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Ko Tao & Ko Pha Ngan Diving! Gulf of Thailand!

Gooooood morning divers!

Enjoying the sunset
Enjoying the sunset

My previous trip was all about revisiting Malaysia, but this time focus on Borneo, rather than mainland Malaya. I had some amazing moments that I shared in my previous blog, and I also tried to give you a detailed and updated information page for traveling to Sipadan in 2022/23, since a lot of things changed in 2022.


After Sipadan, I stayed in Manila for about 5 days before flying to my next destination!


This beautiful destination escaped me because I simply didn't feel the urge to visit, since so many people already visit Thailand.


I wanted to make a scuba diving focussed, actual and representative impression, so I had to start in one of the most famous places in Thailand for diving, Koh Tao!





In this blog I'll be sharing the following:



 

Entering Thailand.


Now, I have to be honest: I wasn't all that excited at first about Thailand! However, I felt like I had to go there to complete my Asia experience, concerning scuba diving of course.


The reason for me being a little reluctant to visit Thailand isn't its beauty or scuba diving quality, but mostly because it feels explored, documented, and "completed" in a way.


Nevertheless, I flew into Bangkok and straight away booked a ticket on the bus to Chumphon, to make my way to Koh Tao as soon as possible. Just because I was itching to go scuba diving again!


Thailand, as stated before, is a beautiful and relatively easy country to visit. It has been largely built on tourism, and its conveniences are noticeable everywhere.


Booking buses, boats, flights, and transfers are extremely easy to do just from your current hotel even. They are usually happy to book your transfer for no extra costs!



 


Dive sites Koh Tao/ Pha Ngan
Dive sites Koh Tao/ Pha Ngan



Where is Koh Tao & Pha Ngan & How to get there?


Koh Tao is an island located in the Gulf of Thailand. There are several ways to get there, including by plane and by boat.


By plane:

  • The nearest airport is Chumphon Airport, which is located on the mainland of Thailand. From there, you can take a bus or taxi to the pier and then take a ferry to Koh Tao.

By boat:

  • You can take a ferry from the mainland of Thailand (such as from Surat Thani, Chumphon, or Koh Samui) to Koh Tao. The ferry ride typically takes about 2-3 hours.

  • You can also take a speedboat from Koh Samui or Koh Phangan to Koh Tao. This option is faster but also more expensive than taking a ferry.

I made my way down from Bangkok, and after arriving, I booked a night bus from Bangkok to Chumphon. I arrived to next morning and after having to wait an hour, the boat left straight for Koh Tao, continuing to Koh Pha Ngan & Samui after that.





Sea Urchin
Sea Urchin

 


Dark Margin Chlosodoris
Dark Margin Chlosodoris


 

Why should you go to Ko Tao?

Koh Tao, also known as "Turtle Island," is a popular destination for diving due to its clear, gentle waters, diverse marine life, and beautiful coral reefs. Some reasons why diving at Koh Tao is a great experience include:

  1. Variety of marine life: Koh Tao is home to a wide variety of marine life, including over 200 species of fish and 40 species of coral. Divers can expect to see everything from colorful tropical fish to sharks, rays, and sea turtles.

  2. Clear waters: The waters around Koh Tao are known for their clear visibility, making it easy for divers to see the marine life and coral reefs.

  3. Scuba diving certifications: Koh Tao is a popular spot for getting your open water scuba diving certifications due to the variety of diving schools and experienced instructors available.

  4. Affordable: Koh Tao is a budget-friendly destination for diving, with affordable accommodation and diving packages.

  5. Scenic views: The island itself is also beautiful with lush tropical landscapes, white sandy beaches, and scenic viewpoints, making it a great destination for a diving holiday.

  6. Accessibility: Koh Tao is easy to reach from other popular tourist destinations in Thailand, such as Bangkok, Koh Samui, and Koh Pha ngan, making it a convenient destination to add to a travel itinerary.



Chaloklum Beach
Chaloklum Beach


Why should you go to Ko Pha Ngan?


Koh Pha Ngan is an island located just south of Koh Tao, known for its beautiful beaches, vibrant nightlife, and natural beauty. Some reasons why Koh Pha Ngan is a great destination include:


  1. Sail Rock: One of the best scuba diving sites in Thailand, especially in the Gulf of Thailand. This rock is easily reached in a 1-hour ride from Chaloklum on Koh Pha Ngan.

