Thailand, the “Land of Smiles” located right at the heart of Southeast Asia is famed for its unique culture and internationally renowned cuisine. The country boasts incredible beauty with incredible peaks in the north surrounded by lush tropical jungles and further south palm trees fringing beautiful white sandy beaches, amazing colourful coral reefs.
Thailand also has many exhilarating cultural attractions right across the length and breadth of the country.
With the Gulf of Thailand on the East and the Andaman Sea on the west of Thailand, there are lots of scuba diving opportunities including coral reefs, drop offs, shipwrecks, walls and deep pinnacles.
Once finished diving for the day you will find plenty of entertainment from picturesque sunsets and excellent dining to social drinking and lively full moon parties.
Travelling Thailand Is easy
Thailand is a traveller’s hotspot and the most popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia for good reason. Thailand is a large country, with so much to see and do whether hiking in the north, visiting Elephant sanctuaries in Chang Mai or scuba diving in the Gulf of Thailand down south.
Most visitors arrive at one of Bangkok’s two international airports, Survanabhumi International being the main hub airport and South East Asia’s busiest or its predecessor Don Muang which was reopened to International flights due to demand.
A third International airport, located on the island of Phuket is also well served by international airlines. Prices are kept down as nearly all the airlines that fly into Asia land in Bangkok creating plenty of options and competition for potential customers.
Once here, you will find Thailand has a good transport network and infrastructure making it easy for you to get around the country whatever your budget.
Planes, trains and automobiles
Flights in Thailand
The quickest, most comfortable and easiest way to travel Thailand is by domestic flights and on the whole it’s not too expensive either.
There are plenty of domestic operators who compete for customers, meaning plenty of low fares and if you do some research, and plan ahead, it is possible to fly anywhere in the country for less than 2000Baht
Travel by Bus in Thailand
Generally speaking buses are the best option for both price and comfort when travelling around the country. There are Government run buses called BKS that run to every province in Thailand.
There are also private bus companies such as Lomprayah, which operate out of Khao San Road in Bangkok. Lomprayah offer combined bus and ferry tickets that offer great value for money when travelling to Koh Tao, Koh Phan Ngan and Koh Samui.
They also operate services further south to Surat Thani and if you want to take your time on the journey down to the islands why not stop off at Hua Hin or Chumphon.
Travel by Train in Thailand
The state railway of Thailand has a network that covers most of Thailand from the north down to the South where you can connect all the way from Malaysia to the Northern border with Laos.
Most travellers use the sleeper/overnight services when travelling to or from Bangkok, or further north from Bangkok up to Chiang Mai. This saves on accommodation costs and makes travelling by train a popular choice for backpackers who are travelling the country or region extensively, over several months.
When compared to other forms of transport, Thailand trains are relatively slow and prone to delays. But they have modernised their carriages making them comfortable and do give extra freedom to move around.
Travel by Ferry in Thailand
Travelling between the islands and mainland around the Gulf of Thailand is very easy due to modern, air-conditioned speedboat services. Regular departures go between the islands on a daily basis, making it easy to island hop when travelling through the region.
The ferry companies usually have a bus network that links in with their schedule, meaning you can get a joint bus and boat ticket from your area of departure. Companies such as Lomprayah have local offices in most cities and work with local travel agents making it easy to purchase tickets.
Thailand has a Warm & Tropical Climate
Thailand is a tropical country meaning for most of the year it is hot and humid with high temperatures. The country is governed by three seasons: rainy (roughly May–Oct), caused by the southwest monsoon, cool (Nov–Feb) and hot (March–May). The rainy season is the least predictable of the seasons.
This doesn’t mean it will rain all day every day but expect it to rain most days for a period of time. The rest of the day tends to be warm and often sunny. The air temperature will vary between 25°C to 35 °C depending on the location and the season.
In the South of Thailand the area in the Gulf of Thailand lies outside this general climate pattern due to the sea immediately to the East. The coastal areas and islands in this region feel the effects of the northeast monsoon, bringing a rainy season between October and January with November being the wettest.
You are literally spoilt for choice in Thailand, with many great locations as options for you to take a PADI course with the majority being in the South of Thailand.
Koh Tao Island
More people come here to get their PADI than anywhere else, a combination of low prices, great dive sites and wonderful marine life have made this island the place to go when travelling Thailand and wanting to go scuba diving.
This area is known to be the cheapest place in Thailand (and all of Asia) to take your PADI courses and the best place to see Whalesharks especially in recent years where these friendly giants have been spotted more frequently than at any other time.
The largest Island in Thailand, Phuket is situated on the west coast along the Andaman Sea. Phuket rates among the top 10 scuba diving destinations in the world. Spectacular reefs, unusual underwater rock formations, and a huge variety of marine life provide great opportunities for divers at all levels and seasonal sightings of Whalesharks and Manta Rays.
Located an hour away from Bangkok, Pattaya is a coastal town that was the birthplace of scuba diving in Thailand. The diving is conducted around nearby islands, Ko Larn, Ko Sak, Ko Krok.
Nowadays the diving off Pattaya is famed for its numerous wrecks: the HTMS Kut, HTMS Kram and the Harddeep shipwreck as well as its strong currents.
Koh Phi Phi
The Island made famous by “The Beach” movie offers the most amazing beaches, coral reefs and amazing marine life in a very scenic surrounding. Situated in the South of Thailand Koh Phi Phi is actually a cluster of small islands in the Andaman Sea to the South of Phuket and is best visited October to April.
Year round diving
A big question is when is the best time to dive in Thailand?
