Top 5 Places to Dive in Thailand

The Land of Smiles—and clear, warm waters—is practically a rite of passage for divers and water-sports enthusiasts. On the east side, the Gulf of Thailand waits invitingly with some of the best training sites (and parties) this side of the equator. On the west side, the Andaman coast holds legendary jewels and marine parks christened by striking karst topography. The only thing missing, is you.

Why Dive in Thailand?

Pelagics, whale sharks, striking coastlines and world-class marine biodiversity—not to mention the beachside grub—are but a few of the reasons that make Thailand a bucket-list diving destination.

Take your diving with a large helping of debauchery and mayhem at some of Asia’s premier party destinations, or book a liveaboard and find solitude far away from the tourists. Regardless of your disposition, the Land of Smiles has something for you.

But beyond the superlatives, with its relatively easy logistics, international connections, and beginner-friendly dive schools, Thailand makes for an ideal place to get your diving certification. So whether you’re looking to get wet for the first time, or finally take the Dive Master course you’ve always wanted to do, Thailand is a fun and inviting place to enhance your skills.

Top Places to Dive in Thailand

Koh Tao

Best for: Getting certified / whale sharks
Cost: $-$$$
Access: Ferry

Situated in the Gulf of Thailand just north of legendary party island Koh Phangan, Koh Tao is a beginner-diver’s mecca and offers some of the cheapest PADI Open Water certification courses in the world. A wide range of dive sites makes this a premier spot to not only get certified, but also push your skills to the next level—all with a popping party scene within walking (or swimming) distance. Be sure to check out the picture-perfect sands of Koh Nang Yuan just offshore from Koh Tao.

Pattaya

Best for: Wreck Diving
Cost: $-$$$
Access: Bus / plane

Perhaps more commonly known for its roaring nightlife, Pattaya is arguably the best place in Thailand to go wreck diving. Local dive centers specialize in wreck dive certification courses, but you can also find a full bevy of training options. Shore diving is pretty much nonexistent and all of the dive sites are located in the Samae San Islands, the Near Islands and the Far Islands—all of which are accessed by boat. Be forewarned: currents around these islands can be strong, making them ideal drift dive locations.

The Similan Islands

Best for: Liveaboard luxury / adventure / pristine conditions
Cost: $$-$$$
Access: Boat

The jewel of Thailand’s dive offerings, the Similan Islands are world-renowned for their pristine conditions, plethora of pelagics and mostly currentless waters. These nine islands have been historically protected from dynamite fishing and exploitation as part of the Mu Koh Similan National Park, allowing them to mostly retain their ecological integrity. Liveaboards are easily the most popular option for accessing the Similans, but if you’re crunched for time, shorter trips are available, including day excursions. You can embark on your Similan voyage from Ranong and Phuket, but Kao Lak is the closest, quickest option.

Koh Lipe

Best for: Solitude / biodiversity
Cost: $-$$$
Access: Ferry

Relatively close to the Malaysian border, Koh Lipe is hard to get to and, as such, there isn’t the throng of tourists you’ll find in other beach locales in Thailand. The small, off-the-radar island is on the fringe of the 50-island strong Tarutao National Marine Park. With its protected status comes a high level of biodiversity: minke, sperm whales, dugongs, dolphins, turtles and 25% of the planet’s tropical fish can be found in the waters around Koh Lipe. Come prepared to settle in, and don’t forget to take a rest day so you can enjoy the island’s perfect white-sand beaches.

Koh Lanta

Best for: Biodiversity / chill vibe / Island-hopping access
Cost: $-$$$
Access: Ferry

Part of the impressive and jaw-droppingly gorgeous Krabi province, Koh Lanta is lapped by the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea and offers a wide range of diving for all skill levels, including wrecks, pinnacles and wide-open, spacious lagoons. It’s possible to see manta rays and whale sharks in the Koh Lanta waters, making the island a popular, yet peaceful, destination. All of Koh Lanta’s dive sites are boat-access only, so be prepared to spend some time getting to and from the dive sites. Additionally, as part of Krabi Province, other popular areas and islands—including Koh Phi Phi, Railey, Phuket, among others—are readily accessible for island hopping and day trips, or longer stays.

Best Season to Dive in Thailand

Geographically, Thailand sits relatively close to the equator and enjoys a hot, humid, balmy climate year-round. The long, wet monsoon season runs roughly from April until October, so if you come during these months, be prepared for rain. November through early April Is the optimal time for dry conditions, but temperatures begin to climb in mid-March. Average temps vary depending on location, but generally fluctuate between 80F-100F. Water temps consistently hover in the 80s year-round.

How to Get There—and Around

To access the Land of Smiles, fly to Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok. From there—depending on your destination—take either a bus, train or short flight to access the Gulf of Thailand or the Andaman Coast. Connections out of the city can be long, delayed and tiresome, so if time is of the essence, it’s advised to catch a puddle jumper flight south to avoid some of the delays you’ll inevitably encounter if taking a bus or train. You’ll be glad you did.

Once you’re out and about exploring, the easiest means of getting between islands and coastal locales is via bus and/or ferry. Booking tickets is easy, relatively cheap and can usually be arranged by the place you’re staying.

For those staying longer, you can extend your visa by popping out of the country into Malaysia in the south and Myanmar in the west, via Ranong.

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