Thailand is a land of many islands, famed all over the world for its lovely beaches and outstanding dive sites. Its Similan islands and other diving destinations like Koh Tao, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, Surin, and Phuket offer world class diving opportunities. People from all corners of the world come to Thailand to learn scuba diving because it has become a thriving world of diving with its drop-offs, walls, wrecks, tunnels, caverns, reefs, seamounts, guyots, and pinnacles.
Location of Thailand
Thailand is in Southeast Asia, almost at its heart. Its northern side is contiguous with the countries Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. Its dive destinations are located in the south where it is flanked on the west by the Andaman Sea and on the east by the Gulf of Thailand. The tip of its south-eastern side has a contiguous border with Malaysia.
Why Do Divers Choose Thailand?
Despite the fact that there are many dive sites across the world, Thailand holds a special charm for many divers who return there year after year. There are many reasons for this continuing attraction, as listed below:
- Thai people are friendly and hospitable by nature and always make outsiders feel at home in their country.
- Both Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, and Phuket, the country’s largest island, are well-connected with other countries. Flights to these cities are quite reasonably priced.
- The tourist infrastructure of Thailand is designed to cater very well to tourists’ needs.
- Tourists do not experience any language problem as English is a popular link language in the country. Besides, many resorts have staff who can handle additional languages like Japanese, Russian, Arabic, French, German, Spanish, Chinese etc.
- The country offers good accommodation choices ranging from cheap bread-and-breakfast lodgings to super-luxury resorts.
- Travelling within Thailand is cheap and easy, and the country is safe to travel.
- Though there are some peak tourist seasons, Thailand is suitable for diving round the year.
What You Can Do in Thailand
Though diving is the major attraction for those who visit Thailand, it has lots of tourist attractions besides its fine dive sites. Further, having a ringside view of Thai culture is a delight, and their cuisine makes the place a gourmet’s paradise. Here is a list of recreational options in Thailand.
- You can snorkel and kayak at many places.
- Thai boxing known as Muay Thai is a popular pastime in Thailand. Boxing matches are held regularly, and there are centres that teach boxing.
- Golfers can rest assured of enough entertainment in many places like in Koh Tao, Phuket, Khao Lak, Krabi, Surin (Surin has many golf courses) etc.
- Bowling is popular in Phuket which has got six bowling alleys.
- Many resorts organize island hopping tours where tourists are taken in boats to different islands (some inhabited and some uninhabited), very often after sunset.
- Firefly watching is an entertainment option in Koh Chang where mangrove forests are lit up at night by an abundance of fireflies. Mountain biking, bird watching, and trekking (on foot or on elephant) are some of the other recreational options in Koh Chang.
- There are massage parlours, yoga centres, meditation classes, and cookery classes in many places.
- Fishing, trekking, and swimming through an underwater tunnel to a hidden lagoon called Emerald Cave, are some of the ways in which you can entertain yourself in Koh Lanta.
- In Koh Tao, there are cliffs and volcanic rocks suitable for rock climbing and cliff jumping, and plenty of walking trails for those fond of trekking.
- Koh Phi Phi is also good for rock climbing, cliff jumping, bird watching, and fishing. Monkey Beach, Tsunami Memorial Garden, and Fire Show are some of its major attractions.
- Phuket has a grand gala show every day, except on Thursdays, called Phuket FantaSea that involves carnival games, buffets, shopping venues, restaurants, elephant shows, dance, trapeze, and theatre in which there is even participation by animals like water buffaloes and doves.
- A Buddha shrine with a golden Buddha rising to a height of 12 metres, curiously shaped rocks named Hin Ta and Hin Yai considered to be the embodiments of man and woman, a tiger show, an aquarium, a snake farm, Angthong National Marine Park, and a hidden statue collection are some of the attractions in Koh Samui.
- Night entertainment options are aplenty in Thailand. Phuket has plenty of bars and cabaret shows in which young boys perform as women. Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, and Koh Tao have bars with fire shows and magic shows and lady-boy cabarets. Bars in Koh Lanta host a special party once a week.
Great food, very friendly locals and a bewildering choice of experiences await you on a Thailand vacation. Thailand has long been a favourite destination of those youthful backpackers of the world, all drawn to Thailand for its variety of culture, a multitude of very scenic destinations, and some of the best beaches in the world all at very cheap prices. Thailand also caters very well to the non backpacker tourist, with good quality accommodation and fabulous service, still all at discount prices.
Phuket is the main draw card for diving in Thailand. It is located on the west coast of Thailand on the Andaman sea. The best diving is from November to April when the cool winds come from the North East. From May to October winds tend to be from the south east, are much stronger, up to typhoon level and tends to bring in poorer visibility.
From Phuket you can either dive the local sites around Phuket, phi phi islands or Ao Nang sites. The second choice you have in diving from Phuket is a liveaboard, by which you can get to the less frequently visited sites in the northern Andaman sea. Most of the diving is on soft coral reefs with very dramatic sea drop offs, tunnels and swim throughs all adding to the impressive amount of fish life you can see. The one thing worth seeing is the whale shark which can be seen in the Andaman sea at the right times of the year.
Phuket is a very touristy setup, with lots of night life, restaurants, resorts and tourist activities to do.
Phi Phi islands are a series of small and very beautiful islands. There are some very good dive sites around the islands including Kings Cruiser Ferry Wreck. The islands are for people who find Phuket to busy, as no cars or motor bikes are allowed on the islands.
Krabi, also located on the west side of Thailand, operates most of its diving out of Ao Nang. Ao Nang has a wonderful bay which is dotted with James Bond style islands (Limestone structures rising out of the water). Krabi also has several live aboard boats that are cheaper than those that run out of Phuket.
