Samui Wining & Dining
Down Under

The only way to experience the Gulf’s amazing underwater world is to dive, dive, dive!

44The Andaman Sea on Thailand’s west coast has achieved worldwide acclaim for its spectacular scuba diving sites. But, with so many international divers looking for more memorable and first-class diving experience, alternative sites in Thailand are being keenly sort-after. And the south east coast is fast gaining its own outstanding reputation.

Samui and her sister islands sit in the Gulf of Thailand, somewhat sheltered from the major oceans in the region. And this protection gives the area a number of high quality sites that can be dived all-year-round. Although the monsoon season, usually in November and December, can interrupt the reliability of the normally perfect conditions. The very best time of year is the ‘summer’ months, May to September, when visibility can be crystal clear down to 30 metres. And with Samui being a tropical island, just 10 degrees north of the equator, the water temperature is always a gorgeously warm 28˚C.

The most popular nearby dive spots are all close to Koh Tao, and can be accessed from Samui on day trips. Many pelagic fish, such as the world’s biggest fish – the whale shark, are frequently spotted in the area. And there are huge rock formations, towering pinnacles, colourful soft and hard corals and dramatically sloping coral reefs.

Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Pha-Ngan all have numerous professional PADI-qualified dive companies offering their services. Most have ex-pat dive-masters have staff and crew that are well trained in English and knowledgeable in all aspects of dive-safety procedures. Generally speaking, there’s very little difference in prices between most operators. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for two or three different dive companies to share the same boat on occasions.

Expect to pay around Bt.4,500 for a day dive trip to one of the popular sites. A PADI open-water dive course (3 days) usually costs something in the region of Bt.17,000, depending on how many dives are included. The more advance courses, including PADI instructor’s training, are also available. Taking in to account the wide range of accommodation available here, Thailand must be one of the most affordable and pleasurable places in the world to learn to dive. Not least, because of the invitingly warm and stunningly beautiful conditions. All the islands here on the east coast have easily accessible local dive sites. And range from simple, shallow, beginners’ dives, to the highly advanced and adventurous – enough to satisfy even the most thrill-seeking divers.

Once here in the region, the most talked about dives amongst the scuba crowd, are the two ‘must do’ spots for your diving itinerary. And these are:

Sail Rock – This is a big granite pinnacle that breaks the surface half-way between Samui and Koh Pha-Ngan. And as there are no other rocks around, it acts as a congregation point for all the fish in the surrounding area. The pinnacle drops down to 30 metres in the sand and is typically dived in a circular route around the rock, spiraling slowly deeper. If currents are strong, however, dive-masters will guide divers around the sheltered areas.

There are other outer rocks a little deeper that can be seen from the main pinnacle that are home to (harmless) reef sharks. On a clear sunny day, with light filtering down into the crystal blue water, the granite boulder looks stunning. Enormous schools of trevally are all over the dive site and they energetically harass the smaller fish, which bunch together for protection. The always-friendly longfin batfish are also often present in great numbers. They may follow divers and curiously peer into your mask, seemingly as interested in you as you are in them. They make wonderful photographic subjects. And always remember to keep an eye on the big blue for whale sharks!

Sail Rock is best known for its chimney, a large swim-through crevasse that’s entered at around 20 metres and can be exited in two places. The chimney’s cavern-like area is a haven for all sorts of marine-life, such as the schools of glassfish that appear to block your exit, only to part at the last second to reveal the holes. Hingebeak and boxer shrimps inhabit the coral wall. The latter can sometimes be seen cleaning a moray eel’s teeth, whilst scorpion-fish are well camouflaged on Sail Rock’s wall. And care with buoyancy is required when exiting the chimney. The hole at 10 metres is quite a tight squeeze, so most divers carry on up to the 5-metre exit and are rewarded by seeing a blanket of anemones on the outer side.

Chumporn Pinnacle – This is the best and most famous of Koh Tao’s dive sites. It’s another granite pinnacle that starts at 12 metres deep and goes down to a maximum depth of 35 metres. Numerous smaller rocks in the deeper outlying areas surround it. The main rock is completely covered in anemones, gently swaying in the current. They are full of fish, such as the western clownfish or ‘Nemo’ as it’s become known after the famous cartoon character.

This is one of the best dive sites in Koh Tao to see big fish, including potato grouper, longfin batfish, barracuda and many other whoppers. Huge schools of trevally can make it difficult to even see the pinnacle as they rush around divers. Whale sharks are common visitors here, too, the best time for spotting them (no pun intended) being from February to April. Other species at the site include lionfish, fusiliers, surgeonfish and schooling bannerfish. And leopard sharks are often seen resting on the sandy bottom at the reef’s edge.

However, it should be noted that the depth and currents mean that this is not one of Koh Tao’s dive sites for complete beginners. It’s a good idea to have some deep dive training or, at the least, you should be advanced certified.

 


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