About Koh Tao
About Koh Tao Thailand, the diving island of the Samui archipelago
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.
How to Get to Koh Tao, Thailand
Most people enter Thailand by flying into Bangkok. From Bangkok, there are three main options for getting down to Koh Tao island. We recommend using 12Go.asia for booking your tickets online.
From Bangkok to Koh Tao
The fastest but most expensive route: Fly to Samui.
The most direct route to Koh Tao is to fly from Bangkok to Koh Samui. If booked in advance, tickets can be found for less than 4,000 baht. From Samui you can take one of the high-speed ferries across to Koh Tao island (Lomprayah Catamaran or Seatran) – these cost about 700 baht per person and take about an hour and a half to 2 hours.
If you shop around you may even be able to get a connecting or direct flight from your country of origin to Samui, cutting out the Bangkok bit.
Cheaper Flight Options
You can now fly into Chumphon with Nok Air or to Surat Thani with Nok Air or Air Asia. These flights are much cheaper than flying into Koh Samui, however it does take longer to get to Koh Tao than flying into Koh Samui, especially if coming from Surat Thani.
The Compromise: Train to Chumphon
Thailand has a great rail service. From the Suvarnabhumi, you can now get a train to the main Hua Lamphong train station in town. From there you can catch a very comfortable overnight train down to Chumphon. You can get a bed in an air-conditioned cabin for less than 1000 baht, you will wake up early in the morning at Chumphon (around 4-4:30am!). From Chumphon train station you will get a transfer from the Lomprayah office next to the train station to the Tung Makham pier which is 50 baht where you will take the Lomprayah high-speed ferry to Koh Tao island at 7am the same morning. This will take about an hour and 45 minutes and costs about 600 baht.
Please note: If you are booking this trip using the 12Go.asia website you need to ensure that you book your train ticket at least 84 hours in advance and you have to book the train from Hua Lamphong to Chumphon and then the ferry from Tung Makham to Koh Tao separately. The transfer from the train station to the ferry pier can just be paid for when you arrive at the train station in Chumphon.
The budget route : Bus from Bangkok
Even this isn’t a bad choice. From the airport get a meter taxi or a Grab Taxi, to Khao San Road (less than 400 baht). At Khao San Road, you can book a combined bus and boat ticket direct to Koh Tao. This will be either an overnight or early morning bus ride to Chumphon, then boat the rest of the way and costs around 1,000 baht all in.
Be Aware – there are a few ‘sharks’ around the Khao San area, out for the naive tourist. Our advice, is to just book in your ticket via 12Go.asia to save yourself the hassle as you can book it in online an get an instant confirmation of your booking. You can book in the bus and ferry tickets online just 12 hours in advance for the Seatran ferry and 48 hours in advance for the Lomprayah ferry.
From Chumphon, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui or Surat Thani to Koh Tao
If you are catching a ferry from any of these places to Koh Tao then again you can either buy a ferry ticket online through 12Go.asia or you can pick up a ticket usually from where ever it is that you are staying as most places resell tickets on behalf of the ferry companies the prices should be the same if you buy your tickets via an agent or directly from the ferry company.
From anywhere else in South East Asia to Koh Tao
If you are coming overland, then again you can book in your travel via 12Go.asia, although some flights are also available. Some trips from places like Koh Phi Phi or Chang Mai to Koh Tao are available, with some others you may have to split up the journey for example of you want to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Koh Tao you may need to book a ticker from Kuala Lumpur to Surat Thani and then a ticket from Surat Thani to Koh Tao, but the travel links are improving all of the time.
Free pickup from the pier in Koh Tao (Except from the night ferries)
As part of your online reservation with Davy Jones Locker Diving, we include a taxi pickup service from the pier in Koh Tao.
