Koh Tao is a small island situated 70km out in to the Gulf of Thailand . Part of the Samui Archipelago, Koh Tao has a big reputation for diving and diver training.
Koh Tao island is developing but still retains an island charm. The balance is just about right - we have a great variety of resorts to fit every budget, plus fine cuisine from all over the world (especially fantastic Thai food). The West coast of Koh Tao has become the main touristic 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.
Off the north west coast we have small three islands joined by a sand bar (Koh Nangyuan Island), plus the stunning Ang Tong Marine Park three hours south west of Koh Tao island.
On this page we cover a brief history of Koh Tao Thailand, the easiest ways to get here, where our DJL diving facilities are located and the best areas to stay. We also recommend the best Koh Tao bars to enjoy during the evenings. We'll tell you about what there is to do if you're not into scuba diving and discuss the best times of year to visit Koh Tao island.
Most people enter 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: Fly to Samui.
You can pickup flights from Bangkok direct down to Koh Samui for just a few thousand baht. From Samui take one of the high speed ferries across to Koh Tao island (Lomprayah Catamaran or Seatran) - these cost about 550 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.
The compromise : Train to Chumphon.
Thailand has a great rail service. From the airport you need to get a meter taxi to the main Hualamphong train station in town (costing about 200 baht). From there you can catch a very comfortable overnight train down to Chumphon. You can get a bed in an air conditioned cabin for under 1000 baht, waking up fresh at your destination in the morning! From Chumphon you take a high speed ferry to Koh Tao island the same mornining. This will take about an hour and a half and costing about 500 baht.
This is my preferred way to travel.
The budget route : Bus from Bangkok.
Even this isn't too bad. From the airport get a meter taxi to Khao San Road (about 200 baht). At Khao San Road you can book a combined bus and boat ticket direct to Koh Tao. This will be 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 na?ve tourist. My advice would be to go into one of the official looking travel agents and book with your ticket with them. Go for the Lomprayah or Seatran services, you should be able to book one of these in most agents. These are fast, comfortable services and usually show DVDs on the way down. You don't want to end up getting crammed on a mini bus or 'local' service.
In Koh Tao Thailand we are lucky enough to have a twelve month scuba diving season, enjoying 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 have a choice, don't come then!
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.
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.
Hope to see you soon! DJL Diving Koh Tao.
Diving certainly dominates this small island, but you're a non-diver don't worry - there is still plenty to do. Here are some ideas:
- Visit one of the luxury spas where you can pamper yourself
- Try Thai cooking classes
- Enrol in a Yoga class
- Check out the fantastic (but slightly physical) Thai Massage, or take a massage course yourself
- Play paintball
- Rent a motorbike, ATV or jeep to tour around the island
- Relax on the beach
- Head into Mae Haad to pick up some holiday souvenirs
- Enjoy the great snorkeling around the island
- Charter a sailing boat and visit the fantastic Ang Tong Marine Park just a few hours away.
- Mini Golf
- Flying Trapeze www.flyingtrapezeadventures.com
- Cliff Jumping
- Have a crack at wakeboarding!
If other members of your party are diving, you're welcome to come along and enjoy the trip (either snorkeling or just relaxing on the boat).
Early in the evening check out the Fizz Lounge Bar on Sairee Beach. Beautiful surroundings and nice people, with stunning sunsets. Next door, Lotus bar is also very popular later in the evening.
If late night partying is your thing, you need to head to the south end of Sairee beach.If you walk down the beach, you would have had to have drunk many buckets of Thai whisky to not find them – they are called Fishbowl and The Rock Bar. Just walk towards the lights. Firedancing, strong cheap liquer, unpleasant toilets etc. Good fun once in a while.
There are several different areas where you can stay on Koh Tao island. To see details of specific resorts visit our where to stay section. DJL has offices in Sairee Beach and Mae Haad (see facilities). We have a taxi pickup service available to take you all over Koh Tao island.
Here is a summary of each area:
Sairee Beach (Koh Tao island's longest beach, lining the West coast).
In my opinion Sairee Beach is the best place to stay on Koh Tao, Thailand. There is a great mix of restaurants, bars and shops within short walking distance wherever you stay. You can also get whatever style of accommodation you want, from budget Koh Tao bungalows in the village, right through to luxury Ko Tao resorts at the north end.
Mae Haad is the biggest settlement on Koh Tao, Thailand. It has many shops and restaurants, plus the main piers are located here. A mix of accommodation is available to fit every budget.
Chalok Ban Khao (Southern bay of Koh Tao ).
Chalok Ban Khao has a reasonable beach, but buildings along it's entire length. Shark Bay is much nicer within short walking distance. Again, you can get pretty much whatever you want to eat here, and there is a wide range of Ko Tao resorts.
Eastern Bays (Tanote Bay , Aow Leuk and Hin Wong Bay ).
Nice beaches, pleasant resorts and great snorkeling, the East side of Koh Tao Thailand has much less development than the west coast, and is much quieter. The problem is that the mountains mean each of these bays is very isolated. You would struggle to walk between each of these bays, without first returning to the west coast and taking a different road back over the mountain. There are several small resorts on Koh Tao's eastern coast.
