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The Best Diving Location in the World
Scuba diving has really boomed in recent years. All around the world more and more people are taking up the sport, and not just for fun while on vacation. Many learn to become certified or advanced divers and more. Some go on to enjoy a scuba diving career. Although some recreational scuba divers dive in cool and temperate waters, the most popular diving destinations are found in the sub-tropical and tropical waters of Central America, Africa, Asia and Australia. In these regions, corals are able to not only survive, but flourish and attract all kinds of fish and invertebrates, which then attract larger species that feed on or are cleaned by them. Not only does the warmer water enable corals to grow and provide home and shelter for the fish, it’s also more comfortable for divers to spend up to an hour at a time in. Ideally, divers wear a wetsuit just to keep them warm. Drysuits are too cumbersome to allow easy movement, and cold water will always be touching the skin at some point. Warm clear water is just what most scuba divers like, and of course plenty of interesting creatures to look at or photograph. The water’s depth is not too important for newer divers, but more experienced scuba divers like the opportunity to dive deep every now and then, and deep water can be very beneficial for more or better species to encounter.
So, with the knowledge that warm and clear water, at or near some deep troughs in the sea, makes for the best scuba diving experiences, it is then a case of choosing where in the world to visit. For most people, the logistics and cost of travel will dictate where they choose to go scuba diving. However, with more choice of airlines than in the past and more airports opening up in previously-remote parts of the world, travelling to the best scuba diving locations is less of a headache that it used to be. Central America has some fantastic diving areas, on both the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, especially around Belize and other parts of The Caribbean Sea. It is very popular for divers who are based in The Americas, and some come from Europe, but European divers also have the option of heading east as well as west.
Diving in Africa, mainly on its east coast in the Indian Ocean and in the Red Sea, is also incredibly good, and very popular. While the Red Sea is among the most popular diving spots in the world, the more-exposed dive sites down the east coast of the continent offer better opportunities to experience some really big and exciting species of fish and mammals. However, with ongoing political & social problems, and the recent outbreak of Ebola, travelling to Africa is often seen as a bit too much of a risk for some people.
In Australia, many of the locals spend a lot of time in the sea taking part in one water sport or another, and foreigners flock to Australia to do the same. Its best diving spots are out on the Great Barrier Reef, where thousands of divers can be found on any given day. It is quite a distance from the mainland though and sometimes a little too crowded both on the boats and in the sea. Due to the higher cost of fuel than in many other parts of the world, Australian scuba diving boats need to get the most out of every trip that sails.
Asia probably offers the best all-round experience for scuba divers, especially in its south east. Countries such as Thailand, The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia are all popular diving destinations in Asia, and each has several world-class dive sites. Indonesia and The Philippines are both archipelago nations, meaning that with thousands of islands in each, getting around is limited to travel by air or by sea. Peninsula Malaysia has some good diving spots, but the best are out in remote locations off the eastern tip of Borneo. Palau Sipidan is regarded by some as the best diving site in the world. However, its location and the cost & logistics involved getting there make it a compromise some are not prepared to make. So, that leaves Thailand. Being centrally located and the main hub of the region mean that getting in and out is both inexpensive and easy. Travelling to and from diving destinations in Thailand is also simple and cheap. All of the diving in Thailand is done in its southern provinces, with Koh Tao being the most popular island in the Gulf on the east coast, and Phuket and Phi Phi being the hot spots of the west coast’s Andaman Sea. There’s great diving in Thailand all year round, and the logistics, costs and professionalism all make it possibly the best diving country in Asia. And with Asia arguably being the best continent for recreational scuba diving when taking everything else into account, it could be argued that the best diving in the world can be done in Thailand.
