For many people, the beautiful Andaman sea that surrounds Phuket presents an ideal opportunity to try snorkeling in the wonderfully warm and clear waters. There is nothing quite like the experience of swimming amongst abundant tropical fish and other sea life, which darts amongst the corals and rocky coves around Phuket’s coast. Snorkeling is a great fun-filled family activity with few dangers, so anyone with children might consider it to be an ideal introduction to water sports. Snorkeling can be an immensely satisfying pass-time, and with a bit of practice it’s possible to see some truly exceptional sights.
Snorkeling is much easier than scuba diving but allows you to witness some amazing and unforgettable wildlife. The first time you don the mask, snorkels and fins and submerge underwater can be particularly memorable. You might be surprised just how much colourful and varied marine life inhabits the shallow waters around Phuket. Having said that, anyone that ventures into deeper water where there are more rocks and shelter will be rewarded with many more surprises. Additionally, if you have the chance to explore some of the nearby islands you can see some very pristine corals and considerably more fish.
Perhaps surprisingly, there are some wonderful snorkeling spots ver close to the shore of many of Phuket’s western beaches, so it’s not always necessary to go far or join a tour. Another compelling reason to try snorkeling is that you don’t need to be very physically fit and no specialist training is required; with some basic instruction you can just get in the water and give it a go…
Snorkels, Masks and Fins…
Reasonable quality snorkeling equipment is very inexpensive in Thailand and can be hired for only several hundred baht per day at many of the western beaches of Phuket. Alternatively, you can buy at most supermarkets and beach stalls, but the quality may not be top-notch. With the gear on, most people appear quite comical but once in the sea you won’t really care what you look like. If you are especially keen you might prefer to buy your own equipment in the local shops or even bring some from abroad. Note that group tours always provide the necessary equipment (at least masks and snorkels, fins are sometimes extra) but the quality may not be outstanding and there can be a rush to get the best ones.
A very handy item for snorkeling trips is an underwater camera. Inexpensive disposable models with film can be picked up quite readily in local shops. Better digital models with a higher resolution and special underwater housings can be rented from many dive shops.
When to Snorkel in Phuket
Snorkeling in Phuket can be done at almost any time of the year, but the ideal period is between November and April when the sea is calm, the weather is fine and there is less chance of rain. It’s important to check the local conditions first as it really depends on the season, the waves and the current ocean conditions. At some of the islands around Phuket you can snorkel all year round, at protected coves that have very clear water and abundant natural life such as fish and even sharks or turtles.
Because the sea in Phuket is warm, specialist clothing such as wetsuits is not required to snorkel, but it’s strongly advisable to wear a high factor sunscreen and a T-shirt. Once in the water it’s extremely easy to get sunburnt and the time can pass much more quickly than you might realise. The number of people that are burnt after just a few hours of snorkeling is always high, even though it’s very easily avoided.
The Best Snorkeling Spots in Phuket
It’s possible to snorkel at most of the island’s west coast beaches but many of them are too sandy and visibility is therefore restricted. The beaches below are exceptions that have plenty of varied and exotic tropical fish. Unfortunately, many of Phuket’s reefs were destroyed or damaged following the tsunami, but thankfully most have recovered a great deal and you will certainly see some thriving fish and coral species.
For more comprehensive details about each of the beaches and islands below, see our Beaches article in the General section.
Ao Sane Beach
Ao Sane is a 200 metre long beach that boasts perhaps the best snorkeling in the Nai Harn area, in the south of Phuket.
Laem Singh Beach
There is some decent snorkeling near the rocks at the southern end of this very attractive and uncrowded beach. A rather pleasant spot to relax between snorkels.
This tiny beach is close to Patong and offers good snorkeling. The reef was badly damaged during the tsunami, but subsequently 200 concrete blocks were placed in the water to create an artificial reef which is already attracting marine life. The large reef is about 150 metres from the beach and is recommended only for strong swimmers, but there is also plenty see closer to the shore. The site is best accessed in the high season’s winter months, as during summer strong currents and waves can be expected.
Freedom Beach is close to Patong and has ample fish close to the beach. Much of the coral was destroyed in the tsunami but some still remains.
