As a long-term resident and diver in Koh Tao, Thailand, I’m always asked, which is the best dive site?
It’s always a difficult question to answer. There are over 20 dive sites here and they’re all great! It really depends on what you want to do and what you like to see. One thing’s for sure though whatever you have in mind, there’s something for you! If it’s your first time in the underwater world there are many shallow calm sites to blow your first bubbles and lots to amaze you too.
Japanese Gardens is one of the shallow bays located by Koh Nangyuan is popular for beginners and training too yet it will delight the experienced macro critter lovers. The corals here remind me of an underwater bonsai garden.
Christmas tree worms add splashes of vivid colour and you can find many anemones waving gently too. The eagled eyed will spot flabelina (colourful sea slugs) and polka dot nudibranch (another type of sea slug) while angel and butterfly fish more obviously parade their colours.
Twins and White Rock
Twins and White Rock lie west of Sairee beach and like many of the dive sites here are made of huge boulders and coral reefs. These sites again are suitable for beginners and more advanced divers too. Turtles visit these sites as well as other crowd pleasers like moray eels and blue spotted rays.
White Rock is a popular night dive location where divers can stalk the corals alongside barracuda out for their evening meal.The sand around any dive site on Koh Tao is littered with life too.
Gobies keep watch over the dens they share with the ever industrious shrimp that build and clear all day long. Approach and they will shoot into their lair but if you wait quietly and motionless you’ll see the goby pop back out.
Keep waiting and you’ll see the shrimp come out too and resume clearing the hole. Industrious work for one so small and a pleasure to see, sometimes lifting chunks of debris any strongman would be proud of. A foray into the sandy areas might just reward you with seahorses and their cousins the pipefish. Lionfish, although rarely seen, add a splash of colour to a sandy exploration and porcupine puffer fish seem to enjoy chilling on the sand too.
Mango Bay is another shallow site which will delight any diver. The huge ball of scad here are the not-to-be-missed attraction! Swim smoothly towards them and they will surround you, swirling so thickly you can’t see through them. Take a moment to watch and you will invariably notice a grouper stalking around the edges eyeing up his next meal.
In more recent years many artificial reefs have been created on Koh Tao. The aim is to create new habitats and therefore new dive sites which will take the pressure off existing sites.
These sites have been created on the sandy ocean floor which also means new divers have some interesting sights to swim around while still diving over sand. This means that new divers still practising their buoyancy have a soft landing and will not harm themselves or the fragile reef while mastering this essential skill.
Buoyancy World was created with just this aim in mind and has many weird and wonderful statues to swim around. Huge batfish, giant octopus and anemones lie near bamboo forests and a buoyancy playgroup. Structures have also been deployed in Aow Leuk too and they make a great navigational practice site.
The site seeing the most growth lies just out of Mae Haad. This site was created with propagation in mind and along with a bamboo palm tree and monkey, sites such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge dot the sand with Bruce the shark!
Wrecks are always a firm favourite with divers and until recently there was only a small catamaran lying just out of Tanote Bay, a tuk-tuk and a small dive boat which succumbed to bad weather a couple of years ago and lies just off Japanese Gardens. There was nothing in between these and The Unicorn which can be dived at 40m but lies in around 55m.
In October 2010, the MV Trident, which had served as a deep wreck exploratory vessel in the Gulf of Thailand, was decommissioned and sunk just south of Koh Tao. Finally divers have a substantial but more accessible wreck to dive. She lies in 35m of water but is a good dive in the range of 28-32m providing an excellent site for experienced divers, deep and nitrox training as well as the initial stages of technical training.
The furthest flung dive sites which Koh Tao dive shops visit regularly are South West Pinnacle and Chumphon Pinnacle.
South West Pinnacle
South West is typified by huge schools of fusiliers and is one of those sites you can just hover by and watch the ocean go about its business, it’s also one of the best places to spot scorpion fish too.
Chumphon Pinnacle is truly where anything could happen. The top of the pinnacle sways with anemones, crabs, little yellow boxfish, morays and shrimp nestle alongside. Walls of barracuda stalk the site and the lucky might even see a sail fish dart in for the kill.
Large groupers lazily lumber around but the true draw here are the sharks! These guys are seasonal visitors that never fail to impress. Debate still flares as to what type of shark they are, some will say that they are large grey reefs whilst others will declare they are a form of bull shark.
Maybe they just haven’t been officially categorised as they do show behaviour and features of both. Whatever they are, they are certainly magnificent and are a pleasure to watch.
Both of these deep dive sites (South West Pinnacle and Chumphon Pinnacle) are where you are more likely to spot the graceful giants of the ocean – the whale shark. These magnificent seasonal visitors are most prevalent March-May and Sept and October, but they don’t have calendars so you can be lucky at any time!
Koh Tao has so much more to offer, I could go on all day; the schooling butterfly fish, beautiful corals and plentiful yellowtail barracuda at Shark Island, the playground of swim throughs and vibrant trigger population of Green Rock, the Caves of Laem Tian, the shrimps and puffers of Hin Nagm, the nudibranch and Jenkins rays of Red Rock, the turtles of Hin Pee Wee, the solitude of No Name, the flatworms of Pottery Pinnacle and much much more.
So if you really want to find out what the best dive site is on Koh Tao, come and look for yourself because it’s different for everyone and only you can decide!
Written by Ayesha Cantrell, Dive Instructor at Master Divers.