Thailand is a firm favourite amongst scuba divers of every experience level, and it’s easy to see why. Thailand’s coastline offers unparalleled beauty, warm waters and as many variations in interesting marine life as there are temples in this cultural mecca. There are two main areas where scuba diving is concentrated: the Gulf of Thailand to the east and the Andaman Sea to the west. Each is unique in terms of its diving, rainy and peak tourist season, but both areas offer superb diving and are well worth a visit.
Explore below more details about scuba diving in Thailand.
Table of Content
- Dive Map of Thailand
- Underwater pictures
- Top destinations
- Best dive season
- Marine Life
- How to get there?
- Where to stay
- Travel tips
- Best dive destinations
- Thailand Liveaboards
- Dive advices and reviews
Dive Map of Thailand
Underwater Pictures of Thailand
Best Diving Destinations in Thailand
Thailand’s magnificent gulf on the east includes the islands of Koh Tao and Koh Samui, which offer impeccable diving throughout the year at dive sites that are fairly protected from heavy weather conditions. Divers can enjoy calm, gentle currents over the reefs and are often spoilt with sightings of majestic rays and whale sharks at certain times of the year. Notable dive sites include Sail Rock, a phenomenal rocky outcrop that sits 15 meters above the surface of the water, and the underwater walls of Chumphon Pinnacle.
For many, the best dive sites can be found on the west coast, specifically in the area of the Andaman Sea that stretches between the ever-popular Phuket and further south down to Krabi. Popular with novice and experienced divers alike, there are a number of shore dives and wreck dives available, but many of the reef dive sites are reached by boat.
Phuket is an island ideally suited as a base for scuba diving enthusiasts with plenty of dive operators along its coast and an array of exotic marine life in its waters. It is also fairly protected and is suitable for diving at almost any time of the year. There are rocky and colourful coral reefs, wreck dives and even a marine sanctuary called Shark Point, known for its concentration of Leopard Sharks. For those looking to experience a little more of a challenge, there are a number of sites surrounding the Similan islands that are well-worth hopping on a liveaboard to visit. In contrast to the relatively calm conditions around Phuket, Richelieu Rock is an exhilarating wall dive that will not leave you disappointed.
Thailand boasts a whopping 26 National Marine Parks which means that all of the dive sites are well-protected. There are even a number of eco dive sites and companies focusing specifically on preservation of the most-dived areas, which is great news for preserving these underwater paradises for years to come. The world-class diving here takes many forms including cave dives, drift dives, pinnacles, walls and of course vibrant reef dives.
When to Visit Thailand
Holiday-makers flock to Thailand at all times of the year to experience this exotic and magical wonder, however there is a monsoon season to be aware of and this differs depending on your location.
The Gulf of Thailand experiences typical tropical weather throughout the year, with the rainy season running between September and November and the most popular time for tourists being in December, January, February and March. Tourists gather in the Gulf of Thailand again in July and August, so a diving holiday is best between the months of May and June to avoid the crowds. Air temperatures remain fairly constant at 28-32°C and the water remains in the region of 29°C, which makes for pleasant diving whenever you choose to visit.
The west coast also experiences a tropical climate with a longer rainy season that runs between the months of May and December. The rain falls especially hard between June and October, making the best time to visit this region in the drier months of January to April, however many divers still choose to visit during the rainy season as the rainfall tends to appear in quick, refreshing bursts at the end of each day rather than a full day of rain. Water temperature is still pleasant at 29°C and the air temperature can vary between 25-32°C.
Marine Life and Safety
Does It Bite?
Generally no, it doesn’t. The Oceans of South East Asia are by far the most bio-diverse waters of the planet. The waters are literally teaming with bizarre and beautiful aquatic life. Obviously some of it is potentially dangerous to the man in the water then? Nope, not particularly, divers are in fact probably the safest water users out there – primarily because we can see and interact with what’s around us, and avoid the nasties.
