Scuba Diving in Koh Chang
Mention diving in Thailand to any reasonably seasoned diver and he will most likely burst into some tale of his exploits on a live-aboard in the Similan Islands or regale you with an awesome wreck in Pattaya, stun you with the images of a Krabi dive or simply bore you with intricate details of his open water course on Koh Tao. He is likely to mention almost every dive site in the country with the exception of Koh Chang and the diving found there. I have had the great pleasure of diving Koh Chang and felt that I’d be selfish to keep it a secret for any longer.
Koh Chang, the largest island in the Koh Chang archipelago and the second largest island in Thailand (Phuket being the largest), lies in the East of the Gulf of Thailand, only an hour from the border of Cambodia. It can be reached by air (cheap flights from Suvarnabhumi airport fly throughout the day), road or sea. There are three ferry services that operate out of Koh Chang and run hourly. The island’s pace is surprisingly relaxed considering its size, this is mostly due to the geography of the island which splits the West coast into sand-fronted valleys with large mountains separating the villages. There is only one road that runs the perimeter of the island and connects the villages together with some of the steepest and bend-ridden tarmac I’ve ever been witness to! The vast majority of civilization hugs the West coast and tends to become less commercial as you drive from the North, where the ferry docks, to the South, where most of the diving boats leave.
The sea on the beaches of Koh Chang itself is great for swimming in (shallow, sandy, warm at 32 degrees Celsius and calm) but offers poor diving. So diving is done from boats, usually fishing boats that have been fitted for diving. They are slow but offer space, easy access to the water from diving platforms and stability in rough seas. There are also some schools that work from faster but less comfortable speed boats. The visibility is extremely unpredictable as there are so many islands and different currents that make reading the water almost impossible until you are at the dive site. The visibility at one dive site might be as low as six meters but if you move to another site, only ten minuets away, you will be presented with fifteen meters of clear water. The flora and fauna on offer is also unpredictable though a glance through any fish book of South-East Asia will give you a very good idea of what to expect. Whale sharks are annual visitors (March-April is the best bet) and there are often sea turtles, bamboo sharks, octopus and all the other usual suspects.
The dive sites on Koh Chang can be broadly separated into two locations; Koh Chang (or “local”) and Koh Rang (or the National Marine Park). The first locale has three major dive sites that are located in the sea about a half hour boat ride from the south of Koh Chang (from the fishing village Bang Bao which stands on stilts in a bay). The other dive site category is Koh Rang, this is a large island which can be accessed in about and hour and a half by boat, this has around seven dive sites of note which all posses different characteristics. The main difference between the two dive areas is that the local sites are in open sea and tend to support larger fish but have less rich reefs whereas the Koh Rang sites are more densely packed with coral and smaller reef fish. You could liken the local sites to a savannah and the National Marine Park to a jungle.
Local Dive Sites
A bare piece of rock twenty meters long breaks the surface to mark Hin Raap. It is about thirty minutes by boat from Bang Bao pier. The depth ranges from around five meters to sixteen meters and supports a visibility that can be anywhere from five to fifteen meters. The reef is rocky with a large base of stag-horn coral and barrel sponges. The site is home to an abundance of smaller reef fish and crustaceans.
Hin Luk Baht
One of the most visited dive sites in Koh Chang because of its close proximity to the main island and because of its impressive rock pinnacle structure that stands over twenty meters tall and only just breaks the surface. The visibility is similar to that of Hin Raap but tends to support larger schools of fish and some larger, solitary fish such as Great Barracuda and Titan Trigger Fish. This is a personal favorite of mine when the visibility is good.
Koh Rang (or the National Marine Park)
Koh Yak & Koh Lon
These are two completely separate dive sites that are split by a large enough expanse of water that it is impractical to swim between them, but I have grouped them together as they share many of the same characteristics in reef formation, geography and fish population.
Both islands are small, lightly vegetated and relatively unremarkable on the surface. What makes them special is their shallow reefs that are rich with hard and soft coral and dense with reef fish. They are both surrounded by a surprisingly active sand fringe that is home to Blue-Spotted Stingray, Octopus and Stonefish
In the coral reef itself you will be treated to a veritable carnival of Clownfish as they play in their anemones. You are also likely to see Moray Eels, Scorpion fish, Bat fish and Angel fish.
Hin Gaduang or “The Pinnacles”
The Pinnacles is one of the deepest dives in the area, it consists of two large rock pillars that stand around thirty meters tall and sit just centimeters below the surface. They support a mixed reef and large schools of Barracuda and other reef fish. There are usually Crown-of-Thorn Starfish to observe and a multitude of camouflaged aquatic life such as Stonefish and Scorpionfish clinging to the rock face. Once on the sand (at around twenty-five meters) it is possible to spot Lion fish and Sand Rays.
Hin Guak Ma
This dive site is often afflicted with strong currents but it is often worth braving the torrent so that you can witness the healthy reef and abundant life that dwells within. There are Yellow-tail Barracuda hiding from the force of the current behind Brain and Mountain coral and there is a spectacular patch of soft yellow coral on the corner of the reef that marks the turn around point for a one-hour dive.
Diving in Koh Chang is a relaxed and unchallenged affair for the most part with very little current in most sites and a generally shallow average depth. The reefs are healthy and the fish are abundant. There is no need for Nitrox or Tec gear but you’d kick yourself if you didn’t bring a camera. The sites are ideal for teaching in and the dive schools are above average in the quality of instruction. The prices might tend to be a little higher than in Koh Tao for diving or instruction but the quality of service is generally much higher. I have dived Koh Chang many times and I look forward to diving it much more…