Koh Tao has mostly year round diving except in November, when big seas can cut the island off. Koh Tao is predominately a backpacker’s paradise, with bare feet, diving, sunbathing and relaxing your basic staple diet. Mainly it has soft corals and pinnacles to dive on, but it can also get whale sharks making visits as well.
Koh Samui is not a spectacular diving destination in itself, but it is a great place for a holiday. What you can dive from Koh Samui is Red Rock, Sail Rock and a few other first class diving destinations.
Pattaya offers year round diving as it does not have a monsoon season. It has a wider range of soft and hard corals due to a large amount of Plankton in the water. The large amount of plankton does reduce visibility to 8 – 10 meters generally. Pattaya has the normal range of tropical fish life and also has Thailand’s first artificial reef. The reef has several WWII wrecks and a new 1000 ton, 62 meter long, medium size landing craft recently sunk by the Thai Navy. There is supposedly a group of technical divers, that visit some not well known sites, that are ancient pottery wrecks that operate out of Pattaya.
Pattaya, originally grew from US troops visiting on R&R from the Vietnam war. It has now developed into a more general tourist destination with a large array of high quality hotels and restaurants available at cheap prices. It also has a host of non diving related activities including shopping, tourist attractions from crocodile farm to buddist temples, traditional thai massages on the beach, tandem skydives, etc… Pattaya is a good place for a family holiday where dad can have a dive and there is still lots for mum and the kids to do without getting bored.
Best Time to Visit Thailand
The climate of Thailand is tropical, hot and sultry throughout the year, with the average temperature ranging from 25°C to 32°C. Even during the monsoon season, rains are sporadic and a rain does not last more than two hours.
In the coastal areas of Thailand, the best time to visit is from November till February, which is the coolest period even though the temperature could still be 30°C. However, the best season for diving may vary slightly from one place to the other.
In Phuket, the best season is from December till the end of March, whereas in Koh Lanta, Khao Lak, Similan and Surin it is from November till April. Of these, the peak season is the months of December and January. Similan is generally kept open for tourists only from the middle of October to the middle of May. March, April, and from July to September are good times to visit Koh Tao.
Best Dive Season
From November till the end of April is the best time for diving in Thailand, even though scuba diving can be done almost round the year. For those who are keen on seeing sharks, from February till May is the right time.
From May till October is the low season, especially in the western part of Thailand.
Where to Stay in Thailand
Thailand has no dearth of accommodation for tourists. There are beach bungalows and budget rooms costing less than 500 baht (about $14) per night. A dorm room may be cheaper. Comfortable hotel rooms are available for 500 to 1000 baht for one night for a person.
Accommodation costs fluctuate in Thailand depending on the season. During the December-February peak season, room rents may skyrocket while they plummet during the monsoon when the tourist flow ebbs.
While Thailand is by and large a cheap tourist spot, luxury resorts are also aplenty all over the country, catering predominantly to divers’ needs. Given below are the details of some luxury resorts.
Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort (4.5 star)
This resort is a cluster of bungalows built and decorated in traditional Thai style and set in plush green tropical land. The double-occupancy rooms are spacious and have balconies with excellent views of the scenery around. Resort amenities include a private beach, swimming pool, souvenir shop, fitness centre, steam room, massage parlour, sauna, spa, round-the-clock security, and conference facilities. There is a poolside bar, a range of cuisines to choose from, a well-equipped dive centre, and many recreational options that include snorkelling, fishing, trekking, and guided tours.
Zeavola Resort & Spa (5 star)
Zeavola is an eco-friendly luxury resort set in a 10-acre plot at the northern tip of Koh Phi Phi. The independent suites, made of wood, are posh and elegant while maintaining a natural rustic charm. Besides all the amenities, there is provision for guests to play Frisbee and volleyball, and the resort organizes trips for diving, snorkelling, and fishing. Its Baxil Restaurant has a good selection of wines, and Tacada Restaurant’s barbecue items and seafood are very popular.
Rawi Warin Resort & Spa (5 star)
Major attractions of Koh Lanta like its Emerald Cave, Mu Koh Lanta National Park, and Koh Muk are within easy access of this sea-facing resort which is set in very pretty and peaceful surroundings. The resort is the epitome of traditional Thai hospitality, and won recognition as the Best Luxury Family Hotel in 2011. Its front desk operates 24 hours of the day and it has a library, poolside bar, games room, kids club, pool for kids, conference facilities, massage parlour, and provision for tennis, table tennis, and non-motorized water sports.
Anantara Si Kao Resort & Spa (5 star)
This resort, located near Krabi on its southern side, has suites and villas, and villas that have 3 bedrooms have whirlpool tubs and sundecks. Among the facilities that the resort offers are wheelchair accessibility, luggage storage, babysitting, conference facility, poolside bar, water sports equipment rental, safety locker, coffee shop, kids club and a restaurant with Italian cuisine. The recreational options besides diving are billiards, table tennis, tennis, fishing, canoeing, and snorkelling.
Four Seasons Resort (5 star)
Situated in Koh Samui, on a hillside surrounded by coconut groves, Four Seasons is a collection of sixty villas. There are single-bedroom villas suitable for two people, two-bedroom villas for four, and three-bedroom ones that can accommodate six. The Koh Samui Airport is at a distance of 20 km from the resort. The resort’s restaurant, named Lan Tania, offers Italian cuisine as well as Thai cuisine. Besides the mandatory 5-star amenities, Four Seasons has valet parking, library, fax, BBQ facilities, babysitting, provision for pets, and a staff who can speak Japanese and Chinese besides English and Thai.
Santiburi Samui Beach Resort & Spa (5 star)
Another gem of Koh Samui, Santiburi consists of 77 villas set in 23 acres of palm gardens, with a river flowing through the property. The villas are designed to seamlessly merge into the beautiful surroundings in which they are set. The resort has an on-site golf course as well as another at a distance of 3 km. There is a range of recreational options that include table tennis, tennis, water sports, fishing, billiards, and squash, besides diving. Valet parking and the multilingual genial staff, who can speak Russian, French, German, English, and Thai, cap the perfection of the resort.
