Ko Tao

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Ko Tao, literally "Turtle Island", is an island on the Central Gulf Coast of Southern Thailand.

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Points of Interest in Ko Tao

Take a bike around the island. Shark Bay is a good place to go snorkelling for the day (don't worry too much about sharks, they are only small black-tip reef sharks). Ko Nang Yuan, Freedom Beach, Laem Thian, Mango Bay, Hin Wong Bay and Tanote Bay are good day excursions, accessible by road or boat. If you rent a scooter, be prepared to turn around or continue by foot since some roads (e.g., to Mango Bay) may be in such condition that you need a dirt bike or a car to travel them. While there are no private beaches in Thailand, some are relatively inaccessible by land, making a longtail boat a necessity.

However, to see the best places, go by foot or longtail as some places are inaccessible to motorists. There are a number of good viewpoints around the island such as John Suwan mountain viewpoint in the south of the island, Two View in the centre and Fraggle Rock in the north.

Ko Nang Yuan

Mae Haad Pier

Sairee Plaza

Sai Nuan Beach

Laem Thian

Shark Island

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About Ko Tao

Background

Ko Tao was once a detention place for political prisoners similar to Ko Tarutao of Satun Province, but today it is a great place for divers or anybody who wants to get away from the hustle and bustle of Ko Samui or the chaos of the Full Moon Party on Ko Pha Ngan. The island is geared towards diving tourists more than backpackers on a budget. You won't find cheap food stalls here. Ko Tao is a great place to learn how to dive. There are hardly any currents and a wide selection of dive sites and dive shops, schools, and resorts. Activity options are growing outside of diving and the food and nightlife options are some of the best in the Gulf of Thailand.

Ko Tao is a small island of approximately 21 km² and receives over a 100,000 visitors per year. To minimize your impact on the eco-system, notice that there are no garbage disposal facilities, so everything that can't be burned has to be taken away. Try to avoid plastic bags that are given out for every purchase you make. There is also no sanitation department to clean the roads or other public areas, so don't dump your waste thoughtlessly. Water is scarce and electricity expensive, so don't waste them.

Peak seasons in Ko Tao are from Dec-Mar and Jul-Aug. It is a quite popular destination among Thais also, so it can be nearly fully booked on Thai holidays.

Activities

Freediving

Freedive training and education worldwide is generally done through AIDA [6], SSI [7] and Apnea Academy [8] freediving courses.

  • Apnea Total (on Sairee Beach). Ko Tao's first and longest established freediving school. Apnea Total profits from experienced teachers and a private boat for a safe and successful learning experience.
  • Blue Immersion Freediving (close to Good Time Adventures). Freedive off Sairee Beach by longtail boat with accomplished instructor Akim. AIDA and SSI courses available. .

Scuba diving

Scuba diving is the biggest attraction on Ko Tao. Diving in Ko Tao is easy, fun, and you can see turtles, stingrays, barracudas, lots of small fish, and reef sharks. There is a small chance you'll see a whale shark.

At Chumphon Pinnacle you are likely to see juvenile bull sharks which have, until recently, been misidentified as grey reef sharks. Be careful as the bulls are curious and very aggressive, though for many years thousands of people have dived this site without a single shark-related incident.

Nearly any time of the year except Nov is good diving weather in Ko Tao and visibility can exceed 40 m. Average visibility is around 15-20 m. In Nov visibility is reduced to 5 m and the seas are choppy.

It is possible and perfectly comfortable to swim and dive without a wetsuit year-round. However, as with most diving, a wetsuit is recommended to help reduce the risk of cuts or injury. Avoid contact with coral reefs.

Various dive locations around Ko Tao are:

  • Chumphon Pinnacles
  • Southwest Pinnacles
  • Green Rock
  • White Rock
  • Red Rock
  • Japanese Gardens
  • Twin Pinnacles
  • HTMS Sattakut (wreck)
  • Hin Pee Wee
  • Mango Bay
  • Ao Leuk
  • Shark Island
  • Hin Wong
  • Lighthouse Bay
  • Laem Thien

Dive training

There are a huge number of dive operators on the island, many offering budget accommodation (sometimes described as "free accommodation", but this is not really true as you will usually get a discount if you stay elsewhere). The price for PADI open water certification including the new PADI training manual, professional instruction, rental equipment, boat dives, and certification is around 9,800 baht. For SSI open water certification including professional instruction, rental equipment, boat dives, and certification is around 9,000 baht. Insurance and basic accommodation may also be included. Shop around as not all shops teach the course in the same way. Look for experienced dive instructors rather than a low price.

