The Complete Guide to Koh Samui Diving
As you sink into the warm, crystalline waters surrounding Koh Samui, you’ll know that you’ve found a piece of aquatic paradise. The waters of the Gulf of Thailand are teeming with tropical marine life, and divers from all over the world come here to experience this underwater wonderland.
Lying off the east coast of the mainland, Koh Samui is Thailand’s second largest island, renowned for its palm-fringed beaches and mountainous rainforests. But if you prefer getting your action underwater, Koh Samui offers a tempting range of dive sites. If you love exploring towering undersea pinnacles and vibrant reefs, and encountering majestic marine life, then Koh Samui scuba diving is calling you.
And you don’t need to be an experienced diver to enjoy hovering suspended above walls of coral amongst passing parades of fish. In fact, Koh Samui is a perfect place to learn to scuba dive, with one of the many available courses. For those with experience, a Koh Samui diving package may be just the thing for that Thailand holiday you’ve always wanted to take. There are numerous sites to dive around Koh Samui. Here are some of the best:
This internationally-renowned site is located north of Samui, between the islands of Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. The granite pinnacle extends 15 meters above the water, but the excitement all happens underneath, where it plunges to the sand 30 meters below. It’s an ideal site for divers of all levels, with something to see from the surface to the seafloor.
Sail Rock’s most famous feature is the “chimney”—a vertical swim-through that is entered at 18 meters and can be exited at 12 or 7 meters into gardens of pink anemones. With few other pinnacles nearby, Sail Rock is a magnet for marine life, with whale sharks being one of the main attractions. The coral-crusted pinnacle is also home to a myriad of reef-dwelling fish, like angelfish, butterfly fish, and scorpion fish. The currents bring schools of pelagics including barracuda, tuna, king mackerel, and trevally.
Sail Rock is usually dived in a circular fashion, starting deep and spiraling towards the surface. There can be strong currents around the rock, in which case the local divemasters will guide divers to more sheltered areas. Advanced divers may be able to explore a series of submerged pinnacles off the main rock, which are home to reef sharks.
About 2500 to 2800 baht will buy you a day trip to Sail Rock, including two dives, equipment, an experienced divemaster, lunch, and refreshments.
Ang Thong Marine Park
Offering some of the most stunning diving in Thailand, the Ang Thong Marine Park lies roughly 30 kilometers northwest of Samui. The park is a protected area of more than 100 square kilometers. Comprised of numerous limestone islands, Ang Thong boasts underwater scenery to float any divers’ boat, such as caves, swim-throughs, overhangs and sloping reefs.
The underwater topography is complemented by an incredible diversity of soft corals, black corals, barrel sponges, sea fans and anemones. Add to this the various fish species— large snappers, banded sea snakes, blue-spotted stingrays, fusil, ers and yellowtail barracuda, not to mention the reef fish—and you’ve got a top day’s diving.
Koh Wao and Koh Yippon are two of the most popular sites, with their shallow caves and swim-throughs, housing scores of fish. The mild currents and shallow depth (maximum 20 meters) make this region ideal for new divers.
The Ang Thong Marine Park is accessible by boat for day trips from Koh Samui. Visibility averages 15 meters or more. Day trips including, equipment, breakfast and lunch cost around 2950 baht for two dives, and 3650 for three dives.
Almost directly north of Koh Samui lies Koh Tao, a much smaller island. Just southeast of Koh Tao, Shark Island is a small uninhabited island named for its resemblance to a shark’s dorsal fin. Shark Island is best known for its diversity of marine life. Sloping gently from the surface down to 24m, each side of the island is a separate dive site— one side has a vast variety of hard corals and sponges, and is a popular home for turtles. The other side boasts some of the most spectacular soft corals you’ll see diving in Thailand, with frequent sightings of stingrays, moray eels, pufferfish, porcupine fish and titan triggerfish.
Divers might also encounter sea snakes, whale sharks, leopard sharks and reef sharks on the deeper side. Lovers of marine critters will also find their bliss here, with nudibranchs and crustaceans amongst the macro-life.
Currents at this site can be stronger than usual, making it perfect for drift diving. Trips from Koh Tao are available for 1000 baht per dive (including equipment and dive guide), with cheaper options for multiple dive packages.
About 35 minutes south-west of Koh Tao, this site is not to be missed on your Thailand diving holiday. It boasts a series of seven pinnacles, resembling a subaquatic mountain range, with a maximum depth of 30 meters, rising to within 5 meters of the surface.
The main pinnacle is completely carpeted with magnificent pink, blue and green anemones, with their resident anemonefish. You’ll see scorpion fish, dancing shrimps, crabs, and groupers. Marine life also includes snappers, emperor, blue-spotted ribbontail rays, white-eyed moray eels and harlequin sweetlips. Giant grouper dwell in the depths, with leopard sharks and whale sharks also visiting the site. King mackerel, tuna, and trevally are regulars.
This site can be a bit more challenging than other Koh Tao dives, due to environmental conditions such as currents and waves. Trips from Koh Tao are available for the same prices as above.
HTMS Sattakut – Wreck Drive
Yes, there’s even an option here for the wreck die-hards. The HTMS Sattakut is an ex-Thai navy boat, donated to Koh Tao by a consortium including The Department of Marine and Coastal Resources and the Royal Thai Navy. After being stripped and cleaned, it was scuttled on June 18, 2011.
It now rests in the sand, with the stern lying in around 30 meters of water, the bow in 26 meters, and the bridge at 18 meters. The wreck—which is 49 meters long and 7 meters wide with two canons—has already accumulated an abundance of marine life. From the portholes on either side, divers can see giant groupers, one-spotted snappers, sweetlips and butterfly fish who have made a home inside.
For PADI Wreck Specialty certified divers, there are two penetration points: one under the gun platform, which leads down the stairs and into the front cabin at around 24 meters; the other at 27metres, leading through a narrow corridor and into the ‘Big room’ at the heart of the wreck.
Between the sand and the bottom of the ship, look around for Jenkins whiprays and blue-spotted ribbontail rays.
A 15- to 20-minute boat ride from Koh Tao, HTMS Sattakut is suitable for divers with advanced certification or higher, with Wreck Specialist certification required for penetration.
Chumphon Pinnacle is located 11 kilometers to the northwest of Koh Tao and is known as one of the best dive sites in the region. It consists of one enormous coral-covered granite pinnacle and several smaller ones. The main pinnacle rises to within 14 meters of the surface and drops away to over 36 meters.
This site is home to plentiful marine life, including batfish, giant grouper, tuna, trevally and schools of barracuda and snapper. Plateaus on the pinnacle are carpeted with brightly-colored anemones, branching corals, sea whips and barrel sponges. Seasonally, whale sharks and manta rays also pass through the area.
Visibility averages 20 to 30 meters. There can be mild to strong currents here, which, combined with the depth, make this dive suitable for intermediate to advanced divers. Double boat dive trips will cost around 2000 baht.