As part of a six-week Asia trip, we were heading to Koh Samui, Thailand. And we wanted to visit Koh Tao too.
We love snorkeling and diving.
Koh Tao (also spelled Ko Tao) is a small tropical island (only accessible by boat) that’s a two-hour passenger ferry ride from Koh Samui. With plenty of coral reefs, Koh Tao is known for its excellent snorkeling and scuba diving. It’s one of the best places to visit in Thailand.
But where to stay in Koh Tao?
After considerable research, we booked one of the delightful Koh Tao bungalows at Sensi Paradise Beach Resort.
While on the island, we also checked out other Koh Tao resorts with bungalows or villas, as well as some of the best hotels in Koh Tao (with hotel rooms and suites).
Best Koh Tao bungalows, hotels and resorts
As professional travel writers who often review resorts for magazines, newspapers and this blog, we frequently stay at 5-star hotels as media guests. (In Bangkok, for example, we’ve bedded down at the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit, the Mandarin Oriental and the Shangri-La Bangkok.)
But this side-trip to Koh Tao was “private” holiday time. And we weren’t going to write about it.
Famous last words…
It seems you can’t get rid of the travel writer personas in us, because here we are – writing about the best places to stay in Koh Tao anyway!
There are no true luxury hotels on Koh Tao – like the Tongsai Bay on Koh Samui (where we also stayed on this trip). But the places below are all very pleasant and lovely in a boho-chic kind of way.
1) Sensi Paradise Beach Resort
Facing Mae Haad Beach, the 3-star Sensi Paradise Beach Resort offers traditional Thai-style bungalows, houses and villas for families and couples. It also boasts a great location – it’s just a a short walk (10 minutes) to the restaurants and shops in Mae Haad town.
Sensi Paradise, Koh Tao, review:
Our wooden bungalow on concrete pillars was quite rustic and simple, with white tile floors (higher category bungalows have polished wood or better quality stone floors).
The open shower in the bathroom had a concrete floor with a fairly basic shower head.
But it was spotlessly clean. And our bungalow had everything we needed for a very comfortable stay – good air conditioning, a king-size bed with white duvet, quiet location.
There were also some pleasant surprises – like new gold silk curtains we tied back with a tassel and a welcome vase of fresh carnations.
We had requested a quiet Deluxe bungalow with a sea view.
So even though we’d booked through Booking.com (and shouldn’t have expected a sea view), it was very nice that Sensi Paradise gave us a bungalow with an almost full-on view of longtail boats plying the bay in front.
There were more things to like too.
Free pick-up from the ferry dock (who knew there’d be a gent with a Sensi signboard waiting for guests!); welcome hibiscus drink; slippers and waffle robes; shampoo, soap and body lotion (no conditioner though); free WiFi (though it only worked properly in public areas); and friendly staff.
We even discovered beach mats and a beach bag in our bungalow waiting for our use!
A daily hot buffet breakfast with scrambled eggs, bacon and other items (great vanilla yogurt!) was also included in the rates.
Perhaps some “luxury” hotels could learn a thing or two from Sensi Paradise, Koh Tao?
Other travelers are impressed with Sensi Paradise too. The resort received a TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Award in 2021. (See reviews.)
Bottom line: Sensi Paradise offers some of the best beach bungalows in Koh Tao for a casual carefree experience.
Walk to Sai Nuan Beach:
One thing you should do if you stay at Sensi Paradise is to walk from the resort south along the coast to Sai Nuan Beach.
The paved path with bamboo railings snakes through the trees, hugging the hillside, and runs past neighboring Koh Tao resorts, before the path finally reaches Sai Nuan Beach.
It’s a brisk 20-minute walk each way, up and down stairs, with great sea views. A bit of a work-out!
But that makes a cooling swim afterward back at Sensi Paradise’s pool all that more delicious. (Did we tell you the resort has two swimming pools that look like they could belong to a Four Seasons?)
And Sai Nuan Beach itself is a pleasant laid-back place to spend a few hours.
2) Koh Tao Cabana
Another sweet resort, also a little rustic in feel, is Koh Tao Cabana.
It has 15 cottages at the quiet end of Sairee Beach, which is the biggest and most popular beach in Koh Tao. That makes it easy to walk to all the restaurants and bars in Sairee.
Some cottages are like treetop villas, quirky and with semi-outdoor bathrooms. You can also get a villa with a private pool. All have polished wood floors, air conditioning, great sea views and lots of character.
Koh Tao Cabana: Check rates and availability
3) Haad Tien Beach Resort
Located on a secluded and stunning white-sand beach, the Haad Tien Beach Resort offers some of the best Koh Tao beach bungalows. Along with Jamahkiri, (see #4), the Haad Tien is also one of the nicest upscale resorts in Koh Tao.
