Diving in Phuket
Dive the Pearl of the South
Phuket is the gateway to the best scuba diving in Thailand. The island is The Place from which you can either take a liveaboard trip up Thailand's west coast to the best dive sites of the Andaman Sea, or you can stay in one of the island's many resorts and take shorter day trips instead to enjoy some of the great nearby local sites.
For families, experienced divers and backpackers, Phuket has long been the Number One destination in Thailand and the island provides a great base for doing PADI courses, diving the local sites via daytrips or setting out on a liveaboard adventure to the Similans or beyond into Myanmar - Burma.
For many, Racha Noi represents the best of the local Phuket dive sites. Here you can get a taste of the Similans with large submerged granite boulders providing an impressive and ever-changing topography as you progress through your dive. Racha Noi is great, not only for the health of its hard coral formations, but also for the list of entertaining fish including highlights such as manta rays, jacks and tuna; and if you are very lucky maybe even a passing whale!
Shark Point is an excellent site, but a little misleadingly named for although you are likely to encounter several leopard sharks here and maybe the occasional bamboo shark, it is for its spectacular pristine coral that Shark Point is best loved. Pufferfish, boxfish and angelfish all abound here and there are normally schools of tiny glassfish being terrorised by the marauding jacks. Shark Point is a beautiful, healthy dive site providing an abundance of entertainment for you.
Lying in around 32 metres the Kingcruiser passenger ferry, which sank in 1997 without loss of life, has been an unexpected bonus for the local Phuket diving industry. Providing a large shelter for literally thousands of fish, the wreck is now enjoyed by divers keen to see the abundant life that calls the wreck home. The depth, currents and fragile state of the wreck make it inappropriate for absolute beginners but anyone with more than a few logged dives can really enjoy all the resident trevally, mackerel, barracuda and much more.
Phuket offers something for everyone, from deluxe secluded beach resorts to cheap and cheerful accommodation further away from the beach, from quiet classy restaurants to the exciting nightlife of Bangla Road at Patong Beach.
Dive Site Descriptions
From Phuket Island, you can take day trips to the Similans and Koh Phi Phi, but here are some of its own great dive sites:
Anemone Reef - Anemone Reef gets its name from the mass of gorgeous blue and green coloured anemones that cover this huge lime-stone pinnacle. Its Thai name is Hin Jom which means 'submerged rock' and this is a popular and beautiful site. Located about 600 metres north of Phuket's Shark Point Marine Sanctuary, the rock rises 30 metres up from the sea floor to just beneath the surface then abruptly ends and drops back to a bottom of sand and oyster shells.
Vast fields of sea anemones cling to every conceivable surface and gently sway in the current creating the illusion that the giant rock is alive. As expected there are plenty of colourful anemonefish and clownfish living and hiding among the anemones that make great photo opportunities.
The dive usually begins with a descent to the bottom of the pinnacle from where you can then slowly circle your way up the pinnacle. Currents can be strong here at times so it's advised to navigate the reef by zigzagging to avoid finning against the current.
The profusion of sea anemones and the nutrient-rich water are a magnet to a vast array of reef fish found feeding or taking shelter. Large schools of tropical fish abound including various species of snapper, grouper and fusiliers, as well as soldierfish that congregate together in the crevices. Red-tailed butterflyfish, bannerfish, Moorish idols, trumpet fish, cornetfish and parrotfish are all common here as at the other Phuket dive sites.
Anemone Reef is also a well-known site for common and spotfin lionfish, sometimes encountered in-groups of up to 10. You can see them gliding about in the open or resting in the barrel sponges away from the current. The barrel sponges dot the lower slopes, and you can sometimes find large bearded scorpionfish resting inside them too. Away from the barrel rims, these fish are often difficult to spot as they are able to change their skin colour and markings to perfectly blend in with the granite rocks that they rest upon.
The pinnacle's eastern slope is covered in huge lemon sea fans. Look closely as they provide a safe haven for smaller critters such as the yellow tiger-tail seahorses. You can spot them at the deeper levels of the site but it takes a good eye and patience!
Oriental sweetlips and harlequin sweetlips can also be seen under the corals and you may even be lucky enough to see the exquisite juvenile harlequin sweetlips. There are plenty of giant morays, undulated and white-eyed moray eels too, as well as the odd honeycomb moray eel.
In the shallower parts of the dive, look in and around the anemones for their resident fish; you can see plenty of skunk, pink, Clark's and tomato anemonefish, among others. However, they are not the only creatures to inhabit the anemones; porcelain crabs can be seen hiding here along with shrimps. Damselfish such as the 3 spot dascyllus are also seen everywhere.
Anemone Reef's proximity to Shark Point means you are likely to see a leopard shark passing by, also larger game-fish like tuna and barracuda. You may even spot a hawksbill turtle that is frequently seen here and on the King Cruiser Wreck.
