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Best diving location in Thailand?

Discussion in 'Thailand' started by Salt, Feb 17, 2016.

  1. Buadhai

    Buadhai Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Korat, Thailand
    I just finished four days in the North Andaman. Best diving I've had there in years. Mantas three days in a row. A couple of sharks. Wonderful viz. Not crowded. Great weather. Just about as good as it gets.

    (Posted from Phuket airport.)
    stevenl likes this.
  2. modustollens

    modustollens Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Canada
    I have dove in Phuket many times. Pattaya once. Koh Lanta too. Samui and Pha Nagan once. Krabi twice. Koh Tao once though I will go there again this week.

    I won't dive in Pattaya again. Though I enjoyed the dive-op I was with the dive sites are not that stunning.

    Samui, too, I won't dive from there. Too much time simply riding a boat and more expensive than koh Tao.

    Pha Nagan I liked and would return; that island is more my speed when the full moon parties are absent.

    koh Tao is good value for money. I think here my in-water time is greater than the ride-the-boat time.

    Koh Lanta is a quiet place. I would return there. But like Krabbi and Phuket, the boat trips are long.

    I have never been to the Similians. I'm saving that for a live-a-board trip.

    stevenl likes this.
  3. Zippsy

    Zippsy Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: SIngapore
    Well I'll disagree with this post - the writer must be crazy! At Koh Tachi yesterday, we spent two dives with 6 of the friendliest oceanic mantas who would hang out just meters from us. We could see at least two of them at a time the entire dive. After two dives with mantas before that at Koh Bon, we were almost tired of watching them. Not really. That said, today, Richelieu was covered in a green monster of cold, low viz murk. The usual fish were there but at times, viz was a horrendous 1-2 meters in some places and clear blue water in only a few areas. That's nature for you.
    stevenl and chillyinCanada like this.
  4. Salt

    Salt Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: New England
    Had to go visit Koh Tao to check it out - it's famous on the backpacker circuit !

    Plus, I spent some time in Utila so I was curious about what its SE Asian counterpart was like.

    Trip report coming soon.
    chillyinCanada likes this.
  5. Salt

    Salt Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: New England
    Thailand - March 2016 - Backpacking and diving trip

    Alright, I am back in the United States after a month of backpacking through Thailand. I knew very little about Thailand before going and was figuring it out as I went.

    I did a clockwise loop starting in Bangkok then going to Koh Tao, Krabi, Koh Pi Pi, Phuket Town, Koh Lak, then flying north to Chang Mai and Pai, then back to Bangkok, Pattaya, then flying home. Great trip. Enjoyed the islands a lot. Did some good diving. I did not enjoy the north as much as I would have liked, mainly because it was too hot. Temps in Chang Mai while I were there were hitting 100F with 32% humidity. It killed my motivation to get outside and be active. So I decided to head back south early to spend some time near the water. Was hoping to get to Koh Chang but the timing was too tight so I just went to Pattaya instead.

    DD= Dive Day

    Koh Tao
    DD 1 - Shark Island & White Rock
    DD 2 - Chumpon Pinnacle x 2
    DD 3 - Sailfish Rock x 2
    Loved Ko Tao. Just a beautiful, relaxed little island. It's not developed with big hotels and fancy restaurants. More of a low-key backpacker place. The diving wasn't very good while I was there. Apparently, there was a big storm earlier and then some rain so visibility was not very good. I got a feel for the local diving my first day. It was mediocre to average. However Chumpon Pinnacle, which is about a 45 minute slow boat ride out, was fantastic. Huge schools of fish. Barracudas, Fusiliers. Really a great dive site. I also did Sailfish Rock, which is supposed to be the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand. It's a small island pinnacle about an hour plus boat ride out. Unfortunately for me, the visibility the day I went was extremely poor, maybe 10 feet, so I didn't see much at all. Too make matters worse, there were 9 dive boats tied up at this site. That's a lot of boats for a little pinnacle out in the middle of nowhere.
    Koh Tao is also the cheapest diving in Thailand, perhaps the world. 2000 Baht for a 2 tank dive. That's less than $60 US.
    I would go back there, not necessarily for the diving but because it is a beautiful, relaxing, little island.
    Easily reached by overnight train to Chumpon then ferry. Alternatively you can fly to Samui and take a ferry

    Krabi/Railay Beach
    Did not dive there but did go to Railley Beach by water taxi for the day. Absolutely beautiful place.

    Koh Phi Phi
    DD 4 - Bida Nok & Shark Point
    DD 5 - Hin Muang & Hin Daeng
    Bypassed Ko Lanta to go straight to Koh Phi Phi. Another very popular island with backpackers. No cars on the island with almost all the buildings condensed into a small area. This one is a bit more of a party island than Koh Tao. I didn't think it was as pretty either, especially when the tide went out. The local diving was, however, superior to Koh Tao. Visibility was better and there was more marine life at the two local dives I did. Huge schools of fusiliers at Bida Nok and got to see a good sized leopard shark at Shark Point. Beautiful animal.
    Hin Muang & Hin Daeng aren't considered local dives. They are at least an hour away by speed boat. Pinnacles out in the middle of the ocean, they are supposed to be two of the best dive sites in the Andaman Sea with a chance to see pelagics. There was a lot of current when I went and one of the divers in my group burned through his air quickly and our first dive was cut in half. (With less than 20 dives under his belt, I am not sure he should have been allowed at that site.) Second dive there was less current. Didn't see any pelagics. A decent amount of smaller fish. Mostly memorable for the current that threatened to sweep us off the pinnacle.

    Phuket Town
    Just a stop on the way to Ko Lak to hop on a live aboard. The old town section is quite cute.

    Ko Lak / Similan Islands
    DD 6 - Koh Bon x 3
    DD 7 - Turtle Rock, Eagle Rock, Elephant Head
    Koh Lak is where you go to catch live-aboards out to the Similan Islands. I found an outfit called Sea Heaven, which has flexible start and end dates because they keep their big boat out in the islands and ferry people to and from daily on a speed boat.
    It was manta season! Got to see giant mantas on my first two dives at Koh Bon. Fantastic! One of the mantas was probably 15 feet across from wingtip to wingtip. It is one of the highlights of my scuba diving career. Also saw a giant napoleon wrasse inside the bay at Koh Bon. That was cool. Saw plenty of fish, moray eels, a cuttle fish, another leopard shark, and a white tip shark at the other sites. Visibility was not as good as it had been off of Koh Phi Phi and quite noticeably there were currents on most of the dives, nothing like Hin Muang but currents nevertheless. They stood out mainly because all of a sudden you would be in some very cold water.

    Chang Mai
    Flew from Phuket to Chang Mai to cut down on travel time to northern Thailand. Chang Mai is a nice city in northern Thailand, nowhere near as hectic as Bangkok. It's a good base to do treks and there are also a lot of elephant attractions. (Use your discretion to pick a good one because some treat their animals quite poorly.)

    A cute little town north of Chang Mai. Laid back with a bit of a hippy vibe.

    DD 8 - Hardeep wreck & Koh Rong Nang
    I got sick of the heat up north and decided I wanted some beach. Took an overnight train back to Bangkok and a bus to Pattaya. Pattaya is only 2 hours south. Was able to squeeze in one more dive day.
    Hardeep was interesting. Deep wreck. Going down the line hand over hand with low visibility and decent current. It was interesting for the experience. Lots of really little fish down at the bottom. Wasn't impressed with the marine life otherwise. The second dive was a shallow dive. A couple of blue spotted rays, some small schools of fish, and lots of sea urchins, some walking around.
    Pattaya is a major tourist destination with lots of tall hotels and big resorts. It's a busy place. Although there is a nice beach, it didn't feel like a very relaxing place to me. And once the sun goes down, the sex tourism is quite obvious. The scale of it is a site to behold.
    I wouldn't go there as a dive or vacation destination but it works in a pinch if you are in Bangkok and don't have enough time to go somewhere nicer.