Banyan Tree Phuket (5 star)
This resort in Phuket consists of several types of pool villas, namely, Banyan, Banyan Lagoon, Signature, Grand Lagoon, Signature Two Bedroom, and Grand Two Bedroom. Golf course, library, fitness pavilion, spa, cooking classes, yoga classes, tennis court, golf classes, dinner cruise in lagoon, kayak tours, and a handicrafts showroom are some of the extras that Banyan Tree offers in addition to all amenities including floral bath and pillow selection. Its restaurants Saffron Thai, The French-Vietnamese, Japanese Tamarind, and Banyan Café, which offer an endless treat of culinary delights, complete the picture of luxury hospitality.
Six Senses Yao Noi
Six Senses has a range of elegant and comfortable two-occupancy and four-occupancy pool villas in the lap of nature. It is situated in Koh Yao Noi in Phuket, and has a total of 55 rooms. Hotel facilities include 3 restaurants, bar, music-and-movie library, cooking classes, spa, massage parlour, sauna, fitness centre, on-site ATM, and outdoor shower that helps you to melt into the scenery around. Among the recreational options are provision for tennis, boating, bicycle tour, snorkelling, and water sports besides diving.
Jamahkiri Spa &Resort (5 star)
Jamahkiri Resort is on the southern part of Koh Tao. It has five types of double-occupancy rooms with many amenities like a private beach, outdoor pool, poolside bar, fitness centre, spa, salon, massage parlour, hot tub, and solarium. There are a total of 35 rooms in 4 floors with 2 bars and 2 restaurants. The resort provides facilities for diving as well as other water sports and has its own desalination plant that provides clean water round the year. The staff are fluent in English, Burmese, French, and Lao besides Thai, which is the national language of Thailand.
The Rocks Luxury Villas
This resort in Koh Tao is a collection of just four villas but well-designed and exceptionally beautiful. The Sunset Villa is a single-bedroom villa adjacent to the infinity pool. The two Seascape Villas, which have two bedrooms, are situated on the slope of a hill and offer panoramic views of the sea. The Sky Villa is the biggest and at the highest level. It is surrounded by trees and rocks, and provides spectacular views of the sea. The split-level bedroom, large windows, and spacious wooden balcony make the building airy and bright.
Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan Villas (5 star)
Anantara Rasananda is in the Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach of Koh Phangan. All villas and suites overlook pools and there is provision for private dining on the beach. There are 24-hour room service, on-site ATM, currency exchange, conference facility, and library in addition to all 5-star amenities. The multilingual hotel staff take good care of every visitor’s needs.
Santhiya Resort & Spa (5 star)
Santhiya Resort stands on a hillside facing the Gulf of Thailand, in 18 acres of landscaped property, on Koh Phangan’s north-eastern coast. The rooms are made of wood, in accordance with conventional Thai construction guidelines, and there are freeform swimming pool, lagoon, manmade waterfalls, beachfront restaurant, and bar. Its Chintara Restaurant is unique with a distinctive Thai ambience and serves delicious Thai and western delights. The resort also hosts weddings and celebratory events.
The Sarojin (5 star)
‘The Sarojin’ in Khao Lak is named after Lady Sarojin, considered the embodiment of Thai hospitality. Set in an 11 km-long private beach, each unit of the resort is so designed that it can be accessed only by going across a small stream. The gardens around are full of indigenous trees and herbs. There are three golf courses near the resort and there is a luxury boat for the use of visitors. Other services include facilities for handicapped people, library, water sports, fitness centre, spa, conference facilities, and guided tours.
Pullman Khao Lak Katiliya Resort and Spa (5star)
Set in a very scenic place from where the visitors can see caves, waterfalls, and mountains, this resort is on the white beaches of Khao Lak National Park. Its Lagoon Villas and Deluxe Rooms are tastefully decorated and furnished, and there are facilities for billiards, tennis, table tennis, fishing, golf, and water sports besides diving. Children have a playground, pool, and a Penguin Club with a wide selection of games. The resort has a total of 229 rooms.
How to Reach Thailand
Bangkok is served by New Bangkok International Airport (known as Suvarnabhumi Airport – BKK), and Don Mueang International Airport. The former is the base of airlines like Thai Airways International, Orient Thai Airlines, and Bangkok Airways while the latter is served mainly by Thai AirAsia, Nok Air, Orient Thai Airlines, and Thai Lion Air. These two airports connect Bangkok to most of the important cities of the world and this makes entry into Thailand quite easy.
Phuket International Airport (HKT) serving the province of Phuket is also a gateway to Thailand because it is connected to a few important Asian cities. There are many flights every day from Bangkok to Phuket and Krabi. The Bangkok-Phuket flight duration is 1 hour and 20 minutes. There are six flights every day from Phuket to Koh Samui.
From Bangkok you can travel to Phuket, Trang, Krabi, Hat Yai etc. by road also. Most of the buses ply by night and the Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok is the starting point of these buses. There are both AC and non-AC buses and from Bangkok it takes about 13 hours to reach Krabi and 15 hours to reach Trang. Since road conditions are good and sign posts clear in Thailand, you can also hire a car and drive to the destination.
Another option is travelling part of the distance by train. You can travel from Bangkok till Surant Thani or Trang in train and then continue the journey by road.
The last leg of the journey to most of the dive destinations can only be by boat. For that there are frequent ferry services from Phuket and Krabi to Koh Samui, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan etc. Lomprayah High Speed Ferries operate combined bus and boat services from Bangkok to many of these places.