A common method for teaching new divers is to train in a pool first to be taught about 20 basic skills before being taken out into the open water. Others will instead take you to a secluded beach so you will see fish and coral from the start and you might be able to squeeze in a short extra dive in this way, depending on your group and instructor. Some shops have a private pier, some shops depart with a longtail from the beach, and some use the public pier, where you will have to climb across some other boats. Ask, if this matters to you. Most important: find out the maximum number of dive students in a group. Make sure you get an instructor who speaks your language if you are not absolutely sure about your English. These are the little things that will make the difference between an OK course and a great one.

For those interested in becoming divemasters or instructors, here is a link to a videoguide about the island life Koh Tao: Thailand's Divestyle Island.

PADI dive centres and resorts
  • Alvaro Diving & Taraporn Bungalows (At a small quiet outer beach of Chalok Ban Kao south of Ko Tao). Small family-run dive and freedive shop with new equipment, recently established, flexible boat schedules and friendly multilingual staff. They teach PADI & SSI diving and AIDA & SSI freediving courses in small groups in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. The bungalows are clean and on the beach, where you can play volleyball, go kayaking, or swim.
  • Asia Divers Resort (In Sairee 5 min walk from the beach). 5 star Gold PADI Instructor Development Centre offers a full range of diving courses, including divemaster internships. Multiple languages. The resort's bar is always a nice place to chill out after diving.
  • Ban's Diving Resort (Centre of Sairee Beach), e-mail: bansdiving@gmx.de. PADI open water courses up to professional PADI Instructor courses. A full range of technical diving courses.
  • Big Blue Diving Resort (On Sairee Beach). PADI dive resort with beach side bar and restaurant, lodging with 50+ rooms. Offers all courses from beginner to instructor, all technical diving. Also offers eco-internships. Winner of PADI's Project Aware Environmental Achievement Award. One of the longest established dive centres on Ko Tao.
  • Big Bubble Dive Resort (Main street). One of the long-established dive centres on Ko Tao. Relaxed, fun diving. Scuba diving lessons from beginner to PADI divemaster training with a well trained, professional staff. Also located in Chalok Baan Kao.
  • Buddha View IDC Dive Resort (Chalok Ban Kao Beach, south Ko Tao). PADI 5 star IDC gold palm resort with friendly staff, good facilities and a BBQ and beach bar to relax in the evenings. Dive instructor courses and professional training programmes with a divemaster.
  • Calypso Diving Koh Tao (Next to Family Resort in Tanote Bay),  +66 77 456745, e-mail: info@diving-calypso.de. Dive training (hands on, no video teaching) from beginner to pro following CMAS and PADI standards in small groups. Located in quiet and party-free bay with a house reef in front of the premises.
  • Coral Grand Divers Resort (In a much quieter area than the other dive shops, at the far end of the beach). Hotel is more up-market and better suited for families. Operates 2 dive boats plus a speed boat.
  • Crystal Dive Career Development Center. PADI student diver level course and are island specialists in PADI divemaster and instructor training. Maximum student-instructor ratio of 6:1, a wide selection of environmental programs & courses.
  • Davy Jones Locker (Sairee Beach). Divemaster internships and PADI Instructor Training, and MCA boat handling courses in their RIB. Accommodation and gear packages are available for all courses.
  • Dive Point. PADI 5 star dive shop run by an Austrian. Offering diving classes in German, French, Italian, and English. Small groups and individual care for students special needs.
  • Easy Divers. PADI 5 star dive shop with friendly experienced instructors. Professional and fun with great accommodation, and the only dive centre on Ko Tao with all inclusive packages. With a private pier and a maximum class size of 6 students to 1 instructor.
