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Diving Thailand

Location Dive Site Depths Date 2007

Andaman Sea

Near Phuket

Koh Racha Yai 10-100' (3-30m) January 12
Koh Doc Mai 40-60' (12-18m) January 24
King Cruiser Wreck 45-106' (14-32m) January 24
Shark Point 30-77' (9-23m) January 24
Kata Beach 10-40' (3-12m) January 25

Similan N.P. Mooring Rocks 20-80' (6-24m) January 20

Thailand has two good dive regions: one on the eastern side of the Thai Peninsula in the Gulf of Thailand, best during the SW monsoon from May through November, and the other on the Andaman Sea (western) side of Thailand, which has calmer waters during the NE monsoon, December through April. Thai-based diving in the Andaman Sea also includes the Andaman Islands, which are a part of India but two times closer to Phuket than they are to mainland India, and the Mergui Archipelago of Myanmar. Sadly, we got to neither of the latter places.

Chris entering the beautiful Similan Is. water
Chris entering the beautiful Similan Is. water

We sailed the Andaman Sea islands and coast during January 2007.  Dive centers are located at all major tourist areas: Koh Phi Phi Don, several locations on Phuket, and Krabi (on the mainland).  It was a good place for dive certification, with courses offered at competitive prices, and Amanda got her PADI Advanced card while in Phuket.  Diving options (if you don't have your own boat) include doing a live-aboard or being shore-based and taking day trips.  To dive the Similan Islands (guaranteed best clarity!) which are 60 miles to the NW of Phuket, it's easiest to live aboard, but day trips may be offered from the west coast of Phuket;  there is no accommodation on the islands.  Living on Ocelot we had a chance to dive both with shore-based companies in Phuket and to live aboard Ocelot while in the Similans.  High winds kept us from doing lots more diving in the Similans, but we made do with snorkeling, which in itself was fantastic.

Click on a dive flag to go to our description of that dive
Click on a dive flag to go to our description of that dive

Medical care for divers and hyperbaric chambers are located on the island of Phuket: in Patong at the Hyperbaric Service, at Vachira Phuket Hospital, and at the Bangkok Phuket Hospital.

A good dive reference is Globetrotter's Dive Guide Thailand by Paul Lees, which gives details on more than 140 dive sites in the country.  All underwater photos on this page, and their enlargements, are copyright Chris Hacking 2007, except the lionfish by Amanda Hacking.

By the way:  Phuket is pronounced "poo-ket" and may come from the Malay "bukit" meaning hill.  Koh, or Ko means island and may be spelled either way, and is pronounced "kaw".

Koh Racha Yai  --  Bungalow Bay
Type: Coastal dive
Access: Boat
Position: 7 36.7'N, 98 21.9'E
Depths: 10-100' (3-30m)
Date: 12 January 2007
Visibility: About 20' (6m)
Dive shop: 13 miles north in Ao Chalong Bay, Phuket
Snorkeling: Yes, on the reef edges
Features: Small bommies and good fish life
Pretty fish, yucky name. Skunk Anemonefish
Pretty fish, yucky name. Skunk Anemonefish

(Sue) None of the family dove this site, but our "adopted daughter" Rachel did, twice, while taking her PADI open water dive course. The poor visibility was especially surprising, given that we were deep into the NE monsoon season and we figured the seas had had plenty of time to let the sediment settle. (Now we hear it has more to do with state of the tide than season, per se.)  Rachel's group went as deep as 16 meters, finding no current. This area to the south of Phuket (about 2 hours by dive boat) is not some of Thailand's finest diving, but is great for training courses. Rachel reported some lovely sting rays and a good variety of fish life around the hard coral bommies which were interspersed with sand. Bungalow Bay is on the western side of Koh Racha Yai.

The fun of diving in areas without lots and lots of coral is that you get to spend more time with the small fish that inhabit the small bommies. It's great to slow down and really get to watch some of them as they dart here and there amongst the tentacles of their home anemone (as in the case of the anemonefish) or around their own private playground in the enfolding arms of a finger coral.

