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181 Dive Centres in Thailand

Thailand

If you have ever seen any promotional brochures about Thailand, you will have probably seen pictures of picturesque palm fringed beaches, glistening golden statues of Buddha, and smiling women selling wooden trinkets on a floating market. After all, Thailand is ‘The Land of Smiles’. Although the term ‘the land of smiles’ was originally a marketing ploy used by the Thai tourism board to attract more visitors, the name has now stuck and the country attracts millions of visitors each year to experience the kindness of the locals and the wealth of experiences Thailand has to offer.

With a land area of over 500,000 square kilometres and over 68 million citizens, Thailand is the 50th largest country in the world and the 21st most populous. The capital and largest city is Bangkok, which is the main point of entry for international visitors.

Currency: Thai Baht.

Language: Thai, although English is widely spoken in the more touristic areas.

Religion: Over 94% Buddhism. Islam makes up over 4% of the population, however this is mainly concentrated near the Malaysian border in the south.

Visa Requirements: Visas are required for almost all visitors to Thailand, however a visa can be provided on arrival for citizens of most countries. You must prove you have adequate funds to support you during your stay, and more recently, you must have a ticket out of the country.

Visa information can be found at the Thai Embassy Website.

 

Best Things to do in Thailand (Non-Diving)

Explore Chaotic Bangkok

If you are into the hustle and bustle of mega cities, you might enjoy spending some time exploring Bangkok. With over 14 million people living within the Bangkok Metropolitan Region, it is one of the largest cities in the world. It is loud, chaotic and pretty dirty, but there are some amazing things to see, and plenty of bargains for shoppers to splurge on.

It is worth spending a couple of nights in Bangkok to soak up some Thai culture. One of the best things to do is to sample some of the street food, which is arguably some of the best in the world. If you are interested in history, make sure to visit the famous Wat Pho Temple, which houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, and is home to the 46 metre long reclining Buddha. The Royal Grand Palace is another must for history buffs – a complex of elaborate buildings that has been home to the Thai Royal Family since 1782.

If you are looking to spend some money, there are plenty of huge shopping malls, markets, and fine restaurants, and nowhere in the world will you find a cheaper tailored suit.

Go Trekking in the North

Northern Thailand is very mountainous and covered in dense jungle.

There are many hiking trails that allow you to explore huge caverns, visit remote hill-tribe villages, and get away from the oppressive heat of the south. Multi day treks are available to suit all levels, and some around Chaing Mai include white water rafting.

Island Hopping

Both the east and west coast of Thailand are home to a large number of islands – each complete with viewpoints, pristine beaches, and affordable accommodation in the form of rustic beach shacks.

Connections between the islands are good during the dry season, and each one offers something slightly different from the last. Be aware that during peak season they can get very busy, so pre booking accommodation is recommended.

If you would prefer a more secluded and rustic island experience, Koh Phayam on the west coast is highly recommended. Here you can stay in very basic wooden huts with no electricity and enjoy an ice cold Thai tea and a papaya salad on almost empty beaches. Just make sure to put everything away in your room because it is not uncommon for monkeys to find their way in and trash the place.

Rock Climbing in Krabi

One for the more adventurous travellers.

Climbers from all over the world make a pilgrimage to the rock climbing Mecca that is Railey and Ton Sia in the Krabi province. Towering limestone pinnacles are common in the area, and there are routes to cater all levels, from complete beginners to highly experienced climbers.

Not only will you be climbing some of the best limestone rocks in the world, you will be doing it with the sun shining on your back and a backdrop of white sandy beaches and turquoise waters.

 

Scuba Diving in Thailand

Thailand can be broken into two sections for diving purposes. On the east coast of the peninsula you have the Gulf of Thailand, and on the west coast you have the Andaman Sea. Both offer numerous diving opportunities to suit all levels.

Gulf of Thailand

In the Gulf of Thailand the main attraction is the Koh Samui archipelago – a chain of islands that consists of nearly 50 islands, although only three are properly inhabited.

The main diving island is Koh Tao, a 21 km2 island which boasts more than 45 dive sites. Koh Tao has gained a name for itself as one of the cheapest places to learn to dive in the world, and conditions are usually suitable for divers of any experience level.

The number of dive schools constantly fluctuates, but on average there are over 50 dive schools that offer courses from PADI, SSI, Raid or even technical courses from TDI and GUE. Most of the dive agencies have their own offices based on Koh Tao, so standards are followed correctly for the most part, and courses and dives usually include equipment rental in the price.

