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Scuba Diving Thailand – Where, When, What & How Much?

Updated on August 30, 2013

Without doubt, one of the most popular countries for PADI scuba diving is Thailand. The country has just the right amount of everything, including climate, clear waters which are exciting but safe, and a great infrastructure. The prices are reasonable and there are plenty of other things to do for non-divers or between scuba diving trips. Thailand is quite well developed, but not so much so that everything is too organised and commercialized. You can easily feel that you’re taking part in a proper adventure, while also feeling safe in the knowledge that should anything happen, you can sort yourself out in no time at all.

Clownfish (Amphiprion) photo by Tim Ho
Clownfish (Amphiprion) photo by Tim Ho

Location

Green Turtle Photo by Henry and Tersia
Green Turtle Photo by Henry and Tersia

The Weather

Thailand and its people are extremely fortunate to be located just north of the equator. While the locals often complain that it’s too hot, those from Europe and North America love the warm sunshine and colourful flora and fauna. Unlike temperate zones, there are only three seasons per year in Thailand. Generally, the summer is March-June and the hottest months. It can be uncomfortably hot, but rarely exceeds 40⁰C even in the afternoon. July-October make up the rainy season, but this doesn’t really affect too many activities like bad weather does in the West. It is uncommon for rain to fall for more than an hour in the daytime. When it falls, it does so heavily in short bursts, usually at night. The heat and humidity soon dry most of what got wet and people get back to their day-to-day routines. Going on vacation or holiday during Thailand’s rainy season is not a daft idea, and great savings can be made due to low-season promotions. The high season in Thailand is the ‘winter,’ which is November to February. This fits in extremely well with Christmas, New Year and Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations, so the most popular tourist areas can become very busy, and prices do go up for accommodation. The weather during Thailand’s high season is still hot, but very nice. Mornings can be cool enough for locals to adorn dogs with t-shirts, but in reality, the weather in December and January is pleasant – and perfect for most. The far north can be cold, but the scuba diving areas in the south are all blessed with ideal weather conditions for scuba diving. All year round the sea temperature is 26-28⁰C, which is perfect. For scuba diving Thailand really does have some fantastic weather conditions.

Scuba diver and Brain coral - photo by Ola-Welin
Scuba diver and Brain coral - photo by Ola-Welin

The Water

The seas of Thailand are almost perfect for recreational scuba diving. There are two seas, one being The Gulf of Thailand and the other the Andaman Sea. The Gulf is home to Thailand’s diving Mecca – Koh Tao, along with Koh Chang and Pattaya. The three southern islands of The Gulf are in a line from Surat Thani. They are Koh Samui, Koh Tao, and the party island of Koh Pha Ngan, which is furthest from the mainland. The sea in The Gulf is understandably less clear than out in the Andaman. It is also not as deep. However, on good days and in the right spots, the water clarity can be extremely good – ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving at depths down to 40m. Currents are also generally weaker in The Gulf than off the west coast.
The west coast of Thailand offers the best scuba diving opportunities. Phuket and Koh Phi Phi are world-famous for resorts on the beach and surrounded by clear turquoise waters. Out to sea a little further is the best place to go scuba diving in Thailand. The Similan Islands are home to more than twenty great diving sites, and further north is Richelieu Rock, an underwater pinnacle with loads of marine life. Divers refer to underwater sea clarity as ‘visibility’ and this can sometimes exceed 30 metres. Taking into account that an average swimming pool is 25 metres long and only the cleanest can be viewed end-to-end, and you should get some idea of how clear the water is at Thailand’s best diving sites. However, there are days and places when visibility can be less than 10 metres. This can be difficult to dive in and slightly disappointing, but plankton often causes the drop in visibility and plankton eating filter feeders such as whale sharks and manta rays may just swim by – so keep your mind and eyes open, even in low visibility.

Infrastructure and Facilities

Thailand may not be the most developed country in the world, but its quirkiness and raw nature make it well worth a visit. More developed countries tend to be a bit too clinical, and have rules and regulations preventing fun or adventure. Less developed countries with great scuba diving, such as Indonesia and even parts of The Philippines can be very frustrating, especially when trying to make the most of one’s vacation time with travel connections. In Thailand there are many different options at all prices. Travelling and choosing accommodation can be a budget adventure or a luxury, as well as anything in between. There are slow trains, luxury coaches and budget airlines, as well as a vast number of more interesting options. Finally, in the event of an accident, including diving-related injuries, there is usually some professional assistance and equipment nearby.

Eagle ray - Photo by Lyle Turner
Eagle ray - Photo by Lyle Turner

Costs

All but the most fortunate of us need to consider what our scuba diving holiday is going to cost. On holiday, we like to enjoy ourselves, but when having to pay for a room every night and every meal from a restaurant, things can add up. Before leaving home it’s worth trying to organise some kind of budget, but this is more often than not exceeded before we come home. Thailand is not expensive. Yes, some resorts and domestic flights can take a large chunk out of funds, but it’s very easy to enjoy a holiday without wasting too much money. Depending on where and what time of year, rooms can be as cheap as $5 per night, and healthy, filling meals often cost just $1. Beer and soft drinks are reasonably priced, and there are lots of different brands to choose from. Travelling from Bangkok to Phuket can cost as little as $20 by bus, and even the same price on a pre-booked budget airline. For scuba diving Thailand is extremely good value. Although the dive centres use up-to-date and quality equipment, and usually Westerners as Divemaster guides and instructors, the prices are extremely competitive. $30 per dive, inclusive of equipment, is not unheard of in Koh Tao, and for those who want the best packages and have time on their hands just for diving, Similan diving tours can be booked for less than $500 – this includes accommodation on the boat, all meals, a dozen or more dives at the best diving sites and equipment. Taking everything in account, they are the best ways to enjoy inexpensive scuba diving in the best diving waters in Thailand.

Hermit Crab Photo by Henry and Tersia
Hermit Crab Photo by Henry and Tersia
Squid - Photo by Tim Ho
Squid - Photo by Tim Ho

Non-Diving Activities

Even though for scuba diving Thailand is among the best places in the world, it can’t be done all day every day, and there are often non-diving travel partners to consider. Thailand is still a great place to visit and is famous for its shopping, nightlife, temples, and treks. On and around the islands in the south kayaking, jet skiing, paragliding, and rock climbing are all popular activities, as well as snorkeling and sunbathing with a good book. Phuket probably has the most diverse range of activities, both during the day and at night. Phi Phi also has a lot, whereas Koh Tao is mainly focussed on scuba diving, with Chiang Mai being famous for treks and temples, but hundreds of kilometres from the nearest beach.
All in all, Thailand is a great place to visit at any time of year. While the weather is best between November and February, there are more bargains and quieter places to be found throughout the rest of the year. Scuba diving Thailand is popular, safe, inexpensive and among the best in the world. In particular, The Similan Islands, 60km. west of Phang Nga (NOT Koh Pha Ngan Full-Moon party island) is a truly wonderful place to visit on a liveaboard diving boat.

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