Phuket has long been known for top Thai scuba diving holidays. This is because of spectacular marine life combined with a vast range of diving – something suitable for everyone. But what are the 10 best Phuket dive sites?
Thailand is high on many people’s bucket list regardless of whether they are a scuba diver or not. Stunning climate, friendly people, tasty food and unique culture all create a unique allure. Add world class diving, and for those of us inclined to spend time beneath the waves, it becomes the perfect destination.
Phuket is as suitable for beginners looking for safe conditions, as it is for advanced divers looking to explore wrecks and caves. Whether you prefer liveaboards, or a land base in paradise, there is something to suit you on Thai scuba diving holidays in Phuket.
Of course the marine life is a huge part of the draw. Manta rays and whale sharks are regular visitors to the waters around Phuket. At the other end of the size scale colourful Nudibranchs and macros life make the stunning soft and hard corals their home.
We asked our friends at the Oceanic Dive Center in Phuket, what are the 10 best Phuket dive sites to visit on Thai scuba diving holidays? In no particular order here’s their top 10. But first a huge thank you to Rachel Hawtin of Oceanic Dive Center for the words and images below.
Racha Yai and Racha Noi are considered great training dive sites and are good for snorkelers too. The year-round excellent visibility, and mild currents in the bays, provide the perfect conditions to make learning to dive easy.
These sites are great for octopus lovers and there’s also a very healthy population of moray eels. Racha Noi is the most likely place to spot manta rays, as they soar by the island to reach the cleaning station at the Southern plateau. Plus you can ride a wrecked scooter!
The best time of year to dive here is from May to October. This is because the sheltered eastern sides of the islands provide the best variety of dive sites and marine life.
These two dive sites are very close to each other and are all about the soft coral and anemone growth. Anemone Reef is a little quieter than Shark Point because fewer boats visit as it’s a smaller site without as much shelter from currents as found at Shark Point.
Both dive sites are great for finding sleeping bamboo sharks, leopard sharks tigertail seahorses, ornate ghostpipefish, mantis shrimps and any number of nudibranchs. You’ll also see all the usual reef fish and schooling great barracuda.
Leopard sharks used to be a regular sighting here – at least 3 or 4 on pretty much every dive. But in recent years we’ve seen a decline in their numbers, so they’re not as frequent visitors as they used to be.
Not far from Shark Point and Anemone Reef, and for advanced divers only, the King Cruiser Wreck is a must. A 90m car ferry that sank in 1997 (with no loss of life) she provides Phuket with a spectacular wreck and artificial reef dive, that changes a little every year as corrosion takes its toll.
The sheer volume of schooling fish will impress even the hardest-to-please diver, and lionfish grow to the size of chickens here! A good growth of colourful soft corals harbour many macro species, especially notable is a fabulous array of nudibranchs.
The visibility year round is variable, there can be strong currents, and the minimum depth of the dive at 16m. So this dive is not available to beginners.
Perhaps the most surprising of the best Phuket dive sites, is Kata House Reef at the Oceanic Dive Center. Just a short 75m swim (more walking and less swimming at low tide) brings you to the start of the House Reef at Kata.
With a maximum depth of around 12m this is a perfect dive for photographers. The reef is a collection of mostly hard coral with a few soft corals. Further out are some concrete shapes that form an artificial reef where leafy soft corals, and anemones can be seen.
You can expect to see all reef species here. Regular highlights are schooling cuttlefish, young chevron barracuda, seahorses, a huge colony of blue spotted rays sleeping in the sand, lots of lionfish, scorpionfish, and the odd sighting of our resident harlequin shrimp.
If you’re very lucky, you’ll meet our pair of mimic octopus who hang around in the sand off the reef. Because it’s so shallow, the dive time can extend well past an hour and a dive here rarely disappoints. Due to westerly monsoon winds, the beach dive is generally not possible between mid-May and mid-November.
This tiny limestone island, with sheer cliffs above and below the water, makes a great stop on the way out to, or back from, Phi Phi or Shark Point. There are two small caverns to explore, which provide dramatic photo opportunities of the diver silhouetted against the entrance.
At Flower Island you’ll find lots of different varieties of soft corals clinging to the wall. They attract all kinds of reef fish, the cracks and crevices provide a home for just about every macro creature you could hope to see.
The Phi Phi Islands have a range of dive sites the most popular being Bida Nok and Bida Nai. Despite being a little over dived the Phi Phi Islands remain the best place to spot blacktip reef sharks, leopard sharks and turtles.
Bida Nok and Bida Nai are two tiny islands to the south of Phi Phi. They both have a choice of wall dive, granite boulder swim-throughs and coral gardens. Visibility is variable throughout the year, and being a long way from Phuket if you’re coming during the monsoon season be careful to avoid a day with a rough crossing.
The best time of year to visit Phi Phi is during the high season from November to May. This is when the sea is calmest, and we can dive the western dive sites, where the biggest populations of sharks and turtles can be found.
The Similan Islands are widely considered one of the top 10 diving destinations in the world, so certainly one of the best Phuket dive sites. They are protected by National Park status, and as such, remain closed between May and October.
The granite boulders of the Similan Islands, coupled with excellent visibility – often 40m or more – make for spectacular dive sites on the western sides of the islands. The eastern sides provide enough shelter for sloping coral reefs to have developed, with abundant marine life of all types.
The Similans can be reached in a day trip from Phuket. But it is a two hour drive north before you even get on a boat, so it is better to explore them on a liveaboard trip like those run by the Oceanic Dive Center.
Koh Bon is a limestone island with a pelagic (oceanic) cleaning station visited by manta rays. You’ll spot them circling around the natural arena at the Western Ridge. It also offers a remarkable combination of macro life.
Like the Similans it can be reached on a day trip when enjoying Thai scuba diving holidays in Phuket. However it is almost too much travelling in a single day to be really enjoyable so we recommend you join a liveaboard.
Koh Tachai has a number of good dive spots, the most notable of which is the submerged plateau, where mantas come to feed and be cleaned. You’ll also see huge schools of fish being hunted by trevally, rainbow runners and barracuda.
Technically too far from Phuket for a day trip. However, Koh Tachai is a must visit for Thai scuba diving holidays, and included as one of the best Phuket dive sites because it is visited during most liveaboard trips from Phuket.
While we are out beyond the reach of Phuket day trips we need to include one of Thailand’s most iconic dive sites – Richelieu Rock. Still part of the Surin National Park, the protected waters can’t be reached by normal boat from the Thai coast making it less busy.
Richelieu Rock is a pinnacle dive site famous for it’s red and purple corals. It’s also a macro dreamland teeming with tiny critters. Oh and did we mention it’s a popular spot for whale sharks too?
For more information about the best Phuket dive sites, and honest advice to help to plan top Thai scuba diving holidays, please contact the Oceanic Dive Center at [email protected] or visit www.oceanicdivecenter.com