Scuba diving in Koh Tao, Thailand might not have happened if it wasn’t for visa issues. As a teacher here in Thailand, I’m tied to my visa. I didn’t want to pay for another re-entry permit at 1000 baht to visit another country. That meant I had two weeks left of my school holiday and I needed to go somewhere within Thailand.
As a scuba diver, it was a pretty easy decision. I cannot tell you how many friends and other travelers who have said
“You have to go Scuba Diving in Koh Tao.”
I knew I would regret not going scuba diving in Koh Tao if I ever left Thailand. It was time I made te long journey from Lampang to Koh Tao so I could get back underwater.
In order to get to Koh Tao, I had to take either a bus, train, or plane from Lampang to Bangkok. The buses and trains would have taken a solid half day of travel whether during the day or at night. Since time was limited, I decided a flight was the fastest option into Bangkok. Luckily, Lampang has several flight options to both airports into Bangkok, and flight prices are reasonable.
I was able to schedule the flight arrival time early enough to provide me ample time to get to the location of the night bus.
One of the benefits of using a site like 12go.asia (when in person purchases is not available), is the ability to book joint tickets. That means, I bought a bus-ferry combination ticket with Songerm, allowing for a smooth transition from Bangkok to Koh Tao.
The night bus left Khao San Road at around 6pm and arrived into Chumphon around 3/3:30am. This is the only downfall with this night bus. However, Thailand is relatively safe and I wasn’t alone at this ferry dock. We all just slept until the ferry left at 7am.
The ferry arrives into Mae Haad Pier, Koh Tao at around 9:45am. In total, the journey took about 22 hours from Lampang to Koh Tao. That was without any hiccup, however it could take longer depending on your choice of transportation.
Where I Stayed
In Koh Tao, there are two main areas to stay, Mae Haad (pier) and Sairee Beach. As a budget backpacker and avid scuba diver, I knew I wanted to stay near Sairee beach in a hostel near many dive shops. There’s truly no better way to explain Sairee Beach area: hostels and dive shops.
I’ve had several friends who have traveled to Koh Tao in the past, many who recommended I stay at Taco Shack Hostel. So, choosing my hostel was pretty easy. I tend to listen to people’s recommendations on places to stay pretty frequently.
Taco Shack Hostel cost me 350 baht per night and I stayed for 4 nights. In total, the cost of housing was 1400 baht, just under 50 USD. Koh Tao has gotten more expensive over the past decade. It isn’t totally budget backpacker friendly, but getting the chance to scuba dive in Thailand, the cost didn’t matter.
There are hundreds of other places to stay throughout Koh Tao, from hostels, to beach resorts, to budget hotels. Finding a place to stay shouldn’t be a challenge, but I’m glad I stayed where I stayed.
There were plenty of other backpackers to meet. The location was aways from the main bar area so quiet (good for early morning dives). Plus, they do offer food and drinks and the food quality was outstanding.
There are two common areas to hang out in, one downstairs with a pool table and one on the second floor with hammocks. It’s extremely easy to meet other divers and backpackers at this hostel. Highly recommend Taco Shack!
One of the main reasons for visiting Koh Tao is scuba diving. Koh Tao has some of the best dives and the best prices in the world. There is no shortage of dive shops on this small island on the east coast of Thailand. It was also my primary reason for visiting.
As I am PADI certified, I tend to stick with PADI certified dive shops. Mostly because I know what I’m getting with PADI, but they are not the only scuba diving certification company. Other certification companies include RAID, SSI, BSAC and TDI, and they are all recognized by the Recreational Scuba Training Council, but I prefer PADI.
Because of this fact, I decided to listen to several friends and book my dives with New Way Diving. The booking process was seamless and completed ahead of time via online/email. New Way Diving has full descriptions of what they offer online.
There is necessarily a need to pre-book online before arrival, I just only had a select few days on the island. I wanted to make sure my dives were squeezed in during my visit, and pre-booking secured my spot with my dive shop of choice.
Dive Site: Sail Rock
According to several friends, their favorite dive site is called Sail Rock. Sail Rock just happens to be one of the most popular dive sites in Koh Tao, but isn’t the most accessible. It requires a super early wake up (boat leaves at 6 am) a solid hour and a half to get to the site, which makes it challenging when weather doesn’t cooperate.
Thankfully, New Way Diving offers daily dives at this site, where others only offer specific days. It costs 2900 baht for two dives, full gear, a dive master/instructor, boat captain and water.
Sail Rock is know as fish haven because of the amount of fish you can see while diving. The dive site ranges from 0-40 meters, which allows for a multiple of different schools of fish. Plus, Sail Rock just happens to be a prime location to see the infamous whale shark.
Whale sharks are common to see swimming on multiple dive sites between the months of March-May and September-November. I happen to be visiting in April, which meant my chances were high.
AND… I SAW ONE! Both dives actually. We don’t know if it was the same whale shark or two different ones, but it didn’t matter I SAW ONE! It was about 3-4 meters and a juvenile whale shark. It was one of the highlights in my diving career. Totally worth every single penny.
Dive Site: HTMS Sattakut Wreck
I did budget about 5000 baht for diving, which meant I still had cash left for another half-day 2-tank dive, which costs 1800 baht. I didn’t have any preference in my second two dives, so I just let the shop pick. Usually the shop will have written on a board the next days dive shops. The popular sites, besides Sail Rock are:
- Chumphon Pinnacle
- Shark Island
- Southwest Pinnacle
- Green Rock
- HTMS Sattakut (Wreck)
The night life in Koh Tao is wild. There are several bars and beach bars that are popular among the backpacking community. The most famous and probably well known is called Fishbowl. It’s the bar you can party until the early morning hours. With beer pong competitions and live music, there is always something entertaining happening.
There are several other low key type bars/hang out locations along the beach. Diza Bar, Jam’s Mini Bar, Lotus Beach Bar, Fellow’s Bar, and the Sun Dance Bar are a few that I stopped by during my time on the island.
If you fancy a major party, then head to Chopper’s Sports Pub and join in on the Koh Tao Pub Crawl.
Koh Tao Pub Crawl
Koh Tao Pub Crawl is said to be one of the largest in Asia and is rated in the top 5 best pub crawl in the world, so I wasn’t going to miss out. Although it is very backpacker-y, I do drink, and I do love a good pub crawl.
The pub crawl occurs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It costs 480 baht, which includes a free bucket, free shots, a free shirts and discounts throughout the night. The pub crawl begins at 7:45 at Choppers and sales begin at 6pm. And yes, there are nights that the pub crawl sells out.
If you have a night free, and looking for something free, then head to Lotus Beach Bar right on Sairee Beach and watch the fire show. There are multiple along the beach, from what I was told. But, this one right next to Bar Next Two, was very easy to find and right on the main part of the beach. They provide glow in the dark paint, but typically the paint only gets passed around to those sitting near the tables.
If you decide to sit near a table and on the beach blankets, they will ask to take your drink order. If you’re lucky, you might even get pulled up with a fire dancer to try your luck.
Other Things to do on Koh Tao
Although scuba diving is THE thing to do on Koh Tao, its not the only thing. In fact, Koh Tao had much more to offer than I initially thought. I can’t take the credit for this fact, since a girl I met at the hostel did all the back work.
Koh Nang Yuan
The day after scuba diving in Koh Tao, I decided to go with a few hostel mates to the near by island Koh Nang Yuan for a small climb to a view point. This is one of the top must-dos during a visit to Koh Tao.
Now beware, this viewpoint is popular and there tends to be a bit of a line, but I’m a sucker for a good view. Plus, the beach that connects the three island cluster is so white and semi-soft. There are quite the amount of shells and dead coral that make up much of the area where the water meets the sand, but it doesn’t take away from the beauty.