Koh Doc Mai
Type: Wall and Drift dive
Access: Boat
Position: 8 26.4'N, 119 34.0'E - A small island.
Depths: 40-60' (12-18m) - deeper if you want sea floor at 103ft (31m)
Date: 24 January 2007
Visibility: 20' (6m)
Dive shop: 11 miles west in Ao Chalong Bay, Phuket
Snorkeling: No
Features: Wall with good coral cover. Lots of fish.
Lovely Crescent Wrasse on the reef
Lovely Crescent Wrasse on the reef

(Amanda)  We did this dive with Maria, the instructor from Kon Tiki Dive in Phuket. This was part of the Advanced PADI course together with Rachel from Australia and our friends Adam and Warren on Scud. We went by dive boat with about 10 other divers, and somehow my internal compass got turned around and I thought we were heading south - but Koh Doc Mai is basically due east of Ao Chalong.

It was very rough on the surface by the island, a moderate-sized but certainly not inhabitable rocky  tree-covered mound. We descended into nothingness and sediment before seeing a wall/bottom at about 60 ft (18m). We swam north against the current, which was very strong. I nearly got pushed into the wall several times, which wouldn't have been good for me or the coral. The visibility was so bad sometimes Rachel and I (who were buddies) thought we'd lost the group. We turned around at about 1/2 tank and drifted back at about 40 ft (12m) deep. When we had to turn the corner around the south end of the island, the current nearly swept us away!

We saw many small chromis and damselfish and an eel near the beginning, plus all the usual reef fish, like the wrasses and butterflyfish. On the wall were lots of whip corals and colorful feathery crinoids. There are supposed to be Leopard Sharks here often on the sand, but it was a good thing we didn't see one - I'm fine with sharks, but ones I haven't seen before, coming out of the murky depths only 20 ft away... that kind of puts me out of my comfort zone.

King Cruiser Wreck
Type: Wreck dive. Deep dive.
Access:  Boat, using mooring or live
Position: Approximately: 7 48'N, 98 38'E
Depths: 45-106' (14-32m)
Date:  24 January 2007
Visibility: 20' (6m)
Dive shop: 16 miles west in Ao Chalong Bay, Phuket
Snorkeling: No
Features: Wreck of car ferry from 1997
Beautiful crinoid, or feather star
Beautiful crinoid, or feather star

(Amanda) In 1997 an 80-foot car ferry traveling between Ko Phi Phi Don and Phuket hit Anemone Reef (near Hin Mu Sang per nautical charts), about 16 nm east of Phuket and sank. The reef itself had been declared a marine sanctuary in 1992, and with the King Cruiser wreck splitting it in half, it made sense to include the wreck as part of the sanctuary! Today the stern lies in 34 meters, the bow in 14 meters and is covered in marine life. Sorry, no photos of the wreck itself.

Checkered Snappers were common in Thailand
Checkered Snappers were common in Thailand

Rachel and I did this as part of our Advanced Dive Course. We went with the Kon Tiki Dive Center boat from Ao Chalong, Phuket to the mooring. Timing wasn't good, as we were there with a swift current and subsequently poor visibility. We splashed in 14 meters, following the bow line down, and I almost lost the group when I had trouble equalizing pressure. We settled on the bottom in about 100' (30m) where we did the usual "deep dive" questions: like writing our names backwards, doing math, etc. then we swam back along the wreck. We saw some big winch gear and toilets, plus lots of good fish, urchins, and coral. The wreck was very rusty and covered in barnacles. Our dive book recommends not doing any penetration as the decks are very unstable; best to "go" inside via dive light.

Bright underside of the Magnificent Anemone
Bright underside of the Magnificent Anemone
Shark Point
Type: Rocky outcrop (Hin Mu Sang) on Anemone Reef
Access: Boat, using mooring or live
Position: Approx. 7 47.9'N, 98 37.6'E. Light on rock.
Depths: 30-77' (9-23m)
Date: 24 January 2007
Visibility: 20 - 30' (6-9m)
Dive shop: 16 miles west in Ao Chalong Bay, Phuket
Snorkeling: No
Features: Coral bommies/pinnacles. Strong current is possible
A Blue-Spotted Stingray with its black and white tail
A Blue-Spotted Stingray with its black and white tail

(Amanda)  This site is north of King Cruiser Wreck, and marked by a light on a single rocky outcropping, named Hin Mu Sang on nautical charts. There was lots of sediment, as there was for the King Cruiser Wreck dive, but viz was a little bit better. Maybe due to a different state of the tide? This site has lots of coral bommies interspersed with sand. We saw rays with black and white tails (couldn't see the blue spots through the murk), several massive yellow sea fans, but no Leopard sharks, despite the name of the site. Too bad our dive instructor got us lost - we ended up doing most of the dive over a sandy bottom. Where did all the rocks go?  We surfaced pretty far from the dive boat, so had to inflate a sausage to be picked up. It's probably pretty cool with good viz (and a better oriented dive guide!) but that wasn't our luck on January 24!

