Scuba Diving in Thailand
Diving in Thailand started in Pattaya, 1962 by two Thais and an Englishman. After Pattaya the Phuket area opened up for diving and is well known its diversity, you can find calm empty beaches for the romantic trip as well as crazy wild nightlife for the singles. If you are looking for the best diving in Thailand you should travel to the Similan islands as it regularly gets voted “one of the top diving areas in the world”. With hundreds of thousands scuba divers from all over the world visiting Thailand every year, it sure is a Mecca for scuba diving.
The best time to visit for lots of sun and great weather is between October and May. During July and August it’s still pleasant weather in Thailand but with rain most nights. During the month of September you find rougher seas and lots of rain. However Thailand is a good place for diving all year around and depending on the season different dive sites and areas are accessible.
The currents have seasonal variations but the main currents are tidal and sometimes you can find the current to be very strong. The monsoons bring in colder waters from the open seas and the ocean tends to get clearer with increased visibility. However if you find yourself in poor visibility with lots of plankton in the water you could be lucky and find yourself diving with a whale shark.
On the east coast you find the Gulf of Thailand with 112 islands. Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangang provide some of the most illustrious dive sites while Pattaya and Koh Chang holds some fantastic wrecks. The seas are friendlier in the Gulf of Thailand then in the Andaman Sea especially between May and October before the monsoonal winds arrive. The diving is still good all year around.
On the east coast you find the province Chumphon, it still has some well-preserved beaches and the province does not have as many tourists visiting as Phuket and Krabi does. Many divers pass by Chumphon center when traveling to Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Koh Phangang. Chumphon can still offer a quieter welcoming break but you can expect this area to be more exploit in the future with kite surfing and other wind related activities as well as new dive centers/shops.
You also find the province Chonburi on the east coast. Pattaya is located here and this is where the first dive center opened up in Thailand 1962. From Pattaya you can dive in Koh Chang Marine National Park, 52 islands with many nice dive sites including both reefs and wrecks. You can also find great places for snorkeling in the area as in most areas in Thailand.
On the west coast you find the Andaman Sea, the best diving is found in the Similan island area, the best time is November to May as the Similan islands are closed from May 15 to November 1st of each year. It’s forbidden to dive or fish in the national park when it is closed. Normally you find the best diving on the east side of most offshore islands as the southwest monsoon influence the reefs and surroundings.
In the west coast, province of Ranong you can find Surin Islands, virtually untouched reefs that slope to the seabed. The diversity of marine life contains schooling chevron barracuda, many types of moray eels, abundant lionfish and scorpion fish and five types of anemone fish, juvenile emperor angel fish, sea horses, ornate ghost pipefish, harlequin shrimps and even whale sharks, manta rays and shovelnose rays. In the north at Mergui Archipelago you will find relatively unknown and unexplored islets and dive sites as it opened up for diving as late as 1997. The location is far north just south of Burma. As the dive sites are exposed to stronger currents than most of Thailand this area is recommended for more advanced/experienced divers.
In the west coast, province Phang Nga you find the Similan islands. Similan means 9 in Malay language that explains the name simply means nine islands. Koh Bon, Koh Bayu, Koh Similan, Koh Payu, Koh Miang (two adjoining islands), Koh Payan, Koh Payang and Koh Huyong. The Similan islands are closed for diving and fishing during the summer months (15 May to 1 November) this is to protect the turtles hatching and reef conservation program. Perhaps this is why the Similan islands are so well preserved with such rich marine life. North of Similan island you find another island Koh Tachai also worth visiting for scuba diving. The easiest way to reach the Similan islands is from Khao Lak.
In the west coast, the Phuket province is probably the most known province of Thailand. You can reach Phi Phi islands from Phuket; however it does belong to the province of Krabi. South of Phuket you find the island Racha Yai. Racha Yai is an island south of Phuket and holds many great dive sites both for beginners and experienced scuba divers. It’s not uncommon to spot manta rays and even whale sharks here. Koh doc Mai is a small island just east of Phuket; it’s a great place for wall diving as well as night dives. You can expect leopard sharks, moray eels, octopus and turtles. For a night dive you will find sponge crabs, lobster and perhaps hunting barracudas. At Shark Point Marine Sanctuary you find the King cruiser wreck, Shark point and Anemone reef close together between Krabi, Phuket and Koh Phi Phi. The King Cruiser Wreck ran into Anemone reef on a beautiful day with flat seas and sank not far away just 2-3 hours later. The tsunami 2004 damaged the ship making parts of it to collapse. You are likely to see Leopard sharks, sea horses, morays and if you are lucky whale sharks.
In the west coast, province Krabi you have Ao Nang that holds a high concentration of dive centers and accommodation. From here you can access the dive sites at Phi Phi and Koh Lanta as well as Shark Point marine sanctuary. Nearby in the Ao Nang bay there are about 30 small islands with plenty of dive sites. During the Tsunami in 2004 many of the dive sites got badly damaged but they have recovered better than expected and divers now flock to go here again. South of Krabi you find Koh Lanta, an excellent place for experienced divers. Dive sites like Hin Daeng, Hin Muang are nearby. If you are looking for strong currents, deep walls and large underwater caverns to explore and in the same time want to see whale sharks and manta rays this is the place to go. If you are a beginner you can also find some great dive sites around the Koh Haa Islets. South of Krabi you find Tarutao national park, around the Island of Koh Lipe you find many dive sites. Koh Lipe is the only inhabited island in Tarutao national park. It’s not uncommon to spot a whale shark or manta ray in this area.
Koh Phi Phi or Phi Phi Island as it is called is found between Krabi and Phuket and belongs to the province of Krabi. Here you can find the famous beach from the movie with the same name “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Many people call this paradise and for a reason, it’s beautiful. This area is most visited by younger crowds that want to mix diving, pubs and the backpacking experience.
