Diving in the Phi Phi Islands
Wonderful Local Sites
Koh Phi Phi remains one of the best loved holiday resort destinations in Thailand, not just because of the beautiful beaches, bays and islands made famous by moves such as 'The Beach', but also because of the excellent scuba diving that Phi Phi has to offer.
The islands lie in a national marine park and the dive sites here differ substantially from the other destinations we offer in Thailand. Here there are dramatic limestone walls decorated with healthy soft corals, gorgonians branching out from the many colourful walls, and dives ending in shallow coral gardens where all manner of marine life frolic among the soft corals and sponges.
Phi Phi Islands diving adventures promise sightings of delightful small creatures such as pipefish, seahorses and razorfish as well as their larger cousins like leopard sharks, reef sharks, crocodile long-toms and turtles. The combination of convenient sites which suit all skill levels, its beautiful movie-set beaches and the laid-back charm of the location makes Koh Phi Phi a delightful spot for divers and their non-diving companions.
Considered by many to be the best site in Phi Phi, Bida Nok is a small cliff islet whose walls plunge dramatically into the sea where they are festooned with soft corals and sponges creating a patchwork of purple, yellow and green. The reef itself is exceptionally healthy and is home to numerous moray eels, bird wrasse and bearded scorpionfish to name a few. Appearances by larger fish are common with leopard sharks and grey reef sharks frequently sighted.
Bida Nai is is another beautiful dive site full of interesting creatures and underwater topography. No sooner will you be in the water than you will be making your way into a swim-through crowded by thousands of tiny glassfish. You will cruise over fields of staghorn coral, looking out for black tip sharks and leopard sharks as well as hunting trevallys enjoying the rich supply of baitfish. End your dive in a delightful shallow reef where cuttlefish, crocodile long-toms and squid will entertain you throughout your safety stop.
Dive Site Descriptions
From the Phi Phi Islands you can visit some of Phuket's best sites such as Shark Point and the Kingcruiser Wreck, but here are some of its own great dive sites:
Bida Nai - Koh Bida Nai which means "Inner Father Island" in Thai, is a limestone island that rises dramatically from the sea to the south of Phi Phi Leh. Along with its twin site of Koh Bida Nok, this is regarded as Phi Phi's best dive location.
Above the surface the limestone rock formations are stunning with shades of oranges and whites formed by minerals in the rock. Under the water the walls are covered with zigzag clams, huge gorgonian sea fans and sea whips. There are boulders forming swim-throughs and the areas of staghorn coral are home to thousands of fish.
Descending down the mooring line you'll find yourself on the top of a small boulder formation. Swim into the wall of glassfish below and they will part to reveal a gap in the rocks forming a swim-through. Bearded scorpionfish are often seen sitting on the bottom here so divers must take care with their buoyancy control.
On the outer edge of the swim-through on the rock walls you can often see harlequin ghost pipefish and seahorses. Look closely also for boxer shrimps, hinge-beak shrimps and numerous nudibranchs. Moray eels make their home here and enjoy having their heads cleaned by the boxer shrimp.
Moving east around the island you pass small coral bommies and a sloping wall covered with colourful anemones and their resident clownfish. Look out for porcelain crabs on the edges of the anemones.
To the south east of the island is a coral outcrop known as Fantasy Reef. There are lots of common lionfish here, residents among the gorgonian sea fans, barrel sponges and sea whips. Schools of trevally and fivefinger jacks hunt above the reef and are a formidable sight as they make constant raids on the thousands of bait fish. Schools of squid can also be seen. Trumpetfish and filefish hover above the coral along with bannerfish and pufferfish. Look out for the well-camouflaged scorpionfish.
On the way to the reef you'll pass a narrow sand patch and a staghorn coral garden that was quite badly affected by rising sea temperatures a few years back. Leopard sharks are usually seen resting here and blacktip reef sharks are also common sightings patrolling the outer edges. They are quite timid but are usually spotted in the early mornings when diving the Phi Phi Islands.
In the shallower area towards the end of the dive it's possible to see bamboo sharks under the small coral covered rocks. Look for the sand holes at the base of the rock which the sharks have dug to make their home. Juvenile Oriental sweetlips can be seen performing their unusual dance. Indian, orange-lined and titan triggerfish are all around here too as well as cuttlefish.
Closer in towards the main island is another long narrow swim-through. Grouper and emperor angelfish can be seen here. Look up towards the surface to see crocodile long-toms swimming above.
Bida Nok - This tiny limestone island jutting out from the sea, is located 2 kilometres south of Phi Phi Leh Island. It is one of Phi Phi's best and most popular sites and is frequently visited by Phuket day-trip dive boats as well as by Thai liveaboard cruises.
