Known as the “Land of a Thousand Smiles”, Thailand has blossomed onto the world dive stage as a premier dive destination, providing an enormous variety of sites accessible for scuba divers and snorkelers. With more than 2,000 kilometres/1243 miles of clear, warm waters, divers can experience sites in both the Andaman Sea off the west coast, and the Gulf of Thailand on the east. Scuba divers visiting Thailand will find:
- extensive fringing reefs
- deep drops
- caves and tunnels
- hard and soft corals
- open ocean seamounts
One of the Best Dive Sites in Thailand: Richelieu Rock
Many consider this horseshoe shaped rock near the Surin Islands in the Andaman Sea Thailand's best scuba diving site. Dive pioneer, Jacques Yves Cousteau, with the aid of local fisherman, discovered this gem sitting about 200 kilometres/124 miles northwest of Phuket and 70 kilometres/43 miles from Khao Lak.
Richelieu Rock's sheer variety of marine life- including whale sharks- attracts divers from around the world. Divers will be entranced by circulating barracuda, large grouper, and thousands of smaller fish circling around the pinnacle. Although the large pinnacle is the primary attraction, divers will also find smaller crests that peak from 3-10 metres/10-33 feet below the surface. Because the dive site tends to concentrate the area's marine life, Richelieu's Rock is also an excellent place to see larger predators.
Other varieties of marine life that inhabit the corals in this area include, schooling bannerfish, snappers, lionfish, moorish idols, titan triggerfish and shovelnose rays. Divers may also see bearded scorpionfish, stonefish, moray eels, seahorses, pipefish, Sshrimps, crabs, cuttlefish and nudibranchs.
Whether you're a macro enthusiast or a junkie for seeing big stuff underwater, Richelieu Rock has something for you. Because it is so popular, you can easily hop a dayboat or liveaboard out of Khao Lak or Phuket.
Phuket and Southern Thailand
Considered a premier tourist destination, Phuket is the country’s largest island and home to the region’s largest liveaboard fleet. Off of Krabi--a southern province on the Andaman Sea- divers can visit rock formations or head to the Phi Phi islands that comprise Koh Phi Phi Marine National Park.
Further south, around Koh Lanta, divers can enjoy can both enjoy wall dives and swimming among fringing reefs. Hin Daeng and Hin Mouang, both sites to the open ocean, feature encounters with Manta Rays and Whale Sharks.
Another popular dive site just 25 kilometres/ 16 miles east of Phuket is the Shark Point Marine Sanctuary. With a name like Shark Point, you'd expect to see sharks and you won't be disappointed by the Leopard Sharks resting on the sandy bottom. Visibility ranges from 10-20 metres/33-66 feet and the high density of fish makes the diving a fantastic experience. Barracudas, gorgonian sea fans, Leopard Sharks, and plenty of small fish can be found here. Divers of all levels will enjoy the wreck of the 85-metre/ 279-foot King Cruiser passenger ferry.
PADI Dive Shops and Resorts
Find contact information for PADI Dive Shops and Resorts in Thailand .
Depth : Up to 40 metres/ 120ft feet
Visibility : Up to 30 metres/ 100 feet
Currents : Variable but generally mild
Water Temperatures : 28°- 30°Celsius/ 82°-86° Fahrenheit year round.
Dive Season : Although May to September is the best time in the Gulf of Thailand, and October to April
is the best time to dive in the Andaman Sea, you can dive all year round in Thailand.
Weather : Located in the tropics, Thailand is warm and wet
during the May to September monsoon season. The
country dries out for a bit from November through
the middle of March. Either way, you can count
on heat and humidity in the southwest and a cooler
climate north and northeast.
The air temperature ranges from 28-35°C/82-95° F
Access : Although there area a few shore dive sites, most of
Thailand's dive attractions are visited by boat
Skill level : Because of the generally conservative depths, warm water and good visibility, scuba diving in
Thailand is suitable for nearly all divers-- beginners to advanced.
You'll see the familiar PADI Dive Center and Resort signs all around Thailand. It’s a great place to begin your dive adventures or continue your education with various PADI Specialty courses such as Digital Underwater Photographer, Enriched Air Diver, Drift Diver, Deep Diver, Night Diver, Diver Propulsion Vehicle, AWARE - Fish Identification, Underwater Naturalist or Wreck Diver.
