Koh Tao is a beautiful little island in the Gulf of Thailand and home to over 20 dives sites which all lie less than an hour boat journey from your chosen centre.
Diving on Koh Tao is year around, however many centres do close for the month of November which is typically when the monsoon hits. The conditions can be far from favorable but if you are lucky with the weather then you will find some of the larger centres open. Overall the best visibility is between March and September, but like anywhere this can vary with the weather. March and April are the hottest months to be here, but these months along with May, September and October are the best times to see whalesharks.
Beginners, photographers and macro critter hunters will love the shallow calm bays of Aow Leuk, Japanese Gardens and Mango Bay. Laem Thien, Hin Ngam, Nangyuan pinnacle and White Rock are just four of the more intermediate sites which will delight all levels of divers with their colourful reefs and inhabitants.
The more advanced and open ocean sites of Chumphon Pinnacle, South West Pinnacle, Green Rock, Hin Wong and Shark Island are where divers are most likely to see whalesharks on their seasonal visits. These sites literally team with life and are where you will see big schools of fish and lots of busy reef life activity.
For wreck enthusiasts we have The MV Trident, which is a more advanced site, is perfect for those divers who want a bit more of a challenge and also for entry level technical training. It was sunk in late 2010 and plied the waters as a wreck hunter so its apt to say that she has become a wreck herself. The location usually has current so look for those dive centres that time their visits with the tide. The HTMS Sattakut was sunk in June 2011 and is a great fun dive and perfect for wreck training too.
There are also a range of artificial sites around the island with coral nurseries and an active environmental community too. It’s a great location to learn more about reef and land conservation and there is always a project to get involved with.
The island literally revolves round diving. It’s probably the only place in the world where you can go and take any form of underwater training in almost any language you choose over a wide choice of agencies. With over 40 dive centres to choose from here it can seem quite overwhelming to choose the one perfect for you so do keep in mind what you are looking for when selecting the centre. Do consider group size and boat size in your selection and research reviews and forums before making your choice.
When planning your trip to Koh Tao bear in mind the dates for the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangnan. Koh Tao gets very busy in the week after this party and in the busiest months (Dec, Jan, Feb, July, Aug and Sept) both travel and accommodation should be booked in advanced. If you want to avoid the crowds then June is a great month to come and the dive conditions are lovely too. For more information on the diving conditions, you can check Master Diver's Daily report.
With so many centres here the price has stayed quite low. Expect to pay 9800B for an Open Water Course and between 700 and 1000B for a fun dive.
By Ayesha Cantrell (Master Divers, Koh Tao)
Koh Tao is a lush green tropical island located near the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand. It was named after the island's turtle-like shape by the first settlers in the island, and coincidentally the island has a breeding ground for Hawksbill turtles and Green turtles. The beaches around the island are some if the finest in the south of Thailand, particularly Haad Thien (Rocky Bay), Tanote Bay and Sairee Beach. It also offers secluded bays, like Mango Bay among others, and it is known as a scuba diving paradise, and this fame comes for a reason: the island conducts more scuba diving courses than anywhere else in the whole of Asia!
Koh Tao is easily accessible via Ferry from its neighboring islands, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, and also from Chumpon and Surat Thani, the two closest port cities in the eastern coast of Thailand. Chumpon and Surat Thani offer day time and night time ferries but Chumphon is your best option, as it is closest to Bangkok and Koh Tao. There's also the possibility to fly to Chumphon and Koh Samui and, and from there take a Ferry to the island. Out of these options either Chumphon or Samui have the best and easiest connections to Koh Tao. In any of these locations you'll find plenty of travel agents who will help you book your transportation to Koh Tao.
Koh Tao is a relatively small island, with just one main road and lots of smaller ones and dirt roads off it.
Mae Haad is your arrival point and has beaches to the north and south. There’s a lovely little snorkeling wreck to the south too. It has all the amenities you need, and bars and restaurants too. Outside of ferry times its quiet yet it has the best connections to everywhere else on the island, making it a great base.
Sairee Beach, just a few mins by taxi and a 10-15 mins walk from Mae Haad. It is the main area and where the highest concentration or bars, restaurants and hotels are, which is great if you want to be in the thick of the action. The beach is the longest on the island and while you can snorkel here, keep an ear out for boat traffic.
Chalock Ban Khao on the south of the island is the next largest area in terms of amenities and while the beach is pretty, the sea remains quite shallow and murky and it's not so good for swimming. Close to here though is Freedom Beach, which is also pretty and a good spot to swim.
The rest of the areas are more secluded and the roads connecting them are in worse condition, which makes them taxi dependent (boat or car), but on the other hand they offer a quietness you won't find in the south, and they will be definitely less crowded. Particularly beautiful are Mango Bay and Tanote Bay.
Motorbikes are available for hire everywhere however it’s advisable not to be tempted. The roads have potholes and slippery sand, which do make conditions hazardous. Further, no insurance is available and renters are required to leave their passport as deposit. If you damage the bike, or sometimes if you don’t, you will pay to get your passport back, never mind the injury you can do to yourself.
Luckily there are many other ways to enjoy and explore the island. Taxis both cars and boats can take you anywhere and are very easy to find, most times they find you!
For snorkeling opportunities head to Aow Leuk or Sai Daeng – you can get to each by road or boat taxi. Had Theim is also popular for seeing balcktip reef sharks but they can be seen at Aow Leuk and Sai Daeng too. Mango Bay and Japanese Gardens are also great for snorkeling but they can only be reached by boat.
There are also snorkeling trips are around the island, you can hire your own small traditional longtail or just pick a beach and jump on a taxi boat. The adventurous can also rent kayaks too – these are readily available at most beaches.
Other non-diving activities include hiking, rock climbing and bouldering, which can be arranged easily, and a flying trapeze school too, where you can learn to fly through the air with the greatest of ease – circus style. There is a bowling alley and a mini golf too and even a zip line overwater too. There are many great scenic walks too.
For those that want to take it a little easier, there are plenty of scenic places to laze and read and sample some great food too. Spas dot the island and offer relaxing and pampering treatments, so whatever you do when you are not underwater there is certainly something for you!
By Ayesha Cantrell (Master Divers, Koh Tao)