Koh Doc Mai - A huge limestone rock that rises steeply out of the sea, Koh Doc (or Dok) Mai is a small, jungle covered island. Its name means 'Flower Island' in Thai due to the beautiful and colourful flower-like corals that cover every surface under the water. It is located on the way to Shark Point from Phuket and is considered one of the best wall dives in the area. This is a favourite site with scuba divers because of the sheer diversity of marine life here.
On 3 sides the sheer walls drop straight down to the sea floor to a depth of about 30 metres. All sides are home to numerous creatures occupying every crack and crevice. It is possible to swim around the whole island when currents permit.
The gently sloping reef to the west is covered with hard staghorn coral with an abundance of colourful sea life decorating its ridges. There is a vast variety of reef fish and you can easily spot the resident giant moray eels and white-eyed morays.
On the east side of the island there is a virtual garden of yellow tube corals along with some small caverns and caves along the base of the wall. These caves are great for practising more advanced diving techniques such as penetration.
The resident yellow tiger-tail seahorses are well known but still hard to find as they are so well hidden in the gorgonian sea fans. You can also see harlequin ghostpipefish. This is one of the best sites in Phuket for macro diving so a macro lens is a must for the keen underwater photographer.
There are numerous invertebrates here too including lobster, crabs, oysters, squid, zigzag clams, urchins, and octopus. Large fish such as leopard sharks and grey reef sharks can sometimes be encountered here as well as Indonesian bamboo sharks thanks to a recent breeding programme by the Phuket Marine Biological Research Centre.
Kingcruiser Wreck - On the 4th of May 1997, the 85 metre passenger ferry King Cruiser made history by straying several miles off course on a routine run from Phuket to the Phi-Phi Islands and hitting Anemone Reef. The boat sank near the reef but thankfully no lives were lost among the 500 people on board.
Previously Phuket's dive sites had lacked a large sunken wreck for divers to explore so although the accident was unfortunate for the ferry owners and passengers alike, the boat has become one of the most popular dive spots in this area. Not only is the wreck located near 2 other great dive sites, it lies in an almost perfect upright position at a depth at 30 metres, with the captain's cabin located at the shallowest area of 12 metres.
The Kingcruiser wreck is 25 metres wide but is not safe for penetration as in August 2003 the floor of the stern top deck collapsed through onto the main deck. In more recent years there has been significant deterioration to both the midsection and the bow areas too. However, exploring the outside of this wreck is still an exciting experience and over time this will become an even better dive site as the wreck becomes more encrusted with a variety of colourful corals.
At the back of the wreck at around 32 metres you can see the twin propellers where lots of lionfish live. The toilet area at the rear of the main deck is also home to lionfish and they are the largest ones found at any of the local sites. There are numerous scorpionfish living on the wreck too which can be hard to spot as they are so well camouflaged against the rusting steel and corals.
There are many different fish all over the wreck, some can be seen in large schools. You will encounter rabbitfish, surgeonfish, and fusiliers among others and huge schools of trevally, mackerel and yellowtail barracuda. There are also eels and numerous crabs. However the 2 frequent visitors that are most popular with divers are a large hawksbill turtle and an enormous great barracuda.
The wrecks location near to Shark Point has undoubtedly had much to do with its soaring fish population, and the older and more broken up the wreck becomes the more fish it attracts. It seems strange that the fish prefer to live in a rusting metal hulk rather than the natural sanctuaries of Anemone Reef and Shark Point but it makes for a great dive location!
The frequent strong currents and low season rough seas make the diving here unsuitable for beginners.
Racha Noi Island - Racha Noi is a beautiful, uninhabited tropical island that is. It is surrounded by hard coral reef, with huge underwater granite boulders descending to depth at the north and south points with formations very similar to the Similan Islands. The visibility is usually excellent here and around the boulders there is a good chance to see manta rays and occasional whale sharks.
Off the southern point you can experience an interesting drift dive along some spectacular scenery. This is a popular site that offers many opportunities for an enjoyable and rewarding deep dive. For that reason and the fact that currents are frequently strong here, it is suitable for more experienced and advanced divers. It is Dive The World's favourite Thailand dive site after the Similan Islands and Hin Daeng.
The dive begins with a descent to around 18 metres where you'll find yourself on top of a large rock formation surrounded by deep water. Large fish can be found here including schools of jacks and tuna cruising past. Blue-spotted stingrays are common and threes a good chance to spot a manta ray. South Point is unsuitable for beginners so this site is often visited by the Phuket liveaboards and less frequently on day trips.
There is however a site on this island suitable for beginners, Banana Bay. It lies on the east coast and has a small white sandy beach and shallow turquoise-blue waters. This is a great spot for those learning to dive in Phuket and provides interesting small bommies and staghorn reefs to explore.
