Phuket and the surrounding region is quite rightly considered by many people to be one of the top diving destinations anywhere in the world. The waters are consistently clear and pleasantly warm (close to 30 degrees Celsius all year), and there are amazing and unforgettable underwater sights that can astound even the most experienced divers. From out of this world rock formations to plenty of colourful, exotic and unique marine life, the natural habitat supports and provides shelter to a staggering array of creatures and plant life. Reef sharks, countless species of tropical fish and beautiful yet fragile corals and fans can be observed easily, and with great visibility up to 30 metres at some sites there are not many places in the world which can beat the experience of diving in Phuket.
Divers visiting Phuket often opt to join a longer trip on a dedicated live abroad vessel. This allows you to explore further afield to some prime locations such as the Burma Banks in the Mergui Archipelago, the unspoilt and undiscovered Andaman Islands, and the world famous Similan Islands. For a shorter day trip from Phuket, favourite dive sites include the ever popular Koh Phi Phi, Shark Point, Anemone Reef and many other sites which are accessible within a just an hour or two. Phuket and its environs offer something for novice and professional divers alike, with all types of sea conditions and many interesting sights.
In recent years the Thai government has put considerable effort into creating better environmental and sustainable policies to help maintain and protect the fragile and endangered coral reefs. Effective measures such as proper mooring and buoy projects at many sites are helping to limit damage to corals caused by boats’ anchors, and there have been many attempts to curb the practice of dynamite fishing which is particularly damaging to the aquatic environment. All these efforts are essential to protect the delicate marine environment in Thailand, and will help to attract more divers and visitors in the future.
When you consider other factors such as the excellent tourist infrastructure, easy accessibility and the infamous nightlife, plus the fact that diving in Phuket is relatively inexpensive compared to some places around the world, it’s easy to understand why scuba diving has really taken off in Thailand as a whole. All these benefits combine to make a compelling reason why a scuba diving trip to Phuket could be one of the most memorable holidays you have ever experienced.
Please check out our related feature on snorkelling around Phuket.
Phuket Day Trip Dive Sites
The main dive sites around Phuket that can be reached as a day trip are as follows.
The name Hin Jom in Thai quite literally means submerged rock, which is appropriate as the formation lies totally underwater and is quite a well known hazard for passing ships. The entire structure is bursting with colourful sea anemones of all types gently swaying in the currents, and there are countless tropical fish such as barracudas, lion fish, groupers and leopard sharks. The reef shelters an astounding array of tropical flora and fauna, and resembles a giant living rock due to the myriad anemones and soft corals, which just have to be seen to be believed. The reef is quite close to Shark Point only 25 kilometres from Phuket, and due to the variable and unpredictable currents its recommended that beginners are always accompanied by experienced divers.
King Cruiser Wreck
By now almost every local knows the history of this fantastic shipwreck, which sank on May 4th 1997, due to unknown circumstances (the captain was later found to be negligent). The vessel in question was a car ferry on the popular and well trodden route between Phuket and Phi Phi, when it struck the Anemone Reef and sank entirely a few hours later. Luckily, all the passengers were rescued but the hull remains a welcome addition to the various dive sites in Phuket, and happens to lie in ideal conditions at between 10 and 30 metres depth.
The wreck is a great compliment to the dive sites around Phuket and is also located very close to the spectacular Anemone Reef, which can be reached from Phuket in less than 90 minutes. The ideal time of year to dive the wreck is between December and March. The boat itself now forms a magnificent artificial reef with multiple levels and open spaces to swim through. The structure shelters a very wide diversity of tropical fish and corals such as lion fish and barracudas. Be careful when navigating through the wreck however, as some of the barnacles and corals are razor sharp and present quite a hazard.
Koh Dork Mai
The name of this lovely little island in Thai translates as Flower Island, which is especially appropriate as the underwater corals resemble a huge mass of brightly coloured flowers. The island is so small that it can be circled easily in a very short time, but above ground it’s an imposing and impressive rocky outcrop which rises steeply. The island is covered in dense tropical jungle and falls away sharply on three sides.
On the fourth side is a gentle slope which is home to an amazing reef with abundant fish (including moray eels and beautiful yellow seahorses) as well as coral formations. There are also some small but worthwhile caves to explore and many yellow tube corals on the eastern side. The depth almost everywhere is between 5 and 30 metres and visibility can vary up to approximately 30 metres. Koh Dork Mai is a favourite dive spot on route to other nearby locations and can be reached from Phuket in less than 90 minutes.