There are of course jellyfish out there, and typically the ones hardest to spot are the ones with the nastier burn. Great. Fortunately, as you’ll be diving with a mask you can see them, and since you’ll also have a wetsuit it’s unlikely you’ll get burned. Even for swimmers in Thailand the incidence of jellyfish hits is pretty low, even with all that bare flesh and no idea what’s around. There are also toxic fish about, with Lionfish and Stonefish being the main protagonists. Lionfish are wonderful; you’d have to be blind to miss these peacocks of the sea. They are garishly striped, bug-eyed beauties, sporting feather-like fins like with poison tipped quills. The lionfish family use their unique colouring and spread fin displays to tell you to stay away, so no problem there. The Stonefish unfortunately use their fins as a means of camouflage, and very good at it they are. It takes a very practiced eye to spot these nasty little buggers, so your best way to avoid an “unbearably painful” encounter is to follow safe diving practices and not touch anything.
We’ve all seen and probably been scared pantless by it, but it’s all very wrong. Even though, to his good credit, Peter Benchley has said he wouldn’t have written it had he known the damage it would do to the reputation of sharks, most people who come to Thailand still have the “Jaws!” image of sharks firmly embedded, “Kill them before they kill us!” As most divers are happy to attest, this is just plain ignorance. Sure, it sounds great when you go back home and casually announce to your friends at the pub that you were, “Diving with Man Eating Sharks in Thailand”. Impressed they may be but fooled also, because the sharks here are not dangerous. White tip, black tip, leopard , nurse, gray reef and if you’re really lucky whale shark are the ones you’ve likely been swimming with. Most of them look the business for sure, what shark doesn’t, but they are all safe if treated with respect – i.e. don’t try to play air guitar with them or grab their tails for a ride and you’ll be fine.
Thanks mainly to shark fin soup, but also to the “best shark is a dead shark” image, the devastation of all shark species is mostly ignored. Shark finning is a barbaric practice – after being hooked and gaffed onto the boat, the sharks fins are sawed off before the agonized shark itself is thrown back into the sea to drown. Not nice. Over a hundred million sharks every year are slaughtered like this, and in case you’re wondering – over the last 100 years on average less than ten people per year have been killed by shark, not very fair odds. Since sharks are very slow to mature and reproduce, their existence is very much under threat.
DO NOT EAT SHARK in the form of shark fin soup or as a steak from a seafood restaurant and, please, boycott any restaurant that sells shark meat. The Real Threat To Your Safety… Well that would be you. Be careful, learn properly and treat all sub-aquatic life with respect and you should have great fun and a very memorable experience. Take risks, try to take an animal for a ride, get drunk, stoned or otherwise chemically enhanced before you go diving and you’re asking for any trouble you may get.
Stop – Think – Act
With the rapid increase in diving as a sport over the last several years in Thailand as well as a more positive interest in the environment, a realisation of the amount of harm being done to the oceans, reefs and wildlife in the region has come about. With rampant commercialism and the strains of burgeoning tourism, some untreated waste undoubtedly ends up in the seas around Thailand, and therefore also inside the fish. These toxins work their way up through the food chain to the top predators like barracuda and shark, Ciguatera food poisoning is the result, extremely nasty stuff and often lethal, so don’t eat it. Do not buy, collect or damage coral or any other tourist trinket derived from the ocean, including the blown up puffer fish mobiles. Leave something for the people who follow you to enjoy, and enjoy doing it.
Getting to Thailand
Thailand’s main transportation hub has always been Bangkok, however there is now an entire network of domestic and international travel options including airports in Krabi, Phuket and Ko Samui, which makes things much simpler for divers to get straight into experiencing all that the waters of Thailand have to offer.
Where to Stay in Thailand
With over 2000km of coastline, choosing where to stay in Thailand can be difficult. Many divers choose to make the most of their diving holiday by opting for a liveaboard trip which is especially worthwhile if you plan to dive at some of the more remote locations.
If you’re looking to experience more than just the magical underwater world during your stay, a dive resort on the popular island of Phuket might be the right choice. With Phuket being such a popular destination for all types of visitors, some divers choose to stay in regular non-diving lodgings and make use of the many diving operations to arrange their dives. Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand is hugely popular with diving holiday-makers due to its easily accessible location nearby Koh Samui airport.
Feeling inspired and raring to go? Check out our Thailand travel guide and start planning your next diving trip!