Koh Tao is reckoned to be among the best commercial dive spots along the Andaman Coast, although jaded divers will complain it’s become a bit overrun with newly qualified Openwater 1 divers. It supports a large selection of professional dive shops and schools, along with a hyperbaric chamber. The island is ideal for both diving and snorkelling and its many protected bays are typified by boulders on the beaches (resulting in clearer coastal water), while there are also many offshore reefs or pinnacles. A good party atmosphere persists at night on Sairee beach or you can opt for a quieter bay.
The diving boom started in the 1990s, with the island quickly becoming one of the most popular places for cheap dive courses in Thailand. Unfortunately, this also caused a lot of damage to the inshore reef, but both the local government and the island’s residents are now becoming more environmentally aware. See our comprehensive Koh Tao scuba diving guide.
A full range of courses is available, from introduction dives to professional level qualifications. The most popular course is the three- to four-day PADI Open Water Certificate, which costs around 10,000 baht and is the first level of dive training that qualifies people to dive to depths of 18m. After the open water course, divers progress to more advanced certificates and rescue training.
Those who are interested in pursuing a career in diving then continue to Dive Master level, which involves several months of practice and theory. Some schools on the island also offer a number of special options, such as underwater photography and nitrox diving.
In addition, Koh Samui also has a hyperbaric re-compression chamber – provided by the SSS network – which is situated in Bophut (at the northern end of the island). The controllers can offer an emergency service to Koh Tao to assist with an emergency evacuation back to Samui if the need arises. More on Koh Tao dive courses.
Dive sites and operators
Koh Tao has no less than 25 dive sites. The average depth is between 14m and 18m, with deeper offshore sites reaching around 30m. Beginners are generally taken to shallower inshore reefs, like Mango Bay and Japanese Gardens. These sites average 10m in depth and offer the chance to see a good variety of small reef fish.
Open water divers drop into places like Twins and Green Rock where divers can spot angelfish, clownfish and different types of rays at a depth of 12 to 20m. More advanced divers head for sites like South West Pinnacle, which has a maximum depth of 33m and provides opportunities to see giant grouper, schools of barracuda and even whale sharks. More on Koh Tao dive sites.
Many dive operators, such as Coral Grand divers, offer packages that include accommodation in their own dive resort. These can be booked in advance on the web, on Koh Samui before departure or on arrival in Koh Tao. Some people prefer to dive Koh Tao with the Samui based dive schools. Operators like 100 Degrees East offer fast, comfortable day dive trips by speedboat with a limited numbers of divers per instructor.
Another recommended dive shop is Phoenix Divers on Sairee Beach, which is a very professional and well run establishment, and they offer courses in a variety of languages. Their accommodation and facilities are superb.
Black Tip Diving & Water Sports is a local company that offers several activities on Koh Tao along with the scuba diving. These include sailing, windsurfing, water-skiing and wakeboarding.
Koh Tao also has plenty of accommodation, food and nightlife options; particularly around the port town of Mae Had and the long sandy beach known as Sairee. Prices range from around 500 baht for basic bungalows to 4,000 baht or more for luxury accommodation in a private bay. In fact, the island is so dive-orientated that you might find yourself less than welcome if you show up with your own snorkel and flippers hoping to do your own thing. Many of the places offer superb value accommodation to divers provided they use the dive facilities and tours organised by their allied dive shops. More on Koh Tao dive operators.
Overall, it’s probably one of the most sophisticated and organised islands in Thailand, with almost all of the 35 or more outfits foreign-owned or run. Of course, this means that if you haven’t come to dive you may feel a little pressured, and the typical laid back Thai charm is missing. All the same, there are still some modest Thai-owned places (accessible by boat only) towards the south of the island, where you will be welcome for a bit of shallow water snorkelling under your own steam. The dive centres can run snorkelling tours for the non-divers among your group. More on Koh Tao snorkelling tours.