Easiness. That is Thailand’s trump card in the diving world. Thailand does have some wonderful dive sites, but they can’t really compare to Indonesia’s, Malaysia’s and Philippines’ best dive sites when it comes to real world-class diving. What sets Thailand apart is how easily you can reach its best dive sites. Thailand’s dive sites are not located in some faraway backwaters but just next door to some of Thailand’s most popular holiday islands.
To enjoy some great diving in Thailand you don’t need to dedicate your entire holiday for it. Instead you can dive a few days and spend the rest of time with your non-diving family or friends and do other fun activities.
Another strength of Thailand’s diving scene is the prices of the scuba diving courses, which are some of the cheapest in the world.the
Read more: Learning to Dive in Thailand
Where to Dive: Andaman Sea or the Gulf of Thailand?
Thailand has famous dive sites on both of its coasts, the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.
The most famous dive sites are in the Andaman Sea, but the Gulf of Thailand has a longer dive season thanks to its tamer climate. Diving in the Andaman Sea gets rough during the monsoon season from May to the end of October, whereas the Gulf of Thailand has pretty good diving conditions all year round except November.
So, when choosing where to dive in Thailand, you should consider the time of the year.
However, the monsoon season does not mean that no diving could be done in the Andaman Sea; Phuket’s and Koh Phi Phi’s dive centers operate throughout the year. Only the most distant (and famous) dive sites such as Ko Similan and the Richelieu Rock are out of reach of divers during the monsoon.
Thailand’s Best Dive Sites
Almost all the diving community seem to agree that Thailand’s single best dive site is Richelieu Rock, which lies on Ko Surin Marine Park in the Andaman Sea.
The solitary underwater pinnacle was discovered by no other than Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Richelieu Rock rises from 50 meters depth to the surface, covered by red soft corals like a cloak of a cardinal. It is a good place to see large manta rays, and occasional whale sharks are sighted too.
The most versatile diving is to be done in Ko Smilan, though. These nine small deserted islands some 60 kilometers offshore are surrounded by a wide variety of underwater landscapes. There are giant boulders and canyons, swim throughs and coral gardens, and huge variety of sea life. The sea is crystal clear around Ko Similan visibility being often over 30 meters.
Third exceptional dive site in the Andaman Sea is the twin pinnacle of Hin Daeng and Hin Muang. These beautiful underwater pinnacles are Thailand’s most dramatic wall dives, and gather large schools of fish. In a two weeks period between November and December manta rays gather around these pinnacles and are met frequently.
Some liveaboards from Phuket make the trip to Hin Daeng and Hin Muang, but the easiest way to visit them is from Ko Lanta.
By far the best dive site on Gulf of Thailand is Sail Rock, an underwater pinnacle full of marine life from huge schools of barracudas to impressive groupers.
The best way to enjoy Richelieu Rock and the Similan Islands is to get on a liveaboard cruise either from Phuket or Khao Lak. Read more: Thailand’s liveaboards
Which is Best for Divers: Khao Lak, Phuket or Ko Lanta?
Khao Lak and Phuket are the best bases to enjoy diving on the Andaman Sea.
Khao Lak is a quiet, nature orientated beach resort, where a lush jungle starts right behind the main street. Khao Lak is the closest place onshore to the Similan Islands, which can also be reached easily on day-trips if you don’t fancy a multi-day liveaboard safari.
Phuket is a very different kind of place compared to the mellow Khao Lak: Phuket is Thailand’s biggest and most popular holiday island and has also plenty of other things to do than diving. Ko Similan Islands are a bit too far to be enjoyed on a day-trip but you have plenty of other great dive sites close to Phuket.
Ko Lanta is often overlooked as a dive destination, what is a shame since the island makes a great base to explore Hin Daeng and Hin Muang and some other fascinating dive sites like Ko Ha and Ko Rok. And Ko Lanta itself is one of Thailand’s most charming islands.
Read more: Phuket’s Best Dive Sites
Diving in the Gulf of Thailand
The most popular base for divers in Gulf of Thailand is the small island of Ko Tao, known for its abundance of dive schools. Ko Tao is one of the cheapest places in the world to do a dive certificate.
Diving from Ko Tao is cheaper than from the neighboring islands Ko Phangan and Ko Samui since most of the Gulfs’ dive sites lie next to Ko Tao.
The great exception is Gulf of Thailand’s best dive site Sail Rock, which lies halfway between Ko Tao and Ko Phangan, and is fastest reached usually by speedboat either from Ko Samui or Ko Phangan (as most of Ko Tao’s dive shops don’t have speedboats it’s more arduous to reach Sail Rock from Ko Tao on slow boats).
Pattaya – Diving Close to Bangkok
This might come out as a surprise, but you can also do pretty good diving close to Bangkok. Pattaya’s dive sites are best known for their wrecks, but the nearby offshore islands have some nice coral reefs too.
Thailand’s Lesser-known Dive Destinations
Some people prefer smaller and less well-known destinations for diving, and with a good reason. Smaller islands have far fewer dive shops, and diving tends to be more relaxed than in the more famous diving destinations. You will get more personalized service from the dive shops, and often happens that there are no other divers in the local dive sites.
Ko Lipe and Ko Mook are great little islands to enjoy diving. Beside some beautiful reefs Ko Mook has secret caves whereas Lipe has a good chance of seeing sharks.