About Koh Tao
Koh Tao means ‘turtle island’ in Thai, and it bears this name because in the past the surrounding waters were rich with sea turtles. Just a small island, little more than 21 square kilometres, located about 50km east of the coastline between Suratthani and Chumphon in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Tao is one of the must-do stops on the South East Asia route. Part of the Samui Archipelago, the island has a great reputation for diving and diver training. In fact, it is one of Thailand’s major dive destinations. The island is widely recognized as one of the top dive education centers world-wide, and while remaining an absolute paradise, has expanded to cater for all types of tastes and budgets. Although scuba diving remains the primary focus of most local businesses, Koh Tao offers far more than just diving. A whole range of activities can keep even the most avid non-diver enjoying soaking up the atmosphere of Koh Tao. Even though it is a developing destination, it still holds on to its small island charm. The balance is perfect: there is great accommodation to fit every budget, and there is fine cuisine from all over the world.
The west side of Koh Tao has become the main tourist area, but buildings remain low level, mostly hidden amongst the palm trees that line the beaches. The east coast of Koh Tao is still undeveloped, largely due to the line of mountains that run down the centre of the island.
Immediately to the north west of Koh Tao we have two small islands joined by a sand bar, collectively known as Koh Nangyuan Island. An hour’s ride away will put you on Koh Phangan, and another hour south you will find yourself on Koh Samui. The stunning Ang Tong Marine Park is a three hours’ sail to the south west of Koh Tao.
Most people arrive in Thailand by flying into Bangkok. From Bangkok there are three main options for getting down to Koh Tao island. The fastest but most expensive route is to fly from Bangkok directly to Koh Samui or the city of Chumphon. You can get on a direct flight to Koh Samui or Chumphon for just a few thousand baht. Next step, from either place take one of the high speed ferries across to Koh Tao island (Lomprayah catamaran or Seatran) – these cost about 500-600 baht per person and take about an hour and a half.
If you shop around you may even be able to get a flight direct from your country of origin to Samui, cutting out the Bangkok bit. Samui airport has direct flights to Hongkong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and more are being added.
Another option is the train. Thailand has a great railway service, and from the airport you can take a meter taxi to Hualamphong train station in Bangkok (costing about 200 baht). From there you can catch a very comfortable overnight train down to Chumphon. Among several options there is a bed in an air conditioned cabin for about 1,000 baht, waking up fresh at your destination in the morning! From Chumphon a high speed ferry will bring you to Koh Tao the same morning.
Most backpacking visitors to Koh Tao opt for a bus and boat combo ticket. This is an economical option, although it takes some time. From the airport get a meter taxi to Khao San Road (about 200 baht). Khao San is the backpacking centre of Thailand, and here you can book your tickets. Options are either a 6AM bus departure and an afternoon ferry OR an overnight bus ride to Chumphon, then boat the rest of the way and should cost less than 1000 baht all in.
Look out – there are a few ‘sharks’ around the Khao San area, out for the naive tourist. My advice would be to go into one of the official looking travel agents and book your ticket with them. The Lomprayah catamaran is the best ferry option and they take care of all transfers on fast, comfortable buses and usually show DVDs on the way down. You don’t want to end up getting crammed on a mini bus or ‘local’ service.
When to Visit?
In Koh Tao Thailand we are lucky enough to have a twelve month scuba diving season, which means we enjoy year round diving. This is due to our relatively sheltered location within the Gulf of Thailand .
We do suffer a mini monsoon during November and early December, so if you are bothered by occasional rain, best avoid the island then. The upside is, if you do the bulk of your divemaster training during the monsoon, you will end up with a massive confidence boost for the remainder of the year when the weather is just about perfect!
It’s hottest in March and April, and it doesn’t really rain from February right through till late October. This raises one point – fresh water is a precious commodity on this small island. Sometimes water even has to be imported onto the island! If you do visit please be considerate and don’t waste water – shower with a friend!
Regarding diving, visibility is good from February right through till the end of October. We get most visitors around Easter and during the summer season. Late September and early October are a great time to visit – diving conditions are normally fantastic plus the island is much quieter than during peak season.