Thailand's best diving is found off the West Coast. Most liveaboard vessels visting the Similian Islands, Richelieu Rock, Andaman Sea, Hin Daeng, Mergui Archipelago & the Burma Banks are operating out of Phuket.
The Similan Islands, located about one hundred kilometers northwest of Phuket, are composed of nine granite islands covered in tropical jungle, washed by a clear blue tropical ocean and blessed with some of the world's finest beaches. Similan comes from Malay fisherman who named it "The Nine Islands" (Sembilan is "nine" in Malay) and now the islands are identified by a name-in Thai-and a number; for example, Ko Huyong (Island #1), located at the southern end of the chain. The islands have achieved national park status and thus are fully protected under Thai law. The National Park Authority maintains their presence on two of the islands: Ko Similan (Island #8) the largest, and Ko Miang (Island #4). Recently, the islands have come to the special attention of the Thai Royal Family which further protects them from possible abuse.
Elephant Head Rock-This is probably the most "famous" dive site in the Similians. The name comes from a formation of three rocks that breaks the surface. The largest of the rocks resembles a elephant head. Under the surface it is like diving in an enormous aquarium, with the rocks forming a natural amphitheatre. Fish and corals exist in all the colours of the rainbow. The rocks form large and small tunnels, plenty of great swim-troughs’. The variations are enormous. This is one of the most exciting dives around the Similians. Watch out for mantas.
Christmas Point- Of all the dive sites around Similian this is the most dramatic. The first part of the dive starts at 24 meters (78 ft) depth where we find hundreds of soft corals and sea-fans. A lot of different fish swim back and forth in this area. You may meet large shoals of trevally hunting smaller fish and leopard sharks resting quietly on the sand. The dive comes to an end close to the island, with exciting tunnels formed by large rock formations. Often you see some big fish taking a "siesta" in the tunnel crevices.
This place has an incredible amount of different coral reefs and formations that drop away 35 meters straight down from the surface. It is believed that there is more than 300 different species of coral here! This is site for those who like to explore and catch up with a ghost pipefish or pygmy seahorse or two. Richelieu Rock was considered to be one of the best places on the planet to meet whale sharks, but encounters have been less over the last few years.
Mergui Archipelago & the Burma Banks
The Burma Banks are a series of large underwater flat-topped seamounts that lie approximately 180 kilometres (110 miles) northwest of the Similan Islands. The areas surrounding is over 350 meters (1148 ft) deep and large areas rise to within the depth limits of recreational scuba diving. The name derives from this 1500 square kilometers area lying within the exclusive economic zone of Burma. This is adrenalin diving.
These mountains rise very gradually from the depths and are covered with hard coral growth and large patches of sand. Whilst covered in fantastic hard & soft corals, there are other reasons to travel this far out from the coast. Pelagic & shark spotting is the sport out here.
These days, most boats are spending more time in the Mergui Archipelago proper (further inshore) than out at the banks. The diving in this inshore area is just as good and grey reef sharks seem to be migrating here from the Burma Banks. Travel time is a little less, as are the currents. This makes the Mergui Archipelago more accessible to the less experienced diver whilst the quality of the dive sites is just as good.
The most common type of shark in both areas is the nurse shark that grows to over 3 metres in length. Nurse sharks swim freely nose-to-tail over the top of the reef. Keep an eye out in the blue, as the Oceanic White Tips & Silvertips make frequent appearances. In addition, you'll see larger reef fish than in other areas of Thailand, such as huge sweet lips and the occasional grouper.
The most common diving technique at the banks is drift diving over the mountain flats. It is common to drift over one kilometer (0.62 miles) on certain dives-assuming the current is taking you in the direction you originally planned! All dive operators that dive at the banks are strict with safety rules. Although these vary slightly from operator to operator, it is roughly agreed that all divers must dive with a 'safety sausage', a whistle or other signaling device, and that either the dingy or the larger vessel should follow the diver's bubbles on the surface. Finally, it is a must that buddy pairs stay together at all times, and in fact some operators insist that divers dive in a group of at least four.
Andaman Islands (India)
This group of islands belongs to India but they are far closer to Thailand, located about 450 km (280 miles) southeast of Phuket. All liveaboard cruises in our program are operated by Thailand based companies. However, one needs to fly via Chennai in India to catch a domestic flight to Port Blair. There is almost no commercial fishing in the Andaman Islands, resulting in unusually abundant fish populations, including schooling species like bumphead parrotfish, trevallies and barracuda. Napoleon wrasse and dog-tooth tuna are also encountered frequently, as are mantas. Other highlights may include giant grouper and mobula rays, sometimes in schools of 30 or more. Iconic fish here are the distinctively patterned Andaman Sweetlips, the neon-blue Andaman damselfish and beautiful Indian spine-cheek anemonefish. Pretty special is a newly discovered dottyback species that is found nowhere else in the world but here.
Another highlight is the widely varied underwater scenery, ranging from steep slopes to towering pinnacles to pristine coral gardens that are equally suitable for snorkeling or diving. Perhaps the most dramatic seascapes are found at the isolated volcanic islands of Barren and Narcondam, where the terrain includes ridges covered with huge fans and barrel sponges, and breathtaking walls that disappear into the abyss. At Barren Island in particular, spectacular fields of soft coral stretch into the distance, their vibrant colors accentuated by the dark volcanic substrate.