The abundant underwater reefs and rocks off Koh Samui teem with colourful marine life and diving is one of the key attractions around the islands in the Thai Gulf. The relatively shallow waters, particularly off Koh Tao, are perfect for beginners, but there are also several more challenging open sea dive sites that appeal to advanced scuba divers.
Plenty of dive schools offer courses and trips to the best spots within practical reach of the island. Competition is fierce, but in addition to finding a good price, it’s important to check that safety and equipment standards are strictly adhered to. For the best diving, also look for dive operators that limit the number of divers on each trip. Generally you will find that most foreign-run dive operators are managed to international standards, but some offer better trainers, service and equipment than others.
For beginners, a PADI Open Water dive course takes three to four days and includes both classroom theory sessions and practical training in the pool and sea. It is also possible to try a demonstration dive with a qualified instructor before taking the course. While short courses are available, those planning lots of diving are better off taking the full course.
Thailand is one of the cheapest places to qualify for your PADI ‘ticket’. Once certified, you can dive freely with other dive operators anywhere in the world. People who complete the Open Water course often go on to take their advanced certificate, and some continue their dive education further still with dive rescue and dive master training, which takes several months.
Read more on diving in Koh Tao.
Dive Sites off Koh Samui
Sail Rock: is the most famous dive location in the region, and also a PADI five-star dive site with a 40m pinnacle that rises 15m above the surface of the sea. The rock plays host to literally thousands of fish as well as other vibrant marine species, such a sea anemones and moray eels. During certain seasons it may also be possible to spot whale sharks. There is a spectacular ‘chimney’ rock formation big enough to swim through from 18m up to six metres, and the light entering the tunnel makes for some impressive underwater views. Sail rock is located 45kms from Koh Samui, halfway between Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
Nangyuan Pinnacle and Twins: are popular sites for snorkelling trips and also offer good diving opportunities, with three dive sites located in a small area. Nangyuan pinnacle is a short swim from the main island and starts a metre below the surface, while Twins is just off the west coast of Koh Nangyuan and consists of two rock formations from six down to 18m. Both sites are frequented by large numbers of tropical reef fish. You can also see clown fish, pink anemone fish and black and white sergeant major fish.
Shark Island: is a small outcrop named after the populations of reef and leopard sharks that frequent its deeper waters. This is another very popular site situated very close to Koh Tao, with a gentle slope down to 28m, making it excellent for novice divers and divers in training. The colourful coral gardens and large numbers of reef fish, such as Angel and Banner fish, make this an enjoyable multi-level dive.
Chumphon Pinnacle: is another impressive dive site situated 11kms northwest of Koh Tao. One large (and several smaller) rocky outcroppings provide feeding stations for pink anemone fish, batfish, and large shoals of bigger fish, such as barracudas. The main pinnacle starts 14m below the surface and drops to a depth of 36m. It may also be possible to see large grouper at Chumpon pinnacle as well as the other pelagic species, like the sharks and rays that also seasonally visit sail rock.
The Koh Yippon islands: are generally considered the best sites for diving in the national marine park south of Samui. Large rock pinnacles descend to attractive coral gardens that reach a depth of around 18 or 20m. There are some beautiful swim-thrus and a host of marine life that includes blue rays, cuttle fish, banded sea snakes and yellow tailed barracudas.