Whale Shark, Thailand

Five of Thailand’s best diving sites to suit all experience levels

Pip
April 16, 2015

Thailand has long been a firm favourite amongst divers. Not only does it boast an astounding marine diversity, but also a variety of underwater landscapes ranging from shallow coral gardens to challenging wrecks and deep caverns. Known for its stunning islands and beaches, the above water landscape in Thailand is equally famed, combining picture perfect stretches of white sand and budget friendly abodes, which make for an idyllic tropical getaway. With water temperatures in the 27-30°C range, visibility up to around 40 metres in some areas, together with calm and protected dive sites, the country is also an enticing spot for beginner divers to try the sport through introductory courses and certification.

Diving locations - the Gulf of Thailand versus the Andaman Sea

Thailand’s elongated body, stretching between the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, means that there is good diving year-round. If you are heading to the west coast, October through to April has prime diving conditions, while between May and September is preferable for the Gulf of Thailand. The marine parks of the Andaman Sea are home to a greater variety of dive sites to challenge experienced divers, however the marine life within the Gulf is still impressive and easy access to dive sites makes it preferable for those on a budget. As a general rule, the further you venture from the tourist hot spots the more pristine and uncrowded are the reefs. For adventure-seekers, multi-day ‘liveaboard' dive boats, which include all meals, accommodation and multiple daily dives, are the best way to access the most remote sites.

1. Dive a variety of underwater landscapes in Similan National Park

Lion Fish, Similan National Park, Thailand
Similan Islands are considered Thailand’s premier dive location with pristine coral gardens and more challenging deep water boulder landscapes to explore.

Nine islands lying off the west coast of Phang Nga in the Andaman Sea, the Similan Islands are considered Thailand’s premier dive location. With pristine coral gardens and more challenging deep water boulder landscapes to explore, the marine diversity on the reefs which surround the archipelago is second to none. While colourful clown trigger fish and lion fish are often spotted, so too are large manta rays and leopard sharks which rest in the sandy bottoms. Gigantic gorgonian sea fans wave gracefully in the currents, while an exotic macro life inhabit nooks and crevices. For experienced divers, the ‘Atlantis Wreck’ and ‘Deep Six’ offer deep water challenges, while the protected ‘Donald Duck Bay’, with its vibrant coral garden, is perfect for beginners. The islands are best visited as a day trip from Khao Lak or Phuket, or on one of the dive ‘liveaboards’ cruising Thailand’s west coast.

Level: Beginner to experienced divers
Highlights: Macro life, variety of dive sites, manta rays, leopard sharks
Depth: 5-40 metres
Visibility: 20-40 metres
Currents: Medium
Best time: October to April

2. Explore the healthy reefs of Tarutao National Marine Park

Bluespotted Stringray, Thailand
Tarutao National Marine Park is known to have the best visibility in Thailand with large schools of pelagic fish and impressive coral gardens.

Unlike many of Thailand’s newer marine parks which still show signs of damage from unsustainable fishing methods and the 2004 tsunami, Tarutao National Marine Park near Ko Lipe is in excellent condition. With around 30 uninhabited islands, it is home to crystal clear waters and swathes of healthy reef, and is best visited on a dive ‘liveaboard’ departing from the tourist hub of Phuket. Tarutao is known to have the best visibility in Thailand, as well as large schools of pelagic fish and impressive coral gardens. Dive the ‘Giant’s Staircase’ on the western side of Ko Bu Tang where a natural stone staircase descends around 50 metres to the ocean depths, or swim with blue spotted stingrays at aptly named ‘Sting Ray City’. For beginners, the shallow reef between Ko Adang & Ko Rawi is a great drift dive where you easily float along with the light current.

Level: Beginner to experienced divers
Highlights: Healthy reefs, large pelagic fish, sting rays
Depth: 5-40 metres
Visibility: 10-30 metres
Currents: Light to medium
Best time: October to April

3. Get you beginner certification in Ko Tao

Beach on Nang Yuan Island
Nang Yuan Island, embedded with caves and swim-through caverns, offer ample challenge for intermediate and experienced divers.

