Travel Guide: Koh Tao, Thailand

I woke up this morning to find that my motorbike was missing. The office was closed but luckily some guy was working on the grounds and helped me uhh look for it… like it was a shoe I had misplaced. Long story short someone had another key and moved it. I don’t even know but I didn’t have to buy anyone a new moped. I went out for another ride before I had to return it at 10AM. I organized my ferry to Koh Tao with the woman in the Siam Shades office. The ferry ticket to Koh Tao was 500 THB and 300 THB for the taxi from the hotel to the ferry. I gave up on trying to be frugal about rides at this point and just went with what was most convenient, everything is so cheap here anyway it’s not worth the struggle.

The ferry to Koh Tao was glorious, high speed, calm, cobalt blue water, the sun was shining, I could have stayed on that boat all day. Prior to leaving my hotel I arranged to get my Open Water certification withBig Blue Diving. The course itself was 9800 THB which is only about $300USD. Since I had pre-booked they had a driver pick me up at the pier.

TIP: You have the option to stay in the free accommodations which are dorm style and don’t have any air conditioning or for only a 100 THB a night you can get a dorm style room with 4 beds and air con. This was SO worth it. 

I fell in love with Koh Tao immediately. This island is a far cry from its more commercial neighbors. It definitely has its touristy parts but it wasn’t nearly as in your face as some of the other islands (cough cough Phi Phi).

TIP: If you’re interested in getting your dive certification, Koh Tao is the place to do it. The island is recognized as having some of the best dive sites in the world and the cost to get your certification here is dirt cheap. You can practically fly to Thailand and get certified for less than it would cost at a dive school in Australia. 

When you dive at Big Blue you feel like you’re a kid again away at summer camp. You’re meeting all these people close in age from around the world, you’re all staying on site, you get a schedule, you wear nothing but a bathing suit and walk around barefoot, and everything you need is right on campus. Big Blue is the 2nd largest dive school in the world but you’d never guess it. It feels like a tight knit community and you see the same people everyday.

TIP: Don’t make plans after Koh Tao if you can help it. The Open Water course is 4 days but most people love it so much they decide to stay and do fun dives or get their Advanced Certification. After my third dive I was hooked and immediately signed up to get my advanced certification which was an extra 8600 THB. This course takes 2-3 days depending on how much time you have and how aggressively you go about it. 

TIP: You’re required to wait 24 hours after you fly to dive and wait 24 hours after a dive to fly. Keep this in mind when booking flights and dives. 

I’m not going to get into the day to day of my week on Koh Tao because it pretty much consisted of nothing but diving. We did 9 dives over the course of 6 days (you spend your first day in the class room and second day in the pool) so the third and fourth days are devoted to ocean dives.

We went to various dive sights, including: Mango Bay, Twins, Whiterock, Chumphon Pinnacle and Sattakut. One of my favorite parts of doing the Advanced Course was the night dive, you go down at dusk with nothing but a flashlight (and all the obvious diving equipment of course). We also did a deep dive to a WWII Shipwreck. On all dives we witnessed some incredible aquatic life like golden trevally, tripletail wrasse, lined butterfly fish, baby angel fish, parrot fish, green turtle and a blue spotted ribbon tail ray to name a few.

FUN FACT: More people are killed by vending machines every year than they are by sharks.

There is a restaurant on the beach at the dive site and the food is excellent. I ate almost every meal on Koh Tao here. If you do decide to do the dive school be prepared for very little free time. There were a couple afternoons we got off but most people were so tired they ended up napping.

On the last day of the Open Water course I did get some time to explore. I went out to Koh Nangyuan with a few of the guys I did the course with. We paid 200 THB each for a long tail boat to bring us out to the island. (I think we were WAY overcharged because the ride was only 15 minutes and there were 4 of us but whatever).

Koh Nangyuan was beautiful. There are three islands all connected by a sandbar. I heard it’s the only one like it in the world. You have to pay 100 THB to get on to the island and no plastic bottles are allowed. The beach was rocky but the water was the bluest I’ve seen yet, and warm and just incredible. There was a rickety boardwalk around the side of one of the islands that leads you to a narrow hiking trail. It’s a quick walk up to the top of the mountain and makes for a great viewing point. There isn’t much to do on the island besides lounge but there is a bar with great smoothies and a decent selection of drinks and food.

FUN FACT: While the movie The Beach was filmed on and around Phi Phi Islands the book was actually written by Alex Garland on Koh Nangyuan. It is also where the Red Hot Chili Peppers wrote Californication.

On the last day of the Advanced Course a few guys from the camp invited me to checkout the island on motorbikes. I was tired and reluctant but went anyway since it was my last chance to see the island and I was warned to not rent a motorbike on Koh Tao by myself. The roads are all dirt, there’s loose sand everywhere, the hills are steep, there’s a ton of construction and brakes have been known to give out… I went anyway and just walked the areas that freaked me out.

We checked out Tanote Bay which had great snorkeling and a rock you could jump off, it was quiet and secluded. Then we went to Aow Leuk, it was 100 THB to get into this beach. Even if you’re not planning on diving I still recommend Koh Tao, there are some really gorgeous tree house type bungalows you can stay in like these  that are practically falling off the cliff sides in the best kind of way.

If I ever go back to Thailand I’d be satisfied spending a whole week in a cliff side bungalow on Koh Tao doing nothing but reading, drinking and diving. This place is paradise.

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