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Diving in Phuket, Thailand

Phuket is one of the most famous destinations in Thailand.

Beyond the beaches, the various activities and the nightlife, it is also recommended for its underwater life.



Dear readers, good day to you!


Fancy to on holidays under the sun? I take you there!

« Fun diving, technical divinarning ou simply discovery, Phuket fits all scenarios»

An ideal place


Many websites, blogs, guides or advertisements will tell you about Phuket and what to do there. This is not the intention of this post. Be aware, however, that you will find plenty to do. Between beaches, excursions (for example James Bond island), elephant camps (opt for those who treat them well pleae), go-kart (why not, its always fun), restaurants (with your feet in the sand), shopping (Jungceylon in Patong), viewpoints for great photos (sunset at the Cape ), landmarks or spiritual sites (Big Buddha), etc., you will be busy.


The largest island in the Kingdom offers an ideal and pleasant setting to enjoy water sports and more particularly scuba diving.

Whether you decide to make it your base for day tripos in the surrounding area or your starting point for a liveaboard in the Andaman Sea, Phuket is ideally located 1h25 away from Bangkok with a direct flight. The Andaman Sea is yours!


View from the Cape


Good infrastructures


The island of Phuket has several hospitals, which is not negligible in the event of a major injury. Be careful, however, chose a good one.


It also has a decompression chamber. Without thinking of the worst, it is reassuring to know that this is available, which is not the case everywhere.


In terms of hotel infrastructure, it would be pointless to attempt a summary. You will find what suits you, the range is wide, for all types of goods and prices.


Let's not forget the shopping! I'm talking about diving equipment here, although you'll find the rest as well (its not Bangkok of course). You will find dealers for the main brands (Mares, Aqualung, Deep Blue etc.) everywhere and especially around the port of Chalong, from where most of the dive boats leave.


An international airport offers you domestic and international flights in all directions.


Despite being the largest island in the country, it remains small. It is not too difficult to find your way around. The main axes, they are few, will bring you to the main places of interest. There are a plethora of taxis and hotels will arrange your transportation without any difficulty. However, I recommend that you rent a scooter (don't forget the helmet) if you have the permit.


The Andaman Sea


A bit of geography.


So, the Andaman Sea is ...? In Thailand yes ok thank you we would have guess. Although, not only or not exactly. It is partially in Thai territorial waters but is, geographically speaking, part of the Indian Ocean. For those who like details, it is east of Andaman and Nicobar Islands (in India). Geographically still, we are, therefore, in the west of Thailand and in the South of Burma, the sea crossing the border. Unless I'm mistaken, there are 155 islands, very few of which are inhabited (and yes it's exotic and pretty on a postcard but being on an island far from everything is complicated unless you really want to disconnect from the world). Nature having its rights, vegetation is important on these islands.


Two monsoons: northeast monsoon and southwest monsoon. Depending on the season (the best diving period is known to be from November to April), visibility will be 5 meters on a bad day to over 30 meters on good ones.


From May to October we have the southwest monsoon, which results in a rough sea, strong currents and increased turbidity. However, visibility remains generally acceptable (say up to 20 meters).


So-called semi-diurnal tides, twice a day. I will not go into detail.


Outside temperature? Hot, very hot from November to April. You will be well above 25 degrees in the shade, so well over 30 when you sip your coconut under the sun. And don't forget that you are almost on the equator, not in Europe ... the sun is almost vertical and it gets hot.


Water temperature? 27 and over. It won't even refresh you. Expect a few "thermoclines", those abrupt changes in temperature up to 5-6 degrees over few meters.

Marine life


Expect a lot of varieties, colors, the flora and fauna will undoubtedly amaze you. For those who have never dived before, it will be a very pleasant first contact with underwater life, the problem being that you will be setting the bar very high from the start of your diving career. For those who are diving for the first time in Thailand it will also be a beauty. It's hard to compare with other parts of the world as each has its good points and I don't find it very relevant to make comparisons. But basically it will be different from what you will find in Egypt and similar to what you will find in Indonesia or the Maldives if you allow me this shortcut.


I give you a small list of local treasures which is not, however, exhaustive.


  • Sharks: whale shark; leopard shark; zebra shark; black and white tip shark, I have never seen a tiger or white shark (it's better that way).

  • Manta ray.

  • Barracuda, Platax, Carangue Fusilier with yellow and blue back, Sergeant-major, Red mullet, Capuchin, Rainbow runner, Butterfly fish, Crocodile.

  • Morays are very common and you will mostly see: White-eyed Moray, Fringed, Javanese (some can be huge), Blue Ribbon Leopard, Garden Eel, Striped Knit.

