The waters surrounding the Andaman coast and the Samui Archipelago offer an amazing diversity of marine life and dive sites from beginner to advanced, some considered among the best in the world. Along Thailand’s two coasts, hundreds of dive shops offer courses, equipment rental, day trips, and live-aboards. If you’re planning on diving in the region, don’t worry too much about where you are staying relative to the areas where you want to dive; most diving shops (especially in Phuket) offer dives to all of the most popular sites in the region.

Richelieu Rock is known to attract giant, gentle whale sharks.

Richelieu Rock is known to attract giant, gentle whale sharks. Photo © Piboon Srimak/123rf.

Diving in Phuket

  • Ko Racha Noi is a popular place to visit on a day trip and has a nice mix of both colorful coral and challenging, rocky terrain.
  • Another very popular destination is Shark Point, about 32 kilometers (20 mi) east of Chalong Bay. There are three rock outcroppings that attract sharks, including leopard sharks.
  • Just under one kilometer (0.6 mi) away from Shark Point is Anemone Reef, with lots of anemone, coral, and plenty of colorful small fish.
  • If you’re interested in wreck diving, close by is King Cruiser Wreck, a sunken car ferry in Phang Nga Bay. This site is appropriate for most divers and attracts lots of fish.

Diving the Andaman Coast

  • The waters surrounding Ko Phi Phi offer both nice diving and excellent snorkeling. The biggest attraction here is the colorful coral and vibrant fish. Most of the dives are not difficult, but divers looking for more of a challenge can check out the wall diving at Ao Nui.
  • South of Ko Lanta are some excellent (and convenient) dive sites. The Mu Ko Lanta National Park is a group of 15 small islands, many with good diving in surrounding areas. You’ll find lots of rocky terrain attracting colorful fish, some underwater caves to explore, and beautiful coral. The Ko Kradan Wreck is now an artificial reef.
  • The Ko Surin islands are part of the Mu Ko Surin National Park and are best known for the excellent coral surrounding them. The biggest draw is Richelieu Rock, a rock pinnacle jutting out of the ocean that’s known to attract giant, gentle whale sharks. These islands are accessible by live-aboard trips from Phuket, but if you’re staying in Khao Lak, you can visit on a day trip.
  • The Similan Islands are nine granite islands which make up the Mu Ko Similan National Park and are considered by most to offer the best diving in Thailand and some of the best diving in the world. Here you’ll find plenty of colorful reefs and plankton blooms attracting sharks, rays, and plenty of tropical fish. Other parts of the island grouping are more rugged, with boulder formations offering more adventurous diving. There are also great night-diving spots where you’ll see squid, crustaceans, and other creatures. These islands can be visited on day trips from Phuket and Khao Lak, but many people choose multiday live-aboards.

Diving Ko Samui and the Samui Archipelago

  • Sail Rock between Ko Tao and Ko Pha-Ngan is the region’s most popular dive spot and is appropriate for all levels of divers. The pinnacle, which towers about nine meters (10 yd) above the surface, is a magnet for fish, so there’s plenty of colorful marinelife to be spotted. The swim-through chimney, a cavernous tunnel through the pinnacle, is a must-do for anyone visiting Sail Rock.
  • Just under 10 kilometers (6 mi) northwest of Ko Tao is Chumphon Pinnacle, a very popular granite pinnacle that does not break the surface. The base is covered with colorful anemones and attracts plenty of large and small fish. Large whale sharks are often spotted here, as are leopard sharks.
  • Southeast of Ko Tao is Shark Rocks, a grouping of rocks surrounded by colorful coral and anemones. Snappers, rays, and angelfish congregate in the rocks and, as you might suspect from the name, so do sharks.
  • Just north of Ko Pha-Ngan (connected by a strip of sand at low tide) is Ko Ma, which has some vibrant and healthy hard and soft coral as well as lots of vivid marinelife. Given its proximity to the main island and its suitability for divers of all levels, this is often where beginning divers are taken when they are getting certified.
  • The three interconnected islands of Ko Nang Yuan also offer some nice snorkeling and diving opportunities. The coral reef attracts plenty of smaller fish and is a nice place for beginning divers and for snorkelers. Nang Yuan Pinnacle, a small granite pinnacle below the surface, attracts larger fish that have come to feed.

Thailand Dive Shops, Courses, and Certification

In Thailand most diving instruction courses offer PADI open-water diver certification. These courses take 3-4 days, at the end of which you’ll be certified to dive all over the world. You’ll spend time in the classroom first learning about safety and dive theory, take your first dive in a swimming pool, and advance to supervised open-water dives. Expect to pay 10,000-15,000 baht for the full course, including equipment and dives. If you can’t imagine wasting hours inside a classroom while you’re on vacation, and assuming there is a PADI training center where you live, you can do the classroom and pool-diving components of your training at home and bring your referral paperwork with you to Thailand, where you’ll be able to complete the open-water portion of the certification.

Certified divers looking to advance their skills can also take dive master courses, become certified diving instructors, and arrange training internships at some of the larger training centers. These programs are at least two weeks long and cost 30,000-75,000 baht.

There are many dive shops in the area, especially on Ko Tao, which has dozens. Safety records across Thailand’s diving industry are good, but make sure to inspect equipment and talk to the instructors and dive masters you’ll be with before signing up to make sure you’re comfortable with them. Also ask about environmental awareness. PADI divers should follow a strict no-hands rule, but some dive shops have been known to be somewhat lax about it (touching or even brushing up against coral can damage it).

On Ko Tao, especially, many dive shops also have small guesthouses, and you’ll get a discounted rate (sometimes just a few hundred baht) if you’re taking lessons or going out on dives with them. Accommodations run the gamut from basic and clean to luxurious. You’ll be surrounded by fellow divers if you choose to stay in one of these guesthouses.

There are also plenty of dive shops on Ko Samui and Ko Pha-Ngan that offer diving trips and equipment. You can also take 3-4-day PADI diving certification courses at shops on the islands. Live-aboards tend to be less popular in this part of the country; instead, most diving is done on day trips or multiday trips where divers sleep in basic accommodations on one of the islands in Ang Thong National Marine Park.

Travel map of the Phuket and Ko Samui region of Thailand

Travel map of the Phuket and Ko Samui region of Thailand

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Phuket & Ko Samui.