Getting Around in Thailand
Three-wheeled taxis called tuk-tuks are ubiquitous in Thailand and are quite suitable for getting around in the country. However, for those with much luggage, taxis are the right choice. There are many taxi services like Grab Taxi, Easy Taxi, and All Thai Taxi operating in Thailand. Uber taxi services are also in the country.
In some places, there are passenger vehicles called songthaews, which are modified trucks that ply like buses inside a city or cover short distances between two cities. If your travel destination falls within its route, a songthaew is a convenient option. Sometimes songthaews function as shared taxis also.
Scooters are easy to rent in Thailand and if you do not have much luggage and are comfortable driving a scooter, it is good to rent one for moving around.
The city of Bangkok has both elevated and underground rapid transit (Metro) public transport system.
Things to Remember While Travelling in Thailand
Some places in Thailand like Phuket could be very crowded during peak seasons. So, it may not be the right setting for those coming in search of tranquillity. However, Thailand has plenty of unexplored islands and rain forests, and these can be visited during all seasons.
Since the climate is tropical, travellers typically require very light clothes. A couple of light sweatshirts are advisable for those who plan to do trekking. While visiting temples and sacred places, you should be properly covered, without exposing shoulders and knees. Eastern culture do not approve of such exposure even though there are no restrictions in the case of beachwear.
If a tourist is coming from any place in America or Africa where there is yellow fever, he has to be vaccinated for it. Other than that, no vaccinations are mandatory for travelling to Thailand.
It is good to carry a first aid kit that contains basic medicines for fever, headache, diarrhoea etc, and remember to use bottled water and avoid drinking tap water. There is hardly any risk of malaria for those staying in tourist resorts and hotels, but it is safer to carry mosquito repellents while travelling in the countryside or sparsely populated islands. Mosquito repellents are necessary for keeping off dengue fever also.
You need to be careful about your possessions when traveling in buses at night. Further, pickpockets operate in larger cities. Another area where you need to be circumspect is while using a rented car or motorbike because traffic may sometimes be chaotic. You should also avoid taking drugs and visiting prostitutes.
Barring these precautions, there is nothing much to worry while traveling in Thailand because the place is relatively safe.
Passport and Visa Requirements
A passport valid for a minimum of 6 months from the date of your arrival is a must for entry. It must also have at least one blank page.
For travellers from USA, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and most countries of Europe, there is no need for a prior visa so far as you are not staying for more than 30 days. In the case of other countries, you will be able to get a visa on reaching Thailand. And for those from very small countries which may just be city-states, it is safer to procure a visa beforehand by applying to a nearby Thai embassy.
On entering the country you may be asked to show some proof of a return ticket. In case you want to stay for more than a month, you must submit an application for a 60-days tourist visa at a Thai consulate before you start your trip.
A Handy Reference for Visitor to The Kingdom
Visitors from about 60 countries need no visa upon arrival and are granted a stay up to 30 days. When staying longer than expected, visa extensions can be obtained at immigration offices. A one-week extension costs Bht500.
Dress appropriately when entering any Thai government office. If planning to stay longer, it is recommended that visitors apply for a visa at their point of origin.
Narcotics are strictly prohibited and Thai customs officers are very good at finding them upon arrival and departure.
Airport tax: International Bht500; domestic Bht30.
All Thai banks and moneychangers give standard exchange rates. And they are always at places where you need them! The Thai Baht is the country’s currency. Bank notes denominations are 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000: Coins are 1, 5 and 10 as well as 25 and 50 satang.
Travellers checks are changed at a higher rate than cash but you will need to produce your passport and the check receipt.
Taxis with meters (‘Taxi-Meters‘) outside the airport arrival hall have a Bht50 surcharge. You are presented with a release form with your destination written on it; if you encounter any problems with the driver simply call the number on the form. The regular ‘Taxi Meter’ cabs with no extra charge are outside the departure hall. Both types are reliable, but are likely to argue for a fixed rate if the destinations are outside of Bangkok Metropolitan.
Airport buses cover Silom Rd., the Main Ground (Sanam Luang), Sukhumvit, and Hua Lamphong railway station. The fare is Bht70, service hours are from 5 am to 12 pm.
Tuk-tuks (motorised rickshaws) have no meter. Negotiate fare beforehand. They are most likely to be found on smaller but busier streets around shopping areas. Don’t expect them to be cheaper than a taxi, though!
Skytrains are fast, clean and convenient and they run above the busiest roads in Bangkok. Fares are Bht10 to 40
Air-conditioned bus fares are from Bht6 to 16. The pink microbuses charge set fares of Bht20 to 25 and guarantee a seat for every passenger. The yellow Euro buses charge between Bht8 to18. Ordinary bus fare starts at between Bht3.50 to 5.
Motorcycle taxis are popular for short distances where traffic is unbearable. Make sure that the strap of the crash helmet works and hold on tight.Taxi drivers/motorbike riders and bus conductors don’t really speak English, if there’s a communication problem, point at your destination on one of the easily obtainable Bangkok maps.
Last but not least are the River Taxis that ply the network of Klongs (canals) throughout the city. These boats are regular, narrow and clean however the water is not so keep your mouth closed!
Car and motorbike rental
Rental Cars are safe and comfortable and can be rented at car rental offices and travel companies both in Bangkok and at other major travel destinations. Outside of Bangkok, better bargains (Bht500 upwards per day) can be found but check if insurance is included: fuel is not!
Rental Motorbikes are less expensive, and more popular with visitors at beach towns and on the smaller of the islands. Remember: Safety First and always wear a crash helmet. Check the condition of the car or motorcycle and note all dents, bumps and scratches before signing any leasing contract. Drive carefully, especially up and down the mountains on rainy days! Be alert with the road traffic and always give way to bigger cars coming behind you. Remember, In Thailand we drive on the LEFT hand side of the road!
Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, P.B. Air and Angel Airlines serve most regions. Be at the check-in counter 1 hour before departure time. Koh Samui airport is exceptionally charming. The arrival and departure areas, restaurant and souvenir shop, are open-air. Passengers hop on motor trailers to get to and from the plane.
Express trains are fast and safe. First and Second class sections of the night trains have beds and are quite comfortable with economical ticket prices; A good choice when you have a long way to go.
Buses are not expensive and reliable, but long journeys at night can cause fatigue and backache. Often, the air-conditioning is turned up very high: consider taking a jacket or blanket to keep warm. The 24-seaters are highly recommended as they have more space.
Tour companies on Kao Sarn Road provide ‘VIP’ buses to the south of Thailand and fares are very reasonable.
- Dress appropriately when going to government offices and temples.
- Never touch the top of a Thai adult’s head to show intimacy.
- Take off your shoes when entering a Thai house or Buddhist chapel.
- Avoid pointing your feet at anything.
- Be sensitive to ways of life of the local people. There are several hill tribes in the Northern part of Thailand with their own unique cultures as is the case in many of the southern provinces.
Thai food is one of the tastiest on earth! Several dishes are spicy, but many are not. You’ll never starve in Thailand: restaurants and street stalls are virtually everywhere. Noodle and rice dishes are delicious and can be served hot very quickly. It is quite safe to eat at street vendors, but follow your instincts!
Shopping in Thailand
Bangkok has some of the best shopping in Asia. Most Thai destinations have unique products that are irresistible. When buying items from small, open-air shops on the street, bargaining is a must.
Diarrhea, typhus, malaria, dengue, rabies, viral hepatitis A and B and HIV are present in some parts of the country. Take sensible precautions to avoid falling victim to any of these.
Tap water is not suitable for drinking; so drink bottled water.
There are several good hospitals around Bangkok and many clinics and surgeries in most destinations. Thai medical services in general are of a fairly high standard.
Sunburn is one of the main problems visitors suffer from. Even on a cloudy day, the high level of UV’s can damage skin. Use sunscreen lotion and cover up whenever outside for long periods.
The other main health risk many tourists face is alcohol related. Thai beer and whiskeys are tasty and effective. Drink moderately!
Points to ponder
As in any country, avoid people approaching you on the street offering ‘bargains’, girls (or boys) for sex, or guided tours. There is nothing you need from these people, and you risk falling victim to drug and rob syndicates that prey on unsuspecting tourists.
HIV/AIDS is increasingly common in Thailand. If you feel the urge to indulge in any acts that could put you at risk of being infected, remember condoms are widely available, USE THEM if you absolutely must take advantage of the services on offer.
Drugs, such as marijuana, heroin and opiate derivatives and amphetamines, called ‘Ya Ba’ (crazy pills) are, as anywhere, available in Thailand. The penalties for possession or use of these prohibited substances are severe. Many tourists end up languishing in jail because they couldn’t resist the temptation of cheap, available drugs. Others end up overdosing and damaging their health. It shouldn’t need to be said that those dealing drugs cannot be trusted and should be avoided at all costs. There are enough wonderful things to do in Thailand that do not involve drug use so STAY AWAY FROM DRUGS, its not worth the risk!
The Thais call Bangkok ‘Krungthep’ meaning the City of Angels. The two-century old capital of Thailand was founded by King Rama I. It is now a big city like any other modern city in the world. Nevertheless there is a fascinating mixture of East and West here.
While in Bangkok, visitors should not miss going to the Grand Palace, National Museum, temples and Jim Thomson’s House to get in touch with the subtleties of Thai culture.
High-rise buildings, first class hotels and shopping centers cram the major business and entertainment centers like Pratunam, Silom, and Sukhumvit.
Other great places to shop are Siam Square, China Town, Chatuchak (the Weekend Market), and Bang Lumphu (pronounced Bang-lam-poo, where Kao Sarn Road is located). Panthip Plaza is the computer maniacs center of Bangkok.
It is worth getting out of the city to do some other sightseeing. Crocodile Farms, the Ancient City of Muang Boran, the Rose Garden and the Floating Market are among the top choices.
Dining in Bangkok is a joy: inexpensive, delicious and a fiesta for the senses. There is probably nowhere on earth that offers the variety and quality of Bangkok’s many restaurants, noodle shops and cafes.
Do try some of the noodle stalls on the streets: unlike many other places, Thai street food is delicious and safe to eat.
Learning how to dive in Bangkok is quite possible. All the dive centers in the city have pool and classroom training session and the trip to the nearest dive site in the sea, Pattaya, is 2 and a half hours away.
Long beaches, exhilerating water sports and cultural experiences are amongst the daytime attractions.
After dark the city transforms into a bustling neon metropolis of nocturnal activity.
Koh Chang Marine National Park consists of 50 islands and is an increasingly popular destination for both divers and nature lovers alike.
The tourist infrastructure is still in its infancy but Koh Chang,Thailands second largest island, is developing into a major tourist destination.
Discovering Koh Chang
Getting around the island is mostly done by motorbike which can be rented at many places on all of the beaches. There are also many cars on the island, many acting as a skeleton taxi service.
Most of the islands activities, including accommodation, places to eat and dive centres are concertrated around the beaches of White Sand, Klong Prao, Kai Bae, Thanam, Bang Bao and Gong Goi, all scattered along the western coastline of the island.
There is no shortage of restaurants on the island, with menus following both local and European dishes.
Other attractions include elephant trekking, mountain-biking, motor-cross, kayaking, fishing and snorkelling.
The Diving around Koh Chang is done mainly off boats. The house reefs are generally shallow and very suitable and convienient for for training dives and snorkelling. One thing to bear in mind is that not all the islands dive centres stay open all year round!
Most of the main dive sites are to the west and south-west of Koh Chang. These include Hin Rap, Hin Sam Sao and Hin Muratha. Further south you’ll find Hin Luk Bat, Hin Rap south, Secret Reef, Tun Leung and Hin Rua Tek.
