Greetings from Koh Tao, Thailand! I arrived on this paradise island known for its world-class diving in the afternoon after a 5 hour speed-boat ride from the mainland pier near Surat Thani. We had to stop at two other islands along the way: Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, known for its crazy parties. For those who are interested, here’s some pertinent information about the geography taken from the booklet Koh Tao: A Complete Guide.
Koh Tao is a fairly remote island lying 47 km north of its closest neighbor, Koh Phangan, 72 km from Koh Samui, and 115 km from Baan Don Pier, Surat Thani. The island, with Koh Nang Yuan (widely considered to be one of the most picturesque islands in the world), forms a small archipelago with a total area of 19.2 square kilometers. The coastline, which is predominantly steep, rocky shoreline, consists of 11 bays and 10 capes and is 28.6 km long with a surrounding coral reef spanning 8 km. The island is divided up into three villages, Mae Haad and Sairee on the west coast and Chalok Baan Kao in the south. Koh Tao has a diurnal tide meaning there is only one high and one low water each tidal day.
Koh Tao in English means “Turtle Island”. The island’s natural beauty both above and below the water, with its stunning coral reefs and abundance marine life in clear warm water, bring thousands of visitors here each year making it an unforgettable destination for divers, adventurers, and travellers alike.
I’m specifically visiting Koh Tao to get my SSI diving license at Koh Tao Divers; the original dive center on the island since 1987. There are over 80 dive centers spread out across the island and I’m grateful to be receiving my open-water scuba diver training at “The OG”. I’m currently typing this blog post from Ocean View Resort right next door to the dive center. I recently had an opportunity to go diving off the coast of Bali in a small town named Amed. It was such an incredible and eye-opening experience! I’ve wanted to get my diving certification for over 4 years ever since I first visited Isla Mujeres, an island off the coast of Cancun, Mexico. But I would always come up with excuses due to irrational fears: it’s too expensive (I can’t afford it), I’m afraid I’ll get decompression sickness, my ears will start bleeding, a human being doesn’t belong in the ocean, bla bla bla.
Thankfully, my current location is world-renowned for being one of the most beautiful and cheapest places in the world to get your sea legs! Open Water courses on Koh Tao cost 11,000 baht (approximately $350 USD) without accommodation. Upon completion, you’ll receive a certification card that allows you to dive anywhere in the world up to a depth of 18 meters. You can also take courses in freediving and technical diving, and specialty scuba courses in everything from photography to conservation and beyond.
Less than 1% of the population will ever become an astronaut or walk on the moon, but it’s possible for anyone to get their diving certification and experience weightlessness in a foreign environment teeming with alien-like creatures. The undersea rock formations vary from pinnacles stemming from the seabeds to boulder arrangements that provide swim-throughs and caverns. Koh Tao provides the perfect opportunity for divers to observe the relationships that make up the marine ecosystem; including different species of colorful angelfish, butterflyfish, bannerfish and stingrays.
This is especially appealing to me as a travel photographer looking to expand my craft and explore unfamiliar locales. Air by drone, ground, mountains… what’s next? The natural conclusion is Underwater Photography. The only downside is that all dive centers don’t allow beginner students to film with a GoPro during their open-water diving course. However, they do offer professional photo services on your 3rd & 4th dive for an extra charge of 1,000 baht or roughly 32 dollars. There are dozens of incredible dive sites to explore off the coast of Koh Tao for the beginner, advanced, and pro divers alike, including Sattakut Wreck, a former US WWII Navy vessel at 48m in length sunk in 2011 to create a new artificial reef.
Koh Tao is not just beautiful underwater but also from above. There’s so many sweeping panoramic views to explore on the island well — Koh Nang Yuan, Hin Wong Bay, Laem Thian, Shark Island, Freedom Beach, Mango Viewpoint. I’m going to update this blog post with professional photos of these locations during my adventures on Koh Tao. Stay tuned!
I will officially get my SSI diving certification on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, and then plan to continue exploring the island for another few days, catch a boat/bus combo back to Krabi, and hop on a quick flight to Chiang Mai. I can legally stay in Thailand until February 26th which allows just over a week to check out Chiang Mai and make the famous drive on a motorbike to Chiang Pai featuring stunning views and 762 switchback curves. Then I’m crossing the border into either Myanmar or Laos — I haven’t decided yet. I’ve read that Myanmar only recently opened their borders to tourism whereas Laos is already full of foreigner travellers. A photo is worth a thousand words — Myanmar it is!
My goal is to visit 50 countries in the next 3 years. Myanmar will be #16 I think, so I’m almost halfway there. I get a lot of inspiration from the popular travel vlogger Drew Binsky — you should definitely subscribe to his YouTube channel. He’s on the homestretch of visiting every country in the world and creating a full-length documentary in dedication to his momentous accomplishment. We’re already connected on LinkedIn and it would be a dream come true to collaborate on a project in the near future!
Lately, my life has been feeling like a waking dream because I’m following my true passion, getting out of my tedious routine, seeking novelty everyday, exploring beautiful destinations, experiencing different cultures, and taking lots of photographs. I also discovered an investment property on the island of Koh Lanta — it’s a piece of abandoned real estate property on a cliffside with easy beach access, three gazebos for a yoga studio, still needs a lot of work but has a ton of potential!
On that note, I’m going to wrap up this lengthy blog post since I have to be up at 7:30am in the morning to commence my diving training class. I’m feeling quite relaxed after an intense Thai massage and delicious dinner on Sairee Beach. Just another day in the life of a digital nomad, turned US expat. If you’re interested in learning more about diving in Koh Tao, I highly recommend reading this comprehensive guide on Nomadic Matt. I’ll leave you with a short video of Top 10 Things To Do Scuba Diving in Koh Tao.