Koh Tao has officially won my Best Lower Gulf Island Award, an award that may be award to one of the 3 Gulf Islands – Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao, once per person per lifetime. Ever since I set foot on this island, it’s been nothing but a relaxing adventure (I’m aware of the slight oxymoron, go there and you’ll understand). The people are nice, the beaches are the best I’ve seen so far, and the experiences have more outgoing than any of the other islands would dare to offer.
I started my diving journey the first day I arrived, at Easy Divers, to get my PADI certification to ensure that I’m allowed to dive anywhere around the world to a depth of 18 meters without supervision. I wanted to do this early in my trip so that from here on in, I can dive anytime I’m on the coast and in the mood.
I’m sure that many dive centres offer great courses and fun dives, but if you want my testimonial, Easy Divers delivers! It is located right next to the Mae Haad Pier, where you will disembark on arrival, so it is very easy to get to, and hats off to Tim, our instructor, for his fun, educational, and engaging sessions. Yes, a PADI certification does require classroom video lectures and written exercises, but he kept them entertaining. Once underwater, everything you learn here you quickly apply so they definitely have their value. Easy divers charged about B8500 for the 4 day course and certification. This also included the guesthouse accommodation for the 3 nights, and don’t expect to be put up in a 8 person per room hostel, you will get your own room very close to the beach and diving center.
During the course, we did 2 shallow water dives which involved practicing the skills you learned during the classroom sessions, and 4 deep water dives, twice going the full allowed 18m depths. The shallow water dives, despite being meant for practice purposes, which usually means boring training, were actually a lot of fun. It’s the first time you’re breathing underwater and that alone is a surreal experience for someone that’s never done it before. The exercises feel more like playing a game than learning, and you’re in Thailand after all, so there are dazzling fish you’ve never seen before even here in the shallows. The deep water dives on the other hand go without saying. For anyone that’s ever seen a diver in a movie, get ready to have all your expectations met. The feeling of weightlessness, the 3-dimensional freedom, and the variety of nature’s color palette on all kinds of underwater life are a perfect example of an experience that a film or picture simply cannot do justice to.
Koh Tao does also offer the party scene that Koh Phangan does, including some nice bars and organized pub crawls, but it is certainly not the main priority. Sairee beach is where you’ll find it but it turns down earlier than most other islands as everyone is focused first and foremost on their dives, which generally start at 8:30am. Easy Divers is located on the beach next to Sairee, so you can get there if you like but you’ll be happy to know that the party will never come to ruin your peace.
We enjoyed Koh Tao so much that we spent an extra two days after the diving was complete to explore the island. It is definitely the most mountainous of the three and where the other two have nicely paved roads, Koh Tao has been tamed a lot less and your motorbike adventures will definitely take you on some offroad dirt roads. We trekked to the top of its multiple peaks where the value of the extra B50/day for the 125cc option was very apparent. We rented from RPM which was close to and recommended by Easy Divers. They were a little bit more expensive than some other places but everything was clearly very well taken care of and the tires were some of the most offroad looking ones I’ve seen so far.
Each beach and peak is worth a visit to, but the most impressive and difficult to get to sight was definitely the Mango Bay Viewpoint. The dirt roads leading to it are filled with rocks and water trenches and at times the usable part of the road is almost as narrow as your tires. Our bikes were able to handle it but you can certainly park your bike at that point and continue on foot, which will likely take about 20-30 mins. Either way, the view and bar (no idea how they get supplies up there) are 110% worth it. On a clear day, you can even spot Koh Phangan in the distance.
Another very notable spot was Chalok Baan Kao Village. It is located about a ten minute ride south of the Mae Haad Pier, very close to the water, and offers some of the best and cheapest restaurants on the island, all featuring fantastic beach views. Great place to settle in for a few hours and crank out a bit of work after a coffee or a meal. Alvaro diving center is also located there so you do have options if you opt for that location.
Pirate Bar is located there and it’s where we spent most of our evenings. It is a very laid back spot with a modest nightly fireshow and a very easy going owner. It is such a chill spot that you are even welcome to try your hand and your own fireshow. I definitely recommend starting without the blaze and working your way up but I have yet to see anyone get burned. It is literally located right on the beach and also offers hookahs and mocktails if you want to ensure a chill night, which is often the case on Koh Tao where it is more about the daytime adventure than the nighttime extravaganza.