I am now back in cold, drizzly, gloomy London. It is hard to believe that just over a week ago, I was chilling out here.
That’s Sairee Beach, the longest beach on Koh Tao, an idyllic island off the east coast of Thailand, famous for churning out certified scuba divers at cheap rates. Wanting to get more dives under my belt following my enjoyable time at the Great Barrier Reef before heading back to London, I settled on Koh Tao as my Thai island of choice, after deciding to leave Laos.
I was overwhelmed by the number of Thai islands available to choose from when it came to making my decision. My main reasons for choosing Koh Tao in the end were:
- An abundance of scuba diving operators, available at good prices, with a good number of accessible dive sites from the island
- Fairly underdeveloped island, especially when compared to neighbouring Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan…
- …But at the same time, developed enough to have on offer, comfortable resort-style accommodation which was what I was looking forward to at the end of my travels
- Clean beaches and clear waters
- Relatively easy to get to from Bangkok
I spent one week on Koh Tao, the longest I stayed in any one place during the four months that I’ve been on the road (apart from the time I spent with my family in Kuala Lumpur). It was now time to fully relax and unwind, without having to stress about where I was going to stay the next day and without guilt from not getting out and maximising my time checking out yet another “must see tourist attraction”.
I still like to keep my days active though, even when on a beach, so I was happy to discover that there are numerous walks / treks that one can do around the small hilly island of Koh Tao. Routes range from easy to adventurous, with concrete and rough dirt paths leading to secluded bays (where you can have an entire beach to yourself), as well as taking you up to hilltop views of the entire island and beyond.
My daily itinerary was as follows:
- 5.15am: Wake up
- 5.45am: Meet with diving group to set off to the first dive site of the day
- 6.30am – 11.00am: Complete two dives sites before heading back to Koh Tao
- 11.30am: Brunch
- 12.30pm – 2.00pm: Trekking to a new part of the island
- 2.00pm – 5.30pm: Sunbathing on a beach with my kindle, with intermittent “cool down” paddling sessions in the sea
- 6.00pm: Early dinner
- 10.30pm: Off to bed for early morning start
I loved my week on Koh Tao, the perfect destination to end my travels. It provided me with just the right mix of exercise, activity, food, rest and reading time, whilst also allowing me to meet some nice new friends through diving. I really didn’t want to leave after my one week was up!
Diving in Koh Tao
In terms of the scuba diving, some of the more famous dive sites I had the opportunity to visit were:
- Chumphon Pinnacles (avg. depth 20m, max. depth 36m) – increased chance of whale shark sightings
- Sattakut Wreck (avg. depth 15m, max. depth 28m) – 50 metre Thai navy ship with schools of fusiliers
- Sail Rock (avg. depth 15m, max. depth 35m) – further away from Koh Tao, comprises of a single pinnacle with a chimney that divers can descend through. Big schools of chevron barracuda, mackerel and trevally.
- Shark Island (avg. depth 15m, max. depth 28m) – only named due to its resemblance to a shark fin rather than an indication of its resident marinelife
- Green Rock (avg. depth 12m, max. depth 30m) – swim-throughs, home to yellow margin triggerfish
From what I gather, this is how the majority of the dive operators are organised on the island.
- Most have their own boats, with dive equipment provided, along with professional guides
- Local dive sites are visited twice a day, with 2 dives in the morning (07:00-12:00) and 2 dives in the afternoon (12:15-17:30)
- Night dives tend to be offered every other day (18:00-20:30)
- Water, coffee and tea are available on the boats
- Special day trips (e.g. to Sail Rock) take longer and thus leave earlier in the morning and include lunch on the boat
- Most of the dive schools are there to offer certification courses. If like me, you already have your certification, you’ll need to look for an operator who provides fun dives. There are less options available, and the three that I did find offered the same packages (sold in bulk dive packages, with each dive costing less the more dives you buy). Contact me if you want a good recommendation.
Whilst the diving was good in Koh Tao, it wasn’t amazing. The large schools of big fish were a wonderful sight to see but the coral quality was not great. It’s really no surprise as obviously the more divers there are, the more chances too for the coral to be disturbed / broken (especially if they are beginners) and therefore, the poorer the quality. Considering Koh Tao certifies more divers per year than any other place on the planet, especially when you take into account how small it is (compared to say, the Great Barrier Reef), it’s no wonder that dive sites are degenerating around the island. So whilst Thailand obviously enjoys and reaps a lot of benefits from the tourist income of would-be divers, I’m just not sure how sustainable this is.
Treks around Koh Tao
If you’ve still got some spare energy after your morning dive and don’t fancy more diving in the afternoon, there are numerous routes you can ramble through. Here are a few that I chose to undertake, with the aim of finding some secluded beaches.
It took about an hour’s walk to get there from Sairee and it was deserted when I got there. There’s not much of a beach (it’s mostly covered with big rocks) but it is a popular spot for rock jumping.
Mae Haad Bay
Lovely beach with a large area of shallow water. It is located by the pier though, so this is by no means remote. There are lots of food and shopping options though, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Sai Nuan Beach
I accessed the peaceful Sai Nuan beach through Jansom Bay (probably the easiest way of getting here) which is a 15 minute walk away. Jansom Bay itself is private, and can only be accessed through Charm Churee Villa, with entry costing THB250. Both beaches offer good snorkelling opportunities. It took me about 1 hour and 20 minutes to walk from Sairee to Jansom Bay.
Nang Yuan island (Koh Nang Yuan)
Made up of 3 small islands, connected by a sandbar, the beautiful Koh Nang Yuan is accessible by a longtail boat from the main beaches in Koh Tao. The entry fee is THB100 and the island closes at 5pm. Be sure to visit the viewpoint for an absolutely fantastic view of the island.
Tell me, how are you meant to leave when you see views like that!