02 September, 2008

Diving in Koh Tao

Koh Tao (Turtle Island) is located off the eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand. Not far from Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan. It offers some of the best diving you can hope for in the waters of the gulf and, while it offers a good selection of dive sites, in my opinion, it cannot be put in the same league of sites on the west coast. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly given the rapid development on these islands, in spite of its name, over the five days of diving in the area, we did not spot a single turtle. It ultimately all depends on the kind of diving one likes and, in my personal opinion once again, although the island in itself offers plenty opportunities for rest and relaxation, diving can be either extremely exciting or extremely boring.

The dive sites the local dive operators refer as Local Sites tend to be fairly shallow dives. Some with nice coral formations and the usual suspects swimming by. Ideal for beginners or for divers who feel most comfortable at shallower depths. We dove with Planet Scuba which, like with other operators during peak season, appeared to have a tendency to revisit a limited selection of local dive sites like Japanese Garden, Twin Rocks and Mango Bay all located on the north west side of the island thus leaving us ignorant of any other local site of which the island of Koh Tao, judging from its map, appear to be rich of. So please do bear this in mind when reading this post as I can only base my judgment and thoughts on what I was ultimately able to experience. However, I don’t mean to sound negative as, in fact, there were also some exciting dives to be had at Sail Rock, which lie at south east of Koh Tao not far from Koh Pah Ngan, and the Chumphon Pinnacle (see previous post). Given their respective locations in more open, deeper waters, both can offer a greater variety of depths and sights including caves, chimneys and sharks (grey reef, black tip, bull and the occasional whale shark). The dives we conducted at the Chumphon Pinnacle were worth the entire trip to Koh Tao as far as I am concerned and will certainly provide me with the incentive to go back again with the view to explore more of the dive sites the island has to offer.

We stayed at the Sensi Paradise Resort just off the piers at the Mae Haad Village. A very good location for divers as it is located at walking distance from all of the major dive operators offices and piers saving considerable time to and from diving excursions. A very relaxing set up with impeccable and extremely friendly service by both the local and the “imported” Burmese staff.

The entire trip was arranged through the Bangkok offices of Planet Scuba whom also have an office / dive shop in the center of Mae Haad Village in Koh Tao. They run a smooth operation and try their best to keep to their promise of keeping dive groups small and visiting sites off peak times which can make a huge difference in the quality of the experience. Their diving staff is friendly and caring, the only sour note being one member of their office staff who seemed too concerned with being paid for extras immediately, in spite of the fact that we had already booked and paid for a full 10-dive package, instead of trying to blend into the relaxed / care-free / fun attitude divers normally enjoy and look for. In any case, when seeing other dive operators boat loaded with tens of divers all heading out for the same dive sites at the same time, I was prepared to put personality issues aside and rate Planet Scuba as a good diving operation in Koh Tao.

There are two ways to reach Koh Tao. We flew with Bangkok Airways from Bangkok to Koh Samui on a 06:00 am flight to catch the 08:00 am Lomprayah high speed catamaran which put us at Koh Tao at about 10:30 am. The same operator can also be used making use of a bus service from Bangkok to Chumphon and on by ferry to Koh Tao which is a slower yet cheaper option.

All pictures shown in this post were taken by Marco Gorin whom retains copy rights.

No comments: