The Phi Phi islands marine park is an area of truly outstanding natural beauty.
Dramatic 200-metre high jungle-capped limestone cliffs with tree roots desperately clinging their sides rise vertically out of the turquoise water. Below the water the scenery is just as dramatic…
Phi Phi is a leading worldwide scuba diving destination with visitors flocking all year round to see the islands’ underwater beauty. There are approximately 50 dive sites located within 30 minutes of Phi Phi and on any given day conditions are suitable for a visit to around two third of the sites. I’m relishing my first dive in this wonderland.
- Phuket FantaSea Cultural Theme Park
- Phi Phi Islands Tour with Express Boat
- James Bond Island Full-Day Tour via Big Boat
- Coral & Racha Islands Full-Day Tour
- Whitewater Rafting & 4-Wheel-Drive Adventure
- Sea Kayaking at Ang Thong Marine Park
- Flying Hanuman Ziplining Experience
- Canoeing Excursion in Phang Nga Bay with Thai Buffet Lunch
- Introduction to City Tour
- John Gray's Cave Canoeing Tour in Phang Nga Bay
Our day begins at the dive shop at 8.30am where we meet our instructor, a charismatic Dutchman named Walter who’s been working as an instructor in Phi Phi for two years. Once everyone has arrived we make our way towards the pier and on the way I contemplate whether we’ll see any sharks or even a turtle or a manta ray.
Our dive boat looks a real workhorse. She’s Nautica, a 20m (66 feet) custom dive boat built in 2000, with a five metre (16.5 feet) beam, huge dive deck, large shaded area with seating and a large sundeck. She makes an extremely comfortable dive boat that can easily accommodate up to 20 divers. It’s apparent after a quick look at the other dive boats that Nautica is queen of these seas.
Walter begins the brief as we pull away from the pier, sitting on the top deck basking in the morning sun. We have a quick reminder of the (standard) hand signals we’re going to be using and we’re also informed of a three-minute safety stop at five metres at the end of the dive before resurfacing. There are just two of us in our group with Walter which is great as small groups make diving so much more fun.
The first dive site is Koh Bida Nok with a maximum depth of around 15m. We’re reliably informed that there’s no need to dive deep around Phi Phi as the most interesting things to see are relatively near the surface which makes for nice easy long dives. Visibility was excellent yesterday at around 25m which is good considering the season has only recently changed. “Is there anything you’d like to see,” Walter asks, we shrug our shoulders and tell him that we’d like to see everything. We’re told to look out for leopard sharks and blue spotted rays in the sand and black tip reef sharks away from the reef.
The second site is Palong Bay, just to the north of Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh and here we’re quite likely to see black tip reef sharks.
Koh Bida Nok
Down on the dive deck our gear is already prepared and all we have to do is test it and put it on. I’m pleasantly surprised by the visibility as soon as I look under the water, I couldn’t tell you how far I can see with any certainty but it seems clearer than a swimming pool.
Koh Bida Nok rises vertically from the water and underwater the sheer cliffs continue down in a wall that’s brimming with life. We’re no more than four meters down when we’re thrilled to see a 1.2m leopard shark swim past in open water within a few metres of us.
Once our descent is complete we adjust our buoyancy to satisfactory levels and set off along the reef without any current to hinder us. As we round a corner we surprise a juvenile giant moray eel out in the open, this is the first time I’ve seen a moray’s tail.
The reef is full of life and colour and I’m particularly pleased to see so many soft corals, I’ve never seen such a healthy looking reef which is a nice surprise. Phi Phi is a well-frequented dive destination so I was expecting to see some negative effects but this wasn’t the case at all.
At one point we come across five lion fish all together in a group bobbing about in the light surge. Shortly after, Walter points out a bearded scorpion fish camouflaged against some coral and it’s hard to make out even when someone’s pointing at it. Other highlights of the dive are a 40cm puffer fish busily going about its business and a large striking blue ringed angel fish.
Once aboard we take off our equipment and before we can switch tanks the guys on board are taking care of everything. We head upstairs to dry off, discuss the dive and eat lunch.
I had previously ordered chicken fried rice from the menu offered and it went down well – I’m always surprised how much scuba diving takes it out of you.
Palong Bay, Koh Phi Phi Leh
Our second dive is to be shallower; a maximum depth of just 12m. As we enter Walter reminds us to keep our eyes peeled for black tip reef sharks. Once we’re down we almost immediately see three baby black tips, around 50cm in length. It’s amazing how menacing sharks look as they gracefully swim along… If I was a fish I’d be scared.
The coral here is formed on huge underwater boulders. As we make our way along the sandy bottom it becomes more colourful and prevalent. Again, the amount of soft corals is surprising to me with giant Gregorian sea fans being the most common with several large harp coral formations.
The further into the dive the bigger the individual coral formations get and the boulders and walls seem to be taller. At one point I look up at a huge colourful wall that stretches all the way to the surface. Sharks are passing us all the time now at almost the edge of visibility, some as large as one metre.
The fish are as plentiful as they’re colourful. Amongst the many species of fish we see are bannerfish, groupers and coral cod, sweetlips, cleaner wrasse, parrotfish, titan triggerfish, groups of lionfish, a few different species of moray eel and large shoals of this year’s small fry, which is probably what’s attracting the sharks.
Walter’s keen eyes spot some tiny varicose wart slugs and another bearded scorpion fish. I spotted a peacock mantis shrimp which is probably the most colourful creature I’ve ever seen.
Just as we’re about to surface, Walter points out a banded sea snake on its way up to the surface for air. It’s been a great dive and we’re soon on our way back to Phi Phi Don.
Back to Dry Land
On the way back, the conversation turns to how long people have been diving in Phi Phi and Walter tells us about the time when there were no air compressors on Phi Phi; his boss used to spend every day travelling back and forth to Phuket by longtail boat to get the tanks refilled!
I’ve had a really good day’s diving, one of the best I’ve ever had but according to Walter this was only a slightly-better-than-an-average day, and he should know. One of the best parts about diving around Phi Phi is that the dive sites are really close by, the time spent travelling to/from them is minimal.
A holiday in Phi Phi is a real privilege. If you have the opportunity you should visit these idyllic islands at least once in your lifetime to see the almost impossibly clear turquoise sea lapping at postcard-perfect white sand beaches and to discover the exotic tropical flora. Phi Phi is Mother Nature at her most beautiful and a stay here in this dream destination is almost a spiritual experience. I’ll be back to Phi Phi for more just as soon as I can.