  • Impian Divers 5 Star Dive Center (Mae Haad Beach). Groups limited to 4 divers per pro dive leader. Courses in 5 languages. European-owned/managed with strong safety record/procedures, but still easy going. Differ from most dive centres because of the daily different locations for the dive trips, long dive times. and non-early morning departures. 12 years of experience diving around Ko Tao.
  • Island Dive Club (Centre of Sairee Beach). Does good deals on course and accommodation packages. The Thai staff can be annoying, so deal with the foreigners, they really make the effort. The dive shop is not that busy, meaning you might get an instructor for yourself or be taught in a small group.
  • New Way Diving. One of the oldest and most reputable dive shops. This small school has the first dive boat out in the morning. The truck leaves for the harbour at 06:00 to avoid crowds. Small groups, friendly and professional instructors. Basic accommodation is available.
  • Ocean Sound Dive +66 82 4126240. Personal service, small groups. PADI Open Water is 9800 Baht, and includes 3 nights of bungalow accommodation by the beach. Also includes pier pickup on arrival, all equipment, e-manual and certification fee.
  • Planet Scuba Koh Tao, 9 Moo 2, Mae Haad,  +66 77 456110, e-mail: tao@planetscuba.net. Over 25 years of experience, 5 star Instructor Development Centre, full range of PADI scuba diving courses for complete beginner all the way through to instructor.
  • Samui Diving Service (on the beach at Ko Tao Resort, Chalok Baan Kao), e-mail: info@sdstao.com. PADI 5 star diving and education in small groups of 4 students per instructor. All PADI courses and daily fun dives.
  • Seashell Dive Centre. Small locally-run shop with helpful multilingual staff, an OK boat and gear, but no free accommodation.
  • Simple Life Divers. Popular medium sized Western-owned and managed PADI 5 star dive centre on Ko Tao's Sairee Beach.
  • Sunshine Divers Resort (Chalok Baan Kao). PADI 5 star Gold Palm Resort. DMT’s, staff, instructors, students, resident dogs, and fun divers all contribute to the relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
  • Thailand Diver (Sairee Beach). German dive base which focuses on safety and the environment. Experienced and friendly scuba instructors.
SSI dive centres
  • ACE Marine Expeditions, 17/16 Moo 1 (Sairee Beach), e-mail: contact@divephotothai.com. All dives and training are offered in small groups with a maximum of 2 divers per 1 staff or private tuition. Specializing in diving for photographers and film makers or those wishing to have a private diving experience. Expeditions are offered on private luxury speedboat or custom-built dive boat and dive schedules change daily to avoid the crowds. Day trips to Ang Thong Marine Park are also available. HQ in Sairee Beach. Dive courses are offered from beginner to professional.
  • Carabao Diving Center & Resort (Chalok Baan Kao Bay, south Ko Tao). A good diving centre on a quiet beach with some nice places to eat and drink. The staff is gracious and helpful. Good accommodation available.
  • Master Divers (Mae Haad). A small professional dive centre that teaches both SSI & PADI courses. They guarantee small groups and offer private tuition and private guiding too. They have an experienced team and time their boat trips to go to dive sites when they are quietest too. They take their diving and environment seriously. They provide free water refills to minimise plastic bottle waste. They re-cycle and provide re-usable containers for take-away food to minimize polystyrene waste.
  • New Heaven Dive School. Over ten years of experience on Ko Tao. Has been involved with turtle conservation, reef restoration, the We love Ko Tao Festival, the Ko Tao Underwater Festival and other activities which help to create the eco-friendly environment crucial to Ko Tao's future.
  • Roctopus Dive (short walk away from Sairee Beach, next to the big yellow hotel). SSI, PADI, BSAC and reef conservation courses.
  • Scuba Junction. Run by Natalie, who runs a very tight ship. The equipment is beautifully maintained and they dive and teach strictly by the rulebook. Good accommodations nearby are available at the Prik Thai Bungalows and SBC Cabana. Scuba Junction is an SSI Diamond Instructor training facility.

