The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on earth can visitors experience such a range of spectacular diving - from encounters with huge whale sharks and oceanic manta rays, to muck dives with beautiful Rhinopias and the exceedingly rare psychedelic frogfish.
The island of Koh Tao offers an idyllic paradise of white sand beaches fringed with palm trees, rugged hills and stunning sunsets. The warm water and protected shallow reefs around the island provide the perfect conditions for learning to scuba dive and the island has become one of the world’s most popular destinations for dive training. Combined with the relaxed island lifestyle, a huge range of accommodation options and the instagram-famous Koh Nang Yuan viewpoint overlooking the nearby islands, and you have all the ingredients for a perfect dive holiday destination.
- Learn to scuba dive, or further your underwater training at one of many dive centres
- Explore beautiful pinnacles, including Chumphon, Sail Rock, South West & Hin Wong
- Soak up the sun on one of the many beautiful beaches, then party into the night
- Dive with whale sharks - Koh Tao is one of the most reliable places in Thailand for encounters
Koh Tao’s beautiful landscape on dry land continues beneath the surface of the sea and divers can explore an exciting range of sites including rocky pinnacles and reefs, swim throughs, and colourful hard and soft coral gardens. The easy conditions close to shore in the sheltered bays offer relaxing dives with opportunities to encounter plentiful reef fish, schools of batfish, trevally, and fusiliers and some interesting macro species hidden amongst the corals. Further away from the island, jagged pinnacles of rock are home to batfish, barracuda, snappers and grouper, as well as carpets of anemones and dramatic, twisted sea whips. But it is the easy access to a large number of shallow and protected reefs, that has led to Koh Tao becoming one of the top locations world-wide for scuba dive training. Boasting the highest certification rates outside of Australia for both PADI and SSI, you can complete all levels of certification from open water to tech diving as well as the entire range of advanced education, specialties and freediving. If you are looking for some training, Koh Tao offers it all in a relaxed and fun beachside environment.
As well as being an amazing place to learn to dive, Koh Tao also offers the chance to encounter the giants of the sea - whale sharks! These huge animals are known to frequent the area around Koh Tao, particularly at famous sites such as Chumphon Pinnacles, Sail Rock, South West Pinnacle, Hin Wong Pinnacle and Shark Island. Although sightings are never guaranteed, visitors to Koh Tao in the main whale shark seasons - March to May, and October to early December - have a very real chance of an encounter with one of these extraordinary animals! And even though the pinnacles are more suited to advanced divers, you never know what might swim by during your Open Water course - every season, a few lucky students get an encounter of a lifetime during a training dive!
Koh Tao’s beautiful coastline, sheltered bays and stunning beaches make the island a dream location for snorkelers. There are plenty of locations where you’ll find great reefs and tumbling slopes of boulders to explore, right off the beach. Its not uncommon to see schools of reef fish, healthy corals and even an occasional turtle. If you’d like to explore some more distant locations you can also rent a long tail or kayak and head off for a day. Our recommendations for great snorkeling sites are Tanote Bay, Japanese Gardens, Aow Leuk, Mango Bay and Shark Bay, where you can swim with blacktip reef sharks and turtles. And wherever you go, don’t forget to keep an eye out for a passing whale shark during the season!
Koh Tao lies off the east coast of Surat Thani Province in the Gulf of Thailand, and like its larger neighbours, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan to the south, the island’s landscape is dominated by green hills, giant boulders tumbling into the sea, and beautiful beaches. In English, Koh Tao is translated as ‘Turtle Island’, an appropriate name given the large numbers of sea turtles that were known to nest on the island’s beaches in the past. The island was largely untouched by tourism until the 1980’s when Samui-based dive operators began to run trips up to the island and discovered the beautiful reefs and pinnacles that have subsequently brought fame to the island. For many years the majority of people traveling to Koh Tao were divers but today, more and more visitors are visiting the island, drawn by the beautiful scenery and of course, the amazing reefs.
This tiny island is graced with over 300 days of sun per year and has everything you’ll need and more, no matter what you want to get out of your stay. In addition to diving, you can relax on one of many picturesque sandy beaches, snorkel the shallow reefs or take some yoga classes. The more adventurous may want to rent motorbikes to explore further, hike the jungle peaks to deserted bays and rocky inlets, go bouldering or rock climbing, or try out some Muay Thai boxing. And if you are looking for some nightlife after a day of diving, you can head to one of the famous beaches such as Sairee to watch the sunset, grab some food and check out the bars and clubs.
The only way to travel to Koh Tao is by boat, but as with the rest of Thailand, travel is pretty straight forward and quite efficient and there are many options to choose from based on your timing and budget.
From Bangkok you can take either a sleeper train and ferry, or a bus and ferry combination ticket to Koh Tao via Chumphon with Lomprayah. Alternatively, if your schedule is tight and your budget is right, you can fly to Koh Samui with Bangkok Airways then catch the Lomprayah fast ferry across to Koh Tao. From Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, we recommend the Lomprayah ferry or Seatran Discovery Ferry service from Koh Samui via Koh Phangan. From Chumphon, there are several ferry companies that operate daily services direct to Koh Tao. We recommend the Lomprayah Catamaran, Songserm Ferry or the Koh Tao Cruiser. From Surat Thani, you can also catch the night boat that leaves at 9pm and takes 9 hours, but be warned, this is a pretty basic means of travel.
Visitors to Koh Tao are spoilt for choice when it comes to finding a place to stay for the night. Accommodation options range from affordable guesthouses ideal for budget travellers, to luxurious resorts with pools and extraordinary views - and everything in between! Some of the dive operators have their own accommodation, but there are many more dive centres that simply work with a few preferred guesthouses and can advise guests on the best place to stay. Of course, a ZuBlu travel specialist can help you find your perfect resort!
Koh Tao has several different areas that all offer something different. Mae Haad is the main town and ferry port and has has plenty of different options, from budget to boutique. There are also lots of restaurants and shops. Further north is the lively Sairee Beach where you’ll want to stay if you are looking for plenty of nightlife and the best bars and clubs. In the south of the island, Chalok Baan Koa and Thian Og or Shark Bay have beautiful beaches and more peaceful atmospheres, whilst over on the east coast is Tanote Bay which is a lot quieter than the rest of the island. Given how small Koh Tao is - it covers just 21 square kilometres - we recommend choosing your dive operator first, then deciding if you want some peace and quiet or some use nightlife during your stay, then picking your accommodation.
You can dive Koh Tao year-round but like the rest of Thailand, it has two distinct seasons, dry and monsoon. In general, February through September is dry, and October through January is much wetter. During the wet monsoon the rains can last for days and really pour down, but more common are daily storms that move in and out within a few hours. The busiest holiday seasons are in July and August, and March and April, when the island as well as the dive sites can be quite busy.