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The Ultimate Guide to Diving in Thailand

Table of Contents

There are a lot of reasons why everyone wants to dive in Thailand and for good reason. They have some of the most pristine reefs in the world for starters.

The wildlife is out of this world and you can see creatures ranging from whale sharks to the Pikachu Nudibranch. You can go even check out some old world-famous wrecks if that floats your boat.

This guide will give you everything you need to get there and choose a location that suits you.

What is Scuba Diving Like in Thailand?

Scuba Thailand Gulf

With its warm, clear waters all year round and the choice between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand you will always have an amazing site to dive at.

There are hundreds of dive sites accessible from main hubs such as Phuket or Koh Lipe. You could spend months just trying to see or visit the 1,400+ islands. It is truly a special country.

There are some currents to be aware of depending on your site but with visibility around 100ft(30m) on average don’t let a little current stop you. Everywhere has dive courses so you can upgrade your certificate or take a specialty course if you need.

What Can I See Scuba Diving in Thailand?

The better question what can’t I see?

Thailand is home to over 2,000 different species of marine life in its waters. The reefs are full of colorful hard corals, soft corals, sponges, and anemones. The infamous triggerfish are abundant as well, but I would stay away from them during mating season.

Thailand even has two types of turtles, the green and hawksbill. While no wildlife is ever guaranteed to be seen, you will have a pretty good chance of swimming with these gentle creatures if you head over to the Similan islands. If you get lucky you may even see a giant manta or a whale shark as I have when living on the island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman Sea.

They do have sharks here as well which include the usually docile bamboo, leopard, and nurse sharks. The more aggressive sharks that can be seen, but rarely are the grey reef tip, bull, and tiger shark. These sharks should be given more of a wide berth. While all sharks rarely attack unprovoked some are more aggressive than others and you should never bring food or corner them in the water, this is when bites occur.

If you love macro diving and photography these seas are home to frogfish, scorpion fish, pygmy seahorse, frogfish, nudibranchs of all shapes and sizes, and even the illusive ornate ghost pipe fish.

While some of these are more common than others you will be guaranteed to see something special on every dive. You will just have to keep a keen eye out for them and make sure you are briefed on what is in the area before getting in the water.

What are the Types of Diving in Thailand?

Reef Diving – Thailand has reef diving all over the country and most of these reefs are protected by the government in Thailand’s 26 National Marine Parks.

Wreck Diving – There are a lot of wrecks to dive in and around Thailand. The more popular wrecks are the HTMS Sattakut, HTMS Khram, and HTMS Chang due to their depth and ease of access. If you are a tech diver, you can travel over to see the Tattori Maru off Koh Tao at around 230ft (70m).

Drift Diving – This is also possible and in my opinion the best type of diving. The current is not often strong but when it is you are moving quickly during your drift dive. If drift diving is your thing check out Koh Similan or Koh Lipe as these are not to miss.

Deep Diving – While most of the dive sites in Thailand are between 33ft (10m) and 80ft (25m) there is some deep diving that is not technical and quite easy to get to.

Liveaboard Diving – This is a very common way to see multiple dive sites over a few days. There is not a lot of shore diving in Thailand, and it is not one of its strong points.

Best Dive Spots In Thailand

I will name some specific dive spots and some hubs to get to these spots. This is obviously not every dive spot in the country as that list would fill the web, so you will have to visit to find the other ones.

Similan Islands

Similan Islands diving is famous all around the world and is nominated every year in the top dive destinations. This archipelago consists of over 11 islands and is located in Western Thailand in the Andaman Sea. This area is usually dove from Khao Lak or by a liveaboard. The Elephant Rock is the most well-known dive site in the Similans Islands.

Surin Islands

Surin Islands

The Surin Islands are another remote area around 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of the Similan Islands. It is another National Park that includes the dive site Richelieu Rock. This site is a great place to spot a whale shark (during certain times a year) and if you don’t see a whale shark the untouched reefs, caves, and drift diving should keep you busy.

Koh Lipe

This island is my former home for a season and an overlooked little island. This tiny island is located near Langkawi, Malaysia, and is part of Tarutao National Marine Park. There are a lot of sites for day trips two best being 8 mile and stonehenge. There can be some strong currents but all dive sites are able to be dove as an Open Water diver.

Pattaya

Pattaya

Pattaya may be known for its nightlife and other activities, but there are some good dive sites that are accessible from this island. If you are a wreck diver the HTMS Khram, HTMS Kood, and Hardeep wrecks are divable from here.