Tropical scuba equipment is the norm in Thailand. Dive centers and resorts frequently offer full hire facilities. Gear hire may not be included in tours, so be sure to ask.
Recommended Length of Stay Seven to 14 days
You can see a myriad of aquatic life while diving the waters of Thailand:
- Whale sharks
- Leopard sharks
- Manta rays
- Moorish idols
- Clown fish
- Butterfly fish
- Moray eels
Most Famous Dive Site: Koh Tao
Average Depth: 14-18 metres/46-50 feet
The Gulf of Thailand is where you will find one of the most popular dive spots in Asia--the island of Koh Tao. This 21 square kilometre/8 square mile island is about 70 kilometres/ 43 miles off the coast is easily reachable via high speed catamaran.
Although the island itself is beautiful, scuba diving is the primary attraction and the reason people visit. With such an emphasis on the water surrounding the island, dive centers are plentiful on Koh Tao. You can visit more than 20 PADI Dive Centers/Resorts to start your PADI Open Water Diver course, continue your dive education or advance to PADI Instructor level training.
Regardless of your certification level or dive experience, you'll find something to excite when diving Koh Tao's waters, including numerous fish species, turtles, stingrays, barracuda, reef sharks- and if you're visiting at the right time- whale sharks.
Of the 25 main dive sites within an hour boat ride from the island are two main types of dives-- deep sites and sloping coral dives. At the offshore sites you can expect depths up to 30 metres/90 feet and vibrant corals tucked into craggy rock faces on towering submerged pinnacles frequently visited by large pelagic animals.
At the shallower dive sites- about 14-18 metres/42-54 feet, you'll see different corals and a rich diversity of marine life. These can also be good snorkeling sites.
Regardless of the diving you're doing, you can expect good visibility-about 40 metres/120 feet- throughout most of the year.
During your surface intervals on Koh Tao, you can also:
• Go snorkeling
• Take local fishing trips
• Relax on a deserted beach
• Investigate Muay Thai Boxing, a national martial
• Get a Thai massage, practice yoga or visit the
• Wakeboard, waterski or kayak
• Take an island cruise onboard a traditional
• Learn about the island’s culture, its coconut
industry, cooking and handicrafts
• Absorb plenty of high action night life after the sun
• Partake in international dining with fresh food
Getting to the Koh Tao
Getting to Koh Tao is fairly simple but you should check with your local PADI Dive Center or Resort for the method that best meets your needs. You reach Koh Tao indirectly by air, rail and road and directly by sea. Plenty of travel agents in Bangkok, mainly along Khao San Road and around Hua Lamphong rail station, will provide package tours that include bus or train and boat tickets. They can also arrange for accommodation and dive center bookings.
If you want a bit of adventure, it isn't hard to get to Koh Tao on you own. Starting from Bangkok, catch a bus or train to Chumphon, then hop a boat to the island. Your total travel time should be from 7-12 hours. From Phuket, you can go to Suratthani and connect through Koh Samui or Koh Phangan.
- Delight in famous Thai cuisine or take a Thai cooking class.
- Indulge in vibrant nightlife and entertainment.
- Visit a dressmaker or tailor to sample famous Thai silk garments.
- Visit the city of Chiang Mai (in Thailand's North) for a blend of traditional and modern Thai culture.
- Marvel at the multitude of Buddhist Temples and retreats.
- Explore the Kingdom’s ancient traditions and culture
- Pamper yourself at a day spa or health resort.
- Go parasailing or surfing.
- Explore the rainforest and for something totally unique take an elephant ride.
- Tee off on one of Thailand's golf courses.
Language: Thai – some English is spoken in tourist areas.
Currency: Thailand Baht (THB)
Tipping: Generally, tipping isn't expected in Thailand. Two exceptions are that you may experience a
10 percent surcharge at upscale eateries and tipping may be expected at restaurants
(primarily in Bangkok) frequented by tourists.
Transportation: With a comprehensive transport system that includes convenient air, rail, bus, water and road
connections, getting around in Thailand is comfortable and easy- especially if you
book in advance.
The Thai government allows citizens of many countries to enter without a visa under a Tourist Visa Exemption. The Tourist Visa Exemption is, with some exceptions, good for 30 days. For more information, go to the Kingdom of Thailand Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
Images courtesy of Paul Lees from Dive Guide Thailand and Crystal Dive Resort in Koh Tao.
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