Scuba diving is an extremely popular activity. It used to be referred to as an extreme sport, but due to the fact that anyone from the age of eight can now take part it is probably better described as an adventure or holiday sport. Some divers are brave enough to dive in cold waters in their homelands, but the best scuba diving experiences for recreational divers are usually in tropical or sub-tropical waters where coral reefs can flourish. Although the Red Sea and the Caribbean are very popular package holiday destinations and regarded by many as the best places to go scuba diving, Southeast Asia arguably has the best scuba diving in the world.
Indonesia’s 17,000+ islands are home to the most diverse and healthy marine life in the world, and the neighbouring countries also have some wonderful dive sites. Thailand is visited by millions of international tourists every year, and many of them enjoy scuba diving while there. The father and inventor of recreational scuba diving, the late Jacques Cousteau, named Richelieu Rock as one of his top ten diving sites in the world. Richelieu Rock is a submerged pinnacle which almost reaches the surface and drops down to a depth of fifty metres in crystal-clear waters with nothing else for miles around. Whale Sharks and Manta Rays are common visitors, and even without them, the dive site is unbelievably colourful with its corals, anemones, reef fish and other inhabitants.
However, Richelieu Rock is quite isolated and part of Thailand’s Surin Islands National Marine Park. Without a great deal of other worthwhile diving sites nearby and the distance from resorts, hotels and tourist infrastructure, Richelieu Rock visitors need somewhere else to dive, too. Some Richelieu Rock dive tours also take in the mostly unexplored Burma Banks and Mergui Archipelago, but most combine trips with trips to the Similan Islands. Diving at the Similan Islands diving is not as extreme as at Richelieu Rock, but there are nearly two dozen great diving sites, and islands and islets for those who want to go on land, and opportunities to snorkel and do night diving.
The Big Two – Whale Sharks and Manta Rays – still make regular appearances, and there is a great variety of diving, some of which can be done by beginners. Diving safaris, or liveaboard cruises, sail from Khao Lak and Phuket between the end of October and the middle of May each year. There are several options to suit everyone’s budget, timeframe, and what kind of experiences they are after. Some can even take day trips to Richelieu Rock and The Similan Islands on fast, but safe and comfortable, speedboat catamarans. Similans diving is regarded by many as the best in the Andaman Sea and can be enjoyed for a lot less than some people may think.