Diving Southern Thailand:
Thailand is such a wonderfully diverse country. It would be a pity to spend eight or ten days on a "live a board" then go home. Plan on at least a couple of weeks and do both land and sea.
In my very limited amount of time (15 days) I explored three different regions of southern Thailand.
We made our 20+ hour flight from San Francisco via a layover in Tai Pei to Phuket. All transfers to our different locations were pre arranged. This is not always the best method to use; however, it was nice to see a sign with my name on it as we exited the airport. The ride from the airport to our hotel in Karon Beach was and "E-ticket" ride I could have survived without. Everything you have heard about Thai taxi drivers is true. This includes passing on curves, hills, tailgating inches behind the car in front all the things one would get "shot" for in USA. The irony is, there is no road rage-but plenty of traffic deaths. I would recommend against renting a vehicle during your stay in Phuket.
We stayed at the "Sea Breeze Inn", where we immediately became "best friends" with the staff. You can get anything you want in this little neighborhood, clothes, jewelry, Thai massage (highly recommended) hair cut, many restaurants mini markets, tailor shops, pharmacy and even a dental office.
Diving: There are many Dive shops in Phuket area. There are also many dive boats. In both cases some are good and some are not so good. This is why I used a local dive shop that was also a tour operator. I looked at websites and other recommendations (scubaspots.com) for dive shops. I found several good ones. Sheldon Hey, who owns Dive the World Thailand responded immediately and in a professional manner. He answered all my questions and worked with me on an itinerary. He picked out the dive boats I used in Phuket and Phi Phi Island. He also arranged all my transfers (seven) in air condition taxis. There was often some confusion though everything worked out well. I later found out that all hotels will arrange transfers-this may be my next option.
My first dive was with a German operation named Sea Bees. They had a brand new dive boat: Excalibur. The trip consisted of four dives including one night dive. We dove the Phi Phi Islands and surrounding areas: Shark Point: typical south pacific corrals and fish. Interesting but not spectacular. Visibility around 50 ft. Maximum depth 80 ft. for 51 minutes. The best highlights were 2 cuttlefish, a seahorse and a sleeping leopard shark.
Dive 2: Phi Phi Island: Kho Bida Nok. This site was a little more diverse. Saw more cuttlefish, huge tube corals and lots of colors. The highlights were two mating leopard sharks and lionfish. Maximum depth was 72 feet for 50 minutes the visibility was much better, in the 75 foot range.
Dive 3: The next Rock over Kho Bida Noi. Though this dive site was less than 100 meters from our last dive site it was quite different. There were similar corals but the current was much stronger and the visibility was in the <50foot range. 66 ft for 53 minutes. We did see more lionfish and leopard sharks.
Night Dive: Kho Dok Mai, consist of a rock sticking out of the water half way between Phuket and Kho Phi Phi. Interesting wall dive with unique colors and different fish. We entered a huge cavern with a small cave (about 15+ ft straight in) enduring fairly strong currents. This was not a dive for the faint of heart or first night dive. Being a marginally experienced lobster hunter for this dive would be an appropriate prerequisite. Maximum depth 66 ft for 53 minutes.
It should be noted these were all computer non-decompression dives. We dove in small groups, 2-4 divers in each group. Jurgen from Belgium was my dive guide-excellent and the only one who spoke fluent English.
From Phuket, we went North to Khoa Lak. We stayed at Poseidon Bungalows. Lodging consisted of 14 small cabins situated a
long the rocky shores most with in a few meters of the water. Prices $10 to 20. Depending on size and location. Food price $1.50 3. per meal-- very reasonable. Poseidon also runs the only livaboard dedicated to snorkelers. A 3-day snorkeling trip to the Similan Islands cost approximately $150.us.
Khoa Lak is the closest access to the Similan Islands and where you want to be for the liveaboards. A trip to the Similans, which includes Richelieu Rock (Surin Islands), and Burma Banks (Myanmar) would take a minimum of 5 days four nights. There are several to choose from. I recommend using a local tour operator such as Siam Dive n Sail, Dive the world Thailand, KonTiki, SeaBees or Sea Dragon. Any of these diveshops can set you up on a liveaboard to meet your needs. Kon Tiki and Sea Dragon offer one day trips to the Similans and Richelieu Rock. A liveaboard is the best way to experience these world class dive spots.
Since I was short on time and money, we did an overnight with Kontiki and slept at the national park campground on the Similan Islands. Our divemaster was a very competent young Swedish woman, Jessie, who not only spoke excellent english; she has over 400 dives at the Similan islands.
My first view of the Similans was similar to seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. For lack of a better word: awesome. Tranquil white sand beaches and Turquoise water with gin clear visibility, over 200 feet. This is the ultimate diving site in Thailand. Meadows of soft corals and sea fans combined with a prolific fish population are the main reasons this is a 'world class' dive destination. Pelagics in this region are seasonal. Though there have been plenty of sightings of Mantas and whale sharks, they are not common. I actually saw bigger fish farther south at the Phi Phi Island sites. For the non Scuba Diver, snorkeling the Similans is second to none. In fact, because of the drift currents on many of the islands, you can often see more variety of marine life in the protected shallow areas.