Competition for you business is high, so if you shop around you can usually find a good deal. Just be aware that during high season the island can get very busy, and there is no guarantee of getting a place to stay or dive if you don’t pre book.

The most famous dive site in the area ‘Sail Rock’ is a pinnacle that starts 40 metres below sea level and rises 10 metres above sea level. It is closer to Koh Pha-Ngan than Koh Tao, although it can be reached from Koh Tao in around two hours. Many companies make full day trips there, and whale shark sightings are fairly common.

Andaman Sea

With hundreds of islands to chose from, the Andaman Sea is home to the best diving Thailand has to offer.

Khao Lak, Koh Lanta, and Koh Lipe are the most popular choices for serious divers. With larger tidal excursions resulting in stronger currents, the conditions can be more difficult than they are on the east coast, however they are easily managed by most certified divers, and there are always dive sites available for the beginners.

Koh Phi Phi is another very popular spot for divers, however this small island chain is more of a party place similar to Koh Pha-Ngan, and each year thousands of travellers flock here to drink cheap alcohol and visit the not-so-quiet bay where ‘The Beach’ was filmed.

Because the currents are stronger than the east coast, the marine life is far more diverse – Soft corals and gorgonians cover every available square inch of reef, and pelagic such as whale sharks and manta rays come to feed on plankton that is carried by the current. The most famous sites such as Richelieu Rock, Koh Bon and Koh Tachai are most easily accessed via liveaborad from Khao Lak or Phuket, and are must visits during your dive vacation to Thailand.

If these islands seem to busy and touristy for you, there is still an opportunity for remote diving in Thailand. The port city of Ranong is the starting point for liveaboards that will take you to uncrowded areas like the Mergui Archipelago and Burma Banks.

While on these liveaboard trips, your boat will normally be the only one on the dive site, which is a refreshing change from popular islands such as Koh Tao, where you may be on one of ten boats moored up to the same spot. These dives are for the more advanced divers, as currents can get very strong and many of the sites are deep sea mounts. The reward for heading on these trips are empty dive sites, a plethora of amazing critters, and regular appearances of large species such as manta rays, whale sharks, reef sharks, and even guitar sharks.

 

Best Time for Diving in Thailand

Luckily for divers, it is possible to dive in Thailand year round because the two coastlines have the opposite season to each other.

Gulf of Thailand

The wet monsoon hits the Gulf of Thailand as early as late November, and conditions can remain rough until March. During this time, most dive companies will still operate as there are still areas that are safe to visit. Be warned that during the wet monsoon, visibility can be severely limited, often being as little as two metres or less.

The dry season is from April to October, with the peak weather being June until August. During this time rainfall is rare, but when it does rain it does so extremely heavily and lasts for an hour or so – which is actually a pleasant rest from the plus 30 degree day temperatures. Visibility during the dry season can be anywhere from ten to thirty metres, although the latter is rare and average viability is around fifteen metres.

Andaman Sea

Late May through October is the normal wet monsoon in the Andaman Sea, and during this time most companies will shut down as the seas can get very rough and dangerous for boat travel.

The best time of year is from November until March, when cool winds keep the average daily temperature to around 28 degrees and carry away some of the humidity. During this time, visibility is at its best, often reaching more than thirty metres.

From March until the monsoon begins, the diving conditions are still very good, however the cooling winds die off resulting in very high humidity and daily temperatures that regularly reach 35 degrees.


A few things to Beware of..

Even though Thais are known to be extremely friendly and hospitable, of course there are a few bad eggs out there who are only looking to make a quick buck – no matter the consequences. Here are some common scams of things you need to look out for when visiting Thailand.

Motorcycle Rental

When you arrive on the beautiful islands of southern Thailand, you will see many westerners riding mopeds and motor bikes, and sometimes they are are only way to access some of the more secluded spots.

Unfortunately many visitors who have never even sat on a motorcycle before think that the best place to learn how to ride is on sand covered roads that are riddled with pot holes. Accidents are very common, and the scrapes, cuts and even broken bones are not the only way you will ruin your holiday.

Most companies ask for a passport as a deposit, however even the slightest scratch to the bike can result in the company holding your passport to ransom for tens of thousands of Baht. Don’t even think about contacting the police after, because either they are in on the scam too, or they won’t be able to help you because you were riding your bike without having the proper licences.

