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GUIDE TO SCUBA DIVING IN THAILAND

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scuba diving in thailand-thailand beach- krabi
beach in Krabi, Thailand

GUIDE TO SCUBA DIVING IN THAILAND

Thailand is blessed with extensive coastlines and hundreds of tropical islands ringed by coral reefs.  Simply put, Thailand is a divers’ paradise. Beautiful reefs are found everywhere, from Thailand’s far eastern border with Cambodia, through the Gulf of Thailand past Bangkok, and down the entire east coast to Malaysia.

Thailand’s west coast, on the Andaman Sea, offers even more spectacular diving, from the northern border with Myanmar, all the way down to the Malaysian border. In total, there are some 3000+ km of coastline, beaches, islands and tropical reefs. The Similan and Surin Islands, off Thailand’s west coast, are annually ranked among the top 10 international dive destinations. This guide gives in-depth overview of the best-and worst-scuba diving in Thailand.

Here’s an overview of Thailand’s diving spots:

Diving in less than ideal visibility

Near Thailand’s eastern border with Cambodia lies Koh Chang (Koh meaning ‘island’) and a cluster of smaller, less-developed islands. Most are ringed by coral reefs and have dive shops offering dive tours and courses. These islands are located in the far reaches of the Gulf of Thailand, which sweeps past Bangkok and most of Thailand’s east coast.

A disadvantage to Gulf-side diving is poor visibility from river run-off and industrial pollution. In addition, the sea around Koh Chang is quite deep and often windy, causing a choppy surface and swells. Although the reefs are stunning, sea conditions generally are not ideal. Further west, about halfway to Bangkok, the beach-side sex-traffic city of Pattaya offers great wreck diving, but with poor visibility.

Further south, along Thailand’s east coast, is Koh Tao, which has become a huge dive mecca in the past decade. It’s popularity and fame are due to cheap diving courses rather than the quality of diving. About 50 dive shops now operate on small Koh Tao. All of them dive daily to a handful of nearby dive sites. Not surprisingly, the sites get very crowded.

Dive shops from neighboring Koh Phangan and Koh Samui also frequent the same few sites, adding even more fins to the reefs. Over-crowding is negatively impacting the reefs’ quality.  In addition, the area often suffers from the Gulf of Thailand’s usual poor visibility. Still, the diving must not be terrible. I’ve met many beginning divers who were completely satisfied with their diving experiences at Koh Tao.

powdery white sand beach at Similan Islands

In any event, Thailand’s best diving is found in the Andaman Sea on the west coast. Thailand’s famed Similan and Surin Islands are accessed almost exclusively by live-aboard dive boats, on 3 to 5-day trips. These trips originate from Phuket and Khao Lak, making these spots two of Thailand’s biggest diving meccas. Live-aboard trips also venture further north of the Similan and Surin Islands to Richelieu Rock, the Mergui Archipelago, and other islands in Myanmar waters. Phuket-based shops also make day trips to various islands around Phuket.

South of Phuket are many excellent diving locations, some famous and some little-known. The most famous are dive sites around the PhiPhi Islands. They are accessed by dive shops on Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, the Krabi mainland tourist town, Ao Nang, and Railay/Tonsai beaches.

I taught diving for 4 dive seasons, based at Tonsai beach, diving the beautiful Phi Phi dive sites. I can testify that PhiPhi Ley boasts some of the most gorgeous reefs I’ve seen, even after diving in Malaysia, Borneo, the Philippines, the Great Barrier Reef, and Bali.  Dive shops at Tonsai, Railay and AoNang also dive at a cluster of  nearby little-known islands and rocks peaking out of the Andaman Sea. Several of these sites have gorgeous reefs. However, they often suffer poor visibility due to their proximity to mainland rivers and their shallow depths.

Diving in Thailand, with students

Koh Phi Phi Don, Ao Nang, and Koh Lanta are big diving meccas with dozens of dive shops. All of them dive mainly at the same Phi Phi sites. Koh Lanta’s shops also venture to dive sites just south of the Phi Phi islands. These include excellent dive sites at Koh Ha, Hing Daeng and Hin Muang.

Koh Ha is a small archipelago of 5 islands with gorgeous reefs, which are less visited than the Phi Phi islands, and thus more pristine. Hin Daeng and Hin Muang are 2 gigantic rocks in the middle of the Andaman Sea, one completely submerged and one barely peaking above the surface. They are both famous for whale shark and manta ray sitings. Exciting diving!

colorful anthias and basslets hover over a healthy hard coral reef

Further south, Trang Province includes several small peaceful islands. All have 1 to 3 dive shops offering diving at nearby sites, Koh Rok and Koh Ha. Few travelers know about these charming islands or their dive shops.

Trang’s islands are much more low-key and less developed than those around PhiPhi and Phuket. Trang  Provinces’ reefs are relatively little dived and in pristine condition.

South of Trang, way down near Thailand’s border with Malaysian, there are a handful of islands making up Koh Tarutao National Park. They are reached by a 3 to 4-hour boat ride from the mainland. They offer excellent dive sites.  Koh Lipe is the most famous island. Others are Koh Adang and Koh Redang. Several dive shops on Koh Lipe offer diving to the pretty nearby reefs. Like the islands in Trang, these islands and dive sites are less well-known but very beautiful.

diver on beautiful reef

And that sums up my overview of Thailand diving.

For more detailed information, ask questions below in the comments section or feel free to contact me on FB about diving anywhere in Thailand, or Asia for that matter. Ask me about dive shops, locations, dive conditions, accommodation! I’m happy to help.

Facebook: LashWorldTour 


(* all under water photos by Viki Kleyer / all others by Lash- LashWorldTour *)

4 comments

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  1. Raymond @ Man On The Lam

    Great post Lash! You know I am going to have to take you up on some suggestions soon…very, very soon! ;)

  2. LASH

    Thanks Raymond! Are you round-about Thailand? Do you already dive? Hit me up for more Qs and tips if you need any mor info! thANks for stopping by! cheers, Lash

  3. Suzy

    Wow! I love that last shot of the diver and the reef. If I ever make it to Thailand, I will have to try diving for the first time. Sounds like a great country to see a lot underwater.

  4. LASH

    Yeah, Suzy, diving is Amazing! Lots of first time divers comment,"wow,it's literally a whole new world" crazy amazing! Lots of places to learn diving if you don't get to Thailand! cheers, Lash

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