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Perched in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Tao has a unique claim to fame: it’s one of the world’s few scuba diving destinations for backpackers. While the demographic that heads to the island is overwhelmingly 20-something, the underwater variety that lies nearby – everything from turtles, a sunken warship, and even the occasional whale shark – will appeal to divers of all ages.

Reachable by ferry from Chumpon on the Thai mainland or nearby island Koh Samui, Koh Tao became a mecca for young people, especially from Europe, about 15 years ago. That steady stream of youth has made it one of the world’s least expensive places to earn a scuba certification. Although the island’s eastern side has some lovely beaches, soaking up the sun is better done at other destinations.

Koh Tao features 60, yes, 60, dive centers from which to choose, but two stand out from the crowd. Located right on the main strip near the ferry pier in Sairee is Impian Divers, operated by former Beijing resident and PADI Master Instructor Robert Rhemrev. Impian specializes in small group classes and diving, and reaches all of Koh Tao’s major dive sites with their own boat. They offer courses in four languages: Dutch, English, French, and German. Find them at www.impiandivers.com.

For more advanced training, few if any dive centers in the world have a better reputation than Buddha View Diving Resort, perched on the south end of the island. Active divers looking at courses such as Divemaster or even Instructor can take advantage of Buddha View’s dedicated facilities, along with learning from one of the world’s most experienced PADI Course Directors, Mark Soworka. Learn more at www.buddhaview-diving.com.

Koh Tao also benefits from its proximity to two other well-known Kohs (Thai for “island”), Koh Samui, and Koh Phang’an, the latter best known for its Full Moon Party. Koh Tao mysteriously sees a decline in the number of young people eager to go diving during the day or two before and after the event, so if all-night raving is not your thing, that may be a good time to plan your visit.

One tip: take the Lomprayah ferry. It’s much faster than its competitor, Seatran. Just bear in mind that the Lomprayah ferry pier is as much as an hour away from Koh Samui International Airport (the loveliest boutique airport in the world), so make sure you leave hours between your ferry’s arrival and your plane’s departure.

Disclosure: Steven Schwankert is the founder of SinoScuba and a PADI IDC Staff Instructor.

Photo: Steven Schwankert/the Beijinger


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