Bida Nok translates as "Outer Father". Its cliffs drop straight down into the blue and are covered in a vast array of soft corals and purple, aquamarine, pink and blue anemones. This makes it a colourful and interesting wall dive.
The prettiest corals and unusual rock formations can be found to the south west just beyond the sheltered bay. Here you're more likely to encounter a hawksbill turtle and it's also a good spot for banded sea snakes. Octopuses are often seen here and moray eels are numerous, particularly white-eyed morays which can be seen in the cracks and crevices. Look out also for shrimps, crabs and rock lobsters and the many species of nudibranch.
The finger reef here gives a stunning display of the different corals to be found in the Phi Phi Islands, such as table corals, bubble corals and giant brain corals along with beautiful gorgonian sea fans, sea whips and barrel sponges. The coral is covered in shoals of small fish and there are lots of overhangs and caverns that make perfect fish hide-outs. Lionfish, bearded scorpionfish, bird wrasse and moon wrasse, Moorish idols, parrotfish and honeycomb grouper are just some of the residents. There is so much life here that you won't want your dive to end.
The sea bed is littered with sea urchins, sea cucumbers and blue starfish. Blue spotted sting rays can be seen here half-buried in the sandy bottom and sometimes cuttlefish too. You'll often encounter leopard sharks as well as blacktip reef sharks. At certain times of the year manta rays and whale sharks pass by here too so you might just get lucky!
Coming up after your dive, take a moment to admire the magnificent rock formations above the water while you wait for the boat to pick you up; the view at this site is stunning. Look up to see white bellied sea eagles and braminy kites circling above in the sky.
Garang Heng - This is another of the dive sites that is only visited by the day trip boats from Phi Phi Island itself as it is a little too far for the Phuket boats to reach.
It lies on its own 2 kilometres east of Phi Phi Leh and is a completely submerged reef rising to 6m below the surface and descending down as deep as 24m. It is an easy dive site with mild currents and is another site where leopard sharks are commonly seen.
The reef is a mixture of hard and soft corals with some large barrel sponges, lots of sea fans and gorgeous anemones. Large schools of yellowtail barracuda can be seen here along with gold-striped fusiliers and blue-lined snappers.
There are numerous lionfish and scorpionfish as well as plenty of pufferfish, Moorish idols, bannerfish and many other reef fish. Banded sea snakes are also sometimes seen here.
Hin Dot - "Chimney Rock" is located just outside of Tonsai Bay which is the main harbour in the Phi Phi Islands, on the south side of Phi Phi Don. It is only visited by liveaboards and diving boats from Koh Phi Phi and just a short boat ride is required to reach the site.
The site is comprised of 3 pinnacles or chimneys that lie close together in a north-south direction. The main pinnacle drops down as deep as 30m and has distinct shelves at 15m, 12m and 3m making it an excellent multi-level dive when currents allow. It also provides dramatic underwater scenery that changes as you slowly ascend.
There is an abundance of marine life here concentrated into a fairly small area. The pinnacles attract huge numbers of schooling fish including snapper, yellow fusiliers and jacks. Larger fish such as trevally and barracuda circle around feeding on the smaller fish. Their hunting antics are fascinating to watch.
The rock walls are covered in purple and orange-coloured soft corals along with tube corals, hard corals, Christmas tree and tube worms. The corals and crinoids are more vibrant in the shallower areas. Look closely in the cracks and crevices for all sorts of shrimps, crabs and small lobsters. There are numerous nudibranchs too.
Zigzag clams cover the lower areas of the dive site along with a few giant clams and oysters. Leopard sharks can be found under the rocks at the bottom or resting on the sea bed.
As the entry and exit point to this site is in the vicinity of Phi Phi's Tonsai Bay which has a lot of boat traffic, it is recommended to carry a safety balloon.
Loh Samah Bay - This bay is situated on the south side of Phi Phi Leh next to Maya Bay and is another area popular with snorkelers. The diving is centred on a tiny cliff islet at the entrance to the bay.
This islet has walls on all sides and its possible to circle the island at least once on one tank of air at a relaxed pace. The outer southern side of the wall reaches a depth of 20m while the inner northern side is shallowest at around 8m.
The whole wall is covered in hard and soft corals and clams and is home to the usual Phi Phi marine life. Numerous lionfish, scorpionfish and angelfish have made the site their home as well as parrotfish.
The greatest attraction of this dive site is a narrow channel 15m deep on the east side. Scuba divers can just swim through it and are treated to a dazzling display of beautiful soft corals, sea whips and gorgonian seafans. It's not unusual to see a turtle here ripping at the bubble coral while it feeds.
