Dive guide for Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh SamuiMay 26, 2023
Thailand offers some of the best scuba diving in Asia, with thriving coral reefs, white sand beaches, and a large variety of fish species. Year-round, scuba divers head for the Western Gulf islands of Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui to experience some of the most exciting scuba diving that Thailand has to offer. With warm waters, regular whale shark sightings, and postcard-worthy views, what is not to love?
If you are thinking of taking a scuba diving vacation to Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui, we have put together the ultimate dive guide so you know when to go and where to dive. Read on to start planning your Thai dive trip.
When is the best time to visit the islands?
Any time! The water temperature around the islands is pretty consistent year-round with an average of around 29C/84F. Wetsuits are optional but recommended to avoid potential jellyfish stings and stay warm on multiple dives, however a 3mm shorty is usually more than enough. The dry season is between March and June which is the best time to go if you want to avoid the occasional rain shower, but the rain only lasts for a brief time before the sun shines again so do not let it put you off.
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What makes each island special?
Each of the three islands offers beautiful beaches, exciting nightlife, and excellent dive sites. Ideally, you would visit all three but on a tight schedule you might have to choose just one. So here is a quick overview of each to help you decide where to go.
Koh Tao: The smallest of the islands and the most famous area for scuba diving in the whole of Thailand, Koh Tao allows you to be walking-distance to everything you need, but it is more crowded than its neighboring islands. If you are looking for buzzing nightlife and cheaper diving, Koh Tao is for you.
Koh Phangan: The second largest of the three islands, making it the perfect size to be close to everything, but with lots of room to explore, Koh Phangan has a few dive schools to choose from (mostly in the north and east of the island). It also offers excellent yoga classes, windsurfing schools, and regular beach and jungle parties.
Koh Samui: This is the largest island of the three, and it even has its own airport, making it easy to start your vacation as soon as you step off the plane. Whereas you will have to get an onward ferry to get to Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Koh Samui is popular with honeymooners and visitors who want to relax and avoid busy nightlife.
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How to get to the islands
Koh Samui has its own international airport, however most flights from Europe and America will stop at Bangkok first. From Bangkok it is a short 1 hour 15 minute flight to Koh Samui. From Koh Samui you can get a ferry to Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Alternatively, you can fly into Surat Thani airport and catch a bus to the ferry port, and then a ferry over to all three islands from there.
Best dive sites in Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui
There are many dive sites to explore around each of the islands, so no matter which island you decide to visit, you will not be disappointed by what you see under the water. Here is a quick run down of our favorite dive sites around the islands.
Chumphon Pinnacle: Closest to Koh Tao but dive trips go there regularly from Koh Phangan and Koh Samui too, Chumphon Pinnacle is one of the most popular dive sites in the area. Strong currents make this dive site most suitable for advanced divers, and depths between 10m/33ft-35m/115ft are available for exploring the submerged pinnacles. Divers are likely to spot batfish, tuna, barracuda, massive groupers, and if they are lucky, a whale shark.
Southwest pinnacles: Southwest of Koh Tao is the popular dive site of Southwest Pinnacles; A trio of rock formations that make for a very fun dive. There is lots to see between 5m/16ft-30m/100ft including butterflyfish, blue spotted stingrays, barracuda, and angelfish, just to name a few. Black coral can be spotted here, as well as beautiful, big gorgonian fans. This dive site is a must-see for scuba divers visiting Thailand.
Thailand has beautiful corals, but do you know which type of coral you are looking at when you go diving? Check this out: Hard Coral vs Soft Coral: What’s the Difference?
White Rock: Located south of the instagram-famous Koh Nang Yuan (a trio of three small islands connected by strips of white sand that is a beautiful photo opportunity from the viewpoint), White Rock dive site is an easy and shallow dive that is perfect for beginner scuba divers as well as more experienced. With a maximum depth of 22m/72ft but with plenty to see much shallower too, White Rock is teeming with marine life. Turtles frequent the area, as well as banded sea snakes, butterflyfish, and moray eels (just to name a few!).
Sail Rock: Probably the most famous dive site in the area, if not the whole of Thailand, Sail Rock sits between Koh Phangan and Koh Tao (slightly closer to Koh Phangan), but dive schools from Koh Samui have trips going there almost every day, too. If you have to choose just one dive site for your trip to Thailand, make it Sail Rock and you will not be disappointed. Sail Rock is a submerged pinnacle in the middle of the blue, that pokes its head out 8m/26ft above the surface. Regular whale sharks are spotted here, as well as huge schools of barracuda, batfish, trevally, king mackerels, and the odd grouper. The maximum depth is around 40m/131ft, but there is plenty to see much shallower (even snorkeling) and this dive site can be enjoyed by divers of all levels. Do not miss the ‘chimney’ of sail rock: A vertical tunnel that takes you from 5m/16ft, down to 18m/60ft and has tiny cleaner shrimp living in the cracks of the walls.
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Koh Ma: A small island connected to mainland Koh Phangan (Mae Haad beach) by a sand strip at low tide. Koh Ma offers beautiful diving and snorkeling, with whale sharks not uncommonly seen here. Koh Ma has a sloping reef and offers easy scuba diving for divers of all levels, with a maximum depth of 20m/66ft. Triggerfish, turtles, clownfish, and lionfish are all found around Koh Ma, as well as fascinating macro life for those with a keen eye.
Angthong Marine Park: The Angthong Marine Park is an archipelago west of Koh Phangan and Koh Samui that boasts some of the healthiest reefs and thriving marine life in Thailand due to the area being protected. There are scuba diving options for beginners, as well as the more experienced, and you are likely to see turtles, whale sharks, black coral, gorgonian fans, and a large variety of schooling and shoaling fish. Dive trips to the marine park go from the islands when they get enough interest to fill a boat, so it is a good idea to express your interest to dive schools in advance so that they can plan a trip.