With a tropical climate and warm waters, Thailand is infamous for its beautiful white sandy beaches, magnificent temples, rich culture and delicious food. This is an Asian country that's definitely worth exploring not only on land, but also on and beneath the water's surface. In fact, you'll discover just as much beauty under the sea — from magnificent reefs to shipwrecks, deep chasms, caves, caverns, walls and tunnels. Check out our guide to the 10 top snorkelling and scuba-diving spots in Thailand.
If you're headed to Thailand for a sailing holiday, it's well worth including extra activities on your itinerary, such as snorkelling and scuba diving. Thailand's waters are not just a fantastic place to spot large fish, but provide an abundance of subjects for macro photography. As many of these can be seen from the surface or when doing the increasingly popular breath-hold diving, you won't need scuba-diving equipment to get some amazing shots. As you'll discover, most of the best sites for snorkelling and diving are to be found in the southeast of Thailand, in the Andaman Sea.
Along the Thai coast — free and unrestricted
Snorkelling and scuba diving in Thailand is rather different than in the Caribbean or Egypt, with its own unique charm and characteristics. Although the Andaman Sea boasts a wide variety of fish and coral species, it is really worth planning your trip, as the coastline and islands are quite stretched out. Yachting here is a great opportunity to visit as many of these places as possible.
Each island has its own personality and atmosphere, so plan your sailing trip accordingly. A good place to start is Koh Phi Phi on the Andaman side or Koh Tao in the Gulf. However, if you'd prefer some peace and relaxation, then plan for the Andaman Islands, Koh Lanta or Koh Samui.
Close encounters with turtles, manta rays, whale sharks...
If you want to catch a glimpse of large sea creatures such as manta rays (and other rays), whale sharks (and other sharks) or turtles, Thailand is definitely the right choice, although visibility may not always be ideal.
Let's take a look at the best destinations where snorkellers and scuba divers of all levels can find the perfect spot:
1. Just starting out? — Koh Tao is a great choice
If you don't scuba dive yet but are thinking of starting, then choose Koh Tao — reputed for its good standards and numerous dive schools, it will even satisfy snorkellers. At first glance, you'll be taken aback by the cheap course prices, the easy conditions for beginners, yet stunning dives for advanced scuba divers. Located all over the island, the dive sites are only accessible by boats from the dive base and it's definitely a good idea to anchor and go on your underwater adventure with an experienced and certified guide. You can, of course, snorkel on your own, but you should acquaint yourself with the currents and other possible risks such as tides.
Koh Tao island
Around Koh Tao, there are many colourful reef fish, turtles and barracudas to see. Experienced divers and photographers will appreciate the smaller marine life but you can also experience the other extreme by encountering a whale shark. Within easy reach of Koh Tao then lies the Chumphon Pinnacle site, which is a granite pinnacle carpeted in pink anemones, with an abundance of surrounding life.
Divers swimming through a school of jacks and snappers near Koh Tao island in the Gulf of Thailand
2. Koh Phi Phi — where The Beach was filmed
If you have a bit more experience under your belt and are not afraid of snorkelling in open water, then try Koh Phi Phi, where you have a unique chance to come across leopard sharks, which are typical here. Plus, you can leave your boat moored at one of the absolutely pristine beaches before you set off. Here, you'll be in no doubt why it was the location of the hugely popular movie The Beach — the sandy beaches really are snow-white, surrounded by clear blue sea and there's plenty to choose from. If you don't feel like exploring beneath the surface, you can drop anchor to enjoy a barbecue and the comfort and relaxation of the soft powdery sand.
This spot is a paradise for snorkellers and if you're an underwater photographer or into macro photography, you'll be mesmerised by the seahorses and various species of shrimps and crabs. However, you'll also get to see bigger species, such as large fish, whale sharks and manta rays. In addition, there are numerous rock formations and beautiful corals underwater, which make your adventure beneath the surface even more spectacular.
Koh Phi Phi island with beautiful Maya Bay beach
3. Colourful underwater world of Koh Lipe
Koh Lipe is part of the Tarutao National Marine Park, which offers plenty of opportunities for snorkellers and scuba divers of all levels. If you want to enjoy an incredible array of colours combined with the clear turquoise sea, then set sail for Koh Lipe, the destination of the most wonderful soft corals.
Soft corals of all colours
Compared to Koh Phi Phi and Phuket, generally, you'll find fewer boats and tourists in Koh Lipe. And it is because of this that the underwater world here is so well preserved, with the colourful soft corals making it an especially fantastic diving spot. The soft corals here are considered some of the most beautiful soft in the whole of Asia and here too, you'll discover various species of tropical fish, turtles, dolphins, and even dugong and sperm whales! In addition to the incredible marine life, there are some amazing pinnacles and rock formations.
4. Phuket — something for everyone
There are many options for enjoying the waters in Phuket — take a boat to some of the many attractive coastal locations or just sail freely around the coastline. Here, you'll find secluded coves and some of the best dive sites in Thailand. Again, snorkellers and experienced divers alike will be in for a real treat.
