Jan 06 2013
What’s it like to dive on Thailand’s Ko Tao? The island really does have something to offer every level of diver; many divers flock here for all sorts of levels of training, and also to just enjoy fun diving.
Ko Tao is surrounded by dive sites — more than 20, in fact, with the furthest being no more that 45 minutes away. Most operators run two dive trips a day, the first leaving around 07:00, returning around midday and the second leaving about midday, returning around 17:00. Each trip is a two-dive trip and most centres offer regular night dives too.
The most well known sites are probably Chumphon Pinnacle and South West Pinnacle. These are both deeper open ocean sites where you will see lots of reef action. You can visit them with an open water certification but you will see more of them if you are advanced or perhaps while you are completing your advanced certification. While these sites are stunning and two of the places you are most likely to spot a whale shark, it doesn’t mean that the other sites aren’t worth visiting.
Some unsung heros offer some stunning dives and one of my favourites is Shark Island, so named due its fin-like appearance above the water. Shark Island hardly ever seems to get overrun with divers and has some amazing fish life and is popular with the whale sharks too. Hin Wong Pinnacle lies off the east coast of Ko Tao and only seems to get visited when the conditions the other side are not so favourable. However it’s another awesome site, deeper, frequented by whale sharks too and the only spot you will find those funny shrimp fish that swim on their heads.
White Rock is also a very popular site, can be enjoyed by all levels of divers and is probably one of the best places to spot turtles. It’s popular for night diving too as that’s where the barracuda go to hunt. Personally I prefer Twins for a night dive as everyone else is at White Rock and you will usually have the site to yourself. During the day Twins is a popular spot for training and it has an artificial reef off to one side, which allows students to practise mastering their buoyancy without harming themselves or the reef.
Ko Tao has a number of other artificial reefs, with some encompassing nurseries to help ensure the future biodiversity of the reefs and their resistance to bleaching and disease. Some are simply offered as training grounds for divers and relief of pressure on other sites. The most famous one would be the shipwreck of the HTMS Sattakut. The vessel was sunk on purpose more than a year ago and is a great spot for wreck-diving or even wreck penetration for the more adventurous.
If you are a student diver you will most likely visit some of the shallower bays in your initial dives. Spots like Japanese Gardens, Mango Bay and Ao Leuk offer calm shallow dives to get you into the swing of things. Don’t be put off by this if you are more experienced as there are some macro gems in these locations and they are great for photographers too.
At most of these bays you can get a drop off just outside the bay and swim into the bay while exploring the coastline. The most popular of these dives is the swim from Red Rock to Japanese Gardens, yet if you can find an operator who is staying at Red Rock and you can dive the coast line in the other direction, you’ll find pink tailed trigger fish. An added bonus of this is that not many dive operators offer it so it’s quieter diver when the island is busy.
As for when to come, November is monsoon and the conditions can be far from ideal — you will actually find that many centres close for this month. April, May, September and October are when we traditionally see the most whale sharks however you can be lucky at any time of year – they don’t carry calendars! June offers lovely conditions and the island is relatively quiet. Christmas and New Year, July and particularly August are busy and under no circumstances do I recommend that you arrive without a room booked.
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