If you like being isolated, go for it. Otherwise just take a taxi over one afternoon and enjoy the beaches.
If you've never visited Koh Tao, Thailand, here's a bit of background information about the island.
Koh Tao is situated in the sheltered Gulf of Thailand, a little north of the larger islands of Koh Samui & Koh Phangan. The sheltered position means we're able to dive for all 12 months of the year, making it an excellent location to spend a gap year / scuba diving internship.
The island is located 70 km out from the mainland, and is accessible by ferry from Chumphon to the north-east & Samui to the south.
Koh Tao, Thailand has the perfect balance - the natural beauty of living on a small tropical island, joined with an organised infrastructure.
Tourism only reached Koh Tao over the last 10 -15 years, so Koh Tao still retains a rustic island charm [and is not over-developed unlike other parts of Thailand].
The island infrastructure is good - we have decent transport, accommodation, shops and banking. There are plenty of ATMs & on-island medical services are decent. When it comes to food you're spoilt for choice, from Thai restaurants serving up tasty Thai dishes, to European bakeries, Italian, Mexican, Indian and other international cuisine - whatever you want, you can get it here!
The level of progress is just about right, it's a fantastic place to stay, with all the comforts of home.
Originally Koh Tao's isolated location meant that it was used as a Thai prison many years ago!
After the prison closed, fisherman started to use Koh Tao island as a refuge, and eventually began settling on Koh Tao, claiming tracts of the tropical terrain as their own.
It has only been recently that tourism has been introduced to Koh Tao. A little over twenty years ago the first intrepid travelers made it onto the island, and were met by a stunning scenery of clear blue sees, beautiful beaches lining dense jungle, amazing rock formations and incredible corals reefs. As a result the island's reputation has quickly grown, especially due to the fantastic scuba reefs and great diversity of dive marine life that Koh Tao island offers.
We now have very good ferries serving the island both from Koh Samui to the south, and Chumphon to the north west . As a result we have gradually seen an increase in the numbers of visitors coming to Koh Tao, Thailand.
Koh Tao island still retains a rustic island charm unlike some of Thailand's more developed islands. Building has been restricted so the island is still a very special destination.
Just off the north-west coast of Koh Tao is Nang Yuan island - 3 small islands joined by a sand bar. South of Koh Tao is another small rockly island, named 'Shark Island' as it resembles a shark's fin.
In the Gulf of Thailand we have two prevailing winds. Through Spring and Summer the prevailing wind blows from the South-West [called the South West Monsoon]. During Autumn/Winter the wind switches and comes from the North East [north-east monsoon].
Because Koh Tao has great dive sites situated on both sides of the island, no matter which way the wind is blowing, we can always dive on the sheltered leaward side.
Between the two monsoons we get short periods with zero wind - the entire Gulf of Thailand goes completely flat, which is primetime for scuba diving. It's difficult to predict when these calm periods will occur [and how long they'll last]. Even when the wind is blowing, wave heights generally remain small due to the sheltered position in the Gulf of Thailand.
This means that we can scuba dive all year round, so whenever you want to start your scuba diving internship is ok!
In Koh Tao we're lucky as many of our dive sites lie just off the island. This means we have short journey times when we head out diving. Further out we have isolated pinnacles that don't break the surface - that's where we see our bigger fish species. If you want to read more and see photo's of the diving check out our Koh Tao Thailand scuba dive sites page.
There are also several deep wreck diving sites just off Koh Tao - see our Koh Tao wreck / deep diving archive to find out more.
The marine life you'll experience diving on the coral reefs surrounding Koh Tao is amazing. Colorful reef fish, turtles, barracuda, squid & cuttle fish and sharks, Koh Tao, Thailand has it all.
There's also a good chance of seeing the biggest fish in the sea - whale shark season occurs during April / May and again in October.
There are many medical clinics on Koh Tao, including one big one, which has a recompression chamber for treatment of diving specific injuries [which are very rare]. The standard of healthcare in Thailand is high.
By far the biggest cause of accidents on Koh Tao is motorbikes. Here it is:
[little or no experience riding bikes] + [alcohol] = [likely accident]
Our advice is this - the island is small so you can get around easily by walking, or if you're lazy by grabbing a taxi.
Koh Tao Thailand gets a steady flow of visitors year round. We experience busy spells during typical holiday seasons - summer, Christmas & Easter.
The famous 'Full Moon Party' over on neighbouring Koh Phangan has a big effect on Koh Tao. Each month many travellers collect on Koh Phangan, to drink buckets of alcohol and party on the beach.
Immediately after, many hung-over people covered in fluorescent body paint, make the crossing over to Koh Tao, wanting to learn to scuba dive! As a result, there's normally a bit of a rush during the week following each Full Moon Party.
You should probably try to get to at least one full moon party for the 'cultural experience'!
Lets now take a look at what's special about taking your Gap Year / Diving Internship with DJL Diving, and talk about the social side of doing your PADI Divemaster here on Koh Tao Thailand. For more details see here.