Without a doubt Thailand is home to some of the finest and most beautiful beaches and islands in the world, surrounded by crystal clear water and stunning coral. And that is the main reason why the number of divers coming to Thailand has escalated over the past decade or so.
Even though the best time of the year to dive in Thailand is between October and June, it is still perfectly possible to dive virtually any day of the year. As Thailand is considered one of the safest destinations for diving and snorkeling in the world, it is perfect for first-timers wanting to try these pastimes out.
The sea visibility in some places of Thailand is almost unbelievable; which means talking about distances of up to 30
meters – unheard of in most parts of the world. One can enjoy splendid sights of underwater mountains, coral gardens, undersea rock formations, hard and soft coral, whale sharks, silver tip sharks, manta rays and even sunken battleships.
Diving in Thailand is a recently new phenomenon beginning with the American Navy SEALs during the Vietnam War. Thailand’s first ever diving store was opened in Pattaya in just 1977 and shortly after that very year, the popularity of diving for both Thais and foreigners in Thailand exploded.
After Pattaya, the next destination to see divers arriving by the busload was Phuket and they were soon heading out to dive in the gorgeous Similan Islands and the rest of the stunning Andaman Sea. In the fact, the Similan islands have been ranked as one of the top ten diving sites in the entire world. Today, diving is popular all over the Andaman Sea, including the virtually unseen Tarutao and Surin islands.
Over on the other side of Thailand in the Gulf of China, Ko Tao (Turtle Island) has recently emerged as the biggest diving destination in Thailand with over 20 major centers located on the island.
It is believed that Thailand is now the most popular destination for diving in the whole of Asia.
The Similan Islands are a prime example of encouraging divers, while at the same time maintaining ecological stability and preserving biological diversity of flora and fauna. From 1999 to 2003 the Similans attained a five fold increase in the amount of visitors, which was just 10,000 increased to 50,000 and most of them were divers. The income grew in that time from 22,000USD to a staggering 460,000USD with foreign divers each spending an average of roughly 1,200USD.
Diving Destinations and Diving Sites in Thailand
Thailand has 2 uniquely different diving zones consisting of The Andaman Sea on the west and The Gulf of Thailand on the east.
The Andaman Sea
Introduction: The best time of the year to dive in the Andaman is from October to April. The visibility in the Andaman is similar to that of the Gulf of Thailand but the area has more extensive coral reefs. Due to the influence of the southwest monsoon, most of the reefs surrounding the offshore islands occur on the east side of the islands.
Phuket Island has some decent dive sites and the largest diving center in Thailand. The reefs around the area are in a healthy condition with both solid and colorfully soft corals. There is also an abundance of marine life. Most of the dive locations are suitable for all levels of divers but there are also some that are quite deep.
The most well-known dive site in the Phuket area is Racha Yai with its sloping rocky reefs and its plentitude of solid coral forests. There is also Ter Bay where there is an exciting wreck in the depths of 25-35 meters. The area south Racha Yai, Racha Noi, is a haven for experienced divers as the depths are greater and the currents stronger. The overall topography is strikingly different from Racha Yai with huge granite boulders and the chance to see Manta Rays and Whale Sharks. The diving in Racha Noi compared to Racka Yai is definitely more challenging but the rewards are far greater.
Just off Phuket, is the limestone island of Koh Doc Mai which soars vertically from the sea-bed. It is home to a diversity of fish and offers the opportunity to view leopard sharks, moray eels, octopus and turtles.
This stunning part of Thailand offers some terrific diving and snorkeling sites with plenty of succulent soft coral, limestone crops and diversity of marine life. One can go diving for example off the nearby islands of Podah Nai and Nok.
The most popular destination however, in Krabi, is the beautiful island of Ko Phi Phi. Even though the island was struck badly by the Tsunami disaster in 2004, the area has recovered impressively and divers are coming back in flocks. The island has two remarkable limestone crops divided by a narrow flat isthmus and it is there where most of the visitors stay. Ko Phi Phi has an abundance of succulent coral and colorful schools of fish.
A popular and perhaps the best dive site off Ko Phi Phi is King Cruiser which claim remnants of a passenger ship which sunk in 1997 after it hit the Anemone reef. The Anemone reef is in itself a unique dive site with a massive limestone pinnacle which soars 30 meters from the seabed to just 4 meters beneath the surface. The site is well-known for its abundance of sea anemones that cling to every surface while attracting enormous schools of fish. Different types of fish to be seen include: tropicals, snappers, groupers and colorful clown fish, along with larger game-fish like tuna and barracuda as well as the occasional leopard shark.
There is also Shark Point which is a marine sanctuary with a reef that comprises of three pinnacles. The largest of which actually breaks the surface appearing as a barren rock outcropping. The reef is home to a delightful abundance of tropicals, colorful soft corals and vibrant sea fans that decorate the limestone pinnacles.