A great place for pelagic spotting is Hin Rang Yai, a set of pinnacles starting just below the surface and descending to 27m on the west side features mainly rocks with overhangs and boulders.
For instance leopard and whale sharks along with black blotched stingrays provide fairly regular encounters. At 14m on the south side of this spot is a soft coral garden with resident triggerfish, sweetlips and potato grouper.
There are numerous examples of both hard and soft corals in the area, and the marine life is both plentiful and diverse. Blue-spotted stingrays as well as hungry reef sharks and turtles are all also seen along the reefs.
A number of the areas dive sites can also be explored from the neighbouring island of Koh Mak. The island has a small resort on the north east coast which offers seasonal diving facilities. Of the other islands in the park landing on any of the Rang islands should never be attempted.
Koh Chang has the highest diversity of evergreen’s in the country, so much so that their are plans to hopefully establish another National Park on the Cambodian border an area which shares similar flora and fauna characteristics.
Koh Tao or ‘Turtle Island’ as it is referred to locally, sits in the Gulf of Thailand, and is the northernmost and smallest in the chain of the three ‘inhabited’ islands. The vast majority of the islands flora consists of coconut, mango and cashew nut trees. The south and west coastlines are dotted with white sandy beaches, the north and east coasts have a couple of small sandy bays but predominantly feature large granite boulders stacked high above the water and rising to fringe the island’s forests.
The islands main and only town, Mae Haad, borders the island’s vast expanse of coconuts plantations. This so called ‘town’ is divided into two areas, firstly the southern end of the town is divided by a narrow dirt track, with cheek by jowl amenities such as general stores, restaurants and dive centres. The towns northern apex boasts a number of more modern day facilities.
The theme of this ‘new look’ Mae Haad is scuba diving, with a selection of retail outlets and service centres. There’s also some great places to eat and a healthy range of rooms for rent.
Other areas with a high concentration of Scuba diving and snorkelling services are found along the beaches listed. The amenities are first class, with the majority being in the form of fully self-contained resort complexes. Diver education right up to and including professional ratings along with day trips are big issues everywhere on Koh Tao.
Dive all day, or party all night! Koh Tao’s exuberant atmosphere is tailor made for the young at heart. Spectacular views and a friendly island atmosphere add to a great diving experience.
Off the northwest coast of Koh Tao are three forest covered islets interconnected by sand bars. There is a dive resort on the centre islet, offering luxurious accommodation and the full range of diving services.
Several of Koh Tao’s top diving and snorkelling sites are found fringing these islets including the Japanese Gardens and Green Rock.
Although a popular tourist destination Nang Yuan is kept clean by upholding a strict no littering policy, any offenders are immediately deported back to Koh Tao!
Gateway to the South
Tourists in Surat Thani usually find themselves dealing with tour companies, the train or the bus station, or the pier, some 45-minute bus ride out of town. Surat Thani is the embarkation point for Koh Samui, Koh Pha-ngan and Koh Tao. Coaches from Bangkok stop here for passengers to change buses to Khao Lak, Krabi, Phuket, Koh Lanta and the Phi Phi Islands.
Surat Thani’s local highlights include Monkey schools and Khao Sok National Park, famous for its wild lotus flower; the largest of its species in the world. Hiking around the park, which has many waterfalls, is a great way to spend a day. There are also privately-run bungalows near the park for those who wish to hike and stay overnight.
Every October Surat Thani hosts the Chak Phra Festival; a fantastic spectacle of land and waterborne processions of revered Buddha images.
To make resort reservations in Khao Sok National Park, contact the Royal Forestry Department in Bangkok
The island of Koh Samui boasts a worthy selection of hotels and resort complexes all offering a host of services and tourist amenities. Top family pastimes include elephant and pony trekking and mountain biking, all available around the beaches of MaeNam and Bophut. The island has a huge population of coconut trees, which are regularly tended to, to reduce the risk of injuries from falling coconuts; To prevent this problem, trained monkeys clear them from the trees. This skill is re-enacted at the Monkey Theatre outside Bophut village. All these excursions can be booked directly at your hotel or resort but accessing any of the island’s amenities independently is done just as easily onboard the islands buses; simply tell the driver where you want to get off, or carry a tourist map and point at your destination!
The general lifestyle on the island moves along at a slow, relaxed pace: as yet there are no brash high rise facilities offending the skyline. The sensibly maintained tropical image has established Koh Samui as ‘the’ most popular holiday destination off the East Coast. The island does however kick into high gear during the later hours when numerous bars, clubs and discos open for business. All manners of musical tastes are catered for, ranging from salsa to jazz and reggae to high energy dance and techno.
With the exception of a couple of beach dives the majority of the dive sites are all reached by boats in around ninety minutes. All the local sites are visited as two dive day trips, which conveniently begin when the operators pick you up right on your very door step.
For those of you intending to explore Koh Samui beyond the boundaries of your resort you can now do it somewhat more comfortably than in recent years, as at long last the roads have been upgraded, which is more that what can be said for the driving! Its been so long since it was possible to get around at speed that some motorists might, or rather should, get a quick practise in first.
The best place to thrash away any cobwebs or simply learn how to avoid oncoming traffic is on the islands go-kart track just outside Bophut.
Another way to get around is to hire a taxi or use the local bus service. If you do however opt to rent a motorbike, take it easy along the beach roads as there can be a lot of loose sand and even potholes on the surface.
With a subtler ambience than Koh Samui, Koh Phangan offers solitude on its many deserted beaches. On full moon nights however, party goers descend from all over the world to dance from sunset to sunrise on selected beaches to Techno music. As is always the case beware of accepting drugs, particularly from strangers, not only can it be dangerous to your health but it is also an offence to take drugs in Thailand.