Koh Racha Noi
The smaller of the two Racha Islands, Racha Noi (Noi means small in Thai) has several worthwhile dive sites and submerged pinnacles at both the northern and southern tips, where many shoals of fish swim, besides impressive species such as manta rays, and whale and leopard sharks. The dive sites around the island include North Pinnacle, Kampela Point, The Beach and South Pinnacle.
A wooden shipwreck lies abandoned just off the south west side that always teems with interesting creatures. A few of the shallow areas around Racha Noi are suitable for quite inexperienced divers, but the more advanced and capable divers will certainly get more out of Racha Noi due to the variable currents and depths that can reach up to 40 metres. Getting there is easy, as it’s just 90 minutes from Phuket.
Koh Racha Yai
Further north from Racha Noi, the larger of the two islands has around ten excellent dive sites most of which are located on the island’s east coast. Some great drift diving is possible along the hard coral walls which gradually slope down to a sandy floor. The island attracts many of the typical reef fish but larger specimens such as barracuda and reef sharks are also common.
The individual dive sites around the island have tempting names such as Lucy’s Reef, Staghorn Reef (due to the profusion of staghorn coral) and Marla’s Mystery which is an abandoned wreck now home to countless morays and large schools of groupers. Ocean currents at Racha Yai can be strong and depths range between around 5 to 30 metres.
Phi Phi Islands
The Phi Phi Islands are located approximately 40 kilometres from Phuket and are consistently one of the best loved dive spots and holiday locations in Southeast Asia. The scenery both above and below water is stunning, with towering limestone rocks that rise abruptly from the water. Underneath there is a dazzling array of unique rock formations with plenty of overhangs and caves to explore. These structures are very interesting environments for divers and harbour a wealth of hard and soft corals, fans and copious fish. Visibility is variable but can reach 30 metres and there are may sites suitable for all levels of experience.
Besides diving, Phi Phi boasts stunning scenery, jungles and beaches so is also a great spot to spend time just relaxing and sightseeing. Local dive sites include Maya Bay, Shark Point, Koh Bida Nok, Hin Dot and many more.
Phuket’s West Coast
While many people like to explore the very best dive sites which are further from Phuket, there are also some enjoyable and shallow locations along Phuket’s west coast which are eminently suitable for beginners, yet still offer some interesting sights and a chance to observe many unusual fish and large species including sharks.
Freedom Beach, Paradise Beach and Bang Tao in the north west of Phuket are ideal for beginners with very shallow water of only 5 metres or so, and can easily be reached from the shore. You can often spot novice divers taking a lesson and practicing their skills. Kata Beach is probably the best site, especially the narrow channel close to the tiny Koh Pu (Crab Island). There are plenty of fish, and even a few reef sharks can be seen.
Remember to exercise caution and watch out for the hazardous jet-skis and long tail boats which frequently operate on these beaches. They are not always aware of the divers so it pays to be extremely careful.
The name Shark Point (or Hin Mu Sang in Thai) is well deserved as most divers can expect to see the docile leopard sharks which rest on the sandy bottom. They are surprisingly approachable but it’s important to resist the temptation to handle them as it can cause injuries and infection. The area was declared part of a protected marine reserve in 1992 and so commercial fishing and collecting of aquatic souvenirs is prohibited by law. This has helped to preserve this deservedly popular world-class spot which remains largely pristine and undisturbed despite its popularity.
Above water the rock appears as nothing particularly special, which will surprise many divers when they realise just how far the underwater features extend. There are three rocky pinnacles which are absolutely teeming with rich marine life and thousands of purple and pink soft corals.
As a site which is reachable within just an hour or two from Phuket, Shark Point is unsurpassed and remains one of the most enjoyable sites to explore and a definite highlight in the region. The currents can be strong and the optimal time to dive here is normally between December and March. Remember not to drop anchor; instead use the mooring buoys which have been installed.
Phuket Live-Aboard Dive Sites
The main sites which can be visited on a live-aboard trip from Phuket are described below. Live-aboard excursions are undoubtedly the ideal way to explore the best sites in the area, and provide comfortable surroundings and even relative luxury. There is really no better way to reach the best dive spots and remote locations. They are also a fun way to bond with your fellow divers and enjoy life on the seas for a week or so.
The unspoilt and little known Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal are without doubt amongst the most impressive dive sites found anywhere in the world. Until very recently they were almost completely inaccessible but the Indian government has started to open them up to extremely limited tourism. The islands are around 650 kilometres north west from Phuket and are actually situated much closer to Burma than India.
Even now, the Andaman Islands remain relatively unexplored and mostly uninhabited, and are home to several indigenous and primitive tribes which have shunned contact with most modern day explorers. As a consequence, it’s strictly forbidden to go ashore on a few of the islands. Commercial fishing is very limited and the remote nature of the environment ensures the corals and marine life are almost completely undisturbed, making it an ideal location in which to dive.