Along the sea from Krabi Town is quiet Ko Lanta, in fact the island is not just one but fifteen. The major island of Ko Lanta Yai is approximately 25km long with a string of white sandy beaches. The diving sites surrounding Ko Lanta are considered by many to be among some of the best the country has to offer. There is an enormous variety of fringing reefs, marine life, caves, rocks and islets.
Hin Daeng and Hin Muang near Ko Lanta are definitely two of the most favored dive sites in Thailand. Hin Daeng has the steepest and deepest in the whole of the country with fantastic marine life. Hin Muang next door is completely underwater and it is covered with delicate violet coral.
Other dive spots in Krabi province include Gareng Heng rock outcrop and the 5 islands of Ko Ha.
Located in Phang Nga province, 90km north-west of Phuket, the Similan Islands boast one of Thailand’s most famous diving sites and can lay claim to having one of the best diving sites in Asia. The Similans consist of 9 islands (Similan means 9 in Malay language) Ko Bon, Ko Bayu, Ko Similan, Ko Payu, Ko Miang (two adjoining islands), Ko Payan, Ko Payang, and Ko Huyong. The islands are famed for their thriving reefs and abundance of delicate coral and superb variety of exciting marine life. It is possible to see chevron barracuda, giant trevally, manta rays, leopard sharks and rainbow runners.
Of all the islands, one of the most popular with divers is Ko Bon. This island has a sheer wall 35 meters deep which is followed by a stepped ridge descending to 45 meters. Located roughly 25km north of here, but not actually part of the Similans, is Ko Tachai with its lush tropical foliage and underwater ridge which juts out at 90 degrees. Divers may experience the opportunity to encounter leopard sharks, nurse sharks or whale sharks.
Other popular diving sites in Similans include:
Stonehenge: This is a large towering rock formation with a variety of marine life. Divers can spot barrel sponges, lionfish, gorgonian sea fans, barracuda, wrasse, ghost pipefish and long nose butterfly fish.
Snapper Alley: This site is extremely popular for night dives its solid healthy table and sheet provides marine life places to hide and sleep.
Shark-fin Reef: This is a great dive site for experienced divers. It is possible to spot clown trigger fish, half-moon trigger fish, bat fish and surgeon fish.
Elephant Head Rock: This rock is simply a massive boulder and is ideal for experienced and daring divers. Silver trevally, jet black trevally, small reef sharks, hawksbill turtle, lionfish, grouper and snapopers can all be seen.
East of Eden: Here boasts the most spectacular bommie in the Similans and the violet and blue corals are just breath-taking.
Donald Duck Bay: This rock was named after the cartoon character it resembles and it is another great site for marine life where one can also see crabs, octopus and cuttlefish running across the sea bed.
The Surin Islands are virtually untouched with pristine virgin reefs that meticulously slope to the seabed. The islands are situated 80km west of Ranong province along the west cost of Thailand.
Located near the Surin islands is the horseshoe shaped Richelieu Rock which is considered by hoards of divers to be the most fantastic dive site in the whole of Thailand. The sheer diversity of marine life is amazing. Divers may see schooling chevron barracuda, numerous types of moray eels, abundant lionfish and scorpion fish and 5 types of anemone fish, juvenile emperor angel fish, sea horses, ornate ghost pipefish, harlequin shrimps and even whale sharks, manta rays and shovelnose rays. Richelieu Rock is a must-see for every diver in the south of Thailand.
Khao Lak Marine National Park a palm fringed coastline with newly discovered reefs. The area is home to a plentitude of marine life and even a couple of wrecks. The Similan Island Marin Park is headquartered here and the Similan Islands lay 50km directly West. The Local pier, located at Tap Lamu is the main departure point for Similan Island daytrips and Liveaboards. The nearby sites of Richelieu Rock, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and the Surin Islands are all accessible via speedboats for one day or overnight trips.
This brand new diving area just south of Burma has only been opened to the public since 1997. The area is still relatively unknown and unexploded and offers the opportunity for divers to visit exciting new dive sites. The representation of coral however is sporadic and the underwater terrain is rather rugged, so making it all not quite and spectacular as the nearby Similan Islands. Parts of the area attract a diversity of sharks, manta eagle and marbled rays.
The Gulf of Thailand
Introduction: This cost of Thailand is a gigantic shallow depression just south of Cambodia. It is roughly 60 meters deep with a maximum of 85. The area boasts a staggering 112 islands with countless fringing reefs with rocks and succulent seabed. The reefs are not as varied as that of the Andaman Sea but the marine life is still prolific.