Thailand has two main diving zones, the Andaman Sea on the West coast and the Gulf of Thailand on the East Coast with each having a different main diving season. But it is possible to dive both areas all year round due to Thailand’s warm climate and variety of dive sites.
The water temperature ranges from 25°C to 30°C all year round depending on the weather and season, which means that you do not have to wear big thick wetsuits or dive in dry suits. The average visibility in this region is 10m to 40m with different factors having an effect on the range.
Gulf of Thailand
It is possible to dive Koh Tao all year round with a large range of dive sites available, almost all very local to the island. The best time to dive Koh Tao runs from Feb/March through to August with excellent conditions above and below the water.
Long sunny days, calm seas and great visibility enable divers to enjoy great diving conditions when taking their PADI courses. Traditionally, the best time to spot Whale Sharks around Koh Tao runs between February and May when there is a higher concentration of plankton in the water that the Whalesharks feed on, although the last 12-15 months have seen an almost constant presence of these magnificent fish.
The best period to dive from Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta is from November to April when the visibility is very good. From April to October the sea can be very choppy and visibility is often reduced due to the south westerly monsoon season. This means the further outlaying pinnacles will be unavailable but local dives are still open to dive.
Liveaboards in Thailand
Taking a liveaboard to the magnificent marine parks of Similans and Surin islands is possible only between October and May. This area holds some of the best dive sites in Thailand but is closed during the rainy season to protect the coral reefs.
Quality of training
PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) is the world’s largest and most recognised scuba diving training agency with the most solid system of diver education available. Their training courses are all performance based and not time based meaning all students can learn at their own pace and not feel pressured.
PADI training courses are designed to make learning fun, enjoyable and productive for the students. All PADI programs, from entry-level courses up to professional and have high standards that are monitored for worldwide consistency and quality.
The basics of diving physics and physiology are introduced during beginner courses with the more in-depth details of these concepts being left for later courses. Each PADI course is designed to build on the previous one, improving your skills and techniques to be a better scuba diver.
PADI Diving Courses for every level of diver
PADI Open Water – This is the world’s most popular and widely recognised scuba diving course. Millions of people have learned to scuba dive through the PADI Open water course and gone on to discover the wonders of the marine world having unforgettable experiences through this course. Completing this course will certify you to dive anywhere in the world to a depth of 18 meters.
PADI Advanced Open Water – Designed to advance your diving and build on the skills that you have previously learnt on your beginner course, you can start immediately after completing the Open Water certification.
This course will add confidence and expand your scuba skills through different Adventure Dives including Deep diving, underwater Navigation and Night diving. When completed you are certified to dive to a depth of 30m.
PADI Rescue Diver – A course for more experienced divers in which you learn how to prevent and manage problems in the water, and become more confident in your skills as a diver. During the course, you learn to become a better buddy by practicing problem solving skills until they become second nature. It is a challenging but extremely fun course to take.
PADI Divemaster – The PADI Divemaster course is the world’s most popular professional level scuba diving course. The first professional level in the PADI System of diver education you will enhance your dive knowledge, management and supervision abilities so you become a role model to diver.
You will be taught how to become a leader and take charge of diving activities enabling you to make a career through scuba diving.
The best dive sites in Thailand
Thailand has dive sites to suit all needs from shallow coral reefs perfect for PADI Open Water divers to deep pinnacles that excite the more experienced scuba diver.
Twins – One of Koh Tao’s most popular dive sites, made up of two main rock formations in calm shallow waters, this dive site caters for all needs of scuba diving. The depth makes it perfect for Open Water training dives while a third pinnacle a short distance away on a drop off can give more experienced divers extra depth to explore. This site has lots to offer with its beautiful reefs and marine life with Hawksbill turtles also being regular visitors.
Chumphon Pinnacle – Widely regarded as Koh Tao’s best local dive site, it is one big pinnacle that is 32 meters in depth up to 14 meters from the surface. Koh Tao’s premier deep dive site is also the site that you are most likely to see migrating Whalesharks that are passing through this area.
Sail Rock – This is the premier scuba diving site in the Gulf of Thailand. Situated an hour and a half boat ride from Koh Tao and is usually offered as a full day trip from the island.
The site is made from one big rock that starts down at a depth of 40 meters and rises 8 meters out of the water. It also has a unique swim-through known as “the chimney” which enables you to descend and/or ascend inside the rock.
Richelieu Rock – Accepted as Thailand’s very best and most famous dive site, a horse-shoe shaped reef that lies in the Andaman sea and is thought to have been discovered by Jacques Cousteau. It is known for its very diverse marine life ranging from shrimps and seahorses to large pelagic like whalesharks, barracudas, and giant groupers.
Koh Bon West Ridge – The number 1 place in Thailand to see Manta Rays as they use this area as a cleaning station, divers can just remain still and watch these majestic creatures. The reef on the site slopes from a depth of 10 metres down to a sandy bottom at 30 metres.
King Cruiser – This shipwreck lies between Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, it was originally a ferry taking people between the island when it hit “Anemone Reef” (another well-known dive site) and sank. It has now become a huge artificial reef that has become home to a huge variety of marine life that includes huge schools of travellies, snappers and other schooling fish that are seeking shelter.
Thailand is a great destination to learn to dive with the PADI Open Water Diver course and to become a scuba diver that is able to dive around the world.
If you are already Open water certified you should look to take your PADI Advanced Open Water course, PADI Enriched Air Nitrox and PADI Deep Diver courses so you can explore the many world-class deep dive sites that encircle the country.
Author: Neil Davidson (PADI Staff Instructor #294100)