So, where can recreational scuba divers find the best diving area of Thailand? Well, it’s not Koh Tao, Koh Phi Phi, Phuket or any of the other popular tourist destinations. Although the dive sites around these islands are excellent and the choice and quality of dive centres equally good, not all is perfect. Boat and diver traffic can not only become a nuisance for divers when in the water, they also cause pollution of the air and sea year round, and it could be argued that their presence discourages some pelagic species to pay a visit. Thailand’s best diving zone is still a bit of a secret to most divers, although there are also many who know about it. The Similan Islands is a chain of nine uninhabited islands 60km off the west coast of Thailand, 100km north of Phuket. These islands sit in crystal-clear water and are home to an abundant array of marine life species, some of which are not found anywhere else on earth. In addition, it’s a popular spot for pelagic species such as Whale Sharks and Manta Rays to visit to feed or be cleaned. The deep waters all around ensure that this mini archipelago is a true haven for life under the sea. Similan Islands diving is not too extreme for new or inexperienced divers, but it still has something to look forward to for experienced enthusiasts and hardened professionals. In fact, there are some Similan diving sites where experienced divers can enjoy a deep or drift dive just a few hundred metres from where newer dives can enjoy the relatively shallow reef. Around the Similan Islands in Thailand there are around twenty excellent dive sites, all with its own special attraction or advantage. However, there’s more, and it’s better.
There are two more islands and an undersea mount to the north of the Similans, and these are where the very best diving experiences in Thailand generally occur. Similan Islands diving can be done by either day trip or on a liveaboard cruise from 2D/1N to more than a week. While the day trips (speedboat, diving boat or catamaran) will only visit The Similan Islands or the better sites, liveaboards normally dive at both within the same trip. Therefore, diving customers can choose to go here, there or both here and there. What is the name of these special places to the north of The Similan Islands? They are known as Koh Bon (Bon Island), Koh Tachai (Tachai Island) and Richelieu Rock. Here is where everyone scuba diving in Thailand should plan to visit. Koh Bon and Koh Tachai are true islands, the former has no beach, and both are small and uninhabited. Around each there are two or more fantastic diving sites and Manta Rays are regularly seen, especially from February to April. It would be unfair to say that these dive sites are only for experienced scuba divers, because new divers do go there and enjoy themselves safely. However, having 20+ dives logged would certainly increase a diver’s time and enjoyment underwater at here, and therefore give them more chance of spotting something special. Finally, Richelieu Rock was described by the late great Jacques Cousteau as one of his top ten dive sites anywhere in the world. This undersea mount sits in exposed sea water further north of Koh Bon and Koh Tachai, and it is part of the Koh Surin National Marine Park, although often spoken of as part of the Similan Islands. Richelieu Rock is not for novices, but even those with just a dozen or so logged dives are able to enjoy and appreciate what it has to offer. Whale Shark sightings are common in the early months of the year, but even without seeing one this is a truly fantastic dive site and truly deserves its world-class status among those in the know. There’s nothing to do there for snorkellers or non-divers, and boat trips there can easily dive ‘The Rock’ up to three times in the same day. While some Similan Islands diving liveaboard trips start at Richelieu Rock, most dive it towards the end of their 3 or 4 day trips, because the rest of the dive sites in this area may be excellent but aren’t as good.
In summary, taking more than just the diving into account because other factors such as cost, travel logistics, climate and safety & security are important, Asia is the best continent in the world for recreational scuba diving. Keeping the same criteria for making the nest choice, Thailand is arguably the best country in Asia to dive. And without doubt, Similan Islands diving is the best in Thailand. It’s a little pedantic to point out that Thailand’s best dive site (Richelieu Rock) is technically not within the Similan National Marine Park, mainly because most diving trips incorporate The Similan Islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock. Anyone serious about finding the best dive spots in the best country in the best part of the world for diving should seriously consider booking a ticket to, and a diving trip in, Thailand. Flights are numerous and inexpensive, and choosing the best boat or trip is as simple as doing a quick internet search for agent websites who offer the largest selection of Similan Islands diving trips and boats. Customers pay no more when booking through an agent compared to booking direct, but enjoy a wider choice and independent information & impartial advice.