Thailand scuba diving is amongst the best and safest in the world. It also offers a choice between the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. The Similan and Surin Islands have famous sites like Richelieu Rock, renowned for its swim-throughs, nudibranchs, whale sharks, ghost pipefish and other marine life.
Diving in Thailand will be among the most fulfilling dive experiences you can have. This idyllic country offers picture-perfect beaches, pristine islands, crystal-clear waters and an abundance of corals and marine life. The water is warm all year round, visibility can be in excess of 100 feet (30 m) for most of the year, and diving in Thailand is considered to be one of the safest locations in the world.
Thailand is met by 2 seas, the Gulf of Thailand to the south, and the Andaman Sea to the west. Generally speaking, most sites of interest lie in the Andaman Sea, such as the Similan and Surin Islands, these epitomise all that is good in Thailand SCUBA diving. It is at these islands where you will find the best dive sites in Thailand, such as Richelieu Rock and Hin Muang to name just a couple.
In addition to holding some of the finest diving in the world, Thailand is also renowned for its cuisine. The basis of Thai food is to blend the 5 fundamental tastes - sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and salty. Food is very fresh and usually cooked quickly over a blisteringly hot flame.
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Marine life in Thailand
Whale sharks and manta rays are at the top of most divers' list, and they can be seen almost all year round. But the stunning seas of Thailand are home to an incredible mix of species, including silvertip and grey reef sharks, beautifully coloured rainbow yellowtails, leopard sharks, harlequin shrimp, tiger tail seahorses and vast shoals of chevron barracuda and giant trevallies. In addition to the prolific marine life, Thailand possesses several interesting wreck sites, such as the 197 foot (60 m) Boonsung located in the Koh Surin Marine National Park.
Best dive sites in Thailand
The Similan Islands are found in the Phang Nga Province, 90 km northwest of Phuket, in the Andaman Sea. The sites consist of 9 islands and are considered to be some of the best dive spots in Asia. Delicate reefs thrive in the shallows, while in the deeper sites, you are more likely to see submerged boulders and stunning formations of rock. Here you will find coral encrusted ledges and swim-throughs that are enveloped from top to bottom with marine life. Whale sharks and manta rays can be spotted in Boulder City and Deep Six, as well as the Java Rabbitfish and highly endangered green sea turtle.
The Surin Islands are also found in the Andaman Sea. These islands are much less accessible, even for some liveaboards, making them a sought after location for divers looking to avoid overcrowded sites. The Surin Islands were given Marine National Park status in 1981, and the reefs are in fantastic health as a result. Huge numbers of turtles, namely green and hawksbill, use the picturesque shores of these islands to lay their eggs, and several species of shark are drawn to the abundant reefs.
Richelieu Rock is located in open ocean between the Surin Islands and Thailand’s mainland. Species diversity here is exceptionally high, and during low tide, the pinnacle that is Richelieu Rock breaks the surface. Max depth is around 115 feet (35 m), and visibility is usually excellent. The currents found here attract a whole wealth of species including whale sharks, ghost pipefish, emperor angelfish, scorpionfish, shoals of chevron barracuda, and even shovelnose rays. Tucked away, you will find swim-throughs which smaller species favour, sheltered from the currents, including pygmy seahorses, numerous varieties of crab and shrimp, as well as nudibranchs. Photographers will struggle to choose between their macro and wide angle lens!
Hin Muang is a magnificent wall dive in the Andaman Sea, and another location where whale sharks and manta rays visit. Hin Muang means ‘purple rock’, derived from the staggeringly vibrant purple corals that line the wall. This is a particularly good site for other big species as well, like the grey reef shark and leopard shark. On the shallower depths of the wall, anemones are more predominant, while intricately structured sea fans are found at deeper depths.
Best time to dive in Thailand
Between the months of October and June is considered to be the best season to visit Thailand for scuba diving, although, it is possible to enjoy a dive tour here throughout most of the year, weather permitting. On the west coast of Thailand, the warmest period is between February and May, and it is also when you are most likely to see whale sharks and manta rays. They are attracted in these months by plankton that blooms when waters are at their warmest. Water temperatures reach a height of 88 Fahrenheit (31°C), and drop ever so slightly to 82 Fahrenheit (28°C) between June and August. Most people are comfortable using a full 3 mm wetsuit, although personal preference is ultimately the most important consideration.
Experience level for diving Thailand
Thailand is considered to be one of the safest diving locations in the world, and is where many beginners learn to dive. Some sites will certainly require the experience of a more seasoned diver, such as certain wrecks, deep sites, and where strong currents exist. But the majority of sites available in Thailand are perfectly suitable for beginner divers, while still offering full-blown beauty and excitement.
How do I get to Thailand
A liveaboard is a great way to explore the best dive sites of Thailand. Most Thailand liveaboards will begin their dive trips from either Phuket or Khao Lak. Both ports are relatively easy to reach; many direct international flights are now available to Phuket International Airport, although some long-haul flights will require a connection. Most connections will be via Bangkok, but may also be made through Singapore, Sydney, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates or Moscow.
Embarking on a liveaboard in Khao Lak follows an additional 100 km drive to the north, once landed in Phuket. Many liveaboards will be able to provide a shuttle service directly from the airport, and it is also possible to rent a car, or catch a bus, depending on your budget. The journey is usually less than 2 hours, and follows a lovely coastal road along Highway 402, which merges into Highway 4. For those who choose to drive, most signs are posted in both Thai and English.