Of the seven room types, the “Castaway Beach Villas” have decks with steps down onto the powder-soft sand, just a few feet away from the sea. A covered daybed on the deck is perfect for lounging while drinking in the views.
Other villas are set further back on the property’s manicured lawns.
The term “villa” might be a bit misleading if this conjures up images of a European-style villa. They’re really rustic-chic wooden cottages and superior beach huts, with thatched roofs and king-size beds draped with mosquito netting – quite romantic and in keeping with the low-key flavor of the island.
Staying here is ideal if you love snorkeling and diving. The Haad Tien is located at Thian Og Bay (Shark Bay) – chances are you’ll see baby sharks and sea turtles in the beautiful bay every time you slip your mask on and go snorkeling.
Want to learn how to dive? The resort’s onsite Reef Dive Center is a 5-star PADI dive school that offers dive instruction and daily small-group dive tours to more than 25 different sites.
The downside to staying at the Haad Tien is that because you’re in a remote locale, with no village and outside restaurants within walking distance, you’re mainly confined to eating at the resort. And prices here for meals and drinks are relatively high for Thailand.
Haad Tien Beach Resort, Koh Tao: Check rates and availability
4) Jamahkiri Resort & Spa
Like the Haad Tien Beach Resort (#3 above), the Jamahkiri Resort & Spa is located on Shark Bay. But unlike the Haad Tien, it doesn’t front the beach.
Still, it’s one of the best resorts in Koh Tao.
Built into the cliffs hugging Shark Bay, the contemporary-looking resort has sophisticated rooms and suites with lovely wood or stone floors, colorful Thai art and balconies with staggering sea views.
As well, Jamahkiri offers new modernist 1- and 2-bedroom sea villas.
There’s a beautiful pool too, and a free shuttle boat takes you to Haad Tien Beach.
The Jamahkiri also has a good dive club.
Just be prepared to climb lots of steep steps to get around the resort (130 steps, in fact, from some rooms to the pool) – good for exercise, though!
And because it’s also secluded (like the Haad Tien Beach Resort), drinking and dining at the Jamahkiri is expensive.
Jamahkiri Resort, Koh Tao: Check rates and availability
5) The Place Luxury Boutique Villas
When deciding where to stay in Koh Tao, look no further than this resort if you want a private honeymoon-worthy villa.
There are nine villas at The Place Luxury Boutique Villas. Each comes with a kitchenette (complete with a Nespresso coffee machine), private infinity pool and huge sun deck with bean bags to lie on while taking in the ocean views.
6) Fisherman’s Villas
Perched high on a clifftop point on the southeast coast of Koh Tao (near Shark Bay), the Fisherman’s Villas consist of six modern villa-style homes, tucked away among other private villas in the area.
These are some of the most upscale villas in Koh Tao – with lots of outdoor living areas and spectacular views. They each come with air-conditioned bedrooms, fully equipped kitchens, a private outdoor pool and outdoor lounge area.
The cozy Squid House is perfect for a couple, with a queen-size bed in the separate bedroom and a tiny kitchen area. Best of all, stairs lead down from the balcony to the sea, when you can snorkel and swim.
Other larger villas accommodate four to six persons. (Some can be split so a couple rents just one level of a two-storey villa.)
Daily maid service is included, along with free pickup service from the Mae Haad Pier (and the ferries from Koh Samui and Koh Phangan).
The Fisherman’s Villas are best suited to independent travelers who want to be self-sufficient. The area is a little remote and the road to reach the villas is steep, so you need to feel comfortable on a moped. Some restaurants deliver meals for a small delivery fee if you don’t want to cook or venture out.
Fisherman’s Villas, Koh Tao: Check rates and availability
7) Tarna Align Resort
Set atop a verdant hill, Tarna Align Resort offers contemporary-style rooms and villas. They come with lots of modern amenities, like free WiFi, Nespresso coffee machines, air-conditioning and a mini-fridge.
You’ll also find the Tarna Dive School (which offers lessons in a three-tier swimming pool), another pool, a fabulous rooftop bar for watching the sunsets and a great Japanese restaurant.
This Koh Tao resort isn’t on the beach. But no matter. It still gets great reviews – and has also won a TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Award for 2021.
A regular free shuttle to the pier and Sairee Beach is offered so you don’t feel stuck. (The walk up from the beach is 15 minutes.)
Tarna Align Resort, Koh Tao: Check rates and availability
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Photo credits: 5, 6 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Other hotel photos courtesy of the respective Koh Tao hotels