When I told people I chose Koh Tao to begin my underwater adventures I was met with a mix of reviews. I heard everything from “you will love it” to “get out fast once you have your certification” and even a “why would you go there?”.
Without a doubt, Koh Tao has a reputation as a being a dive factory. There are dozens of scuba schools on this tiny Thai island, from a range of nationalities as well. A huge part of this is the cost; Koh Tao is one of the cheapest places to get certified in the world. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t play a large role into why I chose to get certified there. But despite the ‘warnings’ that the diving was crap, the corals were bleached, and there wasn’t much to see I ended up staying to get my advanced as well. In the end, regardless of every negative review I heard, I LOVED scuba diving in Koh Tao.
About Koh Tao
Located in the gulf of Thailand, Koh Tao (which means turtle island) is a small, but beautiful and popular among tourists and expats. Although there is plenty to do in Koh Tao including hiking, yoga, off-road exploring, and frequenting the many beach bars (many of which are known for their fire dancers), scuba diving is the main attraction here.
Koh Tao is accessible via a ferry from a couple of piers for travellers arriving by the overnight bus or train from Bangkok or from the west coast, or by ferry from the nearby Koh Samui which is the closest airport.
There are three main areas to stay in Koh Tao: Sairee Beach, Mae Haad, and Chalok Bay. However there are dive schools all over the island so it’s best to pick your location based on where you are learning so you can stay close. Unless you are planning on renting a motor bike, the only other way to get around is by taxi. Unlike in Bangkok, there is no bartering here. You can expect to pay at least 300 baht (Nov. 2015) for a one way ride.
What You Can Expect to See
Although Koh Tao means turtle island, there aren’t as many turtles as one would hope. But if you (or rather your dive instructor) knows where to look, you may see a couple.
The most common species of fish you will see here include: batfish, trevellis, parrotfish, fusiliers, angelfish, rabbit fish, trigger fish, wrasses, and butterfly fish.
Koh Tao also has plenty of different types of hard and soft corals and, one of my favourites, Christmas tree worms.
Less common, but also in the area are: moray eels, barracudas, sharks, blue spotted rays, and puffer fish. The incredibly lucky may also see a whale shark. The best chance to see these amazing creatures is during the months of March and April at the deeper dive sites around Koh Tao.
My Favourite Dive Sites
Koh Tao is home to plenty of dive sites, many located not too far off the shore of the island, while some take some time to get to. These were my favourites:
Japanese Gardens: Closer to shore, also popular with snorkelers. Lots of different corals and the most common fish species to be seen including butterfly wish and wrasses. Plenty of bubble coral here as well which means a good chance for turtles. I got the opportunity to swim with one for about 5 minutes before a (stupid) snorkeler chased it away.
HTMS Sattakut: A Thai navy boat that was donated and sunk (purposefully) in 2011. It’s a neat experience as it attracts many fish. If you are wreck certified you can enter the ship as well.
Chumphon Pinnacle: About 40 minutes by boat from Koh Tao, Chumphon is one of the most popular dive sites on the island. There’s a large pinnacle and small pinnacle with a depth of about 30m. A good place to see schools of barracuda. If you are going to get lucky and see a whale shark, it will probably be while diving here.
Southwest Pinnacle: Southwest pinnacle had the most variety of fish and sealife I saw while diving in Koh Tao. From blue spotted stingrays and giant barracuda to glass shrimp and cuttlefish, there was always something to look at.
Diving is a year round activity in Koh Tao. July to September are the most popular months as the visibility is usually at its best; up to 30m. During October things start to quiet down, sometimes schools offer discounts at this time because it’s coming into low season which runs November/December as it’s monsoon time. For whale sharks, the best bet is to come between March and April, but there’s no promises!
Recommended Dive Schools
I used Ocean Sound Dive and Yoga for both my open water certification and my advanced. I loved every minute and the whole team was amazing. I highly recommend them. For more Koh Tao dive school recommendations check out the following:
Chantae used and loved Aqua Tao (known to be French). For more read here.
Annika used and loved New Heaven. For more read here.