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Diving in Khao Lak

Explore the sparkling, rich waters of the Similan and Surin Islands. Top dive sites such as Richelieu Rock, Koh Bon and Koh Tachai attract manta rays and whale sharks to their rich, colourful reefs.

Diving in Khao Lak

Quick facts

With over 20 kilometres / 12 miles of white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and dense tropical rainforest, Khao Lak still maintains a remote island vibe. Despite being one of Thailand’s quieter destinations you’ll find accommodation and facilities for every budget. Khao Lak is the perfect place to relax and enjoy breathtaking natural surroundings. Khao Lak is also the jump-off point for liveaboard trips to the Similan and Surin Islands. The average length trip to take advantage of these sites is four days, four nights but shorter trips are available if you’re tight on time. Boat options range from simple value accommodations with shared bathroom facilities to modern luxury yachts. Some liveaboard boats stay out and divers are transferred back and forth by speed boat. Using this method dive operators can offer day or overnight trips to the popular sites of Richelieu Rock and Koh Bon. Do note though that these are long days with 2 and 1-hour journeys each way respectively. Day trip diving is comparatively more expensive than hopping on a liveaboard. Khao Lak does have four wreck sites of which the Boonsung Wreck is arguably the best. It’s likely to be the most concentrated soup of pufferfish you are ever likely to encounter. The reefs have seen some damage in the recent bleaching’s, but efforts are being made to speed recovery. Regardless the area is still rich and plentiful, attracting manta rays, whale sharks, turtles and a variety of sharks. Visibility, on the whole, is very good; current can be present at some sites. Most operators prefer that you have advanced training or book to take it aboard. However, it is possible to learn to dive here, completing dives on board a trip. Sites vary from giant megalithic scenes to supersaturated soft coral reefs that dazzle with richness. The season runs from October to May.

When to go

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Boonsung Wreck – This 1950’s dredger sank in the 1980’s and is now in 6 main pieces. The Boonsung is a beautiful artificial reef bursting with macro life. You’ll find moray eels, seahorses, pipefish, nudibranch and a variety of crustaceans, as well as colourful reef fish and even leopard sharks on the sand. The broken down wreck can be dived again and again and you’ll always find something new. Similian Islands – Regarded by many as Thailand’s best diving due to the sheer abundance of fish, variety of species, kaleidoscopic colours, stunning topside scenery and impressive reef-scapes. You’ll find giant bommies shrouded in glassfish, huge gorgonian fans and table corals, sharks, turtles, trevallies, groupers and barracudas. On the reef there are frogfish, ribbon eels, octopus and so much more. These Islands are all about underwater action. Richelieu Rock - About 200 kilometres / 120 miles north of Phuket, this horseshoe-shaped rock in the Andaman Sea might just be Thailand's most famous dive site. Look for big stuff – giant, lumbering whale sharks, barracuda tornadoes, huge groupers and clouds of tropical fish. You'll also find shovelnose rays, seahorses, pipefish and cuttlefish. For underwater photographers, the hardest thing about diving this site is deciding whether to go wide angle or macro. Koh Bon – Well known for its manta ray and pelagic sightings, Koh Bon is a popular dive spot just over an hour away from the Similan Islands. Other visitors here include leopard rays, eagle rays and black tip reef sharks. When you are not looking into the blue, Koh Bon has excellent critter life including numerous commensal shrimp species, crabs, nudibranch, bottom dwellers and octopus. It is also a great spot for night diving. Koh Tachai – This submerged ridge is made up of hard corals and boulders which have formed numerous channels and swim throughs. Expect to see vibrant corals, large sea fans and a plethora of reef fish but the major attractions here are manta rays, whale sharks, groups of hunting tuna, schooling barracuda, fusiliers, large trevallies, leopard sharks, nurse sharks and hawksbill turtles. This is definitely a dive site for all big fish aficionados.

What to see

Koh Bon is the best place to see manta rays in this area, although they do seem to like Koh Tachai too where they share the limelight with whale sharks. Richelieu Rock is also a great place to spot whale sharks. February, March and April are when you are most likely to be lucky with encountering these gentle giants.

When you are not expectantly staring passed barracuda and batfish into the blue, you’ll notice the reef is chock full of colour. Amongst the usual suspects, you’ll find octopus chasing each other and giant cuttlefish shimmering, trumpetfish up-ending to try to hide, honeycomb and giant morays stuffed into holes and lionfish threateningly patrolling. Macro lovers won’t be disappointed either, numerous nudibranch can be spotted, mantis shrimp scuttle around and seahorses feature on some sites too.

Calendar

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Most likely sightingsPossible sightings

Area

Khao Lak lies on the west coast of Thailand and stretches 12 miles (20km) along the Andaman Coast. It’s a lot less brash than nearby Phuket and has a comparatively relaxed feel; it’s a more family orientated environment. Local building regulations enforce no structures higher than the closest palm tree. The area has sprawled amongst the greenery and not towered above it, so it’s a lot less of a concrete jungle too.

Its long, low coastal areas were devastated by 2004’s shocking tsunami; it was by far one of the worst hit areas. Today, the only reminder of this disaster is a police boat that was swept 1.5 miles (2km) inland; the only legacy, the numerous signs pointing out your escape route to the mountains. These mountains are the backdrop to the quiet beaches and glistening waters of this peaceful resort area. The surrounds are still agricultural. Protected areas of the national park provide the lush tropical greenness you readily associate with Thailand.

Other attractions

Khao Sok National Park lies just an hour’s road journey away and offers some stunning scenery. The area is both jungle and lake. Huge limestone karsts erupt out of the lake and soar into the sky. The park feels like a different planet. Kayak, hike, raft, and enjoy the wildlife and scenery or just chill by the lake.

Getting there

Khao Lak’s closest airport is Phuket, which is just an hour away by road.

UTC+07:00

Time zone

THB

Currency

+66

Calling code

220-240 V

Electric volt

A, 

B, 

C

Plug type

HKT

Main airport
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