Thailand’s top dive sites beckons to avid aquanauts for some of the world’s most awesome adventures; so, get ready to blow some bubbles … Jacques-Yves Cousteau style!by Katherine Walsh
When we conjure up pictures of Thailand, images of beautiful beaches, azure-blue seas, and lush tropical jungles spring to mind — and for good reason. Thailand is a haven for nature lovers with its cascading waterfalls, never-ending stretches of deserted sand fringed by swaying palm trees, and turquoise oceans. However, this postcard-perfect holiday destination is not only idyllic from above the water but also below it. This is a diver’s paradise, where some of the world’s most awesome scuba adventures can be enjoyed.
Thailand is home to waters that are as clear as they are warm, and tropical fish and other intriguing marine animals; and one of the best ways to explore life underwater is to stay on a liveaboard. Daytrips are also available but many keen divers claim that taking the time to stay on a liveaboard boat gives avid aquanauts the opportunity to really feel at home in their tropical surroundings. And if seeing the world from below the water’s surface is your thing, there’s no better place to visit than Thailand.
So, I slipped into my fins, secured my facemask, and dived into some of the most famous dive-sites in the country. What I saw was truly astounding.
The Andaman Sea: Similan & Surin Islands
How: Liveaboard boat
Who: Oktavia Dive Center, Khao Lak
If Koh Phangan is known for its Full Moon Parties, Phi Phi is famous for “The Beach,” and Koh Samui is renowned as a tropical playground for the rich and famous, then The Andaman Sea is legendary for its diving.
By far the most fertile coral reefs in Thailand are located in the Similan Islands, an archipelago protected by national park status located in the Andaman Sea, just 60km from Khao Lak in Phang Nga Province. The underwater scenery in the Similan Islands and the nearby Surin Islands spans a variety of environs including dramatic boulder formations that create daring swim-throughs and colorful reefs for those who prefer reef diving. The area is also strewn with undeveloped islands that are home to nothing more than dense jungle, powder-white beaches, and the occasional colony of fruit bats, which for eagle-eyed spotters can be seen hanging high above in the canopies.
Want to get your adrenaline really pumping? Head to the west side where exhilarating fast-paced dives can be enjoyed, and huge granite boulders form organic overhangs and holes that are fantastic for exploring by those with an appetite for a wet adventure.
If the allure of colorful reefs is more appealing, then slip into your BCD and explore the east coast of the islands, where marine gardens are made up of fertile corals, brightly colored fish, and crystalline blue waters.
The Andaman Sea: Krabi
How: Day trips/liveaboards
Who: Poseidon Dive Academy, Ao Nang
To dive or not to dive? What a silly question! Krabi is another diving hotspot in the Andaman Sea, where dive boats regularly head out to Koh Dor, Koh Si, Koh Ha, and Koh Talu. Wreck diving can be enjoyed at the King Cruiser site, while Anemone Reef is ideal for first-time divers and families staying in Ao Nang. There’s nothing better than wriggling into a wetsuit and diving deep as after all; the best suit in Thailand is a wetsuit.
Gulf of Thailand: Koh Tao
How: Day trips/liveaboards
Who: Carabao Dive Shop, Koh Tao
When: May to October
If underwater frolicking with rays and sharks is your thing, then head to the submerged coastline of Koh Tao. This is a marine playground for divers, where a labyrinth or neon corals await. Hotspots include The Wreck of the Sattakut, Shark Island, White Rock and Sail Rock, and Koh Tao is a good place to head to for anyone looking to complete their Open Water course. The dive sites are generally fairly easy to explore, but fear not! They are far from boring and hold a promise of being able to spot a plethora of tropical marine life.
Once you are ready to blow some serious bubbles, the coral reefs in Koh Tao are ideal to try out, and don’t forget to pack your Go Pro. I certainly got tanked in Koh Tao: tanked under the water that is.
However, new divers should be warned: Approach diving in Thailand with caution, as it commonly leads to a severe addiction of the diving lifestyle!
Where you choose to go will affect what sea creatures you will likely spot.
The Similan Islands are famous for being a great place to see the titans of Thailand’s oceans – whale sharks. Other sharks such as leopard, white tip and black tip sharks can also be regularly spotted along with moray eels, barracuda, triggerfish, batfish and different snappers.
The Surin Islands are a good place to get up close and personal with the gentle giants of the sea – manta rays. Turtles are also seen here, along with the rare Nicobar Pigeon and on-land; the mangrove monitor lizards provide a lot of excitement.
Koh Tao is home to nudibranchs, stingrays, and moray eels as well as whale sharks, sea horses and giant grouper. Lucky divers will also see rare saddleback clownfish darting in and out of a large anemone on dives to The Twins dive spot.
Schools of barracuda and more than 60 species of coral can be seen in Krabi in the famous dive spot of Koh Ha.
Whale sharks are often seen at Richelieu Rock, along with octopus, various rays and giant boxfish.
Koh Bon is great for seeing large manta rays, Napoleon wrasse, eagle rays, tuna, chevron barracuda and black tip reef sharks.
Hawksbill turtles are a highlight to many trips in Krabi, along with mantis shrimp, seahorses and nudibranch.