The best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand, Chumphon Pinnacle offers spectacular encounters with sharks and deep dive thrills
For already qualified divers, Koh Tao offers a variety of interesting sites that repay repeated visits. The best dive site in all of the Gulf Of Thailand is undoubtedly Chumphon Pinnacle, a lozenge shaped rock that begins at about 16 metres and goes down to 30metres, with a flat bottom sloping away from its base. Visibility out here can be spectacular thanks to its ocean location rather than being close to the shore - it's not uncommon to be able to see 20 metres and beyond. And it's just as well, because the star attraction at Chumphon Pinnacle are the grey reef sharks that patrol its edges.
There's a big outcrop called Barracuda Rock where sharks are often to be found. cruising by at 25 metres and below. They are big, fearsome looking sharks, some of them a couple of metres long, bigger than a man - but they are harmless to divers, although of course have to be treated with utmost respect. I used to teach Nitrox courses here where we would drop in at sit at 25 metres - sometimes we would be at eye level with them, hanging by the rock, keeping very still as they moved amongst us, mesmerised by how gracefully - and swiftly - they moved. There's few more memorable experiences than making eye contact with a shark and it was the sort of dive where everyone would get back on the boat raving about how good it had been.
People obviously get disappointed when they don't see the sharks, but there's plenty of other fish life to be found at Chumphon if the sharks are proving elusive. Big ugly grouper fish hover at either end of the pinnacle, big shoals of barracuda hang motionless just off in the blue, stingrays and moray eels hide in the crannies of the wall, while batfish keep an inquisitive eye on divers making their ascent at the mooring rope. There was a tiny little bright yellow boxfish at one point, speeding around the carpet of anemones that span across the flat top of the pinnacle. On one dive, I saw an absolutely enormous grey grouper or potato cod - at least a metre and a half in length - break for cover from Barracuda Rock, appearing and disappearing within a few seconds.
The other famous visitor to Chumphon Pinnacle is one I've never seen, despite doing over a 100 dives at this site alone. A few times a year, whale sharks turn up at Chumphon, causing a ripple of excitement to pass through the entire island and prompting Koh Tao's entire population to jump in the water. Or so it seems. Before I got to Koh Tao I was getting text messages from friends saying "the whale sharks are here". When I left Koh Tao I got text messages saying, "The whale sharks have just turned up". One supposed friend maintained that they were, in fact, at the pinnacle the entire time but just hiding from me. "Has he gone? Good." You just can't win. [See my previous post for more info about where to find whale sharks in Thailand]. Maybe you'll get lucky and see a whale shark at Chumphon Pinnacle - but if not, there will be plenty of other underwater critturs to keep you occupied.
Koh Tao: An Introduction
Koh Tao, Thailand: Learning To Scuba Dive
Koh Tao Dive Sites: Chumphon Pinnacle
Koh Tao Dive Sites: South West Pinnacle and Sail Rock
Koh Tao Dive Sites: Hin Daeng
Koh Tao Dive Sites: Green Rock, White Rock, Shark Island
Koh Tao Dive Sites: Twins, Japanese Gardens, Mango Bay