The Best Dive Sites In Thailand

Thailand has so many world class dive sites, it can be difficult deciding which ones to visit. Here’s a quick overview to help you make your choice.

Barracuda, Richelieu Rock. Thailand
Barracuda, Richelieu Rock. Thailand

For first time visitors to Thailand, it can be a bit confusing about which areas to make sure you dive, particularly as you have to be here at the right time of the year to go diving in some parts of the country.

Here, then, is my completely subjective, thumbnail guide to the best dive sites in Thailand, in order of priority:

1) Similan Islands (November to April each year)
The Similans are renown as one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world. Whale sharks, manta rays, reef sharks, leopard sharks, barracuda, octopus, cuttlefish, lionfish, clownfish – you name it, you’ll probably find it here. The sheer abundance of life out around these remote, uninhabited islands is breathtaking, as is the visibility – 20 metres viz is the norm. Virtually all liveaboards go beyond the Similan Islands proper and take in Koh Bon, a cleaning station for mantas, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock, a hot spot for whale sharks. [See my previous post on the best dive sites to see whale sharks in Thailand]. The remoteness of the islands means that most liveaboards typically last 4 days. For some people this is too much time to commit to diving, but I’d say it’s perfect – 4 days on the boat lets you completely relax and do nothing but eat, dive and sleep, with maybe a little sunbathing too.

I’ve been to the Similans numerous times since my first visit in 2004. My last Similan islands trip report is here if you want photos and more info about specific dive sites etc. You can also read the article I wrote for Asian Diver magazine about diving in the Similan Islands directly after the December 2004 tsunami.

Feather Star At Koh Bida, Thailand
Feather Star At Koh Bida, Thailand

2) Hin Daeng / Hin Muang and Koh Haa (October to May each year)
Accessible on day trips from Koh Lanta and to a lesser extent Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, these two dive sites rival anything the Similans have to offer. Koh Haa is a collection of 5 enormous rocks that forms a natural lagoon in the middle of the ocean – and is also a haven for marine life to gather around. There are so many amazing little critturs around here, which an experienced dive guide can point you towards. Hin Daeng and Hin Muang are two pinnacles close to one another and are a manta ray cleaning station. The mantas here are not shy of divers and if you are lucky enough to dive here when they are present, you are in for an unforgettable experience.

I wrote a complete report about diving at Koh Haa, Hin Daeng and also Koh Bida Nok which featured what was and probably still is the best dive of my life.

Both the Similans and Hin Daeng are only accessible during October to May each year – the rest of the year is monsoon season when conditions are too rough in the Andaman Sea for safe diving (or boat travel, for that matter).

Similan Islands Reef
Similan Islands Reef

3) Koh Tao (All year round)
The most popular place to learn to dive in all of Asia Pacific, after Cairns in Australia, Koh Tao has some great dive sites and some great apres-dive action. If you want to dive and party, then this is the place to come. The short travel times from the shore to the dive sites – typically half an hour or less – make diving extremely convenient. While the diving is not quite as spectacular as the Similans, (no manta rays here), there are some amazing encounters with sharks to be had at Chumphon Pinnacle and also, if you’re very lucky, whale sharks too.

Because Koh Tao is in the Gulf Of Thailand, it’s possible to dive all year round. The weather gets a bit crappy around October/November, but it’s pot luck really – last year whale sharks were arriving at Koh Tao during November.

I wrote a comprehensive guide to Koh Tao on Divehappy a few weeks ago that runs through learning to dive and also the various dive sites.

Exploring the inside of the World War II shipwreck Hardeep, located off Sattahip near Pattaya, Thailand
Exploring the inside of the World War II shipwreck Hardeep, located off Sattahip near Pattaya, Thailand

4) Pattaya (All year round)
Pattaya is not somewhere that gets much coverage as a dive destination. Thailand’s second biggest city after Bangkok, Pattaya is a sprawling mix of sun, sea and sand. Visibility is pretty poor and a lot of the coral has been damaged on most sites. However, there is one excellent wreck dive, the Hardeep, which definitely makes diving in Pattaya worthwhile if you’re interested in wreck diving.