Ko Tao meaning Turtle Island, has grown into the hottest diving area in the country. The island with only an area of 21sq km lies north of Ko Samui and Ko Phang-ngan. Ko Tao’s astonishing popularity could be because there is something to satisfy every level of diver.
The Chumphon Pinnacle, located 11km from Ko Tao is considered by many divers to be the finest dive site in the region. It consists of a massive granite pinnacle and a series of smaller one. It starts at 14m underwater and drops to a low of 26, covered with sea anemones and pink anemones fish. Divers can even see schools of barracuda, jacks and batfish, then during the right season whale sharks and mantas appear.
Green Rock between just one and 28 meters deep are boulder formations which an array of short tunnels and swim throws. Diving at the rock offers the splendid opportunity to enjoy parrot fish breeding, white eyed morays and blue spotted rays. The area is safe and is perfect for everyone of every level. It is believed to be one of the most exciting sites in the Ko Tao area.
The Nangyuan Pinnacle is undoubtedly the most popular of all the sites in the region. Its granite boulder formations have a diversity of swim-throughs and tropical reef fish such as groupers, long fin, banner fin and blue spotted stingrays.
Shark Island just off the south-west coast is another of the most popular areas to dive with depths of almost 30 meters and hawksbill turtle, blue ridged angel, long fin banner, leopard sharks and reef sharks. The area is perfect for any standard of diving.
The South-West Pinnacle offers diving ranges between 5 and 30 meters deep. The series of steep pinnacles rise from the sandy seabed and offer an ample variety of colorful marine life, such as butterfly fish, blue-ringed angelfish, jacks, barracudas and occasional whale sharks.
Twins which lies just to the west of Ko Nangyuan is made of rocks with depths of 6 to 18 meters. Among the hard corals are big grouper, white-eyed morak eels, pink anemone, clown fish, blue spotted rays, wrasse and black and white sergeant major fish.
White Rock near Twins offers decent depths for all levels of divers and is a good place for night dives. Marine life there includes butterfly fish, parrot fish, angel fish, large barracuda titan trigger fish and red breasted wrasse.
This ‘hippy’ hideout of an island famous for its full-moon parties is an excellent departure point for the northern most part of the Ang Thong Marine National Park. The visibility in the area is just 4 meters with a highest of 25.
Ko Samui is more renowned for its long sandy beaches and sizzling nightlife than its diving, but there are some enjoyable sites nearby.
Sail Rock is by far and away the most well-known dive site in the Ko Samui area. It is a rock pinnacle shaped like an iceberg which emerges from a sandy seabed at 40m to tower 15m above the surface. It is also a magnet for fish and there are fascinating schools of anemones and pink anemones.
Koh Yippon consists of 50 different islands. The visibility is lower than that of the other sites in the area but the scenery is still beautiful.
Chumphon province offers the visitor an astonishing array of natural attractions and it is a good place to stop and enjoy the healthy diversity of marine life and fringing reefs. One can also do some night diving.
Ko Lak Ngam located just 15km north-east of Chumphon, is one of 40 islands which belong to the Chumphon Marine National Park. There is plenty of hard and soft corals and hosts home to a large amount of sea life such as bat fish, trevally, fusiliers, turtle and seasonal whale sharks.
Just 90 minutes from the capital, this coastal shoreline is ideal for those in Bangkok who wish to do some diving on their day off.
Undoubtedly, the most popular destination in Pattaya for diving buffs is the Hardeep Wreck which was sunk by the allies in the Second World War. The wreck lies on its starboard side at a maximum depth of 26 meters.
Ko Chang has seen an explosion in the amount of visitors over the past few years. It is just one of a total 52 islands in the Marine National Park. Even though the area has previously been victim to man-made wrongs, there is still the chance to enjoy fringing reefs, marine life, a wreck, giant clams and snorkeling.
Hin Kuak Maa offers the diver a huge variety of solid and soft corals which are home to the likes of moray eels, blue spotted sting rays, sea turtles, starfish, stonefish and puffer fish.
Hin Luk Bath has turned into one of the most favored dive sites around with its boulder formations which appear from a sandy seabed 15 meters down The way they jut out allows a vast array of corals and barrel sponges. It is also possible to spot angel fish and barracuda.
Hin Rap South is a 18 meter rock pinnacle which can be dived by anyone of every level. It is covered with staghorn corals, barrel sponges and delicate corals. Experienced divers can also venture out 200 meters to admire a group of rocks known as Blue Mountains which often glow from the sun.
Hin Run Tek with an average depth of 12 meters, is a huge rock formation site with a diversity of colorful marine life such as parrotfish, wrasse and angelfish.
When to dive in Thailand
The best time to dive in the Andaman Sea is from October to April, and in the Gulf of Thailand from May to September. However though, it is okay to dive all year round.
