There is good, if not exceptional, diving out of Phuket Island (the so called Pearl of Andaman) which is reasonably priced and available all year.
The rainy season on Phuket is May to October, with September and October being the wettest months, whilst the hot season is November to April. The climate is tropical and the water is warm (average temperature of 26 – 29C) so many divers either use 3mm wet suits or just a T-shirt.
There are good dive shops which have equipment both to rent and for sale, besides offering day trips and liveaboards. In the event of an accident Phuket has recompression chambers on the island, including one run by DAN which provides good, practical advice when called.
Phuket dive destinations:
1) North of Phuket are the Similan Islands National Park (Similan is a Malay or Yawi word meaning nine) which are one of Thailand’s most famous diving areas. Whilst sites there are not closed to diving, despite rumours to the contrary, reports on current conditions are mixed and pelagic sightings seem down significantly. The general opinion is that the islands are not what they were.
Further north are the Surin Islands, near the Myanmar (Burma) border, a group of five islands and some granite outcrops. Although this area is a Thai national marine park, continued fishing has reduced the numbers of larger species. If you wish to dive the Similans and the Surins, you may find a liveaboard that also takes you into Myanmar not only interesting but also the best way to see a wide variety of dive sites and creatures.
2) South of Phuket are the Racha (aka Raya) Islands which can be visited on a day trip or where one can stay and dive. There are half a dozen established dive sites but the most southerly, which may have strong currents, can be ruled out if winds are adverse. Ao Siam on the northern tip is amusing for one dive as there is a temple entrance under water guarded by two Thai elephant sculptures – all life size.
3) Phang-Nga Bay is a little south and east of Phuket City. The water is relatively shallow and nutrient rich so visibility can be indifferent but there are some colourful and interesting dives here. (Ko Dok Mai, Shark Point, King Cruiser and Anenome Reef are part of a no fishing, no collecting zone in the area.)
Ko Dok Mai is usually done as a drift dive, with walls, and can offer bamboo sharks, sea horses, ghost pipefish, nudibranchs, and morays as well as many other marine species. King Cruiser is a wreck dive on a beautifully encrusted boat (white and purple soft coral) where the metal is starting to ‘rot’, so that penetration is not advised. There is a lot of fish life thanks to the surrounding currents and convenient hiding spots for marine life including grouper, puffer fish, scorpion fish and moray eels. Shark point can be short on sharks but is always long on colourful soft coral and smaller critters. The whole site comprises three pinnacles but only one or two may be reachable depending on the current. There are sea horses, harlequin shrimp, porcelain crabs and nudibranchs as well as squid, snappers and puffer fish.
Phi Phi Islands, part of Krabi province, have a number of dive sites (which can be dived in different directions to good effect) catering for all levels and providing a variety of environments – drift and wall dives with sloping reefs. Visibility may not be great as the tide can stir up silt in Phang-Nga Bay (or sweep it away) whilst rain can bring silt down from the islands.
Ko Bida Nok (in Thai language Nok means outer and Noi means inner) has excellent micro life besides occasional macro action such as black tip reef sharks patrolling the shallows. There is a lot of life with an abundance of needle fish, morays, scorpion fish, mantis shrimp, and puffer fish against a lovely backdrop of soft corals. Maya and Turtle Bay offer rather different experiences with turtles, blue spotted rays on a stony bottom, large Angel fish, razor fish and many types of nudibranchs. Turtle Bay also has a cool swim through.
By Daniel Nash II