    Huge city. Hot, busy, hectic. Make your plans, see some temples, and get out.
    Most backpackers go to the Khaosan area in the old city. Tons of backpackers, hostels, bars, restaurants, travel agents. Good place when you first get in to the country. The subway/sky train system does not go into the old city, though. There is a shuttle bus form the first floor of the airport.
    If you have a day or two on the way out, don't stay in Khaosan. Try somewhere else away from the backpacker crowds but near the train system to the airport.

    Really enjoyed the trip. Lots of different diving areas all with their own character. Loved seeing the mantas in the Similan islands. Was very impressed by the local diving around Koh Phi Phi, although I wasn't a huge fan of the island. And I liked Koh Tao a lot even though it wasn't the best diving. I would like to explore the Andaman Sea some more if I go back, maybe from Koh Lanta or possibly from the Koh Yao islands.

    Dive-specific Observations
    1. Current - especially at some of the pinnacles and small islands. I've done drift dives before but that's different from the current trying to sweep you away into the blue. There's usually a "shadow" where it's not too strong and the DM's generally do a pretty good job of keeping you out of it. But it's something to be aware of. A diver needs to stay calm and keep their oxygen consumption under control.
    2. Comfortable boats - different countries seem to have their different style dive boats. In Thailand it was mainly these big two story wooden boats. Tanks and other gear on the bottom, passenger hang out area on the second floor. There is a roof providing shade so you don't get sunburned. They are slow but they are some of the most comfortable dive boats I've been on. On occasion, narrow speed boats are used either as shuttles or to reach far off dive sites.
    3. Because the boats are big, they usually fit a lot of people on them. Not uncommon to have up to 8 different DM's on a boat, each with a group of maybe 4 divers.
    4. Crowded dive sites - Koh Tao was quite crowded. And there were a surprising number of dive boats out at Hin Muang and the Similans too.

    *Any backpackers, feel free to message me if you have questions.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2016
  6. chillyinCanada

    chillyinCanada Solo Diver Staff Member

    Good job Salt! Thanks so much for sharing.
  7. Lemuzzon

    Lemuzzon Angel Fish

    Honestly, great assessment. I couldn't agree more with most of what you said especially of the islands. I loved Chiang Mai too, it was the first place I went when I got there and I DIED in the heat. I don't think I was quite used to it yet and I remember panicking in the streets, taking off all my clothes. I just couldn't cool myself down.
  8. lord khram

    lord khram Loggerhead Turtle

    Glad to see you enjoyed your trip. I enjoyed reading your report. Your assessment of the diving is quite normal, the diving in the Andaman Sea being far superior to the Gulf Of Thailand.

    Koh Tao: Viz is in my experience never exceptional, and I agree the only outstanding dive site is Chumpon Pinnacle. On KT dive sites and boats are normally crowded, but the diving there is probably the most inexpensive in Thailand.

    Pattaya: The Harddeep wreck is an OK dive, but is actually at Samae San, about 40KM South from Pattaya. You had a result being taken there as the diving is far superior to what you will experience from the boats that operate from Pattaya City. I always find it annoying when diving that wreck in the strong current, it makes the dive hard work and it is much more enjoyable to dive at slack water. Unfortunately Pattaya shops are either incapable or unwilling to plan around slack water times. That has always been a constant mystery to me as it really is so easy to do.

    I was told when I first came to Thailand. ''A bad days diving in the Andaman is better than a good day in the Gulf''. How true over the years that statement has been.

    Glad you enjoyed and hope you come back to see some more of what Thailand has to offer.
    h90 likes this.
  9. flyboy08

    flyboy08 ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: NYC
    Nice report! When I was in Bangcock, I took a taxi as few as two blocks just to sit in AC :)

    Thanks for posting.
    chillyinCanada likes this.
  10. PK1

    PK1 Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Chevy Chase, Maryland, USA
    I dove in the Similans and Koh Lak a year ago. Very disappointing and crowded, as you indicate. I have an opportunity to go back to Thailand for a week in June and am debating between a live-aboard and land-based diving. Sounds like you'd recommend Koh Ha for the latter. Is there land-based diving at Losin? And dinally, do you have any specific live-aboard recommendations?

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