  2. Nightlife: Koh Pha Ngan is known for its vibrant nightlife, with many bars and clubs that stay open late. The Full Moon Party, held on Haad Rin beach, is a famous monthly event that attracts thousands of party-goers.

  3. Nature: The island is home to many natural wonders, such as waterfalls, lush jungles, and limestone cliffs. It's also a great place for hiking and exploring the island.

  4. Yoga and wellness: Koh Phangan is a popular destination for yoga and wellness, with many retreats and classes available. The island is known for its peaceful and relaxed atmosphere.

  5. Affordable: Koh Phangan is a budget-friendly destination, with affordable accommodations and activities.

  6. Accessibility: Koh Phangan is easy to reach from other popular tourist destinations in Thailand, such as Bangkok, Koh Samui, and Koh Tao, making it a convenient destination to add to a travel itinerary.



Durban Dancing shrimp
Durban Dancing shrimp


What does scuba diving in Ko Tao & Pha Ngan entail?


Koh Tao:

Koh Tao has many reasons to visit like stated before. Scuba diving is marketed a lot around beginner scuba divers, and gentle conditions.


While more difficult scuba diving is possible, most sites visited are easier sites, between 10 and 18 meters in depth.


Most boats offer a morning dive and an afternoon dive, with the possibility of a night dive if you wish.


- Morning dives usually leave between 6.30 & 7 AM, visiting the more remote sites like Chumphon Pinnacle, Southwest Pinnacle, and Sail Rock on certain days.


- The afternoon dive starts at 12-1 PM and visits the more near locations close to Koh Tao, like Red Rock, Twins, Hin Pee Wee, and the HTMS Sattakut.


Below I have made this video giving you an impression of what to expect from Koh Tao Scuba diving!





Koh Pha Ngan:

Koh Pha Ngan is pretty straightforward. There are 7 scuba diving operators on the island, 6 of them in Chaloklum in the north.


They will organize boats together and you will probably share your ride with other dive centers, free divers, and day-trippers alike.




Spotface Moray Eel
Spotface Moray Eel

The Past & Future of scuba diving in Koh Tao & Pha Ngan.

Koh Tao is and has been, the most well-known place to get certified as an open-water diver in Thailand, and perhaps the world. This name won't be lost anytime soon. However, I think it's worth mentioning, that after Covid hit, many of the dive operators quit their businesses, willingly, or unwillingly, unfortunately.


From the original 130+ operators, "only" 50 or so operate currently, although they do expect to start working again when tourism is back completely if that will ever be the case.


The fact remains, Koh Tao is a beautiful, easy-to-access island, with gorgeous possibilities for scuba diving and gentle, easy conditions to get certified. And because of the already established name, logistics, and price range, I expect them to be back in business within 3 years!



Koh Tao Beach
Koh Tao Beach


Clownfish
Clownfish

An impression of the diving scene.


Ko Tao:

Koh Tao offers something for everyone who likes to go scuba diving. From the busy side on the western part of the island to the remote resorts to the east and northeast! Anything can find their perfect spot, to enjoy scuba diving alone, in a more personal setting, or be part of a big group exploring the reefs together!


Scuba diving is generally cheap and easy to arrange. Expect to pay 900 Baht ($22,-) per dive. Also very much depending on how many dives you do per day or per stay.



Koh Tao Dive Sites
Koh Tao Dive Sites

Blue spotted ribbon tail
Blue spotted ribbon tail


Ko Pha Ngan:

Well, this is quite easy! You will want to stay near or in the village Chaloklum, on the north side of the island. Sail Rock is the only real reason for scuba divers to come here, and the route from Chaloklum is about an hour one-way.


Many scuba diving centers cooperate and are sharing boats since there are only 7 operators available currently.


Sail Rock Dive Sites
Sail Rock Dive Sites

Green Turtle
Green Turtle
 


Cuttlefish
Cuttlefish

Where to go after Ko Tao & Pha Ngan?

Ko Chang:


To get from Koh Tao to Koh Chang, you can follow these steps:

  1. Take a ferry from Koh Tao to the mainland. This usually departs from Mae Haad pier on Koh Tao and takes about 2-3 hours.

  2. From the mainland, take a bus or minivan to Trat. Trat is the nearest town to Koh Chang and the journey takes around 4-5 hours.

