Thailand is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, with over 30 million people visiting very year. Ridiculously stunning beaches, great food, welcoming locals and hedonistic parties are just some of the reasons people flock to the land of smiles. Located in the heart of South East Asia, Thailand offers miles and miles of tropical beaches, exhilarating cultural experiences and fantastic marine & reef life for underwater enthusiasts.
Diving Thailand means nice warm water and good visibility with dive sites varying from wild current swept rocky landscapes to gentle sloping coral reefs. There is something for everyone from people taking their first breaths on scuba and discovering scuba diving to experienced Divemasters & Instructors hoping to see.
A Brief History
Diving in Thailand is a relatively new phenomenon, with the emergence being traced back to American Navy SEALs during the Vietnam War. The first diving store was opened in Pattaya in 1977 and shortly after that the popularity of scuba diving began to increase for both Thai nationals and foreigners wanting to dive Thailand.
Following the initial rise in popularity, the next destination to see scuba divers, or wannabe scuba divers arriving in large numbers, was Phuket. From a Phuket base, it was relatively easy to explore the Andaman Sea and Similan Islands and since those days, the Similans have ranked as one of the top ‘must dive’ destinations in the world, offering some of Thailand’s most famous dive sites.
Travelling over to the East coast of the Kingdom, located in the Gulf of Thailand sea is Koh Tao. This beautiful tropical island has emerged as a major diving destination in Thailand. The first dive shops opened up towards the end of the 1980’s.
Cesare Benelli, from Italy, was one of the first pioneers of the scuba industry in the region. He named the islands first dive sites after the colours of the Italian flag, Green Rock, White Rock and Red Rock.
Get Your PADI with Whalesharks – Koh Tao
Koh Tao is great for beginners and people looking to get PADI certified while on traveling Thailand. With its idyllic setting, lovely coral reefs and abundance of marine life it has seen Koh Tao become the most popular place in the world to get certified.
Koh Tao, which means ‘Turtle Island’ when translated from Thai, has become one of the most popular diving areas in the country. The island has an area of only 21sq km and lies to the north of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand. It has become world renowned for its diving as it has many local dive siteswhich suits all level of divers. Nice shallow bays full of corals for the beginners and big deep pinnacles situated a short boat ride away from the Island.
Diving on Koh Tao is easy and fun, you will have the opportunity to see turtles, stingrays, barracudas, lots of small fish, reef sharks. Koh Tao’s most famous dive sites are Chumphon Pinnacle and Sail Rock where you will have a good chance to see Whalesharks!
Dive, Eat, Sleep, Repeat – Liveaboards and the Andaman Sea
Liveaboards from Phuket and Khao Lak will usually visit the Similan Islands and the dive sites to the north which is referred to as the Surin Islands. During the trip you would dive next to the Islands of Koh Bon and Koh Tachai as well the most renowned dive site in Thailand Richeliu Rock. This dive site lies 200 km north of Phuket, this horseshoe-shaped rock in the Andaman Sea.
Barely breaking the surface during low tide, Richeliu Rock is your best chance to have a Whaleshark experience as well as see Mantas! The other islands you visit have thriving reefs and abundance of magnificent corals and a superb variety of marine life.
While you can go on day trips from the mainland to dive this area, joining a liveaboard trip is the best way to explore the region. You can enjoy up to 4 dives a day exploring some of Thailand’s best dive sites and just rest and enjoy the ride on your surface interval.
On a diving voyage around the Andaman Sea you could get the chance to see giant trevally, manta rays, leopard sharks, rainbow runners, shovelnose rays, seahorses, and cuttlefish.
Wreck Diving – Pattaya
If you are diver who is in love with wreck diving, then you will want to head to Pattaya, a destination which has been labelled the ‘wreck diving capital of Thailand’. Pattaya is home to many shipwrecks; the HTMS Kut, HTMS Khram and the HTMS Mataphon which are all World War II era ships from the US Navy that were transferred to the Thai Navy. A little further down the coast from Pattaya you can visit the wrecks of S.S Suddhadib and the Bremen Wreck.
Located a short distance from Pattaya is Thailand third largest island; Koh Chang, which is home to the largest shipwreck dive in all of Thailand! HTMS Chang is 100 metres long, and sits in 30 metres of water. Since 2012, when the vessel was sunk, it has seen an abundance of fish take refuge in and around the wreck creating a good diversity of marine life. Here you will see Barracuda, squid, octopus and batfish among others.
Thailand has something for everyone, no matter what your diving experience. With over 2,000 km of coastline, and hundreds of islands there are reefs, walls, caves, drifts, swim-throughs, drop-offs, wrecks and pinnacles. Whatever your scuba diving level and experience, this wonderful country will give you a fantastic underwater adventure.
Author: Neil Davidson (PADI MSDT #294100)