There is (thankfully) no airport on Ko Tao for now, meaning the closest airports are on Ko Samui and on the mainland at Surat Thani and Chumphon.
Ko Samui has flight connections both domestically and internationally, as does Surat Thani, whilst Chumphon has a single flight connection to Bangkok with Nok Air. Please bear in mind that, especially in monsoon season, boats can be late running and/or cancelled so be wary of banking on a tight flight connection.
Ko Tao is connected to both Chumphon on the mainland and Ko Pha Ngan by direct ferry and to Ko Samui via Ko Pha Ngan. Ferry times are listed below, but please note these times are subject to change and also subject to weather conditions – where practical, check with the operator websites to double check times.
In bad weather it is not unusual for crossings to be disrupted, and, when it turns really bad, boats can be cancelled for days. The night ferries are usually first to be affected. Please bear this in mind when planning onwards travel with tight flight connections.
Ko Tao to/from Chumphon
Note that these services do not arrive at Chumphon town, but rather use piers a drive to the south of town.
Songserm run a daily service from Chumphon to Ko Tao leaving at 07:00 and arriving at 09:30. IN the reverse, it leaves Ko Tao at 14:30 and arrives at Chumphon at 17: 30. The trip costs 500 baht either way. Tickets can be purchased online via Songserm.
Lomprayah has two services daily, leaving Chumphon at 07:00 and 13:00 and arriving at Ko Tao at 08:45 and 14:45 respectively. In the reverse direction, they depart Ko Tao at 10:15 and 14:45, arriving at Chumphon at 11:45 and 16:15. In either direction the trip costs 600 baht. Tickets can be purchased online via Lomprayah or 12Go Asia
The Talay Sub Night Boat leaves Ko Tao at 23:00 and arrives in Chumphon at 05:00. In the reverse direction it leaves Chumphon at 23:00 and arrives at Ko Tao at 05:00. It costs 350 baht. This is generally the first service to be interrupted by bad weather.
To/From Ko Pha Ngan
All services on this route run between Thong Sala on Ko Pha Ngan and Mae Haad on Ko Tao.
Lomprayah runs boats from Ko Pha Ngan at 08:30, 13:00 and 17:30 costing 500 baht a pop. In the opposite direction the boat runs at 06:00, 09:30 and 15:00.
Songserm has a single daily service which leaves Ko Pha Ngan at 10:00 and costs 350 baht. In the opposite direction the boat leaves at 15:00.
Seatran Discovery operates three services a day between Thong Sala and Mae Haad, leaving Ko Pha Ngan at 08:30, 13:30 and 17:00. The trip costs 240 baht and takes 1.5 hours. In the reverse direction they leave Ko Tao at 06:30, 09:00 and 15:00.
Tickets can be bought online direct with Lomprayah, Songserm and Seatran Discovery, or with 12Go Asia.
To from Ko Samui
Lomprayah runs two services daily (11:15 and 17:00) from Nathon to Ko Tao, the service takes 1 hours 45 minutes and costs 600 baht (700 baht on the late boat). They also run two services daily from their Mae Nam pier at 08:00 and 12:30 taking 1.5 hours and costing 600 baht. All of these services go via Ko Pha Ngan. Tickets can be bought direct from Lomprayah or via 12Go Asia.
Seatran Discovery Link has a three times a day (08:00, 13:00 and 16:30) service leaving Bang Rak for Ko Tao. The trip takes two hours and costs 600 baht. Tickets can be bought direct from Seatran Discovery Link or via 12Go Asia.
Songserm runs two services a day between Nathon on the west coast of Ko Samui and Ko Tao. Departures are at 09:00 and 11:00, the service takes 2.5 hours and costs 500 baht. Tickets can be purchased online via Songserm.
Mae Haad is Ko Tao's major port town, so all travellers will come through here when arriving to the island. All locations in Mae Haad and most in southern Sairee are able to be reached on foot, although songthaews are available and will ease the pain – especially if you have luggage (or kids!). Chalok Ban Kao is not within comfortable walking distance in our opinion, but people do it.
As is the case on many Thai islands, fares are ridiculously high – the drivers know you have no option but them or walking.
Songthaews and share taxis
Songthaews (pick-up truck taxis) charge exorbitant rates to go relatively short distances and often drive like madmen on the narrow roads. Fares are fixed for one to two people, with an additional 100 baht charged for each additional passenger. One or two people coming from Mae Haad will need to pay 300 baht to Sairee or Chalok Ban Kao; 400 baht to Freedom Beach or Ao Thian Ok; 500 baht to Haad Sai Nuan, Ao June Juea, Haad Sai Daeng, Ao Leuk, Ao Tanote or Ao Hin Wong; 600 baht to Ao Lang Khaay; and 1,000 baht to Mango Bay. Though in the case of Mango Bay, you'll need to walk the last stretch down loads of stairs – we strongly recommend using a boat.
Private longtail boats can be arranged in Mae Haad and Sairee for direct trips or private tours. One or two people leaving from Mae Haad should expect to pay 300 baht one-way to Haad Sai Nuan; 400 baht to Ao June Juea or Ko Nang Yuan; 600 baht to Freedom Beach; and 1,000 baht to Ao Thian Ok, Ao Leuk, Ao Tanote or Mango Bay.
Hiring a scooter
If you're planning on renting a scooter on Ko Tao, the first and most important question to honestly ask yourself is: can you ride one? Do you have a license? Have you ridden one before and do you really know what you are doing? If not, then why on earth would you consider doing so in a foreign country? Please do take note that the solution to this problem is not to rent an ATV. While you may argue that they have four wheels and are therefore bound to be safer, the reality is the opposite: they are easy to flip and not nearly as stable as you might imagine.
Next we urge you to consider the roads as they can be extremely variable on Ko Tao – both in quality and in steepness.
Also, take a moment to consider insurance. Firstly unlike renting a car there is no method of insuring your bike when you hire it. While all travel advice and most forums will scream at you that the practice of handing over your passport as collateral in lieu of insurance is illegal, it is in fact the reality of the situation. Rent from the wrong place and upon return of your bike you will be charged for damages. This may be expected if you have damaged it, but if you haven’t and the damage is either fictitious or highly inflated what can you do? You must pay or not get your passport back. Don’t think about leaving without your passport and reporting it stolen or lost as the renter will already have reported the incident.
If you have got this far and are still intent on hiring a bike then choose wisely. Make sure you fully understand the cost involved and ensure you take photographs of your bike and any existing damage before heading out. Remember that it is illegal to drive without a helmet and while you will see lots of bareheaded drivers around random police checks do happen. Take it slowly and carefully and consider if you really have to drive at night — you might be sober but is everyone else?
So what happens if you rent a bike and actually have an accident or dent or scratch your bike? Go get yourself cleaned up — hopefully any injury is minor — before returning the bike and simply being honest. Approach the situation with a calm attitude, smile and barter and like any other purchase you are likely to agree on a discounted rate. Get angry or abusive and you have no chance; remember you did the damage and you knew the potential costs involved.
If the accident happens to be severe enough to land you in hospital then clearly you have more immediate worries. This is where you are likely to find the other insurance problem; there are not many travel insurance companies out there that insure lunacy. Don’t think that being hospitalised will get you out of the bike damage either; we've had friends who’ve been visited by bike owners in hospital and they did not come with flowers.