The Urban Dictionary defines the term ‘Paradise’ as a version of heaven minus the clouds, harps, angels etc, but typically seen as an ideal place of beauty such as a massive lush garden with every known exotic plant, animal and bird. This seems to describe the little island of Koh Tao perfectly. However, take this idea of paradise and factor in a long list of fun things to do, see and explore, and that sums up Koh Tao even better.

A quick little debrief about Koh Tao first: its name means ‘Turtle Island’ as the mountains mimic the shape of a turtle’s silhouette (see the photograph below and you can see the vague shape that could be a turtle’s shell with its head poking out).  It’s the friendlier and smaller of the three islands off the east coast of Thailand. Its neighbours are the full-moon raving Koh Phangan and the decadent Koh Samui, making it a little getaway from chaotic crowds. Its popularity is growing though, due to the scenic beauty and world class diving (it gets about 100,000 visitors a year), but it’s still a little haven to recover and unwind.
Koh Tao is famous for its legendary scuba diving sites and PADI training camps… but what if, like me, diving isn’t your thang? Annoyingly (or perhaps thankfully), an inner ear problem prevents me from dropping down into the depths of oceans, but hey, I’m not going to let that stop me from enjoying paradise, right?
So I’ve compiled a little list of things you can do, without donning a wet-suit and breathing like Darth Vader.

Take a Quad Bike and Explore

Koh Tao has windy roads that border on dangerous as the sand can make traction for motorbike wheels perilous. But as the beaches are spread apart around the island, it’s such a good way to get around and explore. And as the island is so small with few rental companies, the rent of a motorbike is usually flat-rate – so no need to worry about getting ripped off. Just make sure you inspect the ride for any dents or scrapes as you don’t want the company to think you’ve banged it up and then have to fork out for damages.

Get a map and just set off! See where you can go, as it sure beats hiking in the heat. Although if two wheels feels risky, why not invest a little extra Thai Baht into a pimping 4 wheeled quad bike? Not only do you feel confident and safe, but also it gives you the much needed boost to get up the incredibly insane steep roads to The Lookout Point.

We saw two people completely wipe out trying to get up to this Point on their motorbike (and you WILL see many western people wandering the island with bandages for their motorcycle burns) but with our 4 wheeled little monster, we just about managed it up there and damn, it was worth it. The view of the island and beyond is incredible, and it is so peaceful….

The Seafood

Sairee Beach is definitely the most popular area as the buzzing action happens down there. It also has incredibly fresh seafood too; all served beach-side which just supports its authenticity.

You’ll struggle picking which place to try out as they constantly waft sizzling barbecued fish your way, making you drool and your concentration waver…then hunger will overcome just as you find the perfect spot to feast. The Yellow Brick road connects Mae Haad Beach (where the main pier is located) and Sairee Beach, and many cute restaurants are overlooking the sea. I recommend Sairee Cottage Restaurant or Sairee Hut for the best fishy BBQ around where you can eat like a king.

And of course, don’t forget a traditional backpacker’s dessert of choice: The Banana Pancake. 30 Baht and you can’t go wrong!

Snorkel around the island

Okay – so you will sound like Darth Vader in a snorkel, but you do need to see some of the remote and cut-off parts of the island, and all its coral life. You can easily jump on a boat and get a day of paddling, swimming and snorkeling among the exotic fish, with a lunch thrown in, making it a cheap and exhilarating day trip. And that sure is easier than trying to navigate your way over the mountainous centre of the island.

Shark Bay famously has small Black Fin Sharks hovering around the rocks, but all I saw was a freaking huge jellyfish the size of my head which definitely made me shorten my time in the water. Mao Bay and Mango Bay should also be on your hit list of snorkeling as they’re beautiful little nooks of Koh Tao.

Visit Koh Nangyuan

This island trio lies a stones throw away from Koh Tao and is stunning. Three golden beaches connect the islands and not much lies on them other than a beach bar, some small boutique luxury accommodation huts, a pier… oh, and a zipline that you can ride in between the islands, which is quite bizarre.

A 200 Baht return boat ride can get you there in little time… but as it is so small, the only restaurant and bar have jacked up prices. So don’t expect Koh Tao prices!

It was beautiful but unfortunately, as a tourist hot spot it can get jam packed in peak season. Snorkeling can still be done though with a bit of paddling and beach lounging with a beer.

The Shooting Range

Now all this serene and peaceful exploration is very nice and all, but why not try something a little bit different? Lets think outside the box, outside the typical paradise box… Ever shot a gun? Well I have. Head on over to the Koh Tao Shooting Range and have a go on one of the targets!

Pick from revolvers, shotguns, rifles and magnums, and see what damage you can do. It was quite exhilarating, especially when I saw how many times I hit the target…and nearly the bulls-eye. Die Hard, eat your heart out.

The Sunset

Now it’s time to chill the hell out. You can snorkel, eat and drink delicious things, visit islands and hidden beaches… but what would a tropical island be without the perfect sunset? Again, Sairee Beach is the perfect location for this and wow, it blows your flip-flops off. One lovely little beach spot for a sunset drink and chilled out music is O’Chai Bungalow’s Beach Bar.

Then when dusk settles, pull up a Thai cushion on a patch of sand and indulge in cheap and sweet cocktail bucket (I cannot touch another Mai Thai for a loooong time though), all the while being hypnotized by the fire poi of every beach bar. Even though they may not be going in time with the music, it still wows me that their hair isn’t on fire and the poi doesn’t get wrapped around their neck. The peeps at Lotus Bar do it best.

You don’t need long on Koh Tao, but it should be seen and explored if you’re on this side of Thailand. Due to its many PADI scuba diving courses available, Koh Tao  can get pretty busy during peak season (December to March and July to August)…like most places in Thailand. But it is still a polar opposite to Koh Phangyan and Koh Samui, and is perfect for the traveler who prefers their scene a little less stuffed full of pumping crowds and with a little more of a community feel.
Koh Tao: the teeny paradise that can be thoroughly enjoyed despite an inner ear problem.

Sophie Saint was one of the original travelettes, from 2009 – 2017. After fleeing the UK with ink barely dry on her graduation certificate, she traversed the world with a backpack and spent a few years living in Melbourne – one of her favourite cities in the world.

She finally returned to the UK after a few years where she now whiles time away zipping off for European escapes, crocheting and daydreaming of owning her own hostel somewhere hot to live out eternal summers. See what she’s up to over on her blog and instagram: @saintsonaplane