Ko Tao (which means “Turtle Island”) is an island in the Chumphon Archipelago, Thailand. It covers an area of just 21 square kilometers (8 square miles) and has a registered population of about 2,000 people. It’s a recently inhabited island - the first group of people came here in 1947. The economy of the island is centered on tourism, receiving large numbers of visitors from Asia and Europe, mostly for the excellent scuba diving that takes place here.
Koh Tao is a world-renowned scuba diving destination with more than 70 dive schools and over 25 dive sites on the island. This scuba diving campus is one of the cheapest places to get your certification, which is why it’s also one of the top destinations in terms of PADI-issued scuba diving certifications.
The island has a spectacular underwater scenery filled with vibrant corals, teeming marine life, and great wrecks.
Diving the beautiul reefs of Koh Tao. Photo by Amada
Diving is possible all year round at Koh Tao but the best period to visit is May through September. The island does get its annual monsoon, usually in October and November. During this time, there’s heavy rainfall a couple of hours a day and strong winds that result in choppy seas and reduced visibility. But this doesn’t stop people from diving, so it’s still worth considering visiting Koh Tao if you’re in the area.
The water temperature in Koh Tao averages 28-29°C/82-84° F and does not get lower than 27° C/80° F.
Most of the dive sites around Koh Tao have gentle currents but can get strong at some sites.
The visibility is anywhere between 5 and 20 meters (16-66 feet), depending on the dive site and time of the year.
The most famous dive site in Koh Tao is Chumphon Pinnacle. A 40-minute boat ride, the site is comprised of a large granite pinnacle and a series of smaller ones that go as deep as 36 meters (118 feet) and rise within 14 meters (46 feet) of the surface. The top of the pinnacle is covered in pink anemones and divers can spot pink skunk clownfish, shrimps, crabs, and scorpionfish here. Between two of the smaller pinnacles there’s also an overhang where giant groupers of up to 2 meters (7 feet) long can be seen. The whole dive site is abundant in different species of barracudas and big-eyed jacks.
HTMS Sattakut wreck. Photo by Amanda
Koh Tao has a number of shipwrecks that can be admired by intermediate, advanced, and technical divers. The most famous of all is the HTMS Sattakut, one of the best wreck dive sites in Thailand. The 48-meter/158-foot ship was sunk on purpose in 2011 and served in many battles during WWII.
The Torpedo wreck that sank in 1973 is another great wreck where penetration is possible; the engine room, wheelhouse, and accommodation block can all be explored. Other interesting wrecks include the small Tanote Bay catamaran, M.V Trident, and the Unicorn.
Shark Island is a small island located just 800 meters south of Koh Tao. Don’t get confused by the name – you won’t find any sharks here; the island got its name because of its shape. It has an abundance of soft and hard corals, towering boulders, and it’s also one of the few places in the region where divers can spot orange-spined unicornfish. Yellow-tail barracudas, batfish, polka dot nudibranch, trevallies, and crocodile needlefish are also common encounters here.