When it comes to the underwater world, Thailand is blessed with some amazing dive sites. The mix of warm waters, great value and heaps of marine life have made The Land of Smiles a mecca for travellers wanting to try SCUBA diving for the first time. Travel blogger Chris Stevens tells us about diving in Thailand on Koh Tao and Koh Phi Phi.
With such a thriving dive industry it can be tough to decide who do you dive with, and most importantly where do you dive?
In my personal opinion and experience I’ve narrowed it down to two options, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Tao. Both of these islands appeal to different markets and lifestyles, so it’s a case of which fits best to your preferences.
Koh Tao is situated on the east side of Thailand and is the smallest in the chain of three major islands with Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. It was the last of those islands to be opened up to tourism and the first people to use the island were divers.
Koh Tao itself is easy to navigate around due to its small size, but the main hub is without a doubt Sairee Beach. In this area you’ll find copious beach bars, shops, hotels and beach side huts. For an island it’s also pretty cheap and easy to get to. From Bangkok you can take the sleeper bus and ferry combo, which will set you back around £20, or fly to Koh Samui and take a ferry from there.
When you’re not diving on Koh Tao, a day trip to the twin islands is a must and the evenings are filled with laid back dinners, dancing and sunset beers on the beach.
Diving at Koh Tao
The best season for diving and weather is December to March.
Koh Tao has a few main dive spots including Japanese Gardens and Twins which offer a great variety of marine life, inclduing some great coral formation and, of course, Nemo!
One of my favourite spots from Koh Tao is Chumphon Pinnacles where I dived with my first whale shark, a truly memorable experience. If you want the best chance of seeing one yourself the main season for whale sharks runs from February to April and later in the year there are two resident bull sharks which frequent the area.
Koh Phi Phi
Phi Phi on the other hand sits on the west coast of Thailand, an hour or so ferry ride from Phuket.
A few years ago the Boxing Day tsunami completely destroyed the island but it’s now completely rebuilt and has a thriving tourist industry. The island is beautiful and easy to get to – for those in a hurry or coming straight in from abroad, Phuket airport is the nearest port of call and from there it’s a mini bus/ferry combo to get out to the island.
Once you get there there’s a variety of accommodation to choose from suitable for every budget. Be prepared to do some walking on the island as there are no cars on Phi Phi which makes for a laid back pace of life and most accommodation is just a few minutes stroll from the main pier.
Island life here is at a suitably laid back, bare footed pace but when the sun goes down there are always a few parties to be found.
Non-dive activities include heading to the lookout for the iconic Phi Phi panorama shot, rock climbing, a stroll up to Long Beach (where a shark nursery sits a quick snorkel off shore) or a day trip around the surrounding islands which is one of my day trips of choice anywhere in the world – and also includes a visit to where the film The Beach was made.
Diving at Koh Phi Phi
The best season for both weather and diving is February to May.
Phi Phi is full of beautiful dive sites to suit any level of diver. From the lush coral gardens and turtles of Bida Nok to the depths of the King Cruiser Wreck.
The marine life around these parts is varied and abundant – meaning turtles, nudi branches, lion fish, black tip reef sharks and leopard sharks are common place on most dives.
When it comes down to the nitty gritty, my personal preference on a purely dive perspective sides with Phi Phi. I had the opportunity to start my dive master training on both islands and chose Phi Phi based solely on my underwater experiences on both.
Koh Tao has fast become one of the cheapest places on the planet to dive and complete your full PADI Open Water. And with this in mind a lot of people have now made this their choice for experiencing diving. If you’re looking for budget accommodation you can often find bargain scuba diving with a guest house and meals included. In fact DJL Dive School has partnered up with Koh Tao Backpackers to offer the whole thing for under £290!
Phi Phi on the other hand has opted to create a pricing fix throughout the island, so no matter what dive shop you decide to go with you’ll end up paying exactly the same.
This may not be so good for anyone travelling on a budget but it does mean tourism on the island is a lot more sustainable and the dive schools are of a solid quality.
The bottom line is you can’t really go wrong with choosing either island for diving. Scuba diving is an amazing experience and many people quickly find themselves hooked into the underwater world.
Personally, when people ask me which one to go for I draw the same conclusion – if you need to be budget conscious Koh Tao is your better option. If you’re looking for a better variety and quality of diving sites (particularly if you intend to dive a lot) then Phi Phi is my destination of choice.
Ideally though give both a go! In a perfect world doing your course for cheaper on Tao then diving over on Phi Phi is the best of both worlds.
Chris is a surfer, photographer, traveller and writer from Devon in the UK. He ditched 9-5 life and headed off to backpack the world. When he’s not in the water catching some waves he’s busy exploring with his camera or blogging over at BackpackerBanter.comand Top 5 Travel
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