Loh Samah Bay is an excellent night dive site and Thai liveaboard boats often moor here in the evenings. Torches show off the array of different colours on the wall - a feast for your eyes. Coral polyps come out to feed and masses of shrimps can be seen as you search in the cracks, as well as painted lobster and decorated crabs. The numerous moray eels are more active at night too.
Maya Wall - Maya Bay is located on the west side of Koh Phi Phi Leh and became famous as it was featured in the film "The Beach" that starred Leonardo DiCaprio. It is a popular snorkelling destination and attracts lots of tourists wanting to see the iconic deserted paradise depicted in the film. This means it is often crowded but despite the people and boats the natural beauty of this area of the Phi Phi Islands is stunning and it's easy to see why Hollywood chose this setting.
The walls outside of the bay to the south and the north are good for diving and very pretty with the north wall offering a slightly more interesting experience. There are several buoys along the length of the wall and it drops to a maximum depth or about 30m. The site has some hard coral cover which is home to numerous reef fish such as bannerfish, Moorish idols, wrasse and snappers.
There are many places where the huge granite boulders are strewn together in such a way that they have formed exciting swim-throughs that are filled with blankets of glassfish. Other fish residents here are titan triggerfish, pufferfish, parrotfish, moray eels and octopus. Using a torch, divers might find shrimps and crabs hiding in the cracks.
Leopard sharks are common here along with plenty of rock groupers. Oriental sweetlips are also numerous. This is a great area of Phi Phi for seeing hawksbill turtles too.
Around the northern most mooring buoy at the northern edge of the wall there are schools of circling blacktip reef sharks. Snorkelers can also see them from the surface as they congregate at a depth of just 10 metres.
Phi Phi Shark Point - 'Hin Bida' is located 8 km south east of Koh Phi Phi Leh and is a submerged rock. It should not be mistaken for a Phuket dive site called Shark Point that's situated about half way between Phuket Island and the Phi Phi Islands.
Hin Bida is usually only visited by Phi Phi scuba daytrip boats, the journey taking around 45 minutes. It's named Shark Point because of the leopard sharks that reside here and can be seen either sleeping on the sandy bottom at the edge of the reef or cruising slowly by.
The top of the rock just breaks the surface of the water. The rocky reef descends down to 21 metres on the north side and 19 metres to the south. It is covered in soft corals and colourful anemones with their resident clownfish. Barrel sponges also thrive here and house scorpionfish. Giant clams are scattered all around.
Resident reef fish include schools of blue-lined snappers, fusiliers, parrotfish, bannerfish, butterflyfish and damselfish. Porcupinefish, pufferfish and boxfish are also common. There are plenty of featherstars, plume worms, Christmas tree worms and crinoids.
Moray eels reside in the cracks and crags as do lobsters and red octopus. Look closely for even smaller species of marine life such as shrimps and crabs. Watch out for white banded sea snakes too. Visibility varies here from 5m to 20m and currents are normally mild.
How to Dive Koh Phi Phi
The dive sites can be visited by liveaboard during the June to September period. Choose between either an overnight trip from Phuket or a 4 night cruise taking in the best scuba diving that the area has to offer.
You can also dive here on daytrip boats throughout the year from Phuket or Krabi (both 40 km away), and of course from Phi Phi Island itself, so you can combine your dives with a stay in one of our recommended resorts in any of these areas.
The Koh Phi Phi scuba diving season runs all year round but the best conditions exist from February to May. The waters are at their calmest, warmest (29-30°C) and clearest during this time. In January and December the waters are at their coldest, around 27°C. The visibility usually ranges from 30m at its best (between January and April) to 10m.
November to January sees prevailing north westerlies bringing waves to the eastern shores, and cooler waters. Most diving consequently takes place on the sheltered western side of the islands.
Late May to October brings south westerly monsoon winds and surface swells to the islands, lowering visibility by about 25%, but it's pretty rare that diving trips are cancelled due to bad weather. October also brings some heavy rains to the Andaman Sea and the Phi Phi Islands.
Good for: Wall dives, value-for-money, snorkelling and non-diving activities
Not so good for: Wrecks and advanced divers
Depth: 5 - 30m
Visibility: 5 - 20m
Surface conditions: Can be choppy
Water temperature: 27 - 30°C
Experience level: Beginner - intermediate
Number of dive sites: ~15
Distance: ~45 km east of Phuket (3 hours), 30 km south west of Krabi (2½ hours)
Access: Day trips and liveaboards
Recommended length of stay: 5 - 7 days