If you insist on renting a bike, make sure you wear a helmet and you know how to ride before taking it out, and try to find a place that doesn’t need a passport deposit. Once you have the bike, take a photo of every single panel including the underside of the bike. If they try to extort you later, at least you have evidence that the bike was already damaged before.

If they still refuse to hand your deposit back afterwards, demand the panel that you are paying 5000 Baht to replace – after all, you are paying for it. At this point they normally give in, as they never intended the replace the panel anyway. You wont get away scot-free, but they might drop the price to a fraction of what they were originally asking for.

Taxi’s

Unfortunately some taxi companies and drivers are often just as corrupt as the motorcycle rental companies. On the mainland, you normally find metre taxis who will beep at you to draw you in, and only after you have reached your destination will they try and charge you an absurd amount for the trip.

This can be easily avoided by demanding they use the metre upon getting into the taxi, and if they say the metre is broken (which seems to be strangley common), ask how much the journey will cost before they start driving. A trip from BKK airport to the backpacking hub Khao San Road should set you back around 500 Baht, however it is not uncommon for them to ask for 1000 Baht or more if they don't use the metre.

On some of the islands and in remote towns you have little choice with the taxis, so just try and get the best deal you can. They often charge per person, and the price varies little regardless of the distance travelled.

Drugs

Alex Garland’s ‘The Beach’ and the Danny Boyle movie propelled Thailand's tourism levels to a new high, but both the book and the film show open drug use throughout every part of the country that they feature.

This has led to lots of backpackers seeking out drugs, which are fairly widely available, especially in the south, where you can find many bars with names such as High Bar, Rasta Bar, or Ganja Bar. These bars openly sell cannabis, magic mushrooms, and even opium, however you should remember that all of these are illegal, and while Thailand is not as strict as neighbouring Malaysia or other south east Asian nations when it comes to drug use, it is still illegal and publishable by law. Many of these bars are owned and ran by corrupt police, and they occasionally do a clean up operation to cover up their illegal activities.

At large parties such the Full Moon Party on Koh Pha-Ngan there are often people walking through the crowd selling ecstasy tablets, however these sellers are often in on a scam with police, who will wait for the deal to happen, then arrest you for possession and charge you an extortionate amount to not be processed. The dealer will usually have their drugs returned to them (which are often only paracetamol anyway) so the scam can continue.

Animal Tourism

Thailand is home to vast amounts of rainforest and the wildlife that lives within them. It is possible to conduct hiking trips in these dense jungles to find monkeys, hornbills, elephants or even tigers.

Some Thais have caught onto the fact that people want to experience these amazing creatures but don’t want the hassle of a multi day trek into bug infested forests, so they have opened ‘Animal Sanctuaries’, although the term Sanctuary is highly misleading.

During the high season, tens of thousands of travellers flock to the infamous Tiger Temple in Chaing Mai so they can feed their Instagram addiction by taking a selfie next to a tiger. Unfortunately, these tigers suffer huge abuse from their captors, and are so drugged up that they cant even move, and just in case the drugs wear off, they are also chained to the ground.

Another common example of animal exploitation for tourism is elephant riding, where you get the chance to ride a domesticated elephant. Sounds cool, right? Well, these elephants suffer extreme abuse during their ‘training’ where they are hit with hammers, have holes drilled into their skulls, and not fed until they submit to their owners.

There are genuine elephant sanctuaries out there, and you can tell they are genuine because they do not allow you to ride the elephants, and most of these creatures have been rescued from the elephant riding companies or the logging industry. The best way to see these beautiful creates is how nature intended – in the wild. This can be done in Khao Sok National Park, which is close to Surat Thani. Just remember that although the elephants live and roam in the ancient jungles of Khao Sok, there is no guarantee of seeing them.

The Royal Family

Okay, so you don’t need to beware of the royal family, but you do need to be aware for Thailand’s extremely strict Lese-majeste laws, which forbid any form of insult, threat or defamation of the king.

Thais are very proud of their royal family, and most people have shrines to the king in their home. They take great offence to any insult towards the king, and any complaint must be formally investigated by police. Jail terms for those found guilty are between three and 15 years, and this is not only for Thai citizens. There are a number of tourists currently serving time in Thai prisons, however they are usually given a royal pardon after serving some of their sentence.

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