Kata is considered the finest shallow reef in Phuket. The reef itself is a hundred metres or so from the northern end and can be reached easily. Visibility can be superb at Kata and it’s possible to see plenty of fish without swimming too far out. At the southern end near the rocks it’s shallow and quite safe for children. Koh Pu or Koh Poo (Crab Island) is a small and deserted island just off Kata’s coast, which is a great snorkeling site with depths ranging from 2 to over 10 metres. To reach Koh Pu, take a long tail boat from Kata Beach during the winter months only, when the currents are not too strong.
Kata Noi Beach
There are scores of fish close to the rocks at the southern end, as well as some coral formations.
Tri Trang Beach
A good place to swim, there are both fish and coral in the clear water near the shore as well as further out.
Ya Nui Beach
Many amazing fish can be found close to the beach, besides many interesting corals of all shapes and sizes. The water at Kata is generally clearer than here but the further out you go at Ya Nui, the clearer it becomes.
Racha Yai Island
Racha Yai (Raya) Island is one of the best places to snorkel close to Phuket, mainly due to the exceptionally clear waters, the excellent condition of the reefs, the diverse marine life and the lovely sandy beaches. The island is just over 30 kilometres from Phuket’s southern tip and can be reached by speedboat, dive boat or even by long tail boat.
The Khai Islands (Khai Nok and Khai Nui) are two tiny islands situated about 20 kilometres east of Phuket. As a result they are popular sites that can become crowded with many boats and tour groups. Nevertheless, the reefs are quite splendid in places and the water is shallow, but you have to venture away from the beach as the number of day trippers has severely damaged the coral near the shore. Even black tip reef sharks make an appearance very early in the morning just a few hundred metres west from the shore of Khai Nok. Snorkeling is possible all year round, in clear waters that have good visibility most of the time.
Koh Hae or Coral Island is one of the most popular and cheapest snorkeling destinations as it’s just a stone’s throw from Phuket (about 9 kilometres from Chalong). As a result much of the coral close to the beach has been killed or severely damaged, but there are still many corals and tropical fish a hundred metres or so from the beach. There are two beaches on the island: Long Beach is large but gets crowded, and Banana Beach is smaller and less busy. Snorkeling is possible throughout the year.
Basic Snorkeling Tips
Even though snorkeling is easy to learn and relatively safe, here are some basic tips to help you get going.
Ensure sure the mask fits your face well and maintains a fairly tight fit without leaking. It’s also wise to use an anti-mist gel or liquid to stop the mask fogging up. The mask should remain dry on the inside but can accidentally fill up with water, in which case it’s easy to clear by raising your head out of the water and pulling the lower edge away to drain. Always practice breathing with your head out of the water before you try the real thing, and don’t forget to look around occasionally to identify your position and exit spot. You might be surprised how easy it is to lose track of your location within just a few minutes.
The breathing apparatus can also become flooded with water, but clearing it is also very simple. Just blow hard to eject the water through the top, but breathe in cautiously afterwards to avoid a potential mouthful of saltwater. Modern snorkels may have a special one way valve that water from entering the tube. It’s not necessary to bite too hard on the snorkel’s mouthpiece; just relax your grip and breath slowly and normally through the tube.
Choose fins that are snug but not too tight. It’s better if they are slightly too big rather than too tight, and remember that they slip on more easily when your feet are wet. Your fins should always remain below the water and try kick with a smooth up and down stroke from the hip, not a bicycle-style circular kick which is very inefficient. Keep your knees and ankles relaxed to avoid cramps and you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Phuket Snorkeling Tour Companies
Here are the details of just a few reputable companies that can arrange snorkeling tours around Phuket. Most tours provide transportation, equipment and snacks or meals onboard the vessel. It’s also possible to charter a boat individually to more remote locations and escape the crowds, but the prices are much more expensive. Besides those listed below, many scuba dive companies can also provide half or full day snorkel tours and equipment. Expect to pay several thousand baht for a decent tour that has small group numbers and properly trained staff.
Many people book through a tour desk or hotel, which can be a bad idea as such tours are often overcrowded and provide little or no information about the location or the marine life you can expect to come across. Be aware that dozens of snorkel tour companies in Phuket come and go regularly. Many that are based in the tourist hotspots are simply third party booking agents that cram as many people as possible onto the tour to maximise their commission. For example, the very cheapest tours can have up to 100 people per boat which means that it takes a long time to disembark at each site and time in the water is severely restricted. The old adage you get what you pay for holds true, as the more expensive tours have superior itineraries, better equipment, fully trained guides, and most importantly higher safety standards.