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‘Turtle Island’ also known as Koh Tao, with good weather year-round, beginner friendly diving and a plethora of schools, is an ideal location to start learning to dive.

After exploring the pinnacles, reefs and wrecks of the island sandy beaches, pool-side drinks, or island jungle exploration await.

Best Dive Sites in Koh Tao

Sail Rock

Sailrock Divesite

Sail Rock is one of the best dive sites in Thailand, if not all of South East Asia. After an hour and a half boat ride from Koh Tao, you can easily spot the pinnacle breaking the surface. Regular boats travel to the site daily (weather dependent).

The longer boat ride is punctuated by whale shark sightings, which are less common in closer sites, and abundant marine life as the pinnacle often attracts large schools. The site’s circular nature around a column makes it simple to navigate as divers enjoy barracuda schools, anemone gardens and whale shark sightings. For those ‘

Chumphon Pinnacle

Chumpon Pinnacle Divesite

Only a 40 minute boat ride away is one of the finest dive sites in the Gulf of Thailand. The pinnacle sits in an area of relativity flat seabed, giving it an other-worldly, alien appearance.

Swaths of pink anemones cover the tops of the pinnacles and schools of Travellis and Fusiliers twist and roll through the currents. Marine life stretches from the tops of the pinnacles, down the steep walls and on into the surrounding seabed with Giant Groupers often found at the pinnacles’ bases.

HTMS Sattakut

Sattakut Shipwreck Divesite

A popular wreck, accessible by recreational divers lies just south of Koh Nangyuan. The boat has attracted myriad marine life since it was sunk to create an artificial reef in 2011. Malabar Groupers and Titan Triggerfish can be found on the upper deck and peering out through portholes in the Captain’s cabin. If you dive to the base of the ship, keep an eye out for rays in the spaces between the seabed and the keel of the boat.

The wreck gently slopes upwards from stern to bow, with the final dramatic view of the bow unmissable. Two guns are still on the wreck, providing home to smaller marine life in their inner workings.

Hin Pee Wee is another good (and often overlooked) coral reef. The reef is close by, and shallower than the wreck, so a good option is to combine the two.

Red Rock

Redrock Divesite

Given its proximity to Koh Nangyuan and its settled position in a cove, Red Rock is popular, but still worth a visit Dropping down to the bottom of the pinnacle and then corkscrewing back up through will reward you with views of walls teeming with marine life.

Almost at the base of the pinnacle is a deep, flat crack spiralling in a corkscrew. Follow this, keeping an eye (and torch light) in the crack and you may see rays, eels and other marine life. Close to the pinnacle are reefs that form part of Koh Nangyuan. Both green and hawksbill turtles can be seen at Red Rock and in reefs close to Koh Nangyuan.

Dive Centres in Koh Tao

Sairee Dive Center

Crystal Dive Center

Big BLue Dive Center

Liveaboards in Koh Tao

Liveaboards aren’t too popular in Koh Tao and take place more on the west coast of Thailand and Myanmar. For more information on Thai liveaboards, check out our guide on liveaboards in Thailand.

When To Dive in Koh Tao

Diving is possible year-round and contributes to Koh Tao’s popularity. The tropical island remains hot and sunny throughout the year. With its exposed location and rapidly changing weather, forecasting can be difficult. However, all dive centres work hard to ensure daily diving and the wide range of sites allows many options.

March-April can be very hot but is the best time to see Whale Sharks.

Between July and September visibility and weather is often exceptional, but this also means the island is busier.

How To Get To Koh Tao

Despite its remoteness, regular transport links make it easy to get to and from the island. The easiest option is to fly to Koh Samui and jump on the regular ferry to Koh Tao. The boat takes around 90 minutes Pre-booking tickets online is recommended, as the boats are quite small and demand can be high, especially during peak season.

Other options, such as the overnight ferry from Chumphon or Surat Thani exist, but for getting to and from Koh Tao directly, Koh Samui is the most convenient route.

Where To Stay In Koh Tao

Despite the small size of the island, accommodation options range from budget hostels to 5-star luxury hotels. Many of the dive centres offer accommodation as part of their courses and this is often the cheapest and most convenient option.