Koh Chang

Koh Chang also known as Elephant Island is a chill little island with some fantastic dive sites near it. The HTMS Chang is the biggest wreck in Thailand and only at 100ft (30m) The area is also known for rock pinnacles all around and reefs that hold fish such as barracuda, groupers, sting rays, and tuna.

Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta is coming back after it was devastated by a tsunami in 2004. There are over 70 islands in the surrounding area, three of the most popular destinations are Hin Muang, Hin Daeng, and the Phi Phi islands.

Hin Daeng & Hin Muang

Hin Daeng which means “red rock” in Thai and is a large pinnacle that is covered in colorful soft corals most of which are shades of red. The main reason to come here is that is a feeding area and cleaning station for manta rays.

Hin Muang translates to “purple rock” and like Hin Daeng is named for the vibrant soft corals that cover and is only a few hundred feet away from Hin Daeng. This also has the tallest vertical wall in Thailand and there are sightings of whale and grey reef sharks here as well.

Phi Phi Islands

PhiPhi Islands Scuba

These islands as with Koh Lanta were destroyed by the tsunami but now the islands and the reefs are coming back even stronger. The main highlights here are protected reefs, pinnacles, and vertical drop-offs. There are countless dive sites for all levels to enjoy and explore. Also, it is probably the best place in Thailand to see leopard sharks.

Phuket

Phuket is another world-class diving destination. Phuket could be the most popular diving destination in Thailand. You can see barrel sponges, sea whips, and large groups of jacks. Phuket offers great night, drift, deep, and wrecks diving as well. There is a famous area that has a limestone cliff that leads you to a car ferry to explore. They have also sunk a handful of different statues to see.

Koh Phangan

This island is not usually one for diving but rather its full and half-moon parties. It does though have Hin Bai also known as Sail Rock. Which often has whale shark sightings and is one of the most photographed pinnacles in the country. The corals as with the rest of the country are thriving and a sight to see.

Krabi

Krabi is another good spot, that actually has some dive sites accessible by long-tail boats (almost shore diving) as opposed to the more common day trips. The only issue here is that visibility sometimes can be an issue. Shark point and the King Cruiser Wreck are two of my favorite and most well-known spots.

Koh Tao

Is last but definitely not least on the list. It is quite cheap here and home to a lot of diving schools. It is why it is one of the most visited places for beginners and backpackers alike. The underwater rock formations, tunnels, swim-throughs, and drift dives are also there the more advanced divers.

When is the Best Diving in Thailand?

The country is split into two dive areas and diving seasons. You will either dive on the Andaman Coast or Thailand Gulf Coast and the diving seasons are almost opposite. The air temperature is usually around 85-95°F (30–35°C) and the water temperatures are around 85°F (30°C) year around, so get out that shorty suit.

Diving the Andaman Sea

Andaman Sea

The best season for diving would be from November to April. The conditions during this time are excellent but you can dive here year-round. The only issue is that certain islands are closed or difficult to get to due to limited ferries and rough seas. Do note that the Similan Islands National Park can only be accessed between the 16th of November to the 15th of May. A few other places my close as well so check the government sites for updates.

Diving the Thai Gulf

The diving season on this side is from May to October. Though again it can be dove year around and its more shallow waters offer better opportunities for courses.

Best Time to See Whale Sharks and Mantas

From March to June is your greatest opportunity to see a whale shark. To see a Manta, October to May would be your best bet to visit.

What is the Best way to Dive Thailand?

A liveaboard is the best way to dive in Thailand and see the most. You can get up to five dives a day and while you are sleeping it heads off to the next amazing spot.

There are options for non-divers and beginners to the fanciest ships around, here are a few options for you check out that we recommend.

Read our full guide to Thailand liveaboards to learn more.

How Much Does it Cost to Dive in Thailand?

Diving and/ or taking a course in Thailand is some of the cheapest in the world. This also goes for the cost of becoming an instructor. The only other place similar would be the Philippines.

The most common agency to get certified by is PADI but you can get RAID, SSI, and all the other ones as well. 

As the first course can be done in a few days most people opt for the open and advanced courses back to back as a cheaper package. This will range (on average) from $450 to $600 USD, but don’t go cheap out on a course to save a few bucks. Do your homework on which dive center or instructor. It is not the agency that matters it is your instructor.

For fun dives without gear, it is usually a day trip with two dives for around $100 USD and a third dive for a little more. If you have your own gear you can save some money, but tell them in advance.
For a 5-day liveaboard, it will range from $700-$1,600 USD.