  3. From Trat, you will need to take a taxi or minivan to the pier for Koh Chang, which takes about 30-45 minutes.

  4. Take a ferry from the pier to Koh Chang. The ferry ride takes about 30-45 minutes.

Alternatively, you can also fly from Koh Samui to Trat, then take the steps mentioned above.







General map of the islands
General map of the islands

 

Nudibranch
Nudibranch

Ko Lanta/ Phi Phi:

Koh Lanta is an island located in the Andaman Sea, while Koh Tao is located in the Gulf of Thailand. To get from Koh Tao to Koh Lanta, you will need to travel to the mainland first and then take a bus or minivan to Krabi, the nearest town to Koh Lanta. From there, you can take a ferry to Koh Lanta. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Take a ferry from Koh Tao to the mainland, usually from Mae Haad pier on Koh Tao. The ferry ride takes about 2-3 hours.

  2. From the mainland, take a bus or minivan to Krabi. The journey takes about 4-5 hours.

  3. From Krabi, take a taxi or minivan to the Saladan pier, which is the main departure point for ferries to Koh Lanta. The journey takes about 1 hour.

  4. Take a ferry from Saladan pier to Koh Lanta. The ferry ride takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

As an alternative, you can also fly from Bangkok to Krabi and then follow the steps mentioned above.



Emperor Angelfish
Emperor Angelfish

Phuket:

Phuket is located on the mainland of Thailand, while Koh Tao is an island located in the Gulf of Thailand. To get from Koh Tao to Phuket, you will need to travel to the mainland first, and then take a bus or minivan to Phuket. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Take a ferry from Koh Tao to the mainland. This usually departs from Mae Haad pier on Koh Tao and takes about 2-3 hours.

  2. From the mainland, take a bus or minivan to Surat Thani. The journey takes about 4-5 hours.

  3. From Surat Thani, take a bus or minivan to Phuket. The journey takes about 3-4 hours.

Alternatively, you can also fly from Koh Samui to Phuket, which is the quickest way to reach Phuket from Koh Tao.



Palm trees Koh Tao
Palm trees Koh Tao

 




Red Rock Passage
Red Rock Passage


Leafy scorpionfish
Leafy scorpionfish



 
Clownfish hiding in coral
Clownfish hiding in coral



The Top 5 most memorable dive sites!

There are many very good dive sites in Koh Tao. Below I will summarize my favorites. Some of them are reason enough to book that airplane right now.


A few good spots to go diving are:

  1. Sail Rock

  2. Chumphon Pinnacle

  3. Southwest Pinnacle

  4. Red Rock/ Japanese garden

  5. Hin Pee Wee/ Wreck





1. Sail Rock.

Sail Rock is world-famous for excellent scuba diving! The pinnacle is home to many schooling fish, and with a bit of luck, you can spot whale sharks, manta rays, and other big pelagics! Both Koh Tao and Pha Ngan service sail rock. The latter being the closest.


Check out the video below for an impression of Koh Tao!






2. Chumphon pinnacle.

This beautiful deep(er) dive is about 45-60 minutes by boat away from Koh Tao, between the island and Chumphon (the city servicing the gulf of Thailand by boat). Huge schooling fish with chances on seeing the big ones, like whale sharks.






3. Southwest Pinnacle.

This beautiful deep(er) dive is about 45-60 minutes by boat away from Koh Tao, southwest of the island of Koh Tao. Huge schooling fish with chances on seeing the big ones, like whale sharks.





4. Red Rock/ Japanese Garden.

This is a beautiful easy dive just off the coast of Koh Tao. Lots of divers go here in calm waters to practice their skills or do their open water course, you can also explore some beautiful, quiet parts and see some great colorful corals and fish.



5. Hin Pee Wee/ Wreck (Sattakut).

This is usually the second dive of the day. No matter if you started further away, earlier on the day, or did the afternoon dive. Your second dive will probably be on Hin Pee Wee or the shipwreck right beside it. You can dive these in 1 go, as long as you can do a 45-minute dive.




 

What's next?

The next blog will be from Thailand!

My next planned trip is to finally visit Thailand, it will be the last country to visit, to complete my Asia diving experience!


I will try to visit Thailand and give you all the best places to go diving and perhaps avoid the most tourist places.


This will hopefully make for amazing stories, photos, and travel tips!


Thank you for taking the time to read this, any questions or tips can be sent to contactdivingscene@gmail.com, and remember:


"If you can breathe, you can dive"


 

Want to visit Thailand? Book your stay








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