This year in May and early June I had the good fortune of going on a trip around the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand with my wife and we managed to get about 20 dives in and shoot a lot of footage .
Conditions were generally fantastic with 31 C water and 15 – 20m visibility .
First let me just explain that diving in Thailand is fully commercialized, don’t think that you are going to rock up here with your gear bag, stay in a hut on the beach and grab a cylinder and head out with your buddy diving , well it’s not really like that. Dive shops here are all about making money and as a result they don’t like to provide an infrastructure to enable any sort of independence or competition . Also on the flip side the reefs are delicate and given the huge amount of dive tourism I can see that some type of control is necessary to protect them . However it can be annoying when you are a qualified dive professional with hundreds of dives, accustomed to grabbing cylinders and heading out independently. This was not such an issue around the Andaman Sea where the bulk of the dive sites are only reachable by boat and the experience level of the dive guides was very high , but I found it a little but restrictive in places like Koh Tao and parts of Phi Phi where you have good shore diving and cylinders laying right there asking to be used but your only access is if you are part of an Open Water dive course or working in the industry there. I suppose coming from a diving background in Cape Town, South Africa I have just become accustomed to a bit more freedom, so we had to make do with a lot of snorkeling and free diving at these beaches and offshore reefs, and only go scuba diving on day trips. Generally I found the quality of the boats and trips very good and contrary to what you might have heard, the experience level of dive guides is very high in Thailand and the industry is very developed and professional.
We arrived in Phuket and spent about two weeks there and managed to fit in two diving day trips. Phuket is not my favorite place in Thailand as it’s very busy , crazy traffic and big, so it can be quite difficult to get around. Tuk Tuk Taxis here have a fixed price of BHT 200 anywhere around town , which rapidly increases to BHT 400 as soon as you leave the main Patong beach area and head somewhere like Karon beach, the only place around Phuket we discovered a reef that you can shore dive. We went for a dive here with Phuket Scuba Club, a small friendly on the beach type scuba place which I believe has a larger shop at Kata beach .
Phuket also had the best quality diving day trips with the most experienced and professional dives….a 3 dive all day trip from a company like Andaman Divers will cost you about THB 3900 per person. can get a small discount of THB 200 if you have your own gear. Those prices are pretty standard anywhere you go. Also be aware that a lot of smaller operators will just shuffle you on to a bigger company and take a percentage of the fee for the booking ,so be aware that who you book with might not be who you actually dive with. Also theres no reason to be scared of the Thai Instructors or Divemasters , their english might be a little more raw , but once you are under the water they have a nice calming presence and I generally enjoyed diving with them more than with the European dive professionals.
After that we headed to Phi Phi Island which we enjoyed much more….the water island is completely surrounded by Coral reefs and you can find some gorgeous looking aqua marine coloured paradise water here. The second half of my Koh Tao Phi Phi island dive video was filmed here diving just off Koh Phi Phi Ley , the smaller , uninhabited nature reserve Island were Maya bay is located , in fact our second dive was right in front of Maya bay.
Phi Phi island is fairly expensive as Thailand goes , be prepared for BHT800 upwards per night for a double ensuite room and this was during the low season.
Also there are no cars on Phi Phi, make sure your hotel has arranged a free porter service for your bags at the pier , most of them do this , otherwise you can pay someone a fair fee there to lug it for you in a wheelbarrow contraption. On the ferry you may find various agents offering you “great deals” on accommodation and open ferry tickets to leave the island . They will try to scare you with stories on the huge prices you will pay on the island and how you should buy now or struggle, Don’t fall for it! They are always peddling the worst deals and you will have no trouble finding cheaper deals and better quality as soon as you set foot on the island. One thing to remember is that space is limited especially during the high season, so it may be best to research hotels online, find one with good reviews on trip advisor and then prebook before you arrive for at least a night or two.
Phi Phi island is definitely a party island with all night rave music playing at the beach bars and loads of 20 something student types running around with plastic buckets of red bull and cheap spirits. Phi Phi also has the strongest Brazilian presence I encountered in Thailand as well as a lot of French people.
Diving on Phi Phi is a standard rate of BHT2500 for two fun dives from a boat, all inclusive, you can bring this down to BHT 2000 if you bring your own gear, weights and cylinder are included on the boat.
The Marine life around Phi Phi is rich and Diverse ,I saw more variety here than any other site we went diving at in Thailand. Hawks Bill turtle, moray eels , blue spotted ray and giant schools of fish all on the same dive at Bida Noi, a little rock island off Phi Phi Ley.
At this point in the trip we were shooting with a GoPro hero 4 black and using the Polar Pro Aqua 3 Red filter for tropical water which worked well . The company that took us out on the day was called Scuba Scool , and we had no problem with them , although we were shuffled along to them after booking with a frenchman operating out of an office at Kitty Kitty guest house . He claimed he couldn’t do the diving as his ear was blocked on the morning but I got the feeling it was an excuse for not feeling bothered to go diving as it was raining like crazy that morning….who knows?
