Swirled by coral gardens and fish-teeming waters in the heart of the Thai Gulf, Koh Tao is considered the diving mecca of Southeast Asia. It’s now replete with PADI schools and snorkelling outfitters, with opportunities for everyone from first-time divers to scuba pros in the surrounding seas. However, Koh Tao isn’t just for the underwater adventure. Lush jungles cover its hills. Coconut palms shade its picture-perfect beaches. Oh, and there’s a hint of happening nightlife a la Koh Phangan to be had in some quarters.
Today, a cascade of Airbnbs in Koh Tao offers myriad accommodations. There are basic dorm beds in dive hostels for those keen on chasing encounters with corals and turtles. There are deluxe penthouses with decks that gaze across the gulf and the beaches. This guide has all the know-how you need to pick the right part of the island this year…
Technically speaking, short-term rentals made directly with the owner of a property (the sort you often find on Airbnb in Koh Tao) aren’t legal in Thailand. That’s because all hotels and resorts need to register if they want to offer stays of less than 30 days at a time. In reality, services like Airbnb still run virtually as normal on the ground…
There have been some recent reports of fines against landlords, along with stern messages in the lobbies of condominiums to warn off fly-in guests. However, it looks as though the punishments have – so far, at least – been reserved for owners of properties. Meanwhile, thousands of travelers continue to enjoy stays in Airbnbs between Koh Tao’s beaches and jungle-covered hills without any problems. If in doubt, we’d recommend checking ahead with your host to see that they have the necessary documents and that there’ll be no issue with your booking.
Where should I stay in Koh Tao Airbnb?
First thing’s first – wherever you choose to book that Airbnb in Koh Tao, you can rest assured it will be darn beautiful! Even the bustling town of Mae Haad (1) – the main dive centre and port – is set around a gorgeous horseshoe bay with forested hills behind. The bulk of travelers will base themselves north of that, on the even-nicer sands of Sairee Beach (2). Romantic couples often prefer to escape south to Thian Og (3) or Chalok (4). Meanwhile, Ao Tanote (5) on the east coast, is for seclusion and snorkelling with baby sharks!
Loads of other travelers to meet
An overload of places to eat
Plenty of Airbnb choices
Not the best beach on the island, but still lovely!
Sairee Beach is where Koh Tao channels a little bit of Koh Phangan. Long and lovely, its quintessential Thai Gulf stuff, with coconut trees bending low to meet colourful long-tail boats. At night, a medley of chilled beach bars start issuing reggae into the starry skies, and you can dance the evenings away with other backpackers and travelers. Sairee also comes laden with dining options – it’s possible to intersperse those Thai stir fries with French cuisine and Italian pizzas.
Probably the most built-up corner of Koh Tao clusters around the port of Mae Haad. Don’t be fooled by the pictures – the beach here isn’t really for swimming. It’s not the spot for long days of sunbathing, but rather for planning those PADI dives. One of Thailand’s biggest arrays of dive schools awaits close to the docks, along with cheap and cheerful hostel accommodation that will never break the bank.
Chalok Bay gives a nice balance between energy and natural beauty. Home to the third-largest beach on the island, it’s huddled between two rocky headlands on the southern end of Koh Tao. The snorkelling is simply wonderful thanks to those pockets of pristine reef. The sands are cotton-tinted, and the swimming is in bath-warm gulf waters. You do sacrifice a little nightlife being in these parts, but the top-quality resort hotels and Airbnbs make up for that and then some.
Thian Og – known locally as Shark Bay – is tailor-made for those who come to Tao in search of underwater life. Simply don the snorkels and dive in – you can be swimming with sea turtles and black-tip reef sharks just metres from the door of your Airbnb! In addition to that, this is a quiet and secluded part of the isle, with some nice hilltop villas and bungalows that suit families and couples who like to escape the hubbub of the crowds.
Ao Tanote takes you over to the east side of the island, where the crowds thin out and things get a little more rustic. Groups of waxy sea poison trees fringe the shoreline, which is framed by sculpted granite boulders and little rock pools. Relaxation is the name of the game, because once the sun sets, it’s all about reggae bars and chilled Thai eateries before cosying up in Airbnbs with views of the water.
Large Seaview Apartment Very Close to Sairee Beach
With all the frills and mod cons of a condominium but with a touch of rustic Thai character, this gorgeous apartment gives the best of both worlds. The view – atop the jungle canopy behind Sairee – is, of course, stunning. Inside, there’s a clean-look lounge and diner, along with a separate bedroom and compact kitchenette.
This rental lives up to its name by opening onto a 180-degree panorama of narrow Sairee Beach and the forested headlands of western Koh Tao. If you can pull yourself away from that, there’s a comfy lounge area with a flat-screen TV and Netflix subscription, a fully fledged kitchen, and an excellent space for BBQs.
Plonk the whole family on a hillside with jaw-dropping views of the cobalt-blue Thai Gulf right in front, all with help from this enticing villa set above Sairee Beach. It’s got a total of three bedrooms and can sleep groups of up to nine. However, the house is nice and compact, with a stunning al fresco space that includes an infinity pool with jacuzzi jets.
Perched on the ridges in the heart of Koh Tao island, this five-bedroom escape is sure to be a bout of luxury for your whole travel crew. It can sleep up to 12 guests in high comfort. Bedrooms are spread over two floors but usually open onto gorgeous vistas of turquoise sea and emerald forest. Communal spaces include a big kitchen with a breakfast bar and an outdoor pool that’s got ‘come chill by me’ written all over it!
Divers on the hunt for a cheap and cheerful stay for the duration of their PADI course should look no further than this budget mini apartment in Mae Haad. It’s within walking distance of all the best dive schools on the island, has its own small kitchenette, and – perhaps most enticing of all for post-dive chilling – a comfy bed on a plinth of polished concrete.
Airbnb in Koh Tao can offer up some seriously good bargains. Not only do the private rooms and flats tend to be a little cheaper than most hotels, but you can score some attractive monthly and weekly reductions to the tune of 50% or more! It is worth remembering that Airbnb rentals don’t have the same level of service as a classic resort stay. You’ll rarely get housekeeping or cooked breakfasts, and might find you need to travel further from the tourist hotspots to arrive.
For example, the Sairee Cottage Resort is right on the sands of Sairee itself. So, there’s no scrambling up steep hills to get to the door of your suite, and the nightlife and restaurants are just down the road. On top of that, you get a shared pool, space on the sand to put your deckchair, and even a poolside bar for those evening Mai Thais!
Dive into Airbnb in Koh Tao and you’ll find all sorts of accommodation options, from budget rooms by the PADI schools of Mae Haad to sumptuous penthouses overlooking Sairee’s stunning shores. Tempted? Yep…us too!