Home to a vivid seascape of colourful corals and fascinating sea creatures, Thailand’s oceans offer the perfect playground for scuba divers keen to explore the hidden depths
Thailand’s seas are home to a plethora of brightly coloured coral reefs
Peer beneath the gleaming, placid surface in one of Thailand’s glorious oceans and you’ll be rewarded with the chance to glimpse fascinating underwater eco-systems. Home to a rainbow of coral reefs and an intriguing selection of tropical marine life; it’s no wonder the country has become a global dive destination.
Whether you dive the Andaman Sea to the west of the Thai mainland or the Gulf of Siam to the East, there are plenty of serene islands that offer an idyllic base for your underwater explorations. Larger islands like Phuket and Samui provide an ideal hub for diving day trips in the nearby waters, or those keen to explore further afield can make their way off the beaten track, to island like Koh Tao or the Surin archipelago. If you’re new to scuba diving, there are also plenty of professional establishments where you can pick up the necessary qualifications to dive.
We give you the low-down on Thailand’s diving scene, from training courses in Koh Tao and Khao Lak, to exploring the best underwater destinations the Andaman and the Gulf have to offer.
Mastering the basics
PADI dive training courses are split into two sections – theory and practical
Whether you’re island-hopping in the Andaman Sea or exploring the many delights the Gulf islands have to offer, you’ll find reputable dive school nearby where you’ll be able to study for your PADI (Professional Association of Divers) accreditation. Koh Tao – a tiny island situated to the north of Koh Samui – issues more PADI licenses than any other destination in the world, bar Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Meanwhile, if you’re on the Andaman side of the Thai mainland, Khao Lak is a popular hub for novice divers keen to learn the sport, as well as those more experienced beneath the waves. This tranquil destination is just 80km north of Phuket.
Anyone aged 12-years-old and above, who is in reasonably good physical shape, is eligible to take a PADI course. Thanks to excellent underwater visibility and warm waters all year round, Koh Tao or Khao Lak offer two perfect locations to get to grips with the basics. The course itself is divided into two sections – theoretical and practical, and you’ll learn exactly how to use the scuba equipment as well as the vital techniques and communications used by divers to stay safe. You’re likely to start off the practical sessions in shallow waters just off the coast or in a swimming pool, before moving onto more advanced open-sea dives.
As well as the stunning surroundings you’ll be learning to dive in, another bonus is that Thailand’s PADI courses are short and designed to fit into visitors’ holiday schedules. Courses are also offered at very competitive prices, and it’s easy to locate a Dive Centre with courses conducted in multiple languages, generally English, Mandarin Chinese or Russian.
Underwater Andaman’s Adventures
The Surin Islands are situated just below the Thai border with Myanmar
Stretching along the south-western coast of Thailand is the Andaman Sea – one of the world’s most highly regarded destinations for diving enthusiasts. For travellers based on Phuket itself, plenty of idyllic dive sites are accessible on ay excursions into the ocean. The Phi Phi Islands are a particularly popular choice.
For divers keen to delve beyond the beaten track and explore a truly unspoilt destination, the prospect of travelling further afield for diving opportunities may appeal. Positioned 95km northwest of Phuket, the Similan Islands are one such destination. This sublime tropical oasis is just as stunning on dry land as it is beneath the waves. Thanks to the array of colossal granite boulders, caverns and exhilarating swim-through sites peppered in the waters around the Similan Islands, diving is the main attraction for visitors. The surrounding seas are also home to an eclectic selection of tropical sea creatures, including Manta Rays. For this and many other reasons, Similan Islands are frequently ranked among the top ten diving destinations in the world.
Travelling even further north, you reach the Surin Islands. This stunning destination is situated just below the Thailand-Myanmar border and offers a kaleidoscope of coral reefs that envelope the edges of a craggy outcrop of islands, offering excellent exploring grounds for divers. Richelieu Rock is the most famous dive site in the region – an impressive limestone column blanketed with a rich covering of magenta and lilac-coloured corals. It’s also one of the only sites in the world where whale sharks are spotted on a fairly regular basis. Trips from the Surin Islands to nearby Koh Bon and Koh Tachai also offer up the opportunity to glimpse Manta Rays and leopard sharks.
Treasures in the Gulf of Siam
Halfway between Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, Sail Rock is one of the Gulf’s most popular dive sites
Superb underwater conditions and a rich abundance of tropical marine life tempt scuba diving enthusiasts back to the Gulf of Thailand every year. The region is also a hotspot for first-time divers thanks to the excellent visibility, plus currents that aren’t usually too strong for divers to contend with as they explore – except during monsoon season.
For divers using Koh Samui as a base for their underwater explorations, a plethora of top-notch dive sites are within easy day trip distance. Chumphon Pinnacle is one of the most popular sites. Located 11km northwest of Koh Tao, this rocky column starts at a depth of 14m beneath the water’s surface and plunges down to approximately 36km, creating a wonderful habitat for many different species of fish and other sea creatures. Some divers have even been known to glimpse the mighty whale shark here.
Situated halfway between Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, Sail Rock is another popular dive destination. A colossal limestone karst breaks through the surface of the water halfway between two islands, providing a fantastic habitat that allows sea life to flourish. The rock spirals down to a depth of around 30m, and divers will typically follow the formation of the rock in a circular direction. Beneath the impressive formation, other rocks provide a home to a diverse range of species, including inquisitive reef sharks and shy nurse sharks.
Green turtles can be glimpsed in waters to the north of Phuket
Thailand’s oceans are home to a fascinating array of marine creatures, so if you’re keen to set eyes on a particular species it’s well worth doing your research first to find out which particular dive sites are home to which animals. In the Gulf of Thailand, Moray eels are one of the more menacing but fascination residents. The waters are also home to different rays, including the colourful blue-spotted variety. Meanwhile, if you’re exploring Phuket, some of the top dive sites nearby will offer the chance to see beautiful leopard sharks. On both sides of the Thai peninsular, lucky divers may also be able to glimpse a majestic whale shark.
If you’re taking your camera on your scuba diving excursion, follow these tips to snap some excellent photos for your holiday album.
- If your subject is within a distance of three to four feet, you’ll need the flash on. Ensure the camera is set to forced flash, as opposed to auto-flash. This will add colour to your images.
- Keep the camera zoomed out to the widest setting. If you zoom in too much, you won’t be able to focus as closely on the subject.
- If possible (and safe!) try to get within a few inches of your subject, preferably on a level with it. That way you’ll be able to capture all the detail close-up.