The marine life is very diverse in Thailand and you can expect the following marine life when visiting Thailand: Batfish, Clown Trigger fish, Long fin Banner-Fish, Hawksbill Turtle, Christmas Tree Worms, Giant Grouper, Moray Eels, Wart slug, Stag horn coral, Lionfish, Hermit crab, Jellyfish, Porcupine fish, Cuttlefish, Whale Shark, Yellow Coral, Fusilier fish, Banded Sea Snake, Scorpion fish, Nudibranch, Flat worm, Remora, Ornate Ghost Pipe fish, Blue spotted stingray, White eyed moray, Leopard shark, White tipped reef shark, Sea horse, crocodile fish, clown fish (Nemo), Green turtle, Leopard ray, Sea dragons, Juvenile emperor angel fish, Harlequin shrimps, Sponge crap, Lobster and much more.
In Thailand you can find almost all types of dives: Drift diving, wall dives, wreck dives including wreck penetration, cave dives, deep diving, tech diving, rebreather diving, free diving, snorkeling, freshwater diving, saltwater diving, night diving, eco diving, diving for disabled, liveaboards, Reefs, Pinnacles, beach and boat dives. Scuba divers with different experience levels from, beginners to intermediate advanced and experienced divers.
Tourist information in Thailand
Most nationalities can obtain free visas valid for 30 days. To receive the free visa when entering Thailand you need a valid passport and a return ticket within this 30 days. If you will be staying longer than 30 days you should visit your Thai embassy or consulate. For a fee you can apply for a tourist visa valid for 60 days. It’s also possible to apply for a non-immigrant visa valid for 90 days but they are quite difficult to obtain. When in Thailand you can apply for an extension of your tourist visa for another 30 days. If you plan to leave Thailand during your stay, you must obtain a re-entry visa, available from Immigration Department in Bangkok.
The customs in Thailand are normally no problem; just make sure you are not carrying pornography, firearms, political propaganda, large amounts of cash ($10,000), or drugs. The penalties for this “crimes” are harsh.
Thailand use a two-pin plug with a power supply of 220V AC 50Hz, carry an adaptor if needed.
You can find Taxis and Tuk tuks all around in Thailand; Tuk tuks are 3-wheeled scooters cheaper than taxis of course. Remember to negotiate the price before entering a Tuk tuk or taxi. It’s a good Idea to first ask your hotel what the prices should be to different areas as well as asking them to write down the address in Thai as many drivers do not speak English.
Renting a scooter or car is also an alternative. Its law to wear a helmet in Thailand and you could be fined if driving without it. It’s also good to know that many people die in Thailand every year from scooter/motorcycle accidents as driving can be tricky (even if you know how to drive the Thais driving skills could be up for discussion) Thailand has over 12,000 deaths due to road traffic accidents ever year.
Traveling longer distances in Thailand is both cheap and easy. Long-distance buses are the cheaper alternative, they sometimes miss air-condition and as the traffic is not great and busses regularly end up in accidents. The rail service is good and the prices are also fair, the trains are comfortable and clean. The backside of the trains is that they are normally fully booked, its recommended to book one month in advanced for the more trafficked routs.
Flying around in Thailand is relatively cheap and there are plenty of airlines to choose from, some smaller cheaper airlines are not as picky with the safety, if choosing a smaller unknown airline you should check so they are not on a blacklist.
In Thailand the currency is Thai Bath. All major credit cards are widely accepted. If you prefer traveler’s checks you should get them in Euros, US dollars or Sterling. If you would like to exchange money you can do so both in the bank offices as well as at currency exchange counters, larger hotels also offers the service to change money but beware of the exchange rate as this could be costly.
Most hotels include a service charge as well as local taxes. If you appreciate the service you should consider a 10-15 percent tip. On daytrips for scuba diving the boat crews in many cases depend on the tip.
You should make sure you are protected against hepatitis A and B, malaria, tetanus and typhoid. Once in Thailand do not drink the tap water, bottled water can be found everywhere for a low price. Prostitution is illegal in Thailand and if you would have casual sex you should know that AIDS is widely spread. Rabies is just as common as AIDS so if you get bitten by any animal you should seek medical attention immediately.
Your local dive center has a plan for the case of any diver showing symptoms of DCI. It’s good to know about the symptoms: Fatigue, chest pain, weakness, dizziness, skin rash, visual problems, itching, paralysis, vomiting, pins & needles, vertigo, nausea and breathing problems.
Thailand have organized a network of hyperbaric chambers, ambulances and diving medicine emergency procedures under the name BADALVEDA Recompression Chambers and Diving Medicine Network.
Diving Medicine Hotline +66 (0) 81 989 9482.
These numbers can be called 24/7 by divers who need assistance about diving injuries, evacuation services or general diving medicine questions. Note that these numbers are for emergency contacts only.
Public holidays in Thailand
|New Year’s Day||January 1 or 2|| |
|Makha Bucha||Mars 7||*|
|Chakri Memorial||Day April 6|| |
|Songkran||April 13-15|| |
|Labour Day||May 1 or 2|| |
|Coronation Day||May 5 || |
|Visakha Bucha||May 17||*|
|Asarnha Bucha||July 15||*|
|Khao Phansa (Buddhist Lent)||July 16||*|
|HM The Queen’s Birtday / Mother’s Day||August 12|| |
|Chulanlongkorn Day||October 23 or 24|| |
|HM The King’s Day / Father’s Day||December 5|| |
|Constitution Day||December 10 or 12|| |
|New Year’s Day||December 31|| |
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Holidays marked * are governed by the phases of the moon