Thailand's great diving has long been kept somewhat of a secret from the world. Residents of Southeast Asia and those more adventurous divers from Europe and North America however, long ago discovered the wondrous attractions that dwell in our undersea Kingdom. Thailand is blessed with two bountiful seas, the Gulf of Thailand in the east and the Andaman Sea -- part of the eastern Indian Ocean -- in the west. Thailand's territory stretches from the eastern border with Cambodia, to the western border with Burma, and then south to Malaysia.
The riches that these oceans behold are a delight to those of us that have had the pleasure to dive here. Furthermore, the Kingdom is blessed with a remarkable history and culture, friendly natives who offer friendly service, beautiful national parks, a wide range of accommodation possibilities at every price level and some of the most delicious and extraordinary food and exotic tropical fruits in the world.
Often referred to as the "Land of a Thousand Smiles," Thailand is a joyous country in which to travel. One of the first Thai phrases travellers learn is mai pen rai which literally translates to "it is nothing." It also is used in the same ways that "never mind" or "that's OK" are used in English. However, mai pen rai is more than that -- it is almost a philosophy that teaches one to hide problems and keep one's "public face" smiling and happy. For the visitor this attitude creates a feeling of burdens lifted. It makes you feel satisfied, content and cheerful. While exploring the country you'll feel carefree, light-hearted and safe -- you'll feel Mai pen Rai. Is it any wonder so many of us expatriates have decided to stay, or any wonder that people visit Thailand time and time again?
Thailand offers the visiting diver diverse undersea experiences along with an unbelievable amount of topside recreation. It's the perfect place for a diving holiday. World-class diving, heavenly tropical islands and immaculate white sand beaches await. With water visibility often exceeding 30 meters, an average ocean temperature of around 28º C, and uncommonly calm sea conditions, Thailand has some of the most comfortable and safe diving environments found anywhere in the world.
Every year more and more words are written describing the diverse marine life that prowl the depths of Thailand's oceans and every year more and more divers visit the country. There are three reasons for this: First, new destinations such as the Burma Banks, the Megui Archipelago, and the Andaman Islands in the Andaman Sea; and Koh Tao in the Gulf and Koh Chang near the Cambodian border have been made more accessible to a wider variety of visitors. Second, Thailand's infrastructure has vastly improved making it easier to communicate with the people who offer the diving, the dive centre owners. Third, the diving boats, diving resorts, diving operations and diving staff have improved their services and amenities so greatly that they now cater to even the most discerning diver.
Diving takes place in three general areas: Pattaya, near the capital of Thailand, Bangkok; the southern islands of the Gulf of Thailand; and the two triangles of diving in the Andaman Sea on the west coast of Thailand's isthmus. The pages that follow will describe these areas in detail and will give all of you an idea of what to expect when planning a dive trip here.
Northern Liveaboard Destinations
To the northwest of the island of Phuket lie the most popular, famous and best-loved dive sites in Thailand. The Similan Islands, nine islands of stunning beauty and dazzling marine life, are visited by many liveaboard boats from Phuket. The reasons the area has become so famous are unlimited diving in warm, clear water at one of over 25 dive sites, and mild, comfortable sea conditions.
Approximately 180 kilometres to the northwest of the Similan Islands lie the relatively unexplored Megui Archipelago and the Burma Banks, a group of underwater mountains rising from depths of over 350 meters to just below the surface. Close encounters with large silver tip and nurse sharks, the thrill of soaring over the tops of underwater plateaus pushed by strong currents, and large schools of pelagic fish have made these banks celebrated worldwide.
Three hundred fifty kilometres further to the northwest are the newly opened Andaman Islands, a vast array of islands running north to south in the Indian Ocean. Diving possibilities are endless and only just being explored. You'll be hearing more and more about these islands in years to come.
Richelieu Rock completes our triangle, back near the border of Burma. This tiny pinnacle is one of the best places in the world to consistently swim with that gentle giant the whale shark. Seen here over 60 percent of the time, these amazing animals grow to over 15 meters in length.
Southern Liveaboard Destinations
Beginning in Phuket, we travel east to the popular day-trip spots of Shark Point and Koh Phi Phi which offer stunning collections of soft corals. Also, the area is famous for frequent sightings of the docile leopard shark that grows to over two meters in length. The remarkable landscape and casual shore-life of Koh Phi Phi attract thousands of visitors every year. Moving south we discover unpopulated, unspoiled islands covered with tropical jungle lapped by clear blue water, and offshore pinnacles like Hin Daeng with vertical drop-offs of over 60 meters.
Whale sharks, dazzling fish and healthy, spectacular coral growth are just a sampling of the diving possibilities that await you.
One-day trips take us to Shark Point, Anemone Reef, and the Phi Phi Island group which all lie to the east of Phuket Island. Great soft coral, leopard sharks, and nice walls are things not be missed. Also, the topside scenery is stunning.
We can visit the paradise islands of Koh Racha Yai and Noi located just to the south of Phuket. Exciting drift dives, great visibility and superb hard coral growth characterize these two islands.
The Bottom Line
Environmentally, Thailand's diving fraternity has been a leader in coral reef protection in Southeast Asia. Many of Thailand's best dive sites have become protected under law. Over the past ten years, I personally have seen major improvements in the quality of diving at almost all regions around the country.
While other areas around Southeast Asia and the rest of the world have suffered major degradation of their reefs, Thailand's government and its dive centres have instigated sound policies in controlling damage to the coral and fish populations. These policies have included educating people regarding the destruction of reefs by dynamite, mooring projects in the Similans, Koh Racha, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui and Koh Tao, and a strict hands-off policy for divers enjoying our undersea treasures.
As long as this positive trend continues, diving in Thailand's seas will bring pleasure, enjoyment and thrills to many people-and hopefully to their children and grandchildren as well-for years to come. You'll find Thailand's waters, islands, and culture full of life, full of wonder, and full of surprises.