Scuba diving in Thailand - four years worth of tips
Scuba diving around Thailand is quite easy and the thai underwater world is on par with its reputation. Here are the destinations and the best places for scuba diving in Thailand from Bangkok.
Scuba diving in Phuket / Lanta / Phi Phi area:
We dove with Seabees from Phuket Chalong for their super sunday offer once. The dive center is well organized and the boat spacious and comfortable. The staff was professional and pleasant. It is a good day with 4 dives (including a night dive) - You finish the last dive around 6:30 / 7 pm, you can't fly too early the next day - it was be good to do when you can combine it with a visit of the island or eventually a transfer for a couple more days around Koh Phi Phi for example.
MV Giamani liveaboard. Once we discovered this, we only dived from Phuket with them. The best service and crew, excellent food, great organization from start to finish. The boat is very comfortable and with only 10 divers on board maximum, you have a great time getting to know the others quite fast. It is perfect for long 3 days week-end, as their southern route leaves on Friday night and comes back on Sunday late afternoon. You fly on Friday night from Bangkok to arrive in Phuket latest 7:30 pm and they pick you up at the airport. You dine on board and are ready for the next dive at 7 am on saturday ! Then just book a nice little hotel for the night of Sunday close to the airport ( like on Nai Yang beach ), so that on Monday after a good long day enjoying the beach and relaxing - you fly back to Bangkok.
They also have a long trip going all the way to Similans islands & Surin National Park, which we did and it was amazing.
I couldn't recommend them more.
From Koh Lanta we did scuba diving in Hin Muang and Hin Daeng with Scuba Fish. Super well oiled dive center catering to a massive amount of divers comfortably and professionally. We arranged throught them the transfer from krabi airport with their faster ( and slightly more expensive ) transfer service - it was worth the money. These 2 sights are among the most famous - the soft corals and location of these pinacles make them very beautiful and good for big fish watching. In high season, it is (too) crowded. We dove them a couple more times afterwards but from the Giamani instead, as their Southern route includes these sites outside of all diving traffic hours.
Scuba diving in Koh Mak:
The little island of Koh Mak is located between Koh Kut and Koh Chang close to Trat and the Cambodian border. There is but 1 dive center (BB Divers) on this island, which is a subsidiaries of their main HQ based in Koh Chang. I think you need to book in advance for them to send someone at the shop and organize the dive - I am not sure it is always open otherwise. They had one small speedboat. The dive sites are the same as from Koh Chang, but you have far less transport and people. In the end, we did a good day with 2 shallow dives of beautiful soft corals.
Scuba diving in Koh Lipe:
This is a great island for relaxing with beautiful dive sites such as Stonehenge, 8 miles or Koh Sarang stairs. About 10 dives shops are on the island - I did dive twice with Forra diving and was happy with it. Getting to the island is a little bit long, you can get there from Hat Yai airport, Langkawi in Malaysia via ferry and I think there is even a large ferry during high season going to Koh Lanta & Koh Phi Phi as well. You have to plan for a minimum of 4 to 5 days to make it worth the transport to get there from Bangkok.
I made a more detailed post about diving in Koh Lipe during Songkran, read it here to know how to get there and detailed budget.
Scuba diving in Pattaya:
Just 2 hours away from Bangkok, absolutely perfect when you just need to get your head under water. As this can be reached by car, you can dive the whole week-end ! Leaving the office in Bangkok on Friday night (after a good diner to avoid the worst of the rush hour) and coming back around 7 pm on Sunday.
Scuba diving in Pattaya is not fantastic but nice, there are a couple of wrecks as well as some shallow coral dives. If your dive center organizes this, you can dive close to Sattahip at Samae-san where the corals are better and there is the World War II wreck: the hardeep. It is a good solution if you want to do your theory online and get the practice dives with the center in Pattaya on the week-end to get certified from Bangkok.
We dove with Real Divers on Jomtien beach on numerous occasions, they are a bunch of relaxed & pleasant people with a good service mind. In opposite side of the shop you have a small shower that you can pay 20 or 50 THB to use with a small washroom - it's like the back of house of a restaurant/hotel of some sort which open on the street - you take your shower & put the money in a jar in front of it. Perfect to get cleaned up before taking the road back to Bangkok. On a side note, the bigger room of this small hotel ( Nirvana ) had concrete gigantic bathtub that made it perfect to clean and hang our gear to dry. Otherwise we did enjoy Chateau Dale as a cheap and simple alternative. The spa on 1st floor of the complex is good and so are the Indian restaurant, News western restaurant & the small supermarket right by it. Easy for parking the car too !