Sairee Cottage Resort offers accommodation for all, not just those on their diving courses. With two pools, a restaurant, a coffee and a bar it offers a complete package in a central location on the island.

Hostels such as the Savage and the Dearly can give cheaper nights and a party atmosphere with prominent locations on the main drag of bars. For those looking for the 5-star treatment there are a number of options across the island.

The Haadtien Beach Resort is a boutique destination in the deep south of the island, offering tranquillity, private beaches and bays and guaranteed isolation and peace.

Where To Eat in Koh Tao

995 Roast Duck

If you seek out only one restaurant on a trip to Koh Tao, let it be 995 Roast Duck. Skip the queues at this popular spot at night and opt for lunch instead. It’s the perfect place to refuel after a long morning’s diving. Try the plates of roast duck and rice and steaming bowls of spicy roast duck noodles.

Sairee Cottage Restaurant

After 6pm the grill is lit and fresh fish, meat and vegetables sizzle on the barbecue, justifying the short wait for a table at this popular spot. The restaurant is close to the bar. Just next door is xxx, offering morning breakfast and coffee for those heading out on the early boats.

Coffee Boat

Sitting under a canopy of trees, with wooden benches and plastic chairs, this cheap and cheerful eatery offers traditional dishes. It may not be as polished or upmarket as some of the other offerings on the busy main walkway along Sairee beach, but its food is hard to beat. Varied, spicy and all made to order, it’s worth a stop.

What To Do In Koh Tao

Although the island principally caters to divers, there are numerous other activities to keep busy.

Lookouts are a great way to get some land-based exercise and panoramas of the island. John Suwan Point is a great start. In the far south of the island, for a small entrance fee you can wind through jungle paths, shaded by the tree canopy.

After weaving through granite boulders and a short rocky scramble an outpost offers 360-degree views of the island and sea. From the viewpoint you can look out over both the coastline and the island’s hills. The walk, even in hot weather, is worth the struggle.

Nightlife on the island varies from quiet beach and seafront bars, to rowdier pubs. Don’t miss the nightly Queen’s Cabaret. With free entry, a wide bar selection and a professional production this is a dance show not to be missed.

What’s Koh Tao Diving Like?

Around 60km from Ko Samui, Kao Tao features dive sites across the island. With hills acting as a weather barrier, pockets of calm sea and dry weather can always be found; a boat trip of around ten minutes can reveal completely changed conditions.

On its west coast sits Koh Nangyuan, a three peaked island connected by a ribbon of beach and low water. Koh Nagyuan is reachable by regular taxi boats taking passengers from the main island to enjoy the beaches and snorkelling.

The west side of the island and the reefs around Koh Nangyuan, closest to the harbour can be busy with dive boats, but the east side of Koh Tao offers quieter spots, hidden bays and fewer crowds.

Dive sites encircle the islands often within less than a twenty-minute boat ride, and some exceptional options like Sail Rock and Chumphon Pinnacle exist a little further afield. The extended sailing time is more than made up for by their incredible marine life.

Sunsets from the boat, after a long day of exploring makes these extended trips extra special. Marine life abounds on the reefs. ‘Turtle Island’ is unsurprisingly home to both hawksbills and green turtles. Whale sharks make occasional appearances, particularly on the more remote locations.

Titan Triggerfish are a common sight, biting at corals and sometimes divers’ fins. Keep an eye out for smaller marine life as well. Patience and good eyesight can reveal Nudibranchs, Harlequin Sweetlips and Yellow Boxfish. A good dive guide might also spot the concealed Scorpionfish.

Cracks and shelves in reefs can reveal Blue-spotted ribbon tail, Jekins’ whip rays and White-eyed moray eels, especially at night when they are more active. Night dives may also allow glimpses of elusive cuttlefish and octopus. Thanks to their symbiotic relationship with anemones, pink anemone fish swim and hide amongst their tentacles and are found at many dive sites.

Conclusion

Whether as part of a longer trip around South East Asia or Thailand or as a standalone holiday, Koh Tao will not disappoint. Popular with those starting out on their scuba journeys, it offers quality diving and instruction at prices that are hard to beat.

Accommodation, dive centres and food and drink are varied and cater to all tastes and budgets. Clear waters, warm sunshine and some of the best diving in Thailand make this unmissable.