According to the Dive Thailand book, visibility here can vary from 13' (4m) to over 83' (25m). A line of pinnacles extends to the south of Hin Mu Sang, and just to the west of this is a fabulous underwater arch covered in soft corals. This is part of the Shark Point Marine Sanctuary, created in 1992. All flora and fauna is protected, including corals and shells. One of those "Take only pictures, leave only bubbles" places.

The beautiful Common Lionfish. Photo by Amanda Hacking
The beautiful Common Lionfish
Kata Beach
Type: Shore dive. Good night dive location
Access: Beach, or long-tail boat
Position: Approx. 749.5'N, 98 17.3'E.
Depths: 10-40' (3-12m)
Date: 25 January 2007
Visibility: 15' (4.5m)
Dive shop: In Patong and Ao Chalong, Phuket
Snorkeling: Yes
Features: Coral bommies/sand patches.

(Amanda)  This was where we did both the Navigation dive and the Night dive for our Advanced PADI cert. There wasn't much to recommend it on the navigation (daylight) dive, but it was awesome at night!  We entered from the beach about an hour after sunset and spent most of the time around 15-26ft (4.5-8m) circling around bommies and over sand. There was one bommie with (I counted) 10 lionfish, and we saw probably that many again during the dive, including a cute little 2" (5cm) one!

There was a massive cuttlefish camouflaged against the sand and lots of pufferfish sleeping in nooks on the rocks. And as my light hit the rocks, the reflections of dozens of glowing red eyes came back to me -- shrimp, shrimp, shrimp! On the way back Warren nearly swam into a jellyfish. The body wasn't very big but the tentacles were wispy and very long. Very cool dive!

Similan Islands. These are a National Park about 60 nm northwest of Phuket. We sailed from north western Phuket to the southern-most islands as a day sail, staying a few days with cruising friends to snorkel and relax. Then we sailed to the very north to join friends for some diving. The visibility out here is fantastic -- the kind of thing we had hoped to find, but didn't, in the islands south of Phuket. There are no shore facilities at all -- just cruising boats, fishing boats (which are illegal, so hopefully just passing through), and live-aboard dive boats.

A False Clown Anemonefish in its bulb anemone
A False Clown Anemonefish in its bulb anemone
Mooring Rocks, Koh Bangu
Type: Near-island, calm
Access: Boat only. There are several moorings available.
Position: 8 40.5'N, 97 38.8'E
Depths: 20-80' (6-24m)
Date: 20 January 2007
Visibility: 60' (18m)
Dive shop: No, but live-aboard dive boats come most days
Snorkeling: Yes, along the shore of the islands and nearby bommies
Features: Nice fish, good corals, minimal current
Hello, Indian Redfin Butterflyfish
Hello, Indian Redfin Butterflyfish

(Jon)  This was a relaxing dive, right from the stern of Ocelot.  We were in the anchorage at the northern end of the Similan Islands which are uninhabited and lie 60 nm NW of Phuket.  It was our first Thailand dive, the first with Chris on his 3-month visit with us, and the first dive with Rachel who was newly certified.  Because of Rachel, we decided that an easy, gentle dive would be best.  Unfortunately we'd hit a time when the wind was howling outside the island chain, making off-shore dives uncomfortable.

Chris, Rachel and I splashed into about 20' (6m) of water and headed basically east around the southern end of the island.  This direction was more protected from the prevailing winds and roiled seas.  We descended down the slope to about 50' (17m) and just followed the coral around.  There were some lovely hard corals but more surprising were all the tumbled rocks, which we'd never really seen in previous dives.  Coming up to about 35' (11m) on the way back the corals got much more intense, with large formations and many different varieties.  We even saw some lobsters and lionfish.  A fun dive!

(Sue)  I didn't dive here (lack of tanks!) but I did lots of snorkeling both here and at other islands in the Park. According to the Dive Thailand book a cold current can pass between Ko Bangu and Koh Similan making it a chilly dive at depth. It's recommended as a night dive when the current is light, or at slack.

Our experience was that you can't really go wrong with visibility and fish/coral life in the Similans! (But I don't know how it is during the SW monsoon, June through November!) Our cruising friends sailed north to Koh Bon in the Mu Koh Surin National Park and had some awesome dives with manta rays and a whale shark. Missing the Similans and Mu Koh Surin would be to miss the best of Thai diving.

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