At the North Point of Racha Noi are some of the healthiest coral formations in Thailand. The shallower areas boast dainty green sheet corals, porites and formosa bottle-brush corals. There are numerous octopuses here that are fascinating to watch. Further along the eastern edge huge boulders dominate the seascape. The northern tip of the island features a large pinnacle and offers a good opportunity for a multilevel dive. You are likely to encounter larger marine life here such as reef sharks and stingrays. Out in the current you will see big schools of chevron barracuda gliding slowly around.
Racha Noi is a great scuba diving destination with many interesting sites. You can take a one day excursion or a 2 day liveaboard trip to visit here.
Racha Yai Island - A granite island surrounded by fringing hard coral reef, it boasts several beautiful tropical beaches with protected shallow bays where the water is very often clear. This is the ideal year round Phuket destination at which to learn scuba diving, or refresh your skills if you haven't dived for a while. Divers of all levels of experience and snorkelers can visit Racha Yai as the diving is easy and gentle. Water depths range between 3-30 metres and the visibility is usually good although it varies as to the season.
On the north end of the island are 2 beautiful little bays famous for their deep clear water and patches of colourful coral formations. Both of them gradually drop to a depth of 12 metres onto a sandy seabed, providing ample opportunities for both snorkeling and diving.
Racha Yai's best diving is off the east coast where the current allows a gentle drift dive along a sloping rocky face that, although affected by the high sea temperatures in 2010, still attracts large schools of tropical fish which makes it especially attractive during Phuket's off-season in the summer.
Especially prominent as local residents are moray eels, octopus and cuttlefish, titan triggerfish and giant pufferfish. Be wary of the titan triggerfish during spawning season - the male guards its nest and the area in a circle above it with vigilance. He will charge at you if you cross his territory and even nip at your fins!
There are often large schools of false barracudas, twin-spot snapper, dog-eyed pufferfish and parrotfish hovering over the reef. Trumpetfish hunt among the corals for food and cornetfish are everywhere. There are a few anemones scattered throughout the hard corals along with their resident western clownfish.
In the sandy area at the edge of the reef look out for blue-spotted stingrays half-buried in the sand with just their eyes protruding out. You can also spot garden eels in this area too their bodies sticking out from their holes and swaying in the current. Look out also for bent-stick pipefish as well as a very big, strange-looking reef stonefish on the sand at the edge of the reef.
At the north end of Siam Bay you'll find one of Phuket's newest dive sites and it may be the only place in the world where you can dive with elephants! In 2006 various structures and statues commissioned by the Thai government were sunk on to the sandy bottom to make up an artificial reef after the destruction of the 2004 tsunami. The 'reef' averages a depth of around 18 metres making it suitable for all levels of divers including PADI open water students. The visibility is usually good and the unusual structures make this a popular underwater photography site.
The structures resemble something out of an amusement park and include 2 big elephant statues, a large oyster shell and a Thai sala or 'pavilion'. There is also a temple gate guarded by a huge mythical sentry known as Yak in Thai. He is believed to protect the gate from evil spirits. The statues are spread out about 7 metres apart making it easy to swim from one to the other. It's also considered good luck in Thai to swim under an elephant - great buoyancy practice too! Check out the elephant's ear as a white-eyed moray eel has claimed this space as his home.
On the southwest coast of the island, 2 Phuket dive boats have been deliberately sunk in recent years to benefit both the local marine life and the diving industry. The first is a small wooden dive boat, the MS Andaman Eagle which was sunk in 2008. The 5m wide, 15m long wreck lies on its side at a depth of 27m. It has deteriorated considerably over the last few years and cannot be penetrated but attracts lots of reef fish such as Moorish idols and damsel fish.
The second, the Harruby, was a liveaboard dive boat sunk in late 2009, its steel hull stripped off for environmental and safety reasons. At 26m long and 5m wide, it lies perfectly upright at a depth of 26m with the top reaching up to 15m. Not much grows on the wreck yet but it attracts large amounts of reef fish. You can dive right inside the wreck where lots of batfish serenely hang out not at all bothered by the presence of scuba divers. Look out for schools of yellowtail barracuda cruising past and there is also a large sting ray here.
Nearby there are several concrete cubes which have been deliberately placed here to attract marine life. They are covered in coral and feather stars and attract different pufferfish such as the yellow boxfish can seal-faced puffers. Lionfish can also be seen here as well as sand lizard fish.
One of Phuket's most popular scuba diving day trip destinations, Racha Yai also has accommodation in both of the gorgeous small bays on the northern side of the island. Muslim farmers and a few fishermen have lived on the island for years now, harvesting coconuts and fishing the waters surrounding the islands.
Shark Point - Shark Point is part of a marine sanctuary and is justifiably one of the most popular of Phuket's local dive sites. The official Thai name for this site is Hin Musang or 'Shark Rock', named after the docile leopard sharks (Stegastoma varium) that are often encountered here resting on the sandy seafloor.