Diving Courses and Types Available
There are four diving companies operating in Thailand offering diving certification, they are:
PADI - The Professional Association of Diving Instructors
NAUI - The National Association of Underwater Instructors
SSI – Scuba Schools International
BSAC - The British Sub-Aqua Club
Of all the above companies PADI is certainly the most famous. PADI, NAUI and SSI offer diving instruction at every major diving site in Thailand, they are:
The BSAC - The British Sub-Aqua Club only offers instruction on Phuket.
Out of the entire above diving course location, Ko Tao has turned into the major destination for taking a diving course in Thailand.
Types of Instruction Courses Available
PADI, NAUI and SSI offer the following courses in Thailand:
Open Water Diver
Advanced Open Water Diver
Emergency First Response
Search & Recovery Diver
Master Scuba Diver
Advanced Scuba Diver
Dry Suit Diver
Enriched Air Nitrox Diver
Out of all these courses offered in Thailand, the basic Scuba Diver course is the most popular.
Types of Diving Available in Thailand
Diving with disabilities
All of the above types of diving can be experienced in Thailand at all major diving sites except number 5. Wreck Diving can be found at The Similans, Ko Phi Phi and Pattaya.
Of all the types of diving available in Thailand snorkeling and scuba diving are the most popular. Since people are becoming more and more aware of man-made destruction of natural coral etc. The popularity of Eco-diving has been soaring over the past few years.
Diving Vacation in Thailand
Usually, day trips itinerary and timetable are designed to allow the diver access to select his favorite local dive sites. With 2 or 3 dive options, he can choose the trip best suitable to him. The trips usually include hotel transfers, a dive master or instructor, tanks, weights, and belts, lunch, and three to four dives--depending on the day, the destination, and the boat.
Two-day trips are also available which usually include 7-dives, hotel accommodation, and meals. They are similar to mini-liveaboards
Diving Holiday Package
Diving packages are designed for tourists who want to either stay for a longer period of time or have come to Thailand especially to dive. There are various kind of packages designed for the diver. Various diving operators or agents have a variety of different packages with different cost range of accommodation.
Liveaboard dive boats offer the opportunity to visit various locations for 3 – 10 days at a time. They usually require overnight travel before arriving at their destinations. All trips usually include dive masters.
These boats travel to the following locations:
The Similan Islands
The Surin Islands : Ko Bon, Ko Tachai and Richelieu Rock
The Mergui Archipelago
The Andaman Islands
Thailand Diving Operators and Services
All dive centers and schools should be moved to the individual desination articles
There is the problem of applying anti-fogging compound to the lenses of the diving mask.
Saliva is the proper substance and should, as far as possible, avoid involving post-nasal drip. Saliva should be applied in the least noisy manner possible and with as little foreign matter (coffee grinds or other materials normally associated with unbrushed teeth) as possible.
The mask should be held in the diver’s own hands, close to his own face, while applying the compound.
A diver should only use one of his own hands to evenly spread the anti-fogging compound on the lenses of your mask and rinse that hand over the side before attempting last-minute cheek pinches, pats, squeezes or hugs.
Do rinse the mask after spreading the compound.
Since many divers are prone to seasickness, a few guidelines to help carry off bouts of this affliction with decorum are offered:
Never eat scratchy stuff. Stick to smooth, pleasant tasting basics that will not ferment or multiply in your stomach.
Enduring misery up on deck, in the fresh air, is usually more practical than below deck where the atmosphere may be contaminated with diesel fumes, fish bait or cooking odours.
Remember that divers usually get picked up on the leeward side (downwind) of the boat as the skipper normally uses the wind to drift onto the waiting divers. These swimmers would appreciate a warning well in advance.
This section applies to scuba diving in general, information should be merged into Scuba diving
There are some medical conditions that may exclude the diver from SCUBA diving, some of these conditions are
Drugs and Medications
Nervous system disorders
With some, it is the condition itself, and others, it is the drugs that are given for the condition that exclude one from diving. Unfortunately, the medical profession doesn't give black and white answers and some of the conditions require the diver to accept the risk and responsibility for the decision. But, research is being conducted by various agencies around the world all the time and things do change from time to time.
It is advised that all divers have their own travel and diving insurance. In the very unlikely event of a problem, treatment for diving accidents can be expensive. The general travel insurance may cover diving, but one should check this before traveling.
When not to dive
A person should not dive when he is:
It is raining (with or without lightning)
Sick, have sinus congestion, runny nose, fever, etc.
Have trouble clearing the Eustachian tubes ("equalizing")
Scuba gear is not working
Nitrogen level is too high (take a surface interval)
The water is choppy, rough or visibility is poor
No buddy to dive with
Under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Have preexisting health problems that may present hazards (see the doctor)
Short of breath, asthmatic or have problems with allergies.