What Certification Level do I Need to Dive in Thailand?

As I spoke about above you can get certified in Thailand when you get there. If you are looking to do a course it is a great place to do it.

As for fun dives and liveaboard they usually require a PADI advanced open water or the equivalent from another agency. For some challenging dives, there is a minimum of dive they often required and they may ask for your log book. Make sure to bring it along or at least have some sort of documentation of your previous dives.

What Diving Courses can I Take in Thailand?

Shore Diving

You can go from “zero to hero” if you wish, that is a phrase used when someone takes all the courses from the open water to the instructor. It takes usually around 6 months but can be done in as little as one month (though I don’t recommend rushing it). I spent years as an advanced diver before I took the rescue course and then became a divemaster and later an instructor.

For those wanting to take courses in Thailand, there are several options. As PADI is the most common dive agency in the world and the one I am certified in I will outline those here. Discover Scuba Dives are ideal for those that are wary and just want to get a taste of diving without taking a full course. It is a half to full-day experience with an experienced instructor to a maximum depth of 36ft (12m).

You will be taught basic skills such as how to clear your mask if it fills with water and if you decide to move to the open water course it will count towards that.

Open Water Courses are the first level of certification for divers. At the end of your course, you will be certified to dive to the depths of 60ft (18m) which takes around 3 days. This is often done in conjunction with the Advanced Open Water Course where you will be certified to dive to a maximum of 100ft (30m) and has dives like nitrox, deep dives, and night diving.

You can do your Rescue, Divemaster, and Instructor course in Thailand as well. For all courses, I would choose a reputable dive shop and speak to them beforehand to make sure you know what you are getting into. Also, the online option to do theory before you get there is a great way to save time and get you in the water faster.

Honestly being Advanced Open Water and Nitrox certified will get you on almost all dives and is fine.

What Dive Equipment do I Need in Thailand?

I always recommend having a dive computer, mask, and fins at a minimum, but there are no laws on what you dive with.

Having your own gear does make life a lot easier and cheaper when you are diving a lot, the only issue is flying with it.

All reputable dive shops should be able to rent your gear but it may not be in the best conditions.

Check out our extensive dive gear reviews to find the right equipment for you.

How Can I get to Thailand?

Thailand is in South East Asia and it has twelve international airports. Most of the time you will fly to Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok.

It is the main airport with the most local and international flights depending on where you are in the world. The other main airports with easy access to the country are in Phuket and Langkawi, Malaysia.

In some other Asian countries, it may be easier, faster, and cheaper to fly to a local airport. For instance from Langkawi, you can take a ferry ride to Koh Lipe. It is actually easier to get there from Malaysia than other places.

When booking the further out the better and try to book directly through the airline. Often flights are canceled and switched, when this happens the airline will sort you out but if you use a 3rd party site like Expedia it is often a lengthy process to get your money back if at all.

How do I get Around Thailand?

When you get in the country flying is by far the quickest way to get around, it can be the most expensive though as buses and ferries are very cheap but will take longer.

Depending on your destination though, you will probably need to get a ferry and take a bus at some point. Most people that have jobs in the service and tourism industry will speak English so you do not have to worry about that.

The faster you get somewhere means you spend more time diving. I would recommend flying into Bangkok and going from there. Domestic flights from the airport in Bangkok to Phuket, Krabi, and Koh Samui run a few times a day and take 1 hour and 30 minutes maximum.

Do I Need to Get Insurance to Dive in Thailand?

Just like you should get travel insurance to cover medical bills and accidents (especially scooter accidents in South East Asia) you should get dive insurance. You should have it even when diving in your country of residence. Although serious accidents are rare they do happen.

A common accident is getting the “bends” and a trip to the decompression chamber can cost you tens of thousands of dollars as they are not everywhere and you may need to be transported quite far, and quickly to get there.

There are a lot of companies out there that do packages with travel and diving insurance. Most people buy DAN insurance, but check the details of the insurance as it gets weird if they will cover certain nationalities in certain countries.

Austin Tuwiner Administrator

My name’s Austin, and I created OtterAquatics to help readers become better divers, help them buy their first gear, and plan their next dive vacation!

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    My name’s Austin Tuwiner, a PADI Divemaster based in South Florida. With nearly 10 years of diving under my belt, I’ve accumulated the knowledge to help readers become better divers, buy their next piece of gear, and plan their dream dive vacation!

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