These docile creatures grow up to approximately 2.5 metres, are nocturnal, and sleep on the sandy bottom at the edge of the reef during the day. Shark Point offers a great opportunity to get up close to these trusting, approachable sharks and take photos. Remember though not to take advantage of their docile nature and touch the sharks; handling by divers in no way benefits them and can cause infection and distress.
Situated approximately 25 kilometres east of Chalong Bay in Phuket, this site was given official marine sanctuary status in 1992 by the Thai government to protect the abundant eco-system and preserve the huge variety of marine life that lives here. Consequently all forms of fishing have been banned along with the collecting of marine life. Official mooring buoys are in place to prevent damage from anchors.
Shark Point is made up of 3 large rock pinnacles, the largest of which breaks the surface and appears as a tiny rock outcropping when approaching from the sea. Beneath the surface lies a large multicoloured reef the size of which surprises most people. The rocks reach a depth of about 18 to 20 metres and teem with an abundance and vast array of marine life. The sheer density and diversity of coral and fish life makes diving here a wonderful, visual experience.
As well as leopard sharks, bamboo sharks can be found here hiding under the coral ledges but there is so much more to see aside from the sharks. There are vast schools of tropical fish, plenty of purple and pink coloured soft corals and sea fans that decorate the limestone pinnacles, as well as huge barrel sponges. The 3 pinnacles form 3 main sections to the reef and several days can easily be spent exploring the different facets of the site. Literally every surface is covered in something alive and the surrounding water is filled with fish!
Schools of fusiliers are all around the reef along with glassfish which form a constantly moving carpet over the rocks. Hunting trevaliies cause these schools to disperse intermittently. Lionfish are seen all over the reef - sometimes as many as 20 in one dive! Scorpionfish are also common but harder to spot as they are incredibly well camouflaged against the coral. There are many different types of pufferfish including the yellow boxfish. Moorish idols and bannerfish are plentiful and blue-ringed angelfish and emperor angelfish are also common. The very timid potato groupers can grow up to 1 metre long.
There are plenty of moray eels living in the crevices and banded sea snakes can be seen in the shallower areas. Just off the south west corner of the main rock lays a small outcrop at 18 metres deep which is home to a bright yellow seahorse. Keep a sharp eye out also for banded boxer shrimps, hinge-beak shrimps and white-eyed morays.
From the relatively steep main rock pinnacle, the reef flattens out to the south until it rises towards the surface again several hundred metres away. Currents can be strong at this site providing plenty of nutrients for the hundreds of different species of hard corals and tropical fish. There are plenty of places to shelter from the current and, when it runs in the right direction, it can allow for an excellent drift dive back to your dive boat.
A visit to Phuket's Shark Point Marine Sanctuary is an excellent diving experience at any time of the year.
How to Dive Phuket Island
The best way to plan your local daily diving is to book your Phuket day trips with us and to arrange to stay in one of the popular resort hotels. Local divemasters are always provided but private dive guides are also available if you prefer more personal attention.
If you're interested in exploring the sites further offshore from here, then a Thailand liveaboard trip will be your best bet. In the low season (June to September) there are a number of liveaboard trips to the nearby southern dive sites around Phuket and Phi Phi.
Scuba diving in Phuket continues year round with the best conditions being in the high season of November to April, with the absolute peak conditions being towards the end of this period. In low season the weather is less predictable, featuring more rain and choppier seas. However, schedules for trips to local sites are only rarely interrupted by weather conditions. Dive sites on the leeward side of the offshore islands are used more at this time of year.
Phuket liveaboards run from late October to mid May. Outside of this period the monsoon storms are highly unpredictable and too dangerous for boats to be in open seas when they occur.
The water temperatures range from 26°C (January and February) to 30°C (May and June). In March and April there might be unpredictable termoclimes that might drop the temperature a few degrees, but only for a short while. Most divers wear a thin full-length wetsuit for protection. Temperatures higher than 30°C (as witnessed in 2010) are a main cause of coral bleaching. The corals of Phuket are now recovering from the stress suffered.
Titan triggerfish nest in April and May (towards the end of diving high season). Divers should exercise special care at this time of year as the triggerfish can be aggressive while defending their nests. All species of triggerfish build nests (usually by digging in sandy patches of coral), but it is the Titan that has earned itself a reputation as being a hazard to divers.
Good for: Small animals, reef life and health, beginner divers, diving value-for-money, snorkelling and non-diving activities
Not so good for:
Depth: 5 - 40m
Visibility: 5 - 40m
Currents: Can be strong
Surface conditions: Calm to moderate
Water temperature: 27 - 30°C
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: ~30
Access: Liveaboard cruises and day tours
Recommended length of stay: 1 week, or 2 - 3 weeks to dive all destinations accessible from here