The total round trip long boat ride costs about 200 baht and is worth the trip. There is a resort with a dive shop, but I don’t recommend staying there if you’re on a budget like me.
Like most of Thailand, renting scooters is easy and necessary to go exploring on this island. I was able to locate a bike rental place right near Taco Shack rents bikes for about 300 baht a day (give or take). This is a pretty common price for the island and they will request your passport for deposit. It was a no brainer and once I rented a bike, it didn’t take long for us to go exploring.
Our first day on the bike we headed around the bend past Mae Haad Pier to a beach called Haadtien Beach, which we thought was Shark Bay Beach. Shark Bay was actually our destination, but that failed and we ended up just staying at Haadtien. There is a small service fee since the beach has a resort, but it’s a very long beach and known for snorkeling. Well, so we thought.
However, what we found was extremely shallow water and difficult to truly snorkel. It was a beautiful beach, but I’m not sure I would recommend it.
Once we left the beach, we continued our way back to Sairee Beach and then headed towards Ao Hin Wong, for no particular reason. But, it was a great decision.
Ao Hin Wong wasn’t anything special, since you did have to pay to go onto the beach itself (which we didn’t). We did manage to find a big rock cluster in the sea that made the perfect backdrop for a mini photo shoot, which was pretty much all we did here.
Mango View Point
Koh Tao is not a big island, and their aren’t many places to drive a scooter. Along the road to Ao Hin Wong, there just happened to be a free view point. Well, free-ish, you had to buy a drink from the lady guarding the entrance.
The viewpoint is called Mango View Point and it faces the western side of the island. It provides a perfect view of Sairee Beach and the vast greenery that surrounds the island. There is a small wooden platform, several hammocks, and several makeshift bamboo type docks. Honestly, I don’t know what to call them, but it was a prefect location to drink a beer!
Abandoned Resort Koh Tao
The next day, we both kind of realized that we were going to use the scooter anymore, since we saw everything we wanted to see that required the scooter. So, after I returned it, my friend, Brittney and I started making out way to the abandoned resort.
No joke. There is a abandoned resort on the Eastern side of the island hidden in Laem Thian Beach. If you’re a hiker and like a small challenge, then this is right up your alley. Just don’t be like Brittney and I and forget to eat breakfast or bring a sufficient amount of water (oops).
To get to Laem Thian Abandoned Resort, walk along the road directly up from Sairee Beach. Look for Tarna Align Hotel, this is where the hike begins. You will see the dirt road that literally goes straight into the jungle, this is the “trail,” just make sure to keep the hotel to your left.
Keep walking along this “trail” and don’t waver. This road/trail will take you directly onto the resort grounds.
**DO NOT TAKE A SCOOTER **
There are many moments where the trail becomes super narrow or washed out. Plus, right at the end, the trail goes straight down and is extremely rocky and washed out.
At the end of the trail, you will see the abandoned resort, now home to a plethora of graffitied walls, broken glass, and broken doors. The coastline is very rocky, which does make for beautiful pictures.
Plus, you can go to the roof of the resort for an unobstructed view. This was one of my favorite things I did on the island (besides swim with a whale shark).
Things I Did Not Do
- John-Suwan View Point: this viewpoint, although appeared to be amazing for sunset, quickly moved down our list when we realized we had to pay. It’s not a huge fee, but honestly, as a budget backpackers, we all decided against paying the cost.
- Chalok View Point: didn’t have enough sunlight
- Long Boat Tour: offered through my hostel and at several shops around the island are these half-day long boat tour. They take you to various beaches and “hot spots” around the island accessible by boat. Although, this did appear to be a unique idea, I ultimately had to make the budget conscious decision.
- Stay at a hostel along the beach: I just didn’t have the time, but if/when I do return to Koh Tao, I might decide to stay at Goodtime Beach Hostel.
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