Visitors shouldn’t miss the four exhilarating waterfalls on the island. There are mountain bikes at Thong Sala port and Had Rin for rent, a great way to tour the island. There are a few dive centres there, and a few dive sites to visit nearby the island. Trips to and from Koh Samui, Koh Tao and the Ang Thong Marine National Park are easily arranged.
Khao Lak Marine National Park
Khao Lak Marine National Park sits around ninety kilometres to the north of Koh Phuket. The Park, established in 1991, covers an area of 125 sq. kilometres with its highest point being 1077 metres. The Parks amenities are all liberally sprinkled along the main road from Koh Phuket in the south to Ranong and although it has recently undergone renovation, it still is occasionally narrow with some nasty, tight bends to add to the challenge of getting there!
In years gone by this area was literally teaming with now sadly endangered wildlife including black bears, gibbons, tapirs and even tigers, but as is the case everywhere in Thailand these animals are now very rarely seen. However, the skies above are still busy with hornbills, parrots and woodpeckers. The park is the source of two important rivers of the province and has a number of towering waterfalls, the most impressive being Lam Ru, Lam Phraw and Hin Lad.
All in all this is becoming the place to be, not only for nature lovers, sunbathers and beachcombers but for scuba divers and snorkellers, drawn in by the variety and convenience of encountering some of the best conditions and marine life in the country. It has been reported that the parks coastal reefs are one of the major sources of the reef inhabitants and corals found around Mu Koh Similan Marine National Park.
Nowadays the once small selection of dive operators has expanded not only in numbers but services as well, which include not only the full range of diver education, retail and local day trips, but also they are responsible for the introduction of daily dive trips to Mu Koh Similan and Surin Marine National Parks; a very welcome addition to the choice of the areas liveaboard excursions.
One thing to bear in mind is that not all of the operators stay open all year round, so don’t be dissappointed if some are closed between May and October!
This area remains relatively unknown to most tourists. Its 30km long sandy beach supports only a small fishing village and a few bungalow resorts; even at the weekend only a few holidaymakers grace the beaches.
The village is close to a town called Bangsapan in Prachuapkirikhan Province on the East coast to the South of Hua Hin, situated on the narrowest section of Thailand. A temple has been erected on Ban Krut Beach in honour of the King. Its lavish in style, incorporating modern architecture with traditional forms.
Beyond the Provinces long sandy beaches are two groups of off shore rocky outcroppings and islands, it is these that have the areas best diving and snorkelling conditions, and have become a popular place with Bangkok divers.
However only Koh Mattra can be landed on, but as the island is privately owned permission must be granted first. Its not just the diving and snorkelling that attracts visitors, the province is also renowned for its natural beauty above the surface.
Amongst others are glorious sandy beaches, caves, waterfalls and temples.
Koh Ngam Noi and Ngam Yai
The islands of Koh Ngam Noi and Ngam Yai, are private and should never be landed on. These islands are a major source of edible birds nests; a commodity claiming medicinal properties. These expensive products are protected from any intruders, making the islands strictly off limits to visitors.
Established in 1990, Mu Koh Lanta Marine National Park is contained within Krabi Province and covers an area of 134 sq. kms. It comprises of over fifteen islands divided into four main groups: Koh Lanta Yai and Noi, Koh Ngai, Koh Rok Nok and Nai, and the Koh Ha group.
The National Park Office is located at the southern tip of the largest island, Koh Lanta Yai and is only accessible by boat, as the headlands on either side are bound by rocks. This southern section of the island is well worth visiting as is the central elavated terrain with its variety of wildlife including squirrels, reptiles, amphibians and many species of birds; a series of marked routes lead the way.
Koh Lanta Yai should really be considered as the operations centre of the park with its infrastructure of roads and electricity already being established; two things absent elsewhere in the park!
The island has many bungalow resorts and a couple of Five Star accommodations, all of which are found along the islands western shoreline.
The eastern coastline features mangrove forests, but many have been destroyed by temporary shrimp farms.
The majority of dive centres are found in the northern fishing port of Saladan, although there are a few more ‘resort based’ concerns dotted around the island. One thing to bear in mind is that not all of them stay open all year round!
The diving here is exceptional and is amongst the best found anywhere in the country. The quality and health and diversity of associated marine life is high. The waters around the island of Koh Lipong remain one of the few places that claims dugongs. This is the only sirenian that inhabits these coastal waters.
There is a somewhat limited variety of different excursions on the island, one of the main attractions is a large cave with numerous giant bats clinging to its upper walls!
Other more organised excursions really centre around snorkelling, most of which are day trips to either the Emerald cave at the nearby island of Koh Muk or to the sea grass rich waters around the island of Koh Libong, to hopefully do a bit of ducong spotting. The main reason why people come to Koh Lanta is to relax.
Koh Phi Phi
The two islands of Koh Phi Phi Don and Ley sit 48kms to the south east of Phuket. Whereas Koh Phi Phi Ley is uninhabited, it’s larger sister Phi Phi Don, is quite the opposite. Over the years she has become a bustling hive of tourist activity, and this picturesque tropical retreat is at the top of many tourists’ ‘must visit’ list. And quite rightly so, the amenities here are second to none, with a much wider selection than you would expect to find at such a small destination. Restaurants display fine menus from all four corners of the globe, and of course there’s also the local seafood.
There’s plenty of choice of accommodation on the island from small bungalows up to Five Star beach resorts.
The western end of Ton Sai bay features a sheer sided limestone cliff. Here the island’s people, a mixture of mainly Muslim and Chao Ley (sea gypsies) fishermen, continue to collect valuable birds nests. Across the bay is a well signposted trek that leads up to a view point that gives a tremendous panorama of the two islands.
