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Koh Tao - Learn diving at Koh Tao


Koh Tao has changed over the years. When I first came to Turtle Island, as the name officially is, there was one beach hut hotel, one restaurant serving Thai food and one dive club. The ferry service was once a week on Wednesday from Chumphon at midnight. It took 6 hours to cross the 65 km's in the Gulf of Thailand. These days it takes 1 1/2 hour from Chumphon by high speed boat and 6 hours from Surat Thani.

Ban Mae Had village at Koh Tao
Ban Mae Had village at Koh Tao

Today the situation is completely different from those days. There are numerous ferry services available from Chumphon, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui and even Surat Thani. There are plans to start a flight service with a small charter though this is just a rumor. These days Koh Tao is one of the main areas in the world to get a diving license. According to PADI, the world leading diving organization, 5% of all diving licenses these days come from one of the 35 (!) diving clubs at Koh Tao.

Beach at the west part of Koh Tao in 1991, when I first visited the island
Beach at the west part of Koh Tao in 1991, when I first visited the island

Mae Haad village therefore looks more like Khao San Road in Bangkok then a local fishing village which it originally was. But when we go further back, then Koh Tao wasn't even inhabited.

It's a small island. Small enough to around on bicycle or motorbike. There's a few more or less paved roads to the numerous hotels on the island. Even Nang Yuan, the small island in front of Koh Tao has nowadays a little resort. Scorpionfish in the waters of Koh Tao

The question of course is: "is it worth to go there?" The answer is simple: if you are into diving, it's yes. If you are not, well, there's plenty to do otherwise but I would consider other places for that.

Among other activities are: swimming, beach walks, jungle treks, snorkeling and enjoying a lazy life. But as I said, for those things you don't have to come to Koh Tao.

Everything is available at the island: ATM's, banana pancakes, pizza's, espresso coffee, the usual tourist shops, massage, DVD stores and even 7-Eleven supermarkets. There are quite a few dive stores with all the supplies you can image you need for diving.

As it is with development, there's a price to pay. In general things are a bit more expensive then on the mainland. There's many local and mostly western styled restaurants with excellent bread and pizza's. It all depends what you want and you find it.

Getting around on the island is possible by bicycle and motorbike. Many people would consider you mad going on a bicycle. There's a few roads on Koh Tao and all have short though very steep hills. However, it's a good way to go around.

Diving

AngelfishKoh Tao and diving are nowadays named in one breath. And it's not for nothing. The dive sides around the island are nearby and they are excellent. Most is a marine park which means there's no fishing allowed in certain areas. The downside is that it can be really crowded at certain spots where there can be more divers then fish.

That said, there's plenty to see. Apart of the great variety of colorful corals there's a lot of tropical fish to see. Some in large amounts, some rarer but if you stay a couple of days you will have a good chance to see a good overview of the fish.

What fish? Regulars are barracuda's, anemones, angelfish, octopuses, stingrays, wrasses, triggerfish, gropers and bannerfish. A bit rarer but still possible to see are turtles (really big ones), leopard sharks, whale sharks, reef sharks, whales, and really big barracuda's (the smaller ones can come in groups of 40-80 fish).

Talk with a diver and very soon the discussion goes to "what depth" and the "viz", meaning visibility. Some spots are very shallow, on Chumphon pinnacle you can go all the way to 30 meters if the visibility is good.

And then the visibility. I was told the visibility is always great. Well, in general you will find the visibility good to excellent but some spots can be at times quite murky. It's hard to understand why it is if there's little current and beautiful weather above. I have seen the Chumphon pinnacle in excellent bright waters, a day later, same weather conditions, it was quite murky. lionfish

However, almost every diver will agree on this: "there are no bad dives". Even if the visibility is bad, you can still have great dives. Instead of looking at things further away, you concentrate more at the small things.

And you find bright blue anemones with little fish finding food between the tentacles. Or a stingray hiding under a stone.

And while you pay attention to the corals, at one stage you may be right in the middle of a big group of smaller fish. Keep an eye then for groups of barracuda's who are waiting for their chance to have their meal.

In other words, Koh Tao is a great diving spot. I would say, try to avoid the high season but keep in mind that from November on to about January, there's not much diving in Koh Tao possible because of the rainy season.

Koh Tao is a good place for beginners as experienced divers. One of the good things for beginners is that the Open Water course contains a few confined dives in between Koh Tao and Nang Yuan, a quiet and very shallow part of the sea. For sure this is nicer then confined dives in a swimming pool.

Recommending the best dive club is a matter of where you dive. Since I have used one which I was happy with, I can't recommend others.

Close encounter with a triggerfishRestaurants, hotels, bars and massage

There's an abundance of hotels in Koh Tao and it is not easy to make the right choice. Therefore we offer some help. However, apart of high season it's not necessary to make an advanced booking. In case you still want ... have a look here:

Getting there and away

If you're coming from Bangkok, there are ferries from Chumphon. Of you want to use the high speed ferry, you have to cycle another 18 km from Chumphon to the high speed catamaran pier.

There's a daily service to and from Surat Thani. The night service won't stop at Koh Phangan and Koh Samui.

And in case you want to visit or if you come from Koh Phangan or Koh Samui, there are various services daily available.

On arrival at Koh Tao you will find many tourist information shops selling the tickets. And in case you fly out, flight confirmation or flight changes are all possible.

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