With almost year-round good diving conditions within a safe and easy environment, Ko Tao is fast becoming the place in Thailand for beginner divers to get certified. Nestled into the Gulf of Thailand and just a short distance to Ko Ang Thon National Marine Park, beginners have plenty of opportunity to hone their skills on shallow dives featuring beautiful coral gardens and lots of colourful reef fish. The dive sites can be easily visited by boat or as shore dives direct from the island’s beaches. Competition between dive shops means that certification courses are affordable and plenty of restaurants, bars and beachside facilities on Ko Tao will keep non-diving family members entertained. For intermediate and experienced divers the granite pinnacles and boulders of ‘Sail Rock’ and ‘Nang Yuan Pinnacle’, embedded with caves and swim-through caverns, offer ample challenge, while the deep ‘Torpedo’ wreck caters to highly experienced ‘technical’ divers.

Level: Beginners to experienced divers, ‘technical’ divers
Highlights: Shallow and protected reefs, caves/caverns, non-diving activities
Depth: 5-40 metres
Visibility: 5-30 metres
Currents: Light
Best time: May to September

4. Deep wall-dive in Ko Lanta Marine National Park

Purple Anthozoa in Thailand
Hin Muang is the highest underwater wall in Thailand, descending to around 60 metres and adorned with a mosaic of purple soft corals.

Located just across the water from Krabi town, Ko Lanta is an idyllic string of 15 islands, surrounded by pristine white sandy beaches, rocky islets and coral reefs. While the main island of Ko Lanta Yai is home to plenty of resorts and dive facilities, it is the remote underwater rock islands of Hin Daeng and Hin Muang which draw divers here from around the world. Hin Daeng or ‘Red Rock’ is a submerged boulder pinnacle with beautiful soft corals and large schools of fish, as well as manta rays and whale sharks. Hin Muang or ‘Purple Rock’ is the highest underwater wall in Thailand, descending to around 60 metres and adorned with a mosaic of purple soft corals, anemones and sea fans. These sites are for experienced divers only with strong currents and often rough surface conditions. You can either visit them as a day trip from Ko Lanta Yai or on one of the ‘liveaboard' dive boats which cruise Thailand’s west coast.

Level: Experienced divers
Highlights: Deep walls, large schools of fish, variety of corals, non-diving activities
Depth: 5-40 metres
Visibility: 10-30 metres
Currents: Medium
Best time: February to April

5. Dive the remote coral reefs of the Surin Islands

Surin Islands, pristine islands and uncrowded diving
Their remote location means that a limited number of ‘liveaboard' dive boats cruise through the archipelago. Surin Islands, will reward you with its pristine islands and uncrowded diving.

If you make the challenging journey to the Surin Islands, 100 kilometres to the north of Similan National Park, you will be rewarded with pristine islands and uncrowded diving. Their remote location means that a limited number of ‘liveaboard' dive boats cruise through the archipelago, and only a few speedboats are fast enough to get there as a day trip from Phuket. The region’s most famous dive site without a doubt is Richelieu Rock, an open sea pinnacle covered in a kaleidoscope of anemone and soft coral colour. In addition to plenty of lion fish and scorpion fish, the site has some smaller gems, such as sea horses and harlequin shrimp, as well as large manta rays and whale sharks which frequent the region. Strong currents and unprotected sea conditions at Richelieu Rock mean that it is for experienced divers only, but there are plenty of easier dives within the archipelago for beginner divers.

Level: Beginner to experienced divers
Highlights: Healthy reefs, macro life, manta rays, whale sharks
Depth: 5-30 metres
Visibility: 5-20 metres
Currents: Medium to strong
Best time to visit: December to April

Explore the diversity of Thailand’s dive sites

With an almost exhaustive choice of dive sites to challenge everyone from the beginner to highly experienced divers, Thailand is one of the world’s most lauded dive destinations. Whether you are after encounters with imposing whale sharks or tiny, colourful nudibranches, the marine life is spectacular and the variety of both soft and hard corals mind-boggling. For those after their first taste of diving, the facilities and instruction on offer are world-class, while remote offshore islands offer the pristine and seemingly unexplored territory so sought after by long-time divers.

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