Manta Rays are one of the most incredible marine life encounters you can have while scuba diving. Here’s where to see manta rays in Thailand to have the best chance of a real-life encounter for yourself
Manta Ray on the safety stop, Similan Islands © Chris Mitchell
Coming face to face with a manta ray is one of the most unforgettable experiences you can have underwater. These huge creatures – sometimes up to 4 metres in their wingspan – are also incredibly graceful, and to watch a manta ray glide silently through the water and sometimes perform breathtaking acrobatics is something I never get tired of.
It was in Thailand I saw my first manta ray, and there are two key manta ray diving hot spots in Thailand where you have a good chance of seeing them.
Koh Bon, Similan Islands
The first is Koh Bon, which is where I saw my first manta. Koh Bon (Thai for “Island of Hope”) is just north of the Similan Islands proper, and an essential destination in any Similan Island liveaboard trip. Koh Bon’s major dive site is known as “The Wall”, and this area is famous for seeing mantas. It’s a sheer vertical drop from the surface down to about 15 metres, and then the ground levels out into a slight slope covered in staghorn coral. Moving parallel to the wall, divers can often see mantas come swooping in from the blue, suddenly materialising from nowhere.
When I saw my first ever manta, I was following Koh Bon’s wall with uber dive guide Gerald from the Dolphin Queen liveaboard. I glanced to my left, carried on looking forward, and then did the classic cartoon doubletake, my eyes almost popping out of my head. Right beside me, only a few feet away, was a manta ray in all its blackclad winged glory, moving effortlessly along the wall in parallel with Gerald and I. It stayed with us for a few seconds and then swiftly, unhurriedly outstripped us before languidly wheeling back out into the blue.
As Gerald has never failed to remind me on each previous time we’ve met up, “You were hugging yourself with glee!”
The mantas tend to show up more regularly from January through April in the season, but have been seen there in November and December too. Since the 2017 – 2018 season, manta ray sightings have become more frequent and no one is quite sure why. While it’s not guaranteed you’ll see mantas there, Koh Bon is the most likely place in Thailand for it to happen. Manta rays are also spotted at Richelieu Rock and Koh Tachai (both near to Koh Bon on Similan liveaboard trips) and, as happened on my last Similan liveaboard, they can show up at Three Trees too.
Hin Daeng, Southern Thailand
The second hot spot for manta rays in Thailand is Hin Daeng and Hin Muang, two submerged pinnacles that are accessible from Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta on dive boat daytrips, on via liveaboards that explore the Southern Thailand dive sites. These two pinnacles are very deep – going to 60 metres and more – and they are a favourite place for both manta rays and whale sharks to make an appearance. Manta rays are often spotted at the very beginning of the dive season in Thailand’s Andaman Sea (end of October / beginning of November) and then again around Christmas and February. However, the manta rays at Hin Daeng are much more elusive than at Koh Bon – weeks can go by without them being seen and then they return. Whale sharks are spotted at Hin Daeng 3 or 4 times on average each season.
It was at Hin Daeng that I had the best dive of my life – 5 manta rays and a whale shark on the safety stop. I wrote about this in my article about Koh Lanta for Asian Diver magazine, Manta Ray Paradise.
Besides the Similan Islands and Hin Daeng, there are few other dive sites in Thailand where manta rays can can be seen. Manta rays are never seen in the Gulf of Thailand (Koh Tao and Koh Samui or Koh Chang). Going on a Similan liveaboard is definitely the best chance of seeing a manta ray in Thailand.
You can see the locations of the Similan Islands dive sites and Hin Daeng on this map of dive sites in Thailand and Myanmar. To get to the Similan Islands, you would fly into Phuket Airport. To go to Hin Daeng, you would fly into Krabi Airport and then go to Koh Lanta island.