The Kingdom of Thailand is a beautiful country with a fascinating history. It is a country of outstanding natural beauty, warm seas and fine beaches, fascinating culture and religion, inspirational temples, ancient ruined civilisations, spicy and coarse food, low cost living and a lively nightlife.
The main land mass of central, north and east Thailand is landlocked and surrounded by Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar) and Laos. However, it's the narrow southern peninsula running down to Malaysia that provides some spectacular adventure opportunities. Both the Andaman Sea to the west and the Gulf of Thailand to the east are liberally sprinkled with picturesque island tourist destinations and marine parks. The jewel in the crown, as far as spectacular diving is concerned, is the Andaman Sea, and in particular the Similan Islands.
Nestled like a pearl on the edge of the Andaman Sea, is Phuket Island, Thailand's largest island, shaped like an irregular pearl. Just 70 minutes flying time south of Bangkok, Thailand's most popular beach destination has everything that you could possibly want on a holiday: beautiful beaches, some of the finest resort hotels, international and Thai cuisine, temples, water sports, coral reefs, turquoise seas, scuba diving and liveaboards, and tropical sunshine — all in plentiful proportions.
This island is the only resort area from where you can dive all of Thailand's chief attractions. Phuket, Phi Phi Islands and Ao Nang Beach - Krabi are the best resort areas for a Thailand diving holiday. Phuket is best placed to serve the whole region, and is popular with party-goers, whilst Ao Nang is set on the more peaceful and spectacularly beautiful Krabi coastline across Phang Nga Bay. Phi Phi's magic draws sunseekers and travellers for the beaches and a slice of island-life.
You can dive in Thailand all year round, though the best diving is between November and early May. Some dive sites in the Andaman Sea are not available in the rainy season due to strong winds.
The Andaman Sea, with its warm clear waters crammed with colourful, tropical fish-life and corals, set around stunningly beautiful tropical islands, boasts some of the best diving around Thailand.
The biggest draw-card here though, is the professionally run dive operations that have a fantastic range of value-for-money day trips and liveaboards which cruise around world class dive sites in the Similans, Burma and Hin Daeng.
From Phuket, day trips run to various local dive sites. Discover the sunken treasures of the King Cruiser car ferry wreck, take underwater photos of the leopard sharks at Shark Point or Koh Phi Phi or dive with manta rays and at Racha Noi South Point.
Phuket Liveaboard Adventures
There are a number of different dive operators offering Dive Liveaboard cruises of varying length.
If you're short of time then the southern Thailand trips may be just what you are looking for. Deep wall diving at Hin Daeng and Hin Muang offer opportunities to see reef sharks as well as more mantas and whale sharks. These two day liveaboards are less crowded and also take in some interesting caverns and the beautiful Phi Phi Islands.
Or take a three or four day trip to the Similan Islands. Diving an awesome array of reef formations and underwater landscapes, cruising amongst tropical islands with stunning white beaches, diving with manta rays at Koh Bon and chance encounters with whale sharks at Richelieu Rock and Koh Tachai, provide a dramatic complement to Similan cruises and irresistible incentives to most first-timers.
For the more adventurous diver, Burma Mergui and Burma Banks offer true frontier diving. Leave the crowds far behind and voyage back in time to this wondrous and magical archipelago. Large sharks and rays are to be expected, but Burma is equally attractive to macro-enthusiasts and experienced divers in search of more elusive marine life such as frogfish, pipefish and nudibranchs, not found in Thailand.
The Similan Islands
The picturesque Similan Islands are the most popular dive destination, with superb underwater scenery and excellent visibility in its aquamarine waters. Huge deep water boulder formations create daring swim-throughs as well as providing dramatic back-drops to its vibrant coral gardens and reef slopes. The Similan Islands achieved national park status in 1982 and are fully protected.
The world famous Richelieu Rock is perhaps the country's most famous site, and it rates as one of the best places in the world for diving with whale sharks. Koh Bon and Koh Tachai are great for manta rays and white tip reef shark encounters.
Hin Daeng - Hin Muang is your best chance to see grey reef sharks patrolling the walls. It's also the second home in the Andaman Sea for whale sharks and mantas. Dive Hin Daeng and you'll experience the excitement of diving Thailand's highest vertical wall. Nearby caves and caverns add to the thrill of adventure.
Koh Similan is the most beautiful and diverse group of dive sites in Thailand . They comprise nine granite islands covered in tropical jungle, washed by a clear blue tropical ocean and blessed with fine beaches. They lie in a 25 km long north-south chain, 65 km offshore from Phang Nga Province in the Andaman Sea.
The eastern side features hard coral gardens which slope dramatically from the surface down to thirty metres. At several sites large coral bommies rise from the bottom and are covered with soft corals, sea fans, and an enormous amount of unusual fish. East coast Similan Islands diving is relatively easy and navigation is simple, allowing one to explore at leisure.
The western side and north and south points can offer faster paced, more exhilarating diving as the Similan currents swirl around the huge granite boulders. These smooth, rounded boulders make dramatic formations, overhangs and swim-throughs. Growing on these boulders are some of the most colourful soft corals imaginable. In the larger passages between the boulders, the fans can grow to three metres, and are often so tightly bunched that it makes it impossible to swim through. Add to this the sheer numbers and varieties of tropical fish, leopard sharks, whitetip and blacktip sharks.
Richelieu Rock rates as one of the best places in the world to dive with whale sharks. It also boasts great biodiversity and is worth several dives, with or without whale sharks. It consists of one main, horse shoe shaped splintered rock pinnacle, with several other smaller rocks around its edges. The limestone rocks are covered with anemones, sea fans, barrel sponges and soft corals of all kinds. From tomato anemone fish, yellow boxfish, frog fish and seahorses that make such willing macro photo subjects, white-eyed moray eels and mantis shrimps to nurse sharks, manta rays, one metre Malabar groupers and chevron barracuda, there's always plenty of life to grab your attention.
Richelieu Rock can be a deep dive but there is also plenty to see at shallow depths all the way to the surface. When the currents are strong there are always places to find shelter.
Liveaboards remain the best way to dive the Similan Islands. There are well over 25 dive sites here, spread over quite a large area and far from the mainland. So, to truly experience all that they have to offer at a relaxed pace, we strongly recommend you choose a safari liveaboard to Similan Islands.
As an alternative, there are a number of overnight trips that offer Similan Islands diving opportunities. These operate with daily speedboats from the mainland that run you out to a main diving boat that you can sleep on. You can disembark whenever you like. These trips are cheap and very popular with budget travellers, but have constant disruptions for re-fuelling and passenger transfers, and are therefore the least pleasant way to experience the Similans. Consequently we do not recommend them.
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