Other cool things we did there were walking up to the famous Viewpoint and getting a hiring a kayak , which cost THB 200 for the first hour and THB 100 for each hour extra and you get a dry bag included as well. We kayaked about 10 km that day , starting at Loh Dalam bay, round to monkey bay(beach?) and then all the way around the eastern face and through a crack in the rocks to Wang Long Cave. it’s about 5km each way and was almost a little bit too far. Always check your Kayak is not leaking and not full of water before attempting such a paddle and it’s a good idea to check the weather , tides and practice some getting in and out the kayak and capsizing techniques. Loh Dalam bay is really nice with a little abandoned fisherman’s hut and looks a lot like a mini Maya bay….only downside is the beach is covered in washed up trash, plastic water bottles, flip flops, cans of bug spray etc.
For the last 3 days on Phi Phi , we stayed around the back side at a place called “Relax beach resort”
It’s right on a beautiful postcard perfect tropical beach surrounded by coral reefs, although it’s quite expensive at THB 1400 a night we enjoyed our stay here as it’s quiet, you don’t have to worry about anything and you can swim and snorkel all day as well as rent kayaks for THB 100 per hour. They also offer really nice personal long tail boat day trips from here , which was much better than the madness you get if you book with the more commercial operators on the main section of the island. We took a trip out to mosquito and bamboo islands and saw some of the clearest water we have seen in Thailand.
After a week on Phi Phi Island we passed through Koh Lanta and Ao Nang and then headed over to the Gulf of Thailand for the better June weather . We were able to do a day trip to the Ang Tong Marine park , which was beautiful but a bit crazy on the typical Thai style packaged tour. I definitely want to visit this place again on a more relaxed schedule. It is a marine park consisting of many islands and absolutely spectacular scenery. This Place is fantastic for photographers and the scenery is breathtaking.
The next day we headed to Koh Tao, a 3 hour ferry from Koh Samui and the dive Capital in Thailand. We arrived on June 5th , which is a few weeks before the start of dive season. In the Andaman Sea region the diving starts to wind down now in June as the monsoon kicks in , but in Koh Tao the weather was great and the season was just getting started. I really liked Koh Tao a lot as it’s very dive orientated with over 40 dive centers and there are some great deals here, especially if you are an Instructor or Divemaster. Koh Tao means turtle Island because from a certain angle it looks like a Turtle you can also spot turtles when you dive here .
Koh Tao is a great place to come if you want to learn to dive or you want to work your way up to been a Divemaster or Instructor . You will get loads of experience here in an easy diving environment with calm , warm waters and a highly developed dive industry.
We did about 5 days of diving around Koh Tao with point divers and where able to visit all the main sites , including Chumpon Pinnacle,South West Pinnacle , White Rock and the World War II wreck called the HTMS Sattakut which has some cool nicely preserved large machine guns on the deck. I also enjoyed the Shallower sites around Koh Nang Yaun as well , like Twins and Japanese Gardens because of the great light for Shooting video and the long bottom times of up to an hour. Twins also has a bunch of under water sculptures and structures called buoyancy world and a bunch of man made reefs too .Twins and Japanese garden are located just off of Nang Yuang island to the north of Ko Tao and there is a view point here , a really cool T shaped sand bar beach and reefs on either side with the warmest water and best snorkeling I encountered in all of Thailand. Here we saw a Barracuda, schools of parrot fish and huge trigger fish all while snorkeling as well as huge schools of tropical fish and beautiful reef formations. Heading a bit deeper here with scuba gear we saw clown fish, Blue spotted rays, white eyed Moray eels and a few larger Grouper.
The depths that we filmed the Koh Tao section of the video for were from 10m – 20m, which was perfect for the Red Tropical filter I got from Polar Pro and we were able to get a lot of great photos and footage with the GoPro on these trips. Also a trip for the day to hang out on Nang Yaung is a must do .It only takes 10 minutes with a long tail boat, its also a lot cleaner here as they are much stricter on litter and no plastic is allowed on Nang Yaung island. Koh Tao is very picturesque , with many Pretty secluded bays flanked by Granite boulders and stretches of white sandy beach. Like Phi Phi it’s also accommodation is also quite costly and many dive centers will quote you prices of over 1000 TBH per night for a fan room, although we managed to find a decent room near the pier with AC for about TBH 800. Also bear in mind that the dive resort accommodation is reserved almost exclusively for people doing some kind of dive course and as a certified diver who is just there to dive you will be largely on your own as far as accommodation goes.
After a week in Koh Tao we took a ferry and Bus up to Bangkok , which took about 8 hours. After a few days there we flew back to Cape Town in South Africa where I started Editing the video footage with Final Cut X and composing the sound track in Pro tools and using Native instruments , which I continued to do in Onrus , a sea side town near to Cape Town. After three weeks we headed to Brazil where I finished the Video titles and where I now write this. I have written a voice over script for the video as well which I may add in the future to an alternative version. Look out for videos of Thailand and Brazil coming soon…
Next stop Salvador and Morro de São Paulo in Brazil!