Liveaboard sailing and diving

  • Scubasail. A 30 m sailing and diving yacht, the "Naga". Accommodation, diving courses, visiting dive locations and a beautiful experience on board assisted by a helpful crew.

Marine conservation

  • Koh Exist (same location as New Way Diving). A marine conservation school providing information on marine ecology, corals, fish and how to rescue corals by attaching them to artificial structures.

Other activities

Over the last couple of years more and more non divers have discovered the beauty of this island with its secluded little bays and unspoiled mountain ridges. Due to this, and the increasing number of small upmarket resorts and villas nestled in the hillsides there are nowadays a lot more activities available, including sailing, rock climbing ( Trad routes, Sport routes, Top rope routes and Bouldering), abseiling, cliff jumping, wake boarding, mini golf or bowling in Mae Haad, massage and yoga courses, and cooking courses.

  • Black Tip Diving & Water Sports. Wake boarding, tube rides, shark snorkeling trips, cliff jumping, round the island trips, hiking, kayaking.
  • Bowling and mini golf (on the main road between Mae Haad and Chalok Baan Kao just after the turning for Aow Leuk). The bowling is "manual", there is a guy at the end of the alley that sets up your pins for you after each bowl and returns the ball down to you.
  • Dive Career Internships. Divemaster and dive instructor internships, underwater videographer training and resort management courses with experienced PADI course directors.
  • GAP year Diving Internships. Specialises in training highly qualified and employable diving professionals, ranging from divemaster right up to instructor, over a duration of 2-7 months.
  • Good Time Adventures, Diving, Beach Cafe and Bar +66 87 2753604. South Sairee Beach. Very small group Scuba Diving courses with flexible schedules. Dedicated speed boat taking divers diving. The only shop on Ko Tao with a weekly trip to Sail Rock. A wide range of adventure activities including: rock climbing instruction up to lead climbing and a guiding service, abseiling/rappelling, cliff jumping, snorkelling, wake boarding, boat cruises around Ko Tao and the New Island 2 island zip line adventure. Bouldering equipment is also available and includes a free map of sites on the island. Beach Cafe and Bar serves a tasty variety of Western, Thai, and Burmese dishes on the beach. Doorstep sandwiches, healthy salads and wraps, big burgers and a great variety of dinner options. Weekly beer can chicken, ribs or fresh fish BBQ (check flyers). Try the Suicide Wing Challenge.
  • Hike to one of the secluded bays on the northern and eastern side of the island. On the 2 hr walk through the jungle to Mango Bay you will hardly meet any people. The snorkelling there is good.
  • Island Cruises (Sailing charters). Day and sunset cruises, private charters, Ang Thong National Marine Park safaris and fully customised crewed charters.
  • Koh Tao PROvideo. A new and dynamic underwater videography company. Run by experienced underwater videographers and instructors who film and teach every day. Each course is tailor made.
  • Monsoon Gym and Muay Thai Camp. For those looking for a serious workout. Muay Thai courses are provided and you can step in the ring for a real bout when you're ready.
  • Mountain Biking There is a shop renting mountain bikes next to the bowling and mini golf course. Mountain bikes are in reasonable condition. 100 baht/day with a 1,000 baht deposit.
  • Oceans Below-underwater Video Training. 3 and 5 day courses in underwater videography and offers professional-level training for those looking to make a career of it. All training done with HD video cameras and quality Gates and Aquatica housings.
  • Ocean Hiker Sailing Courses. Seamanship courses and competent crew sailing courses Ko Tao-based and liveaboards on ocean-going yacht.
  • Ocean Sound Yoga +66 82 4126240. Hatha, Vinyasa, and Yin yoga classes offered daily.
  • Thailand Gap Internships. 1-7 month internships in Pro HD video training, Muay Thai, free diving, PADI instructor, divemaster and technical dive courses.

Food

A huge selection of Thai food is available, including lots of seafood. Barbecued fish is one of the local favourites. As a large portion of the population are expats, you will find plenty of other cuisines too. 2011 prices ranging from 60 baht for stuff-on-rice through to 250 baht for a nice hunk of fresh barbecued fish at a decent restaurant. 30 baht would get you a fresh banana pancake, and 60 baht a bowl of porridge with honey at a budget resort's restaurant. 200-300 baht would get you a bowl of freshly made Italian pasta, and 160-200 baht for pizza. Fresh fruit juices are available at many stalls for 30-40 baht.