Similans Islands, The Dives:
East of Eden: Preeminent coral formations, I could only comp
are to Cozumel. Lots of small fish, rabbitfish, clo
The Wall, don't know why they call this the wall. The topography is a gradual slope with large granite boulders, sea fans, fire coral, prolific and diverse sea life. Max depth 60 ft 48 minutes. Water temp about 84 degrees.
wnfish, one lionfish, garden eels, boxfish and others. Max depth: 62 ft, 50 minutes. Visibility 150-200 ft.
Elephant Rock, Donald Duck Cove. Huge boulders sea fans and hard corals. Again, many small and colorful reef fish. Visibility here was not as good-approximately 70+ ft. Snorkeling and free diving in Donald Duck Bay (they say the rock at the point looks like Donald Duck??) was superb with depths ranging from 5-20 ft. There is a nice beach here and a relaxing lunch stop.
Turtle Rock; this was a fast drift dive for a short time until we went around the island. Not as many fish but saw several lobsters and a ribbon eel. This was a fairly deep dive (95 ft) and the visibility was much better than Elephant Rock.
Our last dive was Breakfast Bend. It was here I had a provocative experience with a banded sea snake (poisonous but not aggressive) that was wrapping himself around my leg and passing through my bc vest. This dive was a Similan classic, turquoise water, 200 ft visibility and copious fish population.
The Similan Islands offer an exceptional diving experience for both novice and experienced divers.
We played tourist for a couple of days and went to Ko Sac National Park. Interesting limestone formations and another site not to be missed. After a 3-mile hike to a waterfall we stopped outside the park and went on an elephant trek. (I am glad I did this so I don't have to do it again). The next day, we rented kayaks and paddled 10 miles on a class 1-2 river (creek) that followed the highway. Saw a 10-ft. king cobra, gibbon, two wild elephants and a fist size spider, scenery was superb and trip worth repeating.
Krabi Area and Phi Phi Islands
From Khao Lak. We traveled by taxi to the Krabi village of Anong Beach. Swiss tourists mostly populated this area. Subsequently, we stayed in some quaint Swiss bungalows across from the beach called Wannas Place. At $30. per night this was a bargain. Just don't get the bungalows way up the hill (a long hike).
The next day we dove with a Swiss operation, Anong Divers. They put us on a Kon Tiki Boat (Swedish) and we dove the Phi Phi islands. In my opinion, Krabi area is not recommended for diving out of because of the distance to dive sites which is reflected in the price. Your best bet here is to stay at West Railey Beach for a couple of nights then go to Phi Phi island, where you are only 15 minutes from most diving.
We spent our last two nights on Phi Phi Island. From Phi Phi, I took a "speed boat" to Hin Daeng; this site is considered one of Thailand's best wall dives and a noble end to a remarkable dive vacation. Hin Daeng is also considered the place to see mantas and whale sharks-of which I saw neither. Hin Daeng (red rock) is an insignificant rock protrusion in the middle of the ocean. Underwater, the rock is mammoth. If you like wall diving you will love Hin Daeng. Saw bigger fish here including, large groupers, schools of big barracuda, several morays, lionfish mating, and all the normal tropicals. Visibility and depth of dive exceeded 100 feet with challenging currents. Definitely, need to watch your computer at Hin Daeng.
The next dive, only 100 meters from Hin Daeng was Hin Muang (purple rock). This is an under water reef covered with a variety of corals, and abundant sea life. Hin Maung is another deep dive with moderate to strong currents. The dive operator was Phi Phi Scuba, an Australian operation on Phi Phi Island. The next morning we took our ocean taxi to Phuket and after a six-hour wait at the airport flew home.
Diving in Thailand
(***** best * worst)
Beginners *** Similans *****
Accommodations ** to ****
Food **** (if you like Thai food)
Money's worth *****
Get air price information by calling the airlines directly-not via internet. Then go through an Asian travel agency, usually in a larger city. They buy most of the wholesale tickets and this is reflected in their prices. I saved over $100. on my ticket. The best time to travel to Thailand (weather) is December to March.
Plan on spending some internet time checking out dive operators and planning an itinerary. Use a local (Thailand based) operation not an American travel agency for booking your dives. Almost all dive operations are European or Australian managed. All boat captains are Thai.
Excellent diving equipment can be rented for about $12-15. per day, I choose to bring my mask, snorkel, fins and regulator and rented a bc and torch for about $3.00 per day. If you are going to do a lot of dives and are on a budget you may consider bringing your equipment, especially your computer. Thai folk like receipts keep all receipts or you may pay twice.
Rent a moped, but not in Bankok or Phuket.
Check out Tourist trips. Like sea kayaking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, side trips and trekking. Diving is great but not the only thing to do and see.
Spend a day shopping in Bangkok.
Take a cooking class.
If nothing else you have to get a Thai massage
Web sitesDive the World ThailandSee-BeesSiam DiversThai DiverSea CanoeKon-tiki Khao-lakSimilan TourPhuket Island ThailandPhuketPhi Phi Scuba
Photos by Jürgen Hertoghe
Jürgen Hertoghe, Was born and r
aised in Belgium. As a professional Divemaster Instructor and underwater photographer, he has traveled all over the world. He is currently residing in Phuket Thailand For inquiries contact: Jürgen Hertoghe