Scuba diving in Chumphon:
We were not keen on Koh Tao but still wanted to dive that part of Thailand, we did on a long week-end. 3 to 4 days are enough for this diving excursion from Bangkok. There are to chumphon only a couple of flights per day, mainly with Nok air, conveniently scheduled for maximum time there. The problem of Chumphon is the absence of English speaking dive centers - as far I could find, there was only 2 ! Chao Koh Diving who I contacted via Facebook and mobile but never answered and then Chumphon Diving as well from Cabana resort, which when I contacted directly didn't answer too... but we managed to book the diving at the same time as the hotel room. ( The hotel is right by it. ) We did take the super early flight from Bangkok and managed to arrive at the resort with a taxi before the day diving started so we could hop right in and leave the luggage at the reception for a much later check in.
The diving was great, beautiful aquarium conditions with a lot of things to see. Experience with the dive shop wise, not so much. There was a massive group of Thai divers from a club in Bangkok who had chartered the boat and the staff seemed to have completely under-estimated the number of non-club divers. At one day, we were 8 divers for 1 divemaster... and with 4 who I assume where doing their Discovery scuba diving... The staff spoke little to no English, and we didn't understood a single briefing - they mainly completely ignored us for the 3 days we dove there. Luckily we are comfortable diving AND we have all our gear ( including SMB's etc... ). In the end most of the last 20 min of each dive where done just the 2 of us, while the divemaster brought up the other divers. On the last day we discovered that another of the thai diver in our group was a divemaster on holiday with his friends - in the end we grouped up together and the 5 of us made a more advanced group by ourselves - which was much better.
Apparently the Whale Shark season is July there. ( they said daily sightings ! )
We never dove in Koh Tao - maybe some other time. From Chumphon airport you have transfer services with Lomprayah ferry company for the ones who want to skip the long bus or train ride from Bangkok. Chumphon however is great, hardly a foreign tourist, long white sandy beach and super cheap / simple accommodation with great food. Having your own transport is better though, as there are little infrastructures dedicated to tourists. ( Either rent a car from the airport or a scooter from your hotel )
Purchasing scuba diving gear in Bangkok & Phuket
I have been told that Thailand is one of the cheapest country in South East Asia for purchasing equipment. I do not know if this is true but a wide selection is available and there are a couple of shops. Now the main issue is, as always, getting the right advise and service.
In Bangkok there are 3 shops in the city center that I have been to myself.
Planet Scuba: right under the BTS station Phrom Pong
66 Suk. Road Nr. Phrom Pong Skytrain stn, (adj. to Sukhumvit Soi 24) Bangkok
Mainly Mares brand - I have been disappointed with their service and advices. We pre-ordered some stuff with one sales person, and when we came back for it a couple of weeks later, it was not there and the other sales was not aware at all. In the end, we cancelled our order for lack of proper customer care.
I think their mother company or wholeseller is in Phuket in Chalong next to Pier 42 hotel - Siam Diving Enterprise. This shop is much bigger and has pretty much the same equipment offered. We did get there great service and advices to purchase part of our gear. So if you are looking for Mares and are in Phuket, it might be worth checking it out.
Aquamaster Bangkok: walking distance from BTS Asoke
22/3-4 Sukhumvit 21, Wattana, Bangkok 10110
Aqualung brand and a couple of other accessories. The owner in charge is always there, speaks English and can recommend what is in his shop. The mother company is also located in Chalong Phuket on the same street as the Siam Diving Enterprise. We did also visit the Phuket shop and met the people at the TDEX diving tradeshow in Bangkok. Great service and communication between their shops. Be aware from Bangkok: 2 weeks to service a regulator as they send it to Phuket first.
Dive supply: 20thb motorcycle taxi from BTS Phaya thai or a good (very hot) 10 min walk from the station.
457 4 457/4 Thanon Si Ayutthaya, Thung Phaya Thai, Ratchathewi, Bangkok 10400 - their facebook
They do speak English and their shop as a very good selection of non-branded and small accessories ( hooks, clips, tank bangers, CPR stuffs, travel bags, knives etc... ). A wide selection of affordable wetsuit as well.
TDEX - Thailand Diving Exhibition
Once a year (around May) at Queen Sirikit Convention Center there is the golf and diving exhibition. This is good to visit to catch on clearance sales and promotional offer when you are planning some big purchases. Also most of the wholesalers are there, which means knowledgeable people to provide good advice on what to purchase. There are a number of local dive clubs who organize dive trips around areas you may not have access to if you don't speak thai or not team up with a thai club. You can find liveaboard companies exhibiting from South East Asia region ( Rajah Ampat anyone? Or Ambon ? Maldives ?) and you may catch up a last minute promotion or discover a diving destinations you didn't know about ? I think it was a relatively small exhibition packed with interesting things to see.
Finding like minded people
I discovered too late that a lot of clubs existed in Bangkok about diving. This is a great way to group for chartering boats, make friends and dive less travelled areas in Thailand. You can do the courses in a swimming pool with them and then hop on an organized trip. There is as well, this nice facebook group: Bangkok scuba diving club which organizes from meet ups / group people together to dive trips.
I hope you will enjoy diving in Thailand - I did. It is quite diverse and easy and getting away of the crowds is not that difficult, albeit sometimes a little more pricey (but always worth it).