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Although Koh Tao is best known for its scuba diving, there is a thriving subculture of international music, colourful art and performance, and outstanding nightlife beneath the laid-back island surface.
Everything is shared by Thai people. If you see Thai people drinking together, they're probably sharing a beer tower or a bottle of whisky with soda, as well as a table full of food to share. Sharing is the Thai way of life, thus it's advised that you join in and contribute something to the sharing.
Being stingy, loud, or demonstrating a lack of drinking discipline will not win you many Thai friends. Proper behaviour is required when in public.
There is food where there is drink. In contrast to English drinking, Thais have it down pat when it comes to replacing themselves with nourishment so that alcohol will deplete it.
When visiting the pubs on Koh Tao and nearby places, many Thais prefer a more western style of drinking. They frequent Western-style bars, go partying, and enjoy spending time in wine bars.
Sairee Beach is a fantastic spot on Koh Tao where most visitors come to enjoy beautiful sunset views, fire dancing displays, and a cool drink by the water. The beach is dotted with bars and clubs that offer live music, international DJs, movie screenings, and live sporting events to the general public. Every location has an extensive selection of imported wine, beer, and cocktails. The island's famous cocktail, the Sangsom Bucket, made with whiskey and tonic water or energy drink, is a must-try.
No trip to Koh Tao nightlife is complete without a stop at Queen's Cabaret, which is more of a performance than a bar. This nightly performance is free – all they ask is that you buy a couple of drinks – and the drag queens put on a fantastic spectacle that frequently concludes with the crowd dancing alongside the queens on stage. The show is fun and hassle-free – there are no frauds like there are at ladyboy shows in Bangkok – and it starts and ends early enough for people to continue to the mayhem of neighbouring Sairee Beach after dark.
Fish Bowl, a long-standing fixture in Koh Tao nightlife, has dominated the after-hours circuit for years, with a beautiful beachfront location, all-night drink promotions, and plenty of live music. Stay until about 10:30 p.m. for the nightly beer pong tournament, or head down to the beach for the fire shows right outside the door.
Beyond the bar's iconic VW Kombi at the front, there's a smattering of treehouse buildings adorned with local art. The welcoming atmosphere and chilled-out audience are what Koh Tao Island is all about, from its nightly jam sessions to a general anything-goes spirit. On Fridays, don't miss the free weekly BBQ.
Maya, which is directly on the main stretch of Sairee Beach, is a lovely midday hangout that transforms into a low-key nightlife staple after dusk. During the day, relax in the comfortable lounge chairs placed up across the beach or paddle off the coast on a SUP board. By the time you return the happy-hour drink promotions will have kicked in, and you'll be watching the sunset below the sea while listening to one of Maya's numerous visiting international DJs.
This newer restaurant, which has a fantastic rooftop patio, is a breezy open-air facility that connects the main strolling street to the beach. There's almost always something special going on, such as Wine Down Wednesdays or Rock N' Roll Sundays, and there's always a crowded roster of local live music. A daytime juice bar – Living Juices – that transforms into a late-night sandwich store – Courtyard Sandwich Co. – is located directly in front of the theatre to keep your hunger at bay all day.
Get off Sairee's main street and check out this Mae Haad nightlife hotspot, which hosts a terrific mix of live music and special event nights throughout the week. Dance the night away or relax in their stunning garden location, which hosts popular Latin party nights and rotating house DJs.
If you've had enough of Chang and Singha, go over to the island's only craft beer and cider bar, where you can peruse an extensive menu of bottles from across the world, including a wide selection of Thai craft beers. The proprietors are extremely courteous and knowledgeable and are pleased to recommend your new favourite beer that perfectly matches your palate. They've also recently begun serving Nitro cold brew coffee all day to give you that spark you need, combined with delicious Indian-style breakfast options from Shalimar, the restaurant's adjacent kitchen.
Wander down to this isolated location off Sai Nuan beach for a slice of your very own personal paradise if you want to get away from the thundering sound systems of Sairee Beach. The stand-alone bar is beachy to the core, made of thatched wood and bamboo, wonderfully open but able to provide some cover during a rainstorm so you can watch the storms roll in over the water while holding your beer.