You can expect to come across some truly wonderful sights such as massive corals, enormous sharks, graceful mantas and abundant billfish such as tuna and marlin. These superb islands are ideally reached by a trip on a live-aboard vessel but you may spend long periods on the boat to travel to the best spots,s but the rewards are more than enough.
Mostly still unexplored, the Burma Banks are found within Burmese territorial waters a few hundred kilometres north west of the Similan Islands, and represent some of the best open ocean diving available in the area. The banks comprise a series of large, flat-topped mounds that rise from the deep ocean, to depths that are suitable for scuba divers.
The big attraction here are without doubt the massive sea creatures – mostly fish and sharks, which inhabit these waters. They tend to be much larger than can be found in the Similan Islands. Nurse sharks, silver tips, tiger sharks and hammerheads can all be spotted regularly, and they are surprisingly playful and fearless of divers. You can expect to get up close and personal with these fantastic creatures on almost every dive.
The currents are usually strong and highly variable, so it’s recommended that you dive with experienced groups that prioritise safety. It’s very easy to drift fairly long distances here, so make sure you keep aware of your location.
The name translates to Red Rock in Thai and is located just a few hundred metres from Hin Muang (see below), just south west from Koh Phi Phi and best reached from Phuket on a live-aboard vessel. The rock is a large pinnacle which just breaches the surface, but of course it’s below water where the action can be found. There are massive numbers of fish such as tuna and barracuda as well as the ever present whale sharks. It’s certainly one of the most enjoyable locations in which to dive in Thailand.
As the name suggests, Purple Rock got its name because of the incredible profusion of soft purple corals which attracts an incredible amount of marine life, especially compared with nearby Hin Daeng which might even seem quite sparse in comparison. The completely submerged pinnacle is entirely covered in anemones and corals, which provide plenty of nooks and crannies for the sea creatures. It’s also one of the best places to have close encounters with manta rays, reef sharks and the gentle giant whale sharks.
Around 20 kilometres north of the Similan Islands and 145 kilometres from Phuket (around 8 hours by boat) lies the tiny Bon Island, which lies on the route of most of the live-aboard diving trips going north. Best for experienced and advanced divers due to the strong currents, the site features a 33 metre vertical wall on the south west side which faces a small cove and a steep ridge that goes down to 40 metres on the west side. There are many unusual types and colours of coral but turquoise, yellow and green mainly dominate.
One of the main attractions at Koh Bon are the variety of unusual fish such as damselfish, trigger fish and moray eels, but it’s also a fabulous place to spot leopard sharks and especially manta rays which are especially common during April and May (but can often be seen all year round). The cove is also a decent spot for a night dive. To the west of the island is the Koh Bon Pinnacle which sits in deep water between 20 and 40 metres. As it’s rather exposed it’s recommended that you dive the pinnacle only when conditions are favourable. For those that make it however, there are large sharks and mantas aplenty gliding through the waters.
Situated 20 kilometres north of Koh Bon, and around 165 kilometres from Phuket (approximately 9 hours away) between the Surin and Similan Islands is Koh Tachai. It’s normally a favourite fixture on the way to Richelieu Rock and boasts several worthwhile dive sites around the island. The most well known feature however is the large underwater plateau located 1 kilometre offshore which consists of hard corals and numerous boulders strewn across the seafloor.
Tachai is considered by many to be one of the best dive sites in Thailand due to the abundance of large fans, corals and tropical fish as well as manta rays, leopard and nurse sharks, endangered hawksbill turtles and the sizeable whale sharks which make a regular appearance. Due to the strong currents and nutrient rich waters it’s not uncommon to see large fish species such as trevally, a consideration that also makes it suitable mainly for experienced divers. Between dives there’s a lovely sandy beach on which to relax.
The diving highlight near the Surin Islands is a small submerged rock about 20 kilometres east of Surin, approximately 200 kilometres (about 10 hours) from Phuket. The rock is probably the best place in the world to swim with the enormous whale sharks (which are filter feeders that mainly consume plankton). The adult sharks can reach over 12 metres in length and are easily the biggest fish in the ocean, dwarfing the awestruck divers that swim alongside. The rock rises from a depth of 50 metres, to just under the surface during a low tide, and was discovered by the well known diver Jacques Cousteau.
Encounters with the sharks are extremely common in the right season. Swimming with the creatures is one of the most memorable experiences for any diver and Richelieu is the best site in Thailand to witness these magnificent animals up close especially between February and April. There is such a wealth of other marine life too that the rock is definitely worth a visit whether the sharks are present or not. Moray eels, barracudas, nurse sharks and manta rays are usually present in high numbers. Besides the fish, soft corals, anemones and fans nestle in crevices all over the rock.
