that's not to say there aren't great places to stay on Ko Tao, as there are some unique and memorable spots. There's more chaff to rustle through to find them though, and the best spots are generally well away from the main centres on the island. Where is best to stay for you will also depend on why you are on Ko Tao. If you're there to party, then staying in the heart of Sairee makes perfect sense; if you're on the island to dive, then staying in Mae Haad, Chalok Ban Kao or Sairee makes more sense as you won't be riding across the island twice a day to get onto your dive boat.
Bearing this in mind, here is a broad strokes overview of what areas might best appeal to different types of travellers heading to Ko Tao. Please take this as a general overview, with plenty of stereotyping.
The party crew
Accommodation on Ko Tao is generally more expensive than the other main Gulf islands of Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan. If you're after a cheap bed, dorms are almost certainly the way to go, and you'll find most of them in Mae Haad and Sairee Village. We've listed three of the better ones on Travelfish – Koh Tao Central Hostel, Goodtime Beach Hostel and Indie Hostel – but there are plenty of others to choose from, and many can be booked online. Likewise, if you're after a cheaper mini hotel room, Mae Haad, Sairee, and, at a stretch, Chalok Ban Kao, are your best bet. Sairee has a lot of mid-range beach accommodation of a very poor standard in the value stakes.
Mae Haad and Sairee are also home to the vast majority of bars, clubs, beach bars, restaurants and cafes on the island. The party tends to centre on both Sairee Village and Sairee Beach, so if you're staying in either of these areas, then you will be close to the action. Staying in the midst also makes for an easy run home without the temptation of jumping on a scooter when plastered.
The non-party crew
Is joining a Pub Crawl Party at Chopper Bar about as appealing as a ticket home? Then you really don't want to stay in Mae Haad or Sairee. If you're looking for a chilled out cheap hideaway, where the noisiest thing in the evening is going to be the wind in the trees or the ocean splashing against sand, then you want to look to either the southwest coast. Places like Sai Thong on Haad Sai Nuan, Tao Thong on Laem Jeda Kang and Sunset Bungalows on Ao June Juea all deliver, or you want to head over to Hin Wong on the east coast. Bear in mind all these places are isolated. They are not a good choice if you plan to be heading into the parties each night.
If you're happy to spend more money, some of the options on the south and southeast of the island, notably Viewpoint, Sai Daeng Resort and Haad Tien, deliver solid, more upmarket digs and you won't be totally in the middle of nowhere (Sai Daeng is perhaps a bit out of the way). More isolated, and probably appealing to yogis and those with a penchant for undisturbed hammock swinging, we really liked both Baan Talay and Moon Dance Magic View (both in the area of, but not on Ao Leuk, on Ko Tao's east coast).
If you're happy to spend a bit of money and don't want to rough it, Sensi Paradise at the southern end of Mae Haad, Montalay on Ao Tanote, Koh Tao Cabana and Koh Tao Hillside (both at the northern end of Sairee Beach) are solid mid-market options. Kids will probably appreciate the wealth of options for eating in Sairee Village and the resorts at the southern end are far enough from the madhouse to deliver a good sleep. Heads up Mum and Dad: Sai Daeng Resort has a waterslide, the only one on Ko Tao.
Around the corner on Sairee's northern headland, long-running Thipwimarn Resort and Spa still delivers great romantic views, but it struck us as a bit long in the tooth – nearby Koh Tao Cabana is a better option, as long as you're happy to spend quite a bit more for one of the private villas with plunge pools and all that jazz. A beachfront bungalow at Haad Tien would be pretty spectacular, but also costs quite a bit – but who wants to put a price of love, right? We're cheapskates though, so we'd be aiming for something like above-mentioned Baan Talay or Moon Dance Magic View.
If you're bargain hunting, always try to contact the resort directly before pressing the button with Booking or Agoda. We saw some wild variations (in both directions) in prices so be sure to cover all your bases. Also, consider alternative options like AirBnb, as there is a growing scene in private villas which will appeal to families and those with more money to throw around.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
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Our top 10 places to stay in and around Ko Tao