Shark Point — do you dare?
Underwater, you'll be in awe of the deep drops, coral-covered reef tops, caves and caverns, and even shipwrecks. When it comes to marine life, there are both creatures large and small, such as manta rays, whale and leopard sharks, as well as countless anemones and harlequin shrimp.
A short hop from Phuket is the infamous Shark Point. Only 90 minutes from Phuket, you are sure to see leopard and bamboo sharks, and in addition to the vibrant underwater life, there are three main peaks covered in soft and hard corals and anemones.
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5. Time to spare? — try a diving safari in the Similans
If you're not afraid to undertake a longer crossing and are already a seasoned sea dog and scuba diver, then you shouldn't miss out on the Similan Islands, a unique destination for manta and whale watching. Usually, people head here for a few days on a diving safari, but you can spend here how long you want with your own boat. The diverse underwater life is captivating with large pelagic fish and sharks, soft and hard corals and very easy conditions for snorkelling and diving. Of course, the pleasant, warm water and relatively good visibility also make this one of the world's most popular destinations.
6. Surin Islands — your private paradise
The Surin Islands are under the protection of a UNESCO ecological program and a trip here is a real experience. The island's dive and snorkel sites are characterized by an amazing variety of hard corals, numerous soft corals and diverse marine life. As the islands are remote and therefore not as popular with tourists, you can see fish species you won't encounter elsewhere. Another benefit is that the Surin Islands are only open to divers from October to early May, so for the rest of the year, Mu Ko Surin Marine National Park can become your own private kingdom.
YACHTING.COM TIP: If you like to intersperse sailing with snorkelling or scuba diving, the Caribbean is definitely worth considering. The underwater life here is fascinating and varied, even at shallow depths, so you can enjoy it without the scuba gear. The Caribbean coral reefs are full of colourful fish and animals, and you can spot manta rays, sea turtles and various species of sharks. Just pick a spot with clear shallow water, anchor and go exploring. Find out exactly what you'll come across on your trip in our article — Snorkelling and sailing: what inhabits the Caribbean coral reefs?
7. Pattaya — destination for shipwreck lovers
Snorkelling and diving in Pattaya is especially well-known for its shipwrecks and oddly shaped corals. One of the most famous coral dive sites is located on Koh Man Wichai, where the corals resemble a giant hand (the site is actually named "fingers"). Here, you can see numerous species of fish, as well as stingrays, barracudas, batfish, and even some species of sharks circling around the wrecks carpeted in multi-coloured soft corals. As they lie quite deep beneath the surface, around 30 metres, the wrecks can only be seen when scuba diving but they are well worth taking the plunge. With a snorkel, it's unlikely you'll be able to get close enough.
8. Koh Samui — whale shark watching
If whales are on your bucket list, you shouldn't miss the island of Koh Samui that's famous for its calm waters and excellent visibility. However, as this is a tourist attraction, it's a good idea to secure a mooring early or spend a longer period of time here. Some of the best dive sites in Thailand, also suitable for snorkelling, are very close to Koh Samui. Here, you'll also likely encounter giant whale sharks, as well as barracudas and turtles.
The whale shark is the world's largest living shark and the world's largest fish
9. Hin Daeng and Hin Muang — wall diving
Of course, more fantastic dive sites can be found in Thailand — many have fallen in love with Hin Daeng & Hin Muang, which offer amazing wall and cave dives. Plus, you'll also get to see large pelagic fish, manta rays and sharks. However, if you do decide to sail here, then you should keep in mind that there are powerful sea currents. These places are not part of the Similan Islands and are more for divers than snorkellers, so best suited to those with some level of experience.
Manta ray in Hin Daeng
Near Sahara Point, you'll find the infamous Anemone Reef, where you can dive among beautiful blue and green sea anemones, surrounded by soft pink and purple corals. Anemone Reef is part of a marine sanctuary, and here too you are likely to encounter reef and leopard sharks, turtles and giant moray eels.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Who hasn't been stung by a jellyfish at least once? Most of the time, an encounter with this graceful sea dancer is merely unpleasant, but there are species out there that can cause much more serious injuries. In our article, What to do if a jellyfish stings you?, we'll advise you on how best to treat the injury and which species to be especially wary of.
11. Richelieu Rock — beautiful marine life
One of the most famous dive sites is Richelieu Rock, located between the islands of Surin and Similan. A horseshoe-shaped rock covered with soft corals, anemones, sea fans and sponges, you'll also encounter schools of barracuda, tropical fish, and the traditional whale sharks and manta rays — almost always here due to the abundance of plankton.
And something more ...
Thailand is renowned for its beautiful beaches and impressive temples. Don't forget to visit the famous Grand Palace or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Other activities include watching a Muay Thai boxing match, visiting a floating market, hiking or exploring the beautiful countryside. And don't miss out on a Thai massage, which can really relieve tension and put you into holiday mode.