Koh Tao is a popular island destination for all levels and disciplines of scuba diving training. With suitable conditions for beginners and children and plenty to do topside it’s a good all round choice.
Koh Tao has a little over 20 dive sites to explore. These lie around the island and are accessible by boat only. The furthest flung is around 45mins cruise out. Most dive centres operate a two dive trip in the morning and afternoon meaning that your whole day isn’t taken up making two dives. The majority of dive boats are converted fishing boats with at least a small sundeck or place to relax. There’s a great range of sites; calm shallow bays, coral gardens, limestone formations, artificial reefs, reef nursery’s and a couple of wrecks too. Diving is year around as there is always somewhere sheltered to hide from the wind. The monsoon hits around November time, and seas get choppy and visibility drops.
Calm, bright waters are the norm and provide stable conditions for first timers in the water or anyone wanting to learn a new skill. The concentration of dive schools and experienced and specialized trainers have created a college campus like environment just for scuba. It’s also one of the cheapest places in the world to take any course. For something different you can even night dive under UV light here.
Koh Tao has a large amount of divers and damage from the recent coral bleaching events is evident. That said it still offers some lovely diving but is better suited to those newer to diving. The majority of the reefs are coral gardens that have grown around the huge boulders that typify the area. The coral here is almost exclusively hard, providing a textured backdrop for the many colourful reef fish and anemones.
Whale sharks do cruise into the deeper pinnacles of Chumphon and Southwest. While you can be lucky at any time of the year, there are more sightings in April and May. The reefs inhabitants include many colourful reef fish, some interesting macro critters and nudibranch, morays and bluespotted ribbontailed rays. Turtles are seen on Koh Taos reefs but not in the numbers its name might suggest. Koh Tao triggerfish are legendary for their antics, so keep your eyes open and your wits about you. Over the years, the barracuda have learnt to hunt using divers’ torch beams as assistance so night dives can be very exciting.
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From its origins as a penal colony and fisherman’s stop off, Koh Tao was slowly inhabited by pioneers from neighbouring islands. Life was simple, coconut plantations and fishing formed the way of life. The first resort opened just 30 years ago and from those simple foundations grew an island that’s become a mecca for scuba diving training.
Koh Tao means Turtle Island, which refers to its shape rather than its marine life. There’s a much smaller island, called Koh Nang Yuan, which lies off Koh Taos north-west coast. This island makes the shape of the turtle’s head, the main island being its shell. The islands interior rises to provide some great viewpoints overlooking the lush greenery, fringing beaches and blue waters. Below and above the water the island is characterised with boulders of varying sizes. These provide great scenery as well as underwater habitats and some fun rock climbing too.
The island is remote, situated 47 miles (75km) east of the mainland and 30 miles (47km) from its closest neighbour. Koh Tao is just 2 miles (3.4km) wide and 5 miles (7.6km) long. Koh Tao is a little less developed than neighbouring Koh Samui and Koh Phangan but it’s catching up.
White sandy beaches fringe Koh Tao; there are many to explore and some super snorkelling opportunities too. Away from the water you can rock climb, take flying trapeze lessons, play mini golf, take a cooking course or relax in one of the many massage spas.
Koh Tao does not have an airport. The closest is on the neighbouring island of Koh Samui. From there you can hop on a ferry to Koh Tao. Budget airlines land at airports on the mainland at Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani. These leave from Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok rather than Suvarnabhumi Airport. They do link to ferry services, but this route is the slower option.