Due to the island’s raw, natural beauty, other daily excursions around the islands concentrate on sight seeing, with longtail boats providing the transport. Some tour operators offer larger boats with bigger areas of shade, not a bad option, considering the strength of the sun in these parts. One interesting excursion is a trip to the Viking Cave on Phi Phi Ley where there are numerous cave paintings. this is also a place to find swiftlets whose nests are the prime ingredient in the claimed ‘medicinal’ birds nest soup.
Aside from the first rate scuba diving found around these and the surrounding islands, other attractions include big game fishing, rock climbing and sailing.
There’s a feeling of ‘old meets new’ along this relatively laid back destination. as water buffalos frequently roam along the beaches! The day light hours see mostly sunbathers with the evenings being alive with diners at the numerous restaurants. There are also a few dive operators.
Patong is the busiest beach on the island. Shopping opportunities abound with a huge range of souvenirs, cheap watches, audio tapes, DVD’s and clothing.
This beach has the highest number of diving operators on the island and you can buy, rent or service virtually any item of diving equipment from one of many retailers.
The accommodation here ranges from basic up to luxurious 5 Star hotels and resorts.
Kata and Karon Beaches
The scenery at these two long, sandy beaches attract sunbathers and swimmers alike. There’s not the hustle and bustle found on Patong but there are plenty of tourist amenities. A few great restaurants and lively open-air bars grace the road between the two beaches, as do a handful of dive operators.
This is the island’s main departure point for day trips of diving, snorkelling and fishing. There are a few dive centres and retailers located along the bay’s approach road.
How to get there
From Bangkok, Koh Samui and Pattaya
- Bangkok. Hua Lamphong Station via Chumphon and Surat Thani.
Bangkok. Air-conditioned bus from Southern Bus Terminal via Chumphon.
Also from Koh Samui, Khao Lak, Krabi and Surat Thani.
Daily boats from Phi Phi and Koh Lanta.
Ao Nang Beach is reached in twenty minutes from Krabi Town by song-taew (Baht bus). Ralae beach is reached via boat, from both Krabi Town or Ao Nang beach. Once on either beach everything is no more than five minutes away! The general feeling here is based on relaxation and fun. Both beaches have their fair share of resorts, restaurants and shops, but all the dive centres are found on Ao Nang beach or in Krabi Town. Diving courses, day trips and even liveaboard excursions are all offered. Sightseeing tours are also very popular with plenty of oppurtunities to enjoy the wonderful scenery or to visit the local islands and beaches. Hot springs, temples and caves are also visited. Slightly more energetic activities include rock climbing on Railae beach and sea kayaking.
Railae Beach is actually a series of two beaches divided by a flat narrow isthmus. The western of which was once nominated as the second most beautiful in the world, but by whom and which beach came first remains unclear! There is a range of accommodations, cafes and restaurants, a handful of shops selling everyday provisions and of course some internet facilities. Day time activities around the beaches include sunbathing and snorkelling, but first and foremost is the rock climbing; the area is noted as being one of the best climbing locations in the world.
Liveaboard vessels have been taking care of divers in Thailand for over two decades. It was born and raised on Phuket Island during the latter part of the 1970’s, now its a very mature business with services being offered at Krabi and on the islands of Koh Lanta, Phi Phi and Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand.
Services, standards and levels of comfort available on excursions vary from boat to boat, and Thailand is able to boast a very extensive range of vessels from budget excursions up to spacious motor yachts designed around comfort, luxury and diving. One thing all the boats seem to have in common is that they must be providing a satisfactory service as there are literally thousands of repeat customers year after year.
Resources onboard vary between the different classes of trips offered, for instance not all the boats have air conditioning, and fresh water can be restricted, (especially if the trip is full to capacity). Camera gear and dive computers do however get the privilege of their own rinse tanks!
In some instances the privacy of the sleeping arrangements can be limited as not all cabins cater for individual passengers or travelling companions. Check the availability of private cabins before booking.
Meals tend to have the day’s diving juggled around them but there are complimentary snacks, such as fruit, cakes, biscuits and tea and coffee. Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages are generally not included in the trip price.
On the whole liveaboards in Thailand, are generally great value compared with other diving and snorkelling destinations found elsewhere.
|Andaman Seafarer||Seafarer Divers|
|Aqua One||Aqua Sports|
|Atlantis 2000||Atlantis Liveaboards|
|Bunmee I||Andaman Scuba / Marina Divers|
|Bunmee II||Andaman Scuba / Marina Divers|
|Catch Up||High Class Adventure|
|Colona II||Colona Diving & Tours|
|Colona VI||Colona Diving & Tours|
|Crescent||S. E. Asia Liveaboards|
|Dive Asia I||Dive Asia|
|Dive Master I||Dive Master|
|Dive Master II||Dive Master|
|Excalibur||Moskito Diving Centre|
|Faah Yai||Scuba Quest|
|Gaea||S.E> Asis Liveaboards|
|Genesis 1||Genesis Liveaboards|
|June Hong Chein Lee||Dive Inn|
|Le Mahe||Ocean Lovers|
|Marco Polo||Sea Bees Diving|
|Mare West||Dive Asia|
|Mermaid I||Sea World Dive Team|
|Mermaid II||Sea World Dive Team|
|Nang Yuan||Sea Dragon|
|Ocean Rover||Fantasea Divers|
|PP Harmony||White & Blue Dive Club|
|Rhapsody||Oceanic Dive Center|
|Sai Mai||Private Dive|
|Scuba Adventure||Scuba Cat|
|Scuba Cat||Scuba Cat|
|Scuba Explorer II||Dive Asia|
|Shortcut II||High Class Adventure|
|TJ Relai||Phra Nang Divers|
|Viking of the Orient||Scandanavian Divers|
|Wanderlust||S. E. Asia Liveaboards|
|West Coast Explorer||West Coast Divers|
|Wicked Witch||Sea Hawk Divers|
Scuba Diving in Thailand?
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