A live-aboard trip is definitely the best way to explore this 25 kilometre long chain of 9 jungle clad islands which lie 95 kilometres north west of Phuket. The whole area became a protected marine national park in 1992 and has since enjoyed unparalleled levels of conservation. The islands are very beautiful and unspoiled with very diverse dive spots and conditions; indeed something for everybody and always ranked amongst the top ten dive sites anywhere in the world.
The underwater scenery is splendid and there is a dazzling variety of marine life (not particularly huge fish but there are large schools swimming everywhere) with great visibility of up to 40 metres in places. Most of the islands themselves have two characteristics: on the eastern sides there are hard coral flourishes which gently slope down to depths of 40 metres and sandy bottoms which are easy to dive. On the western sides there are huge coral-covered granite boulders which present a more exciting array of arches, drop-offs and cut throughs. The massive schools of fish, leopard sharks, white tip sharks and countless tropical fish are an amazing sight and provide some great photo opportunities.
Across the 9 islands there are around 25 individual dive sites with names such as Donald Duck Bay, Batfish Bend, Christmas Point, and Fantasy Reef. Elephant Head on island number 8 is one of the most well known, named after some unusual looking rocks which breach the surface of the water. Overall, the Similan Islands are one of the most enjoyable dive locations and recommended on any visit to Phuket and the surrounding area.
Somewhat less popular than the Similan Islands largely due to the remoteness and time it takes to get there, the relatively uninhabited Surin Islands boast a wide variety of hard corals and are also ideal for snorkelers due to the shallow nature of the reefs. Combined with the stunning natural beauty and relative tranquility (you won’t find too many hordes of other divers here), the Surin Islands make for a great live-aboard dive expedition and are typically visited on the way to the stunning Richelieu Rock. There is a very small local population of ethnic Moken, more commonly known as Sea Gypsies or Chao Lay in Thai.
The islands, which were designated a marine national park in 1981, are located around 200 kilometres north of Phuket and comprise two main islands: Surin Neua (north) and Surin Tai (south), as well as several smaller islands (Koh Ri, Ko Kai and Koh Klang) and some rocky outcrops. The national park office is located on the south west side of Koh Surin Neua. There are more than 10 individual dive sites with pristine reefs which are suitable for all levels from beginners to advanced divers, and visibility can reach 20 metres.
During a dive you can expect to see all kinds of exotic fish inhabiting the reefs and surrounding waters including bream, snappers, titan triggerfish, barracuda, mackerel, reef sharks, plus several varieties of rays. There are also some amazing hard corals occupying the shallows such as staghorn coral, as well as soft corals and fans sheltering between the rocks and boulders.
Learning to Dive in Phuket
Due to the excellent diving available in the Andaman Sea around Phuket, there are a wealth of very professional dive companies and courses that can equip you with all the skills you need to enjoy diving here. From basic beginner PADI and SSI courses up to the more advanced and specialist courses, or simply for anyone that wishes to brush up on their skills, there is really something for everyone. Prices are on the whole less expensive compared with some other parts of the world, and the safety standards are generally very high. Be careful when choosing the dive instructors and check their level of expertise beforehand. The most reputable companies are highly certified and usually have both experienced foreign and local staff, and they can usually teach in a variety of languages.
The good thing about diving as an activity is that almost anybody with a reasonable level of fitness can learn (as long as they can swim), and it allows you the freedom to dive anywhere in the world once you have achieved the necessary qualifications. A simple PADI beginners introductory course usually starts at around 5,000 baht, which includes basic theory and controlled dives in shallow depths or near the shore (or in a pool), and might also include several deeper water dives under professional supervision.
Besides the beginner courses, many divers choose to start their professional careers here by acquiring dive master status. Prices are upwards of 30,000 baht and lasts for several weeks, but once qualified you will be able to lead other divers and be considered a diving expert. Further options might include open water and emergency response courses.
The best time of year to learn to dive in Phuket is during the high season (November to April) when the weather is fairly dry and the north east monsoon brings favourable conditions to the island and its waters. At other times the visibility is reduced and currents may be much stronger. However, there are some decent year round sites and it’s possible to learn at practically any time of the year. In the summer months between March and August, it may be preferable to learn in the Gulf of Thailand such as in Koh Samui. The dive shops and schools carry all the necessary equipment, which may be bought or rented for the duration of your course.
Phuket Dive Operators
Here is just a small selection of the scuba diving operators that can be found in Phuket.