First Time Diving in Phuket
Phuket Diving Guide
Deciding what kind of activities we want to do when we decide on a trip to an exotic tropical island like Phuket is one thing, but we also must consider our preconceptions of the destination as well.
It’s human nature to compare places we are visiting to places we’ve visited in the past, but this can be a bit of a problem if expectations are different from reality. That’s why it’s important to do your research; and reading an article such as this means you are indeed doing your research.
Phuket is an exceptional experience in many ways, so here’s an overview of the diving and snorkelling opportunities. This should be helpful to the visitor who has never dived before and has some curiosity about seeing coral and fish in tropical water. It should also help the seasoned diver to decide–first of all–whether or not Phuket is a suitable place to holiday and assuming it is, then what kind of diving holiday to plan. Much of what makes Phuket distinctive is it’s geography; where Phuket lies and what surrounds it makes the ocean here a bit different than other tropical destinations you may already be familiar with.
Phuket Island runs north to south, with the Andaman Sea – a small part of the Indian Ocean – lying to the west of the island and Phang Nga Bay lying to the east. To the northeast, east, and southeast lay low jungle-covered mountains with many rivers running through them. Some of these rivers are seasonal; others run year-around.
This amount of water pouring into the sea can lower water clarity due to silting. Since most people who travel for diving expect to find clear, blue water, people can be disappointed if they don’t pre-plan their water activities or don’t ask the right people for advice. It’s not that we don’t have clear water; we do and plenty of it. It just lies further offshore and doesn’t nestle up to the golden shores of Phuket. This is the single biggest mistake that first time divers thinking of a trip to Phuket make, even though these environmental conditions are very common throughout Southeast Asia.
Daytrips and Liveaboard Dive Boats
Thus, when you visit Phuket, plan on getting on a boat at some point.
Some of the best places to go diving and snorkelling lie hundreds of kilometres from Phuket, mostly to the northwest well away from the island and shore. Phuket supports over 50 dive shops and well over 100 dive boats, but most of the diving activity takes place far out at sea; Phuket is used as a base to explore these areas.
Some boats operate north of Phuket at places such as the Khao Lak resort area. But, whatever the case, if you want to see the best of what we have, you’ll need to get on either a very fast boat for a day trip to at least the Similan Islands, or you’ll have to board what we call a liveaboard or safari boat for several days.
A typical four-day liveaboard trip will cover around 450 kilometres and prices begin at about $600 USD (21,000 THB) and go up from there. A day-trip to the Similan Islands will cost at least $130 USD (4,400 THB) because of the fuel costs.
There are much longer trips also available to exotic destinations such as the Mergui Archipelago in Burma or even the rarely visited Andaman Islands, a part of India but lying closer to Phuket than India. These kinds or trips will be longer, seven to 20-days and will cost at least $2000 USD (68,000 THB), often much more.
Do Your Research, Book It Early
These types of trips are usually booked well in advance, of course, and they need to be as they are very popular. Thus, unlike other areas where you can access world-class diving just offshore, be prepared to spend some time at sea to see ours.
For those of you who don’t want to take the time or don’t want to lay out the money, Phuket offers quite an assortment of day trips which a diver and often a non diver can join easily, and book upon arrival. The popular areas around Phuket for divers are Shark Point, Anemone Reef, and the King Cruiser Wreck. These places offer views of the leopard shark, a beautiful but not dangerous shark, as well as lots and lots of lionfish, wrasses, eels, and the occasional frogfish or other exotic aquatic animal. These places are not suitable for non-divers or snorkellers as the water depths and currents are not suitable.
For a non-diver or a beginning diver, Racha Yai and Noi Islands are the place to go. These islands offer generally clear water all of the year, and lie only 22 kilometres from Phuket’s main diving port, Chalong Bay.
These types of day trips typically begin early in the morning, return in the late afternoon, and will run you about $85 (3,000 THB) depending on the shop, the services offered, the destination, and the number of dives you do.
Phi Phi Island Diving
One popular destination serving both non-diver and diver’s needs are the Phi Phi Islands, about 50 kilometres east of Phuket. These islands are world famous and since it’s a group of islands and not just one place, you have many sites and a large variety of conditions. Although the water is not always very clear here, the marine life is stunning and the scenery amazing.
The only problem lies again, in the distance, and a normal dive boat will take over three-hours to arrive, and the same amount of time coming back. Thus, many people opt for taking speedboats–which can be expensive, noisy, and polluting–or doing an overnight trip either with a diving company or just staying in one of the many hotels on Phi Phi Don. While Phi Phi doesn’t have the same quality of diving as the Similan Islands offer, she has plenty of variety, and most people find it very pleasant.
The other famous place for diving relatively near to Phuket is an area we call Hin Daeng. There are two dive sites here, but since they are 100 kilometres from Phuket, it’s best to join one of the two or three-day trips which visit the area, along with Phi Phi. Many boats offer this, and prices begin at around $400 (13,500 THB).
Dive Courses for Beginners
Finally for those of you who have never tried diving or snorkelling before, there are many options. Most hotels will be affiliated with a dive shop that offers free Discover Scuba Diving in the pool. These courses take just a few minutes and give you an idea of what it’s all about. Just ask your tour counter. Here is a short list of hotels which host a dive center: Moevenpick Resort, Amari Resort, Katathani Phuket Beach Resort, JW Marriott Phuket, Andaman White Beach, Le Meridien Phuket Resort.
Diving courses or “Getting your PADI” take three to four-days and cost approximately $380 USD (13,000 THB) depending on where you do your diving and what shop you use. Prices are virtually the same at all the dive shops since there is so much competition here.
Of course, other courses are also available here, so ask at your local dive centre. Some people ask about what we call Technical Diving, which usually involves learning to dive at depths greater than 40 metres (130 feet). Since we don’t have that many places where we can easily get to these depths, this has not become a significant activity here in Phuket. Wreck diving is another popular sport around the world, but we have very few wrecks here and none of them have any historical interest.
I hope this little tutorial has helped you to decide whether or not you’ll be taking your next diving holiday here. If you can afford the time, we can offer some of the best diving in the world here in the Andaman Sea, with dive sites that are not as crowded as other places in the world have become. The area is famous for whale sharks, manta rays, exotic fish and some of the most beautiful and healthy hard and soft corals in the world. Come visit us soon.