The Surin Islands, although visited by several dive operators from Phuket, are more appropriately famous for their beautiful coves, bays and dense jungle than they are for their diving. Spending a few idyllic days on a sail boat or other yacht here are the stuff dreams of paradise are made of yet the serious diver will be bored easily after a few dives because of the generally poor visibility and lack of fish.
Surin's ace card, however, is a small submerged rock about 18 kilometres east of Surin. Richelieu Rock, just exposed at the lowest of tides -- thus a navigational hazard for those boats not equipped with a GPS navigation system -- rates as one of the best places in the world for swimming with our gentle giant, the whale shark. Encounters with these fish -- the largest of all fish -- are rare almost any place in the world. But for some reason, Richelieu attracts more than its fair share. Swimming with such a large animal, known to grow to lengths of 20 metres or more, has to be a high point for any diver. Sightings occur 50-70 percent of the time, depending on the time of year.
Generally, February, March and April are the best times for a visit. The big difference between diving here and other areas that are famous for whale sharks, such as Western Australia, is that we don't need spotter planes as the sharks cruise around the rock, and the visibility is normally excellent. Who knows why they are here, but the sharks aren't around because of plankton blooms like in Australia. Thus, clear water.