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Diving in Koh Tao

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.

Diving in Koh Tao

Quick facts

The beautiful island of Koh Tao forms part of the Chumphon Archipelago on the western shore of the gulf of Thailand. This idyllic island is a tropical paradise with white sand beaches fringed with palm trees, rugged cliffs and stunning sunsets. Koh Tao’s underwater scenery is just as spectacular with coral encrusted rock pinnacles, vibrant reefs and some great shipwrecks. Koh Tao offers the opportunity to see passing pelagics including whale sharks and spotted eagle rays. When you’re not looking out to the blue you’ll be mesmerized by the plethora of colourful reef fish all around you. Koh Tao has a little over 25 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.

When to go

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Chumphon Pinnacle – This is one of Koh Tao’s most famous dive sites and is located within reach of Koh Tao, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui. This well-known dive site features a series of stunning granite and coral encrusted pinnacles which are home to batfish, giant grouper, travelly and giant schools of barracuda and snapper. The occasional whale shark and manta ray also visit. Look for plateaus rich in anemones of all different colours, branching corals, sea whips and barrel sponges. HTMS Sattakut Wreck – One of Thailand’s premier wrecks, the 48 metre/158 foot HTMS Sattakut, which started out as the USS LCI -739, was sunk on 18 June 2011 in about 30 metres/100 feet of water near Koh Tao. The Landing Craft, Infantry (or LCI) was one of several amphibious assault ships deployed during WWII. The artificial reef is home to dense schools of fusiliers and yellowtail barracuda as well as groupers, trevally, moray eels and blennies. This is one dive site which continues to thrive year after year. South-West Pinnacle – Explore a series of rock formations ranging from 4 metres / 13 feet to 30 metres / 100 feet and discover breathtaking carpet anemones in brilliant greens, pinks and blues, with their cavalcade of pink anemone fish. The crevices and ledges among the pinnacles are hot spots for snappers, emperor and harlequin sweetlips. Leopard sharks and whale sharks are occasional visitors to the site, which is home to large schools of snapper, yellowtail barracuda and fusiliers. If you are interested in critters then scorpionfish, stonefish and other bottom dwellers can be found here too. White Rock – This site features two rock pinnacles separated by a narrow sandy channel fringed with a series of ledges and steps. On the current exposed sides of the pinnacles, the fan corals are a definite highlight. Look closely in the recesses and holes in the pinnacles which are often home to moray eels, cleaner shrimps and other reef fish seeking shelter. Other reef life which divers can expect to see here include sea snakes, porcupinefish, passing turtles, Moorish idols and a range of butterfly fish and angelfish species. Shark Island – This dive site is best known for its incredible variety of marine life. It features a wall, pinnacles and a coral garden abundant in colourful soft corals. On the deeper edges of the site it is possible to see passing pelagics such as whale sharks, reef sharks and leopard sharks. The coral garden guarantees a range of marine life including moray eels, angelfish, scorpionfish, pipefish, nudibranch, crustaceans and great macro critters.

What to see

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.

Calendar

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Most likely sightingsPossible sightings

Area

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.

Other attractions

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.

Getting there

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.

UTC+07:00

Time zone

THB

Currency

+66

Calling code

220-240 V

Electric volt

A, 

B, 

C

Plug type

USM

Main airport
Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.