Just let us know in advance which ferry you’ll be arriving on [at what time], and we’ll make sure there’s someone waiting at the pier to meet you and bring you down to the resort. If it is more than 24 hours before you are due to arrive here then send us an email, if it’s less than 24hrs before you are due to arrive then you are better to call us on +66 (0)77 456 604 between 9am – 5pm.
If you are making your own way here then you can find us in Sairee Village right opposite the Silver Sands Resort reception and New Heaven Bakery. To see where we are on Google Maps click on this link here View Larger Map.
In Koh Tao, we are lucky enough to have a twelve-month scuba diving season, and enjoy diving year round. This is due to our relatively sheltered location within the Gulf of Thailand.
However, we do have a monsoon season anywhere from late October/early November to mid to late December. This is the only time of year that boats may be rescheduled due to weather.
It’s hottest in March/April, and it doesn’t rain much more than a quick shower from February until 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 be conservative with water.
Regarding diving, visibility is best from February through 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.
We hope this helps you find your way here so come and see us at DJL Diving Koh Tao.
Diving certainly dominates this small island, but if you’re not a diver don’t worry, there is still plenty of fun things to do. Here are some ideas:
- Visit one of the luxury spas where you can pamper yourself
- Get a 10% dicount if you have been diving with DJL and then take a Parawan’s Home Thai Cooking Class.
- Enroll in a Yoga class
- Check out the fantastic (but slightly physical) Thai Massage, Silver Sands Spa and Massage next to the dive shop is fantastic
- Rent a motorbike to tour around the island, but be careful especially if you aren’t used to driving a motorbike. Ask around, lessons can be easily found from a friendly islander.
- Relax on the beach
- Head into Mae Haad to Koh Tao Leisure Park and do some Mini Golf or Petanque
- Enjoy the great snorkeling around the island
- Charter a sailing boat and visit the fantastic Ang Thong Marine Park just a few hours away.
- Go fishing
- Cliff Jumping in Tanote Bay
If other members of your party are diving, you’re welcome to come along and enjoy the trip (either snorkeling or just hanging out on the boat).
Daycare & Preschool for children on Koh Tao
There are options for daycare on Koh Tao. Whether you are here for an Open Water Diver course, Discover Scuba Diving or even a Divemaster Internship and your children are too young to go along or traveling alone with children. You can contact Koh Tao Preschool and day care via their Facebook page here.
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 and has a great Fire Show every night between 8pm and 10pm and is also 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, BND and Leo Bar. Just walk towards the lights, there’s more 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. 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 Koh Tao resorts at the north end.
Mae Haad is the biggest settlement on Koh Tao. It has many shops and restaurants, plus the main piers are located here. A mix of accommodation is available to fit every budget, but these days the majority of accommodation is cheap hostels aimed at Backpackers. The walk to Sairee Beach and the nightlife is only a 15-20minute walk.
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 Koh Tao resorts, but it is a 500 baht plus taxi ride to Sairee for a night out.
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.
The History of Koh Tao
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 northeast & Samui to the south.
Koh Tao, Thailand has the perfect balance – the natural beauty of living on a small tropical island, joined with an organized infrastructure.
Tourism only reached Koh Tao over the last 15 – 20 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 and there is now a hospital too. 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 and a hospital, there is no longer a recompression chamber for treatment of diving specific injuries [which are very rare] on the island and so now if someone needs recompression treatment they need to go to Koh Samui. The standard of healthcare in Thailand is high.
By far the biggest cause of accidents on Koh Tao is motorbikes. Here it is:
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 and outside of these the months of January through to mid April are the busiest time of the year.
Full Moon Parties Koh Phangan
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.
We understand that a lot of people when they are in the islands plan to go to a Full Moon Party over in Koh Phangan and so we thought we’d just put the Full Moon Party dates here to help you to work out when it is that you’d like to come over to Koh Tao to fit in your diving here with us at Davy Jones Locker (DJL) Diving. The schedules for the Full Moon Parties do sometimes get altered slightly and so it’s worth just double checking the party dates on the Full Moon Party website here.