While neighbouring Ko Tao gets most of the attention when it comes to diving and learning to dive, it is possible – and perhaps a good idea – to use Ko Pha Ngan instead.
There are a number of reasons for this, but first and foremost using Ko Pha Ngan as a base will almost certainly mean smaller groups and, at least when diving the sites close to Ko Pha Ngan, less crowding underwater. While the diving is generally considered to be better on Ko Tao there are some sites close to Ko Pha Ngan, or at least, equidistant between the two islands.
Ko Pha Ngan's dive sites are all off of the west coast of the island, with Ko Ma, a small island, connected by a sandbar to Ko Pha Ngan being the most popular. You can also dive the offshore reef at Haad Salad, Haad Yao and Chao Phao. Further south, out from Thong Sala, sits Ko Tae Nok.
Arguably one of the best sites in the entire Gulf of Thailand, Sail Rock, sits midway between Ko Tao and Ko Pha Ngan and delivers on a high standard of diving – including the "Chimney" swim thorough. Sail Rock is regularly visited by Ko Tao divers, so it can get quite congested.
Other sites can also be visited from Ko Pha Ngan, but if you are planning on doing a lot of diving, perhaps consider basing yourself on Ko Tao to save on trip times.
Freediving is also popular and there are a few specialist operators on the island.
As far as operators go, the usual advice holds – check them out in person, get a feel for how they operate and ask to take a look at the gear. Most dive shops are based at Chaloklam on the north coast on Ko Pha Ngan but you'll find branch offices and smaller operators on some of the other beaches.
Apnea Koh Pha Ngan T: (092) 380 1494 http://apneakohphangan.com/
Chaloklum Diving http://www.chaloklum-diving.com/
Free Dive Koh Pha Ngan T: (0877 844 503) http://freedivekohphangan.com/
Haad Yao Divers T: (086) 279 3085 http://www.haadyaodivers.com/
Lotus Diving T: (077) 374 142 http://www.lotusdiving.com
Phangan Divers T: (077) 375 117 http://phangandivers.com/
Tropical Dive Club T: (077) 445 081 http://tropicaldiveclub.com/
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 26th October, 2016.