  • Scorpion fish? Of course !

  • Marine reptiles? Naturally !

  • 3-banded clownfish.

  • Porcupine and Giant Balloon Fish, Trumpet, Knife, Box, Grouper.

  • Lobsters, dormant lobsters, shrimps.

  • Porcelain crabs, Spider, Hermit Crabs, Orangutans.

  • Let's not forget the nudibranchs and mollusks (which is not my favourites but there are many fans), corals, starfish, seahorses.

  • Cephalopods.


When to go?


For diving, the ideal season follows the high tourist season, October to April. I dived in May and September and it was great, but maybe I was lucky. Indeed, from May to September you will have more rain, rough sea, not very pleasant currents and visibility which can become bad.


Day trips


Probably the most common activity, you will a wide range of operators. It is about going diving for a day, on one or more spots around Phuket. Usually you will leave your hotel between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. and will be back around 4 or 5 p.m. (depending on the time, location of your hotel and road traffic).


Expect three dives, which means a fairly busy schedule considering the travel time to sites, gearing up, intervals between dives etc. You are not going to be bored, but at the same time you are here to be active aren't you? However, and depending on the operator, you will not feel stressed. You will stay in the holiday spirit.


You will probably leave from Chalong port (east of Phuket), the cruise will last around 1h30 (here again, it is according to the spot (s) defined for the day). On the way, a coffee, revision of the theory if necessary, briefing from the boss, stomach cleaning in the back of the boat for the most fragile (and yes, we told you to take the sea sickness pill before).


The popular spots


King Cruiser Wreck: the wreck of a civilian boat that sank in May 1997, perhaps even scuttled according to some. It is, or rather it was, an 87m long catamaran. It touched the Anemone Reef and sank after an hour of agony, luckily without human casualties. Some give it the nickname "The Thaitanic" ... The currents are sometimes strong in the area but nothing mad. You will usually see barracudas, lionfish, scorpionfish (watch your hands) and many more. The broken boat is in poor condition and I suggest you do not venture inside. What is left can fall on you at any time. Staying outside is better ... You will find the beast between 16 and 30 meters deep.


Koh Racha Yai: Koh Racha Yai (island of the great king to use a simple translation) is a small island located 1h30 from Phuket (by boat I specify for those who have a doubt). It is surrounded by corals, reefs, not very deep. You can have fun up to 20 meters. It is an easy and popular spot for all levels of divers. You will find a lot of underwater life there and the usual suspects such as lionfish, barracudas, scorpion fish, puffer fish, moray eels (I never found them prettz by the way but hey, that's always that more to watch). We dive around the island depending on the current.


Koh Racha Noi: Koh Racha Noi (island of the little king) is an island located south of Racha Yai, count three quarters of an hour to get there. Visibility is generally good, which gives you a pleasant view. Because of the currents that can sometimes be felt let's say ... firm, some would say that it is recommended for experienced divers. I do not agree. I even think I did a few dives there as a PADI Open Water without having any problems. Barracudas, rays (mantas, amber or more) will be there ... or not. It is according to what nature will grant you that day.

Shark Point: let's be clear, this is my favorite spot around Phuket, if not even my favorite spot at all and I don't think I'm the only one! Real name Hin Musang, it is a rock about 2 hours east of Phuket. Unfortunately operators don't put it on the schedule often enough (in my opinion), so if you have the chance give it a go. A wide variety of underwater species awaits you there (well the fish dont actually wait, they have better things to do) and if you are lucky there will be the famous ... leopard sharks! Besides that, the usual suspects as well as various corals.


Anemone Reef: an underwater reef not far from Shark Point. So as the name suggests there are ... sea anemones! Okay, it was easy to guess. And if you're lucky ... leopard sharks! There are of course other fish but it would be tedious to name them all. Note that you can meet quite large schools of tunas or barracudas which hunt smaller fish.


I should have specified it before for those who are worried: leopard sharks are harmless. I stand next to them several times. At best they are curious and watch you, at worst they ignore you completely. I wonder if they are bored to see tourists.


Koh Doc Mai: it is a small island made of limestone on which there is a small forest. It is about halfway between Shark Point and Phuket so if you dive Shark Point there is a good chance that you will stop at Koh Doc Mai. What interests you is not on the island but below, on the facade of the rock. Imagine an underwater cliff, which you explore gently wile drifting, observing all that is there. Life is very rich and colorful (moray eels, nudibranchs, seahorses etc.). No big fish around, we are more in the "micro" style. It is a very easy and relaxing dive, ranging from 5 to 25 meters in depth.


