Koh Tao is a small island in the Gulf of Thailand that is scuba diving haven. It has cheap accomodation, cheap food, and cheap diving. It is the perfect add on for any holiday in Thailand.
If you haven’t heard of it, it is one of the 3 main islands in the Gulf of Thailand. There is the more popular Koh Samui, then Ko Phangan, and north of them all is Koh Tao. A rule of thumb is the farther north the island is, the cheaper and more about diving it is. Koh Samui is common destination for relaxing on the beach and the full moon parties.
You take a ferry, plain and simple. I took an overnight ferry from Surat Thani. It is the cheapest one, leaves around midnight, and is more of a cargo vessel. You sleep onboard and it arrives in the early hours of the morning. There is a night market right by the docks so you can graba bite to eat and do some shopping before boarding.
You can also take a high speed catamaran from Chumphon farther north up the coast. It is only a 2 hour ride if I remember right. It is a pretty nice. This is how I left Koh Tao. It has nice seats and plays movies. As soon as you board they hand you sea sickness pills (I didn’t take them) and a blanket since they air conditioning is turned on pretty high.
This is the sole reason I went there. It is cheap and there are a ton of dive shops. As soon as I got off the boat, I headed down the beach to the right. One of the first places I went to was Dive Point. I signed up to finish the last half of my Open Water Certification and then went from there.
The instructor was fantastic. He was a Dutchman who could speak 5 different languages and had a real passion for diving. I was so impressed with him that I signed up for my Advanced Open Water certification while I was there.
Also, the Dive Point boat was the best one when I was there. It is a large boat with an area on the upper level to hang out and tan or just relax in the shade and read a book. They let friends and family of the divers come along and just relax up top (you just have to pay $5 for lunch).
The boat leaves early in the morning (like 6:45AM) and heads to the farthest destination. This was Chumphon Pinnacle when I was there. They will do two dives in the morning, have lunch, and then head back to a dive site closer to the town for an afternoon dive. This is what happened when I was there anyways (May of 2004).
I had already done the book work and pool dives for my Open Water Certification in my home city. It cost me around $120CA to do the open water portion in Koh Tao. Each regular dive cost 70 Baht which is around $17CA. This includes lunch.
When I was there I saw a lot of very cool things. There were grey reef sharks, groupers, rays, tons of other fish, and my cousin saw a whale shark.
When I was there I dived at a few of the spots. Chumphon Pinnacle, Japanese Gardens, Mango Bay, and Red Rock. There is also awesome diving and costs only $3/day for flippers and snorkels.
If you want to see sharks, Chumphon Pinnacle had tons. This could be seasonal so make sure to ask where they are. A lot of times you don’t have a choice. Based on the season and currents, the dive shops will only be diving at certain spots.
Sea turtles are very common in some spots as well. I never saw any unfortunately.
For some more information, here are a few sites I like.