Nested in the blue water of the gulf of Thailand, Koh Tao was first a prison before becoming a popular spot for scuba diving. This small island of 21km² has quite a different vibe from other island paradises. Far less decadent than the Full Moon island of Koh Phangan, yet much more activity-oriented than Koh Samui-lay-on-the-beach crowd, Koh Tao is mostly populated by world travelers eager to discover scuba diving in Thailand.
The main village, Sairee, offers most of the entertainments including restaurants and bars. While Chalok Baan Kao, at the southern end, is a quieter spot away from the crowd.
How to get to Koh Tao
From Bangkok, you can book a bus or train ticket to Chumphon or Surat Thani, and then transfer onto a boat (about 3 hours). Tickets can be bought at any travel agency in the capital for less than 25€.
Travelling by train has the advantage of having a real flat bed for a good night’s sleep. However, depending on which class you are travelling, tickets may be more expensive. Second-Class train ticket in Thailand, with fans, is usually enough comfort for most Westerners. You may opt for the Air-Con, but make sure you’ve packed a warm sweater. First Class usually means having your own private cabin.
You may also catch a boat from neighboring islands. It takes about three hours from Koh Samui and one hour from Koh Phangan. Ticket price varies from 10€ to 20€ depending on the boat company, the operating time and the season. All boats arrive at Mae Haad Pier.
Koh Tao Dive sites
Many come to learn to dive in Koh Tao due to its perfect weather conditions. Water visibility is usually good (20m) and there’s hardly any current to worry about. The island of Koh Tao is surrounded by beautiful dive sites. Dive in Chumphon for its colorful sea anemones, giant barracudas and if you’re lucky enough, whale sharks.
In the shallow waters of The Twins, live Nemo, the clownfish. At White Rock, one of the most popular dive sites on Koh Tao, you may spot angelfish, butterfly fish and even maybe a blue-spotted ray. Have fun practicing buoyancy at Green Rock with its many swim-through caves. Finally, dive deep to the US Navy boat wreck at Sattakut dive site.
Koh Tao Diving schools
With scuba diving as the main touristic attraction, diving schools are numerous and teach PADI, SSI and SDI scuba diving course. If you come to go pro, there are many Career Development Centers to become instructor.
You will find most diving schools in Koh Tao in the three main districts: Mae Haad near the pier, Chalok Baan Kao in the South and Sairee on the west part of the island. If you dive with one of the big diving schools on Koh Tao, expect great atmosphere, trained instructors that “have seen it all”, foreign language courses, large boats and not-so-early morning dives. As for smaller dive centers, they usually offer smaller groups with a family feel and rise-with-the-sun morning dives.
Accommodation in Koh Tao
Koh Tao offers a wide range of accommodation from hostels for backpackers on a shoestring budget to splendid hotel rooms with a sea view. You may still be able to find bamboo or wooden huts, although most have been renovated into concrete bungalows. Prices vary according to season and location.
Cheap rooms start at 300BHT a night and usually include a fan and cold water. For an extra 100-200BHT, you may upgrade to AC and hot water. If you book a course, some dive centers on Koh Tao will be happy to offer a discount on accommodation at their nearby resort. For digitally-connected travelers, most hotels and cafes offer free Wifi.
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Cost of living in Koh Tao
A bit more expensive than the mainland, Koh Tao is still a relatively cheap place to stay. Start your day with a complete breakfast for about 100BHT. A Thai lunch may cost about 100BHT. Expect to pay more if you order western food. Barbecue skewers are usually around 100-150BHT.
Beer is quite cheap: 60BHT for a small bottle and up to 90BHT for a big one. Finally, on-the-go fresh fruit shakes cost between 30-60BHT. They may be a bit more expensive when ordered in a restaurant.
As for transportation, taxi costs about 100BHT from Mae Haad Pier to most places on the island. Scooters are rented for 150-250BHT a day at most shops.
Others activities in Koh Tao
Although scuba diving is Koh Tao top attraction, there are many ways to enjoy life on a tropical island. Not keen on diving? Discover the underwater world with a simple snorkel. Out for a day in the sun? Explore the coastal areas from the sea on board of a kayak or trying out Stand-Up Paddle. You may try rock-climbing on one of the boulders or hike your way up to one of the island’s viewpoints. Finally, find the zen attitude within you with a yoga class or two ! And when night comes, grab a cocktail and enjoy the sunset.