Koh Phi Phi: does the name sound familiar to you? It's normal. Who has never heard of it on television or in vacation catalogs ... Koh Phi Phi or simply Phi Phi is one of the most famous beaches. There are several spots around so my indications are general. It is unfortunately victim of mass tourism which dumps boats by the dozen and tourists by hundreds every day. Let's be honest, it's nice when it's not too crowded. It's a great dive (the instructors love it) when there isn't too much traffic. But that is beyond your control. So go ahead, you will be satisfied anyway. Visibility is generally good (10 to 20m), the fauna superb. It's an easy dive. I don't remember any currents. The dive is not very deep, 10 to 30m but you will be more often close to 10 than 30. It is relatively far from Phuket, count almost 3 hours with the diving boats (which are not fast). In general, you will only do two dives instead of three precisely because of the distance (yes, you have to stick to the program and get back in time). Last point, Phi Phi is located in a park or natural reserve and you will pay a ticket fee of THB 400 plus THB 200 for divers according to the latest information I have obtained.


Richelieu rock: 200km northwest of Phuket (I would have to calculate that in nautical miles one of these days), here is the Rock Richelieu. 30 meters high, it is rich in life; barracudas, banner fish, lion fish, manta rays. However, it is unlikely that you will go there on a "day trip given the distance. It will be more likely on a cruise. For reference, Richelieu rock is located within the Surin Marine National Park and is generally closed. from mid-May to mid-October (check every year for exact dates) I'll save the best for you until the end; from February to April you often see whale sharks there.


Bring back a souvenir?


Still depending on your operator, there may be a photographer among you (a little better equipped than the standard diver with his go-pro even with 8 million mega giga pixels) who will offer you to take a souvenir. Usually you will end up with a hundred photos, but not only of yourself. There will also be the other members of the day group and the underwater life. The service will be charged around THB 2,000. You will receive the photos on a USB stick the same evening or the next day. It's up to you ... it's always nice and it supports the local economy.


Liveaboard


A cruise dedicated to diving. You will leave from Phuket or the surrounding area. During my last cruise in the Andaman Sea, the boat left from Thap Lamu port near Khao Lak, north of Phuket (about an hour with minibus).


Usually you will get on a "speed boat" to join the dive boat (mother boat) which remains offshore. Count one to to two hours, depending on the location of the boat.


You will find the marine life described previously. The chances of you seeing big fish are higher. The dives are, on average, in deeper water. You will also have the opportunity to do night dives, which does not exist during day trips.

Almost everything will be provided to you on the boat. Whether you want to bring your own equipment or rent it is up to you. Tanks are included in the price, Nitrox can be but not always (it depends on the generosity of the operator). You will have enough to sleep, wash yourself, a towel per day in general (but still, take your toiletries and a spare towel anyway), food with three meals a day as well as snacks, water, coffee and tea (free flow). Only spirits are charged extra (haven't heard of a liveaboard trip with champagne included yet but let us know if you've found).


You will dive more than during a day trip with four or even five dives per day. Usually two in the morning, two in the afternoon and sometimes one in the evening (night dive). You don't have to go on full speed if you find it is too much for you (but I doubt ). You can not join a dive if you want to take a nap, read a book or work your tan ...


The evening is generally dedicated to getting to know your fellow travelers better.


One advice: watch your food intake. Diving requires energy and burns calories, but does not burn fat (I don't know where this legend comes from). You will feel like you are always hungry. If you don't want to leave with excess of human luggage after a week, be careful.


A good address


Due to the abundance of shops and schools and dives you may have a hard time choosing. No problem, I have the solution! Let me recommend Sea Fun Divers. I have been diving with them for several years (courses and recreational dives).


It is a five star PADI and CDC affiliated center (ie "Career Development center"), which gives you the guarantee of a certain level of quality. You can take the PADI course (theory) at home if you wish alhtough I would recommend to do everything onsite, but I am admit being a bit old fashion. If you are technical diving oriented, contact them in advance as instructors for these specific courses are rare.


Their main school is located at the before Karon (coming from Patong, or the opposite when going to Patong and coming from Karon). They are located in the Méridien hotel complex without, however, being part of it (understand that they are independent of the hotel). They benefit from two great advantages:

Access to the Méridien swimming pool for lessons. It is, I think, the biggest pool you'll ever have for diving lessons ... isn't that luxury?

Access to the sea via the Meridien private beach. A few meters from the center. You equip yourself and go on foot to the sea.

In addition to courses, it is possible to do "beach dives" if you do not want to take the boat and simply do a nice dive on the "House Reef" (which is also very nice, I do it regularly).