  • 995 Roasted Duck (turn away from the beach at the Sairee 7-11 crossroad as if heading towards Hin Wong Bay, walk three min). 09:00-22:00. Simple menu consisting of ten well executed dishes. Their spicy noodle soup with duck (or pork/fish balls) is a Thai local favourite. Cost 60-80 baht.
  • Bang Bugers (on the main road from Sairee to Mae Haad, across the road from the Trapeze School),  +66 81 1366576. 06:00-21:00. Established by an Australian expatriate, Bang Burgers produces 6 varieties of home made burgers and 6 varieties of home made sauces. Open for breakfast with fresh ground espresso from north Thailand is also on offer. Delivery option available. Cost 30-150 baht.
  • Cafe del Sol, Mae Haad Square (Mae Haad). Authentic French and Italian-style cuisine, home made pasta and pizza, smoked salmon and choice steaks, excellent wine collection and Erdinger weissbier.
  • Choppers Bar and Grill, Sairee village. Australian sports bar. Live music, live sports, pub grub, and a wide selection of beers.
  • Dolce Vita Italian Restaurant, Mea Haad Square. 16:00 until late. Run by 2 brothers from Apulia, this place offers traditional Italian cuisine in a cosy ambiance. Lavazza coffee, daily home made pasta and authentic pizza, meats from New Zealand, fresh seafood, home-made desserts, wine bar.
  • Farango Pizzeria, Mae Haad and Sairee Village. Italian-style pizza and pasta, always busy with dine in or take away. Expect to pay 140 baht for pasta or 200 baht for a pizza from the wood-fired oven. Delivery available.
  • Greasy Spoon, Mae Haad. Full Monty English breakfast bar. Eat in or delivery.
  • Safety Stop Pub, Mae Haad (beach front at Seatran pier),  +66 77 456209. 07:00-late. Comfy English pub with tropical beer garden. Draught beers, "wild" buckets. English pub grub. Weekend BBQ's, Sunday roasts, daily specials, live sports.
  • Shalimar Indian Cuisine (opposite Sairee Plaza),  +66 77 456740. Authentic Indian chefs, ingredients and tandoor. Wide variety of tasty dishes in a beautiful garden setting. Relax in the lounge for cocktails and sheesha. Take away and delivery available.
  • The Snack Shack, Sairee Beach (next to Lotus Bar),  +66 85 4788753. 18:00-02:00. Late-night burgers, chicken pita kebabs, hot dogs, falafel, chips (french fries to the non-Brits) available with curry sauce, chili con carne or just good old salt and vinegar. One of only a few places on the island open after 22:00 to get food other than 7-11. Delivery between 22:00-02:00. 70-140 baht.
  • A Taste of Home (east Sairee past Monsoon Gym). 18:00-22:00 M-Sa. Home made dishes, large portions, and friendly, relaxed atmosphere has made this Trip Advisor's top listed restaurant on Ko Tao.
  • Thipwimarn Restaurant (at the north of the island). Wonderful sunset views and a "higher class" feel - but the prices are not much different from the rest of the island. Great for dates.
  • Tony & Aoi Bar/Restaurant (Mae Haad, up the road from Songserm Pier, before Ta Chai),  Tony (+66 80 7183191, Italian) Aoi (+66 80 1458245, Thai/English). Italian/Thai/English place. Imported Italian pasta starting from 100 baht along with the usual English and Thai fare. New, clean and well-priced, especially for the pasta.
  • Tortoise Burger & Beer (to the Mae Haad side of Sairee Plaza, three min walk from Sairee 7-11 crossroad). 18:00-04:00. With only five stools, senseless hours, and good music, this place feels like it's been ripped from an alley in Brooklyn. The menu has five options: beef burger, chicken burger, chicken BBQ burger, fish burger, and veggie burger. The veggie burger is homemade and delicious. 80-150 baht.
  • Tukta Thai Food, Chalok Ban Kao. Best Phad Thai on the Rock!
  • Zanzibar (next to Sairee Plaza). Coffee and bakery food. Pita and baguettes with an extensive range of sandwich and breakfast options. One of the few affordable places on the island with good quality imported cheeses and meats. Great vegetarian options. Delivery available. Free Wi-Fi. 60-150 baht.
  • Zest Cafe (on the same side street as Fizz, across from the Lady Boy Cabaret.). 06:30-18:00. Great for coffee, breakfast, and sandwiches. A favourite with the seasonal dive shop employees. Free Wi-Fi, TV always silently tuned to BBC. Friendly, helpful staff. A second location in Mae Haad. 60-200 baht.

Drinks

When you get a break from diving, there are a few bars on the island. The bars on the island rotate nights, so the best bet is to ask someone working at dive shop which bar will be crowded that night or check the posters. Many start off the evening at the bars located at the northern end of Sairee, and after they close at 01:00, go onto whichever club is open for the rest of the evening at the south end of Sairee.

  • The Castle. Weekly parties at this out-of-the-way club. Can prove to be a good night out with refreshing tunes and a mixed crowd.
  • Dirty Nelly's (Mae Haad). First and only Irish pub on Ko Tao with Irish management, live music, extensive food options, and live sport.
  • DJL Bar, Pool & Restaurant (Sairee Village, at Davey Jones Locker). Bar with swimming pool. Friday night pool parties, with free BBQ & shots.
  • Fizz Beach Lounge (On Sairee Beach). 16:00-01:00. Comfy beanbags, awesome sunsets, fantastic cocktail, authentic Thai or Western food and deep, funky house beats. 30-300 baht.
  • In Touch (Sairee Beach at the far south end). Late night club that is open only a couple of times a week. House music.
  • Khirana (Chalok Ban Kao). Swimming pool bar on the beach.
  • Lotus Bar (North Sairee, at the horizontal palm tree). Nightly fire show, sunset happy hour.
  • Maya Bar (South end, Sairee Beach). Very similar to AC Bar. When one is open the other is closed. Same music, same crowd, right next door.
  • MOOV (Up from Whitening on Songserm Pier Rd), e-mail: info@moov-kohtao.com. 16:00-late. Club/restaurant in a garden overlooking the beach. Check for daytime events and monthly parties.
  • Pub Crawl +66 80 6905337. Enjoy drink promotions, prizes and join the crowd on a tour of the best bars in Ko Tao.
  • Vibe (North Sairee Beach). Atmospheric beach bar with happy, funky vibes, fire shows & cocktails.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Ko Tao on Wikivoyage.

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