Dive Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan & Ko Tao

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First published 28th March, 2005

Ko Tao grants more PADI certificates than anywhere else in the world with the exception of Cairns, Australia and every year thousands of people visit the Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao to either get a PADI certificate or just do some recreational diving. Although many say that the best diving is on Thailand's western coast at the Similan and Surin Island groups, the diving on the east coast is still described by many as world class.

Following is an overview of some of the area's the main diving sites:

Sail Rock
Described by some as world class, Sail Rock is the best known of the Ko Samui dive sites. The rock is actually a large granite pinnacle that starts from a sandy base at a depth of around 30m and pops out of the surface for another 10m or so. It's best known its "the chimney", a sizeable swim-through that starts at around 20m down, exiting first at around 10m, then again, closer to the surface, at around 5m. On a clear day, with light filtering down, it is a stunning dive.

A fine range of fish swim here, including shoals of barracuda, batfish, trevally, mackerel and occasional whale sharks. Considered an all-round good site, Sail Rock is suitable for all levels of divers from beginner through to advanced. Nearby lies the Samran Pinnacles with ample soft and hard coral and a good range of fish, in particular keep an eye out for the large groupers. Both Sail Rock and Samran Pinnacles are roughly half way between Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao.

Soft coral at Sail Rock, Ko Tao, ThailandShark Island
So named due to its resident population of leopard and reef sharks, the Ko Tao dive site of Shark Island is a two-stone outcrop running from a depth of about 25m to the surface, just off the southeast coast of Ko Tao. Although for some the sharks are the main drawcard, the real attraction here is the abundant soft and hard corals, in particular the plentiful anemones. Other attractions include snapper, sting rays and angel fish -- whale sharks are also quite frequently seen here. Turtles have been reported, but sightings are increasingly rare. Shark Island is suitable for all levels of divers from beginner through to advanced.

Chumphon Pinnacle
Considered by many to be the best dive site in the region, Chumphon Pinnacle is a must-see if you're thinking of diving on Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan or Ko Tao. Unsurprisingly a granite pinnacle, Chumphon Pinnacle commences at a depth of around 35m before petering out at around 14m. The base of the main pinnacle is layered in a tremendous blanket of anemones and is surrounded by at least half a dozen smaller outcrops. Expect to see large groupers, whale sharks, barracuda and shoals of bat fish, among plenty of others. Chumphon Pinnacle isn't a beginner's dive, but if your ability is up to it, don't miss it. It's located around 10km to the northwest of Ko Tao.

Shark at Chumphon Pinnacle, Ko Samui, ThailandKo Ma
This small island sits just off the north coast of Ko Pha Ngan and is Ko Pha Ngan's best dive site. Although at low tide, Ko Ma is actually connected to Ko Pha Ngan by a short strip of sand, both the diving and snorkelling around here remain very good. Divers can expect to see sting rays, barracuda, grouper, anemones and clownfish and occasionally small sharks in the mostly calm waters. An advantage here is that it's easy to stagger ashore for a few cold drinks as the beach has a range of guesthouses stretching along it. Ko Ma is a good allround site, particularly suited to beginners.

Ko Nang Yuan
The much-photographed and well known Ko Tao dive site of Ko Nang Yuan is comprised of three small islets connected by slivers of white sand. The island itself is popular with day-tripping snorkellers, but the immediate surrounds have a number of fine diving locations. The dive site of Nang Yuan Pinnacle, lying between Ko Nang Yuan and Ko Tao, is small compared to Chumphon and Sail Rock, though is still a worthwhile diving spot. It doesn't break the surface, stopping at around two metres below, but is a fine spot for watching larger fish, in particular groupers. From here you can swim over to Ko Tao and explore the eastern boulder-strewn coastline. White Rock and the Twins lay straight south of Ko Nang Yuan, offshore from the popular Haad Sai Ree on Ko Tao. Of the two, White Rock is the more interesting, with a good selection of fish including feisty trigger fish. The Rock runs from a depth of 20m to within a metre of the surface. The Twins doesn't come nearly that close to the surface, peaking at a depth of about 8m, but it's a decent spot with some good anemone and clown fish-laden sections along with bigger fish in the deeper areas. Both White Rock and the Twins are particularly popular with night divers.

White Rock, Ko Tao, Thailand

The above are just a few of the better known Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao dive sites. Given its proximity to the sites, Ko Tao is the most popular choice to launch dives from, with over 30 dive companies operating on the island.

We'd like to thank Crystal Dive Resort for the pictures used in the above story. Their main office is in Mae Haad, Ko Tao and they offer a full range of diving options. For more information, please see their website, or click here for our listing of some other operators on the island.

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

Read 6 comment(s)

  • enjoy one of thailands best destinations for scuba diving. just one word for thease beautiful islands in the gulf of thailand: paradiese!!
    enjoy your holiday here, you will never forget the charme of koh samui and koh tao!

    Posted by travel thailand on 3rd July, 2009

  • anybody recommend a good diving school in ko tao that can organise accomodation also?

    Posted by karen on 19th February, 2010

  • anybody recommend a good diving school in ko tao that can organise accomodation also?

    Posted by karen on 19th February, 2010

  • Shark island has not seen any sharks in a long long time. Most of the sharks have gone from Koh Tao (like everywhere else) due to over fishing and shark finning.

    Whalesharks are always coming and going and the bull sharks at Chumphon Pinnacles likewise come and go due to the seasons.

    Koh tao diving on its day can be world class but the sharks (and turtles) are very rare these days.

    Posted by Timsahb on 22nd June, 2010

  • Koh Samui is heaven on earth for the scuba diver. Furthermore, it caters for every budget and if you do not like scuba you can still enjoy the sights with your snorkel.

    Posted by Simon Coleman on 26th November, 2010

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    Posted by Tunde on 24th September, 2012

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