Plus points:

- The service is better than many other operators. The price differential that may exist compared to certain competitors is worth it.

- Their staff is pleasant, relaxed but always playing by the safety rules. You will feel the professionalism of the instructors and divemasters.

- Logistics are very well established; we pick you up in the morning at your hotel and drop you off at the end of the day, the equipement is here on time etc.

- The equipment is reliable and well maintained.

- They have their own boat which is relatively comfortable and reasonably spacious. When the boat is full we are a little tight but that is part of the life of a diver, isn't it?

- Finally, the meals provided are good (Thai cuisine), tea, coffee, chocolate and snacks will be waiting for you.



In case of interest, please do not hesitate to contact me to talk about it or to help you coordinate your trip.


I'll be nice and give you a second good address


Dive Supply, a department store near Chalong. You can do your shopping there. You will find a wide range of products. If there is not the specific make and model you are looking for, there is certainly its equivalent! From the simple hook to the regulator through the compass, the knife and the combination, you will necessarily leave with something or in any case with ideas.


Plus points:

- Friendly and helpful staff.

- No sellers urging you to buy anything (sometimes you have to get their attention, but I'm not saying that negatively).

- The prices; quite reasonable.

- Possibility to order if out of stock.

- Invoicing in due form (useful if you have to claim the VAT when leaving the country, which can be interesting,consider it).

- Easy to access and free parking, a large store on the side of the road. Impossible to miss it.


Reference: www.divesupply.com


Transport from and to the airport


Okay so I'm going to share some information that you might find helpful. For those who know Phuket like the back of their hand you can probably skip this section.


Arriving in Phuket, whether via domestic flight or international connection, you will need ... a taxi or another transport. From there, two solutions:


a) transfer organized by your hotel.

b) find something on the spot; taxi / private car or a bus if you are not in a rush.


In both cases, you first have to go through immigration (if coming from abroad), collect your suitcases and go through customs, after which you can take one of the exits.

If you have organized your transfer with the hotel, they will have to tell you at which exit your driver will be waiting. Look for your name on the signboards In high season it can take a few minutes given the flow of visitors.

It is difficult to give a precise price as it varies from one hotel to the other and depending on the distance but you should be in the range of THB 900 to 1,500 to go down to Karon. More than that seems excessive to me unless you stay, for example, in the extreme south of the island, the distance being longer.


If you choose to find transportation on arrival, don't worry. You will find. However, you may have to wait (sometimes upt to 20 minutes) depending on the season and time of arrival.


Take any exit (all roads go to Rome) and once outside make your way to one of the little cabins that offer taxi services. Here too the price varies depending on the destination. As a guide, you should pay THB 800 for Patong.

Important point; I haven't seen a taxi "meter" in Phuket since 2009. Unlike Bangkok, taxis do not have a "meter", these famous machines which calculate the price of the trip according to the mileage.

As a result, a trip from the airport to your hotel is at a fixed price, payable in advance. When you book the car, you pay for the trip, the staff will give you the invoice and will pass the information through a walkie-talkie to inform the pool of drivers of your destinations.

From there you walk towards a car park which is at the end of the terminal on your let when exiting the airport. It's very easy to find, don't worry.

Once there, show your invoice to the driver (s) who are waiting for customers. They will quickly tell you which car will pick you up. It depends on who wants to work at that time and in which direction you go (its not unusual in Asia that a taxi refuse a ride).

A tip is not necessary (the driver will not be offended if he receives nothing) but is always appreciated. Remember to fasten your seat belt, the roads are not very safe.


For those on budget, take a minibus. It will cost you half the price of a car (or even lesser). On the other hand ... it's very, very long ... and you might even change buses on the way ... it's up to you.


You will see offers of transport inside the airport. They are generally more expensive than what you find outside. Usually these are "executive", "premium" or "vip" cars.


The day of departure it will be the same but the other way around. Book a car through your hotel (either their own car or ask to call a taxi for you). Alternatively, go get a taxi yourself. You will usually find taxis looking for customers or these tourist tour operators who also sell transports.

If you book through one of these operators you pay in advance, leave your phone number, hotel name and room number. Your driver will come and pick you up.

In general, I book my taxi the day before departure and I leave the hoel well ahead of the flight time (even if it means waiting a little longer at the airport afterwards) in order to have time to find another taxi if the one you booked doesn't show up (which never happened to me so far). Like you, I don't like to wait at airports but ... Phuket being a very popular destination, it is not uncommon to have long queues at the immigration.


Sincerely yours.


Ciao.


The Diving Bear

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