I wrote about Peter Walker’s documentary about the Hardeep which you can watch online.

So there we have it – my top four picks for Thailand diving. There are lots more sites in Southern Thailand I have yet to explore – or even know about – and Koh Chang, also in the Gulf Of Thailand, is meant to be nice with some pleasant diving. But these four are the ones I’ve dived a fair bit myself, and the ones I keep going back to.

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Comments

  1. Hi your post about dive sites in Thailand has been extremly helpfull thank you. Im not a hugely experinced diver but did a shark adventure dive in the Bahamas where they feed reef sharks in front of you its amazing. Anything like this in Thailand. Ill be visiting most of the gulf islands and Phuket any info would be greatly appricated.

  2. Hi Brendan – there’s no shark feeding experiences in Thailand – think Fiji is probably your best bet for that at Beqa Lagoon – if you google it you will find info. It’s meant to be the best shark feed dive experience in the world. Alternatively you could go and watch the great white sharks in Australia with Rodney Fox — you’re in a cage for that. Cheers, Chris

  3. Kevin A. Groff says:

    Hi I’m in the Navy and might be getting chance to go to Bangkok for 4 or 5 days. Any one has any suggestions on where to go diving?

  4. Hi Kevin – if you have 5 days and will be in Bangkok from November, get down to Phuket and do a 4 day trip to the Similan Islands. It’s the best diving in Thailand. Visit my friends at http://www.phuket-diving-safaris.com for more info. If you don’t want to be on a boat, then head to Koh Lanta where you can do daytrips – see http://www.amazinglanta.com — If you are coming to Bangkok before November, then it’s too early to go diving in these places because it’s monsoon season. Instead, head to either Pattaya which has some interesting wrecks (although viz is usually poor) or to Koh Tao, which has some good sites — ask my friends Ayesha and Wilco at http://www.learntodiveonkohtao.com about diving on Koh Tao. Hope this helps, Chris

  5. Hi, I am coming in late May, going by your comments I take it I am very limited to dive sites, where would you suggest? I am also aware you can dive with local people rather than expats, do I have to be aware of safety with some companies?

  6. Hi Bevan – yes, in late May Koh Tao is the main area to go to, or the local reefs close to the islands of Koh Phi Phi and Krabi. Some Koh Lanta dive operators are also staying open in May and sailing when the weather is calm, usually to Koh Haa or Koh Bida near Phi Phi.

    I’d recommend my friends Ayesha and Wilco on Koh Tao – see their site http://www.learntodiveonkohtao.com – they’re both very experienced instructors.

  7. Hi I am going to be in Thailand in July, would you recommend staying in the Southeast part of Thailand like Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao? Out of the three islands which would you recommend to stay at for some good diving? We will only be there for 4 days so I would like to get the most out of our time there. Thank you for your time

  8. Hi Kimberly – Koh Tao is definitely the best place to go to for diving on the east coast in July. The dive boats from samui and phangan go to Tao’s dive sites after a long and bumpy ride. Contact my friends Ayesha and Wilco who live on Koh Tao at http://www.learntodiveonkohtao.com if you need more info.

  9. Pdoubleok says:

    Hin Daeng and Koh Haa is amazing!!!

  10. Hi, I am staying in Bangkok for the summer and I would like to do some diving. I am a full time college student so I am on a tight budget. I would like to try and visit the Similan Islands. Can you recommend some cheap backpacker places to stay? Any dive shops that have packages for students or people on a budget?

  11. Hi Megan – Similan Islands are closed from may to October. Suggest you contact my friends Ayesha and Wilco at learntodiveonkohtao.com who own a dive shop on Koh Tao – that is the best place for you to go if you want cheap diving in the next few months.

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