Koh Samui Dive Sites
Ko Samui's allure to tourists began well over 15 years ago with the arrival of the 'backpacker' or 'traveler' who came seeking a unique tropical paradise, chasing places where locals were friendly, life was simple, life was cheap-not to mention relatively free of hassle from authorities-they found Samui. Contrary to the society of Phuket, Ko Samui's population consisted of simple coconut farmers and fisherman-not tin barons and businessmen. Thus Ko Samui quickly secured worldwide fame as the definitive travelers paradise of Southeast Asia.
Today, surprisingly little has changed from those early days, as the charm of Ko Samui-as well as the aimless unhurried lifestyle-has remained largely intact. About the only noticeable changes today are the addition of an airport-thankfully decorated with a tropical island feel-and the building of several top-class international resort hotels. Fortunately, most developers have built low-rise environmentally pleasing hotels; only a few have begun building condominium-like high rises. Hopefully the low-rise approach will persist and the enchanting and unassuming style that is Ko Samui will remain unchanged for years to come.
Considering that most dive sites are situated at least two hours by boat from Ko Samui-and considering that water clarity is not something the island is noted for-scuba diving is surprisingly popular on the island. Remarkably, Ko Samui has developed into one of the main diver training centers in all of Southeast Asia. Most instruction is completed in the shallow water directly off the coast at Chaweng Beach, Coral Cove, or one of the other secluded little bays or beaches that make the island so lovely. Many diving centers will offer a couple of days on Ko Tao to finish up a diving course, but the waters around Ko Samui are adequate for training as the depths are shallow, the bottom is sandy, and the sites are easily accessible from the beach; rarely is a boat necessary.
For the more advanced diver, Ko Samui has two main dive areas, each with an approximate six-month opposite season. Hin Bai or Sail Rock is located North of Ko Samui is dived daily from March until September. During the rest of the year, the Ang Thong Marine National Park to the Northwest is the choice spot. Both dive areas are interesting and although most learned divers wouldn't take a dedicated dive holiday to Ko Samui, most divers will enjoy at least a few dives at both these areas.
Hin Bai is the preferred day trip from Ko Samui since it offers the most exciting diving. The likelihood of seeing larger animals such as sharks are better here than at other spots around Ko Samui. Similar in shape to the islands around Ko Phi Phi, Sail Rock juts out of the water and slopes down underwater, sometimes vertically, to just over 30 meters. You begin the dive exploring one of the deeper pinnacles away from the rock which are covered in the beautiful tubastraea micrantha, a dark green hard coral that blooms green or bright yellow polyps when it is feeding. Also, black coral trees with either lime green or reddish brown polyps grow out of the nooks and crannies.
Towards the end of the dive, you'll be shown an underwater chimney located on the Northwest side-the most famous attribute of the dive. Two divers can enter at a depth of 19 meters where the cavern continues in for about two meters before bending upwards to the surface. At 12 meters you'll spot a hole that opens up laterally, guarded by scorpion fish. Although a tight squeeze, it is possible to swim back into open water from here. Continuing up, the chimney opens at about 5 meters of water depth and you'll exit the hole to find yourself surrounded by a munificent carpet of anemones full of pink anemone fish.
People tell stories of shark sightings around Hin Bai. Although I have not seen sharks here myself, reliable sources say that up to 15 animals that closely resemble bull sharks, infrequently are spotted feeding at the surface. Apparently they are relatively approachable. Along with the possibility of sighting a whale shark, this makes Hin Bai worth diving again and again.
The Ang Thong Marine National Park is a beautiful archipelago of over 40 islets and operators have trips to this area from December until March. While the visibility here is often poor, the snorkeling and shallow diving-as well as the striking topside scenery- make for an enjoyable outing. Ko Wao and Hin Yipoon (meaning Japanese Rock: Rumor has it that several Japanese tourists were eaten by sharks here. Sure.) are the most popular areas for scuba diving and are noted for shallow caves and colorful soft corals.
Ko Samui has a unique personality that is hard to describe, but somehow it feels different from other islands I've visited. The casual, open lifestyle, lush coconut plantations, beautiful beaches, pleasant diving and charming accommodation make it a perfect place to spend a relaxing interval during a visit to Thailand.
About the Author
John Williams has written, co-authored, or contributed to four diving guides on Thailand, the Mergui Archipelago, and the Andaman Islands. These are the award-winning Lonely Planet Diving & Snorkeling series, Periplus Editions Diving Southeast Asia, Asian Diver Scuba Guides and Singapore's Times Edition Diving Thailand. He has lived in Phuket and dived in Thailand's waters since 1987.