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Thailand s underwater world
POSTED | 8:18 AM | 02-11-2014

Thailand's underwater world

-- By Deborah Leenutaphong

Thailand is one of Asia’s top holiday destinations attracting more than 25 million tourists from around the globe annually. Here holidaymakers can enjoy relaxing on a white sand beach, trekking the country’s unspoilt mountains and jungles, white-water rafting, rock climbing, shopping, eating and, of course, scuba diving.

Scuba diving is popular in both the Gulf of Thailand and in the Andaman Sea. Let’s take a look.

Diving the Gulf of Thailand

In the Gulf of Thailand, the hot spots for scuba diving are the islands off the coast of Pattaya in Chon Buri province, Laem Mae Phim in Rayong province, Koh Samui, Koh Tau, Koh Chang, and Chumphon Pinnacle.

The visibility in the Gulf ranges from four meters during the rainy season (June to October) to 12 or more meters the rest of the year and there is always plenty of marine life to see. Here divers will find nudibranchs of many varieties, nurse sharks, bamboo sharks, many species of shrimp and crab, many types of rays with blue-spotted rays being the most common, squid, seahorses, green turtles, barracudas, snappers, and a plethora of colorful reef fish including several species of butterfly fish, angel fish, xanthia, fusilier, damsel fish, and anemone fish.

 

There is also a wide variety of hard coral such as brain coral, carpet coral, staghorn, and great star coral, as well as sea whips, anemones and colorful soft coral.

Highlights

Most of the islands off the coast of Pattaya are one to one and a half hours away by dive boat or 20-30 minutes by speedboat. At the dive sites around these islands divers can see turtles, nudibranchs, blue-spotted rays, moray eels, squid, angel fish, sharks, and large hard coral formations. There are also a couple of wrecks off the coast with the Hardeep being the most popular.

The best diving in the Gulf can be found in the Koh Samui, Koh Tau area. Here the visibility tends to be better than what is typically found off the coast of the mainland. Many of the creatures and corals seen here are the same as that which is found off the coast of Pattaya but the soft corals and larger marine life are much more abundant.

The dive season

The dive season in the Gulf is year round although during the rainy months, generally from June to October, the water can be very choppy and the visibility tends to be rather poor. Water temperatures are a comfortable 26-30 C all year long.

Getting there

Pattaya and Laem Mae Phim

If you are travelling from Bangkok, both Pattaya in Chon Buri and Laem Mae Phim in Rayong are within easy driving distance. Pattaya is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Bangkok while Laem Mae Phim is about two hours.

Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Chumporn Pinnacle

The easiest way to get to Koh Samui is by plane and there are many flights a week from Bangkok. The flight takes just over an hour. It is also possible to travel by train, bus or car to Surat Thani and then take a ferry from there to Koh Samui. The drive by car or by VIP bus from Bangkok to Surat Thani is about 10 hours. By train it will be even longer as the trains are much slower and there may be quite a few stops along the way.

Once you get to Koh Samui, Koh Tao is a short speedboat ride away. And once you get to Koh Tao, you can take a speedboat from there to dive Chumphon Pinnacle.

Koh Chang

The most convenient way to get to Koh Chang is to fly to Trat province and then take the ferry from the nearby pier. It is also possible to drive to Trat, which is about three and a half to four hours away by car.

Diving the Andaman Sea

Arguably the best diving in Thailand, though, can be found off the country's western coast in the Andaman Sea. The most famous dive areas here include the Similan Islands, Phi Phi Island, Surin Island, Khao Lak, Krabi, Trang, Hin Muang-Hin Daeng (Purple Rock-Red Rock), Richlieu Rock, and Koh Tarutao.

In the Andaman divers can see many of the same critters and corals as in the Gulf of Thailand but here they will see many more turtles, many more sharks including leopard sharks, whale sharks, manta rays, giant morays, giant squid, octopus, cuttlefish, schools of large fish such as batfish, barracuda, snappers and sweetlips, as well as large schools of smaller fish such as yellow-striped snappers, bannerfish, moorish idols, and red-toothed triggerfish. The visibility is usually very good and ranges from10-30 plus meters.

The underwater topography in the Andaman differs greatly from that found in the Gulf. In the Gulf the topography tends to be flat with vast expanses of sandy bottom dotted with hard coral formations and level reef systems. The Andaman, on the other hand, is characterized by steep underwater pinnacles, giant boulders, deep crevasses, sandy slopes and large hard and soft coral formations.

Highlights

The Similans is a small group of islands and underwater pinnacles known for its deep-water boulder formations and colourful soft coral gardens. The waters are home to manta rays, whale sharks, leopard sharks, nurse sharks, and an amazing array of small colourful reef fish as well as large fish such as barracuda, batfish and a variety of snappers and triggerfish.

Hin Muang-Hin Daeng (Purple Rock-Red Rock), named after the purple and red soft coral which covers these rocks, are two of the country’s most breathtaking underwater pinnacles and offer a vast array of marine life both large and small. Manta rays and whale sharks are often seen here and the waters next to the pinnacles are teeming with colorful tropical fish, shrimp, crabs and morays.

 

Richelieu Rock is another favorite dive site famous for its large schools of trevally, grouper, snappers and barracudas as well as its colourful soft corals, sea fans, small caves, and the occasional whale shark or manta ray.

The dive season

The dive season here runs from late October to mid-May. This is the time of the year when the conditions are optimal and the seas are generally calmer. The rest of the year the diving conditions in this part of the Andaman can be rather poor with high seas and heavy rains.

Getting there

The best way to get to any of the diving areas in this part of Thailand is to fly. It is possible to get there by car but it would be at least a 12-to-14-hour drive. Taking a bus or train would take even longer. There are quite a few airlines that fly to these areas and many have very reasonable ticket prices.

 

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