The Andaman Sea´s five best dive sites

LIKE A SEASONED celebrity, a multi-coloured frogfish poses in front of an underwater camera. Nearby, a five-metre whale shark glides along, while three manta rays gracefully circle a diver. Such magical scenes are part of everyday life in the Andaman Sea that borders the west coast of Thailand and neighbouring Myanmar. Offering some of the best diving in the world, it is no surprise that this is where divers end up, if they are serious about scuba.

The largest dive centre is Phuket, providing a convenient access point to a huge variety of excellent sites. Some are right on the doorstep, only a short speedboat ride away. Several extra-special ones are further away and further apart. These are best to visit aboard a larger, long-range boat known as a liveaboard.

Both Phuket and Khao Lak to the north are bases for these specially equipped cruisers that ply the underwater paradises.

The comfortable vessels typically travel at night while you sleep, so by morning, all you have to do is jump into the blue water and start your underwater exploration.

Dive into the following five sites for a glimpse of what you can expect to find, deep under the Andaman Sea.


Once part of Siam (Thailand) and now Myanmar, you will find over 300 virtually uninhabited islands and rocks around this small group of islands in the middle of the Mergui Archipelago. This particular site has been called almost as many names as it has received divers over the years and remains one of the best in the Andaman Sea.
As with most, there is little more than barren rock to look at above the water; but below the surface, you’ll find a scenic kaleidoscope of colours, shapes and textures. Many divers travel here to catch a glimpse of a grey reef shark.

Even if they make an appearance, they are a minor attraction compared to the wondrous sea life found amongst the pinnacles: colourful schools of fish, harlequin shrimp, squid, ghost pipefish, anemone or clownfish, frogfish, moray eels, and nudibranchs go about their day and leave you to explore their world.

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As the name suggests, Fanforest Pinnacle (and nearby Western Rocky) is full of sea fans – some of the largest in the world. The pinnacle itself begins five metres below the surface, dropping down to almost a 50m depth. The views are different, depending which side you are on, but they include rocky ridges twisting down towards the sandy bottom and plunging vertical walls.

Here, leopard sharks (oft en referred to as zebra sharks) rule. They hide between rocks and seem to be less afraid of divers than those at other sites. If you are careful and approach the shark at eye level, you should be able to get quite close before they rise slowly off the bottom and gracefully swim away. Their gentle demeanour makes for fantastic and easy photo opportunities. Moreover, the number of other unusual creatures found in between the rock crevices is sure to keep even the biggest fish geek happy.

Mu Koh Surin National Park, Thailand

Probably the most famous dive site in Thailand, Richelieu Rock lies just south of the Burmese border and east of the Surin Islands. The pinnacle is barely exposed at low tide and below the surface, it drops over 40m into the sand.

In the 1990s, it was considered one of the best sites in the world, and diving with whale sharks in clear water was the norm. Today, there are fewer whale sharks, but this spot still attracts thousands of divers a year and never fails to thrill – even if the giant stars of the show don’t make an appearance. Every nook and cranny has some sort of life growing on it, and one can spend hours searching for unusual sea-dwellers.

Richelieu is an easy dive to navigate, compared to others in the Andaman Sea. A diver of average skill level can safely explore on his own: the currents are usually manageable and the site is not particularly deep, so it is rare to get lost.

However, it is still best to use a dive master guide if you want to do some serious spotting of marine life; you will see a lot more with someone who knows where all the different critters like to hide.

Similan Islands, Thailand

Although there are over 20 dive sites around the nine idyllic outcrops forming the Similan Islands, the aquarium-like dive at Koh Payu is perhaps the best. The hard corals are extremely healthy and there is a good mixture of soft corals as well. This is unusual as you typically only find one or the other, not both, in this region.
Most of the reef is composed of sloping hard corals with sea fans springing out between their heads. The main attraction is a particularly large “bommie” or coral head. Starting at about 30m deep, it stretches up almost a further 20m, and is home to an array of creatures: moray eels, nudibranchs, gobies, cowries, frogfish, anemone fish and ghost pipefish among them.

Turning out towards the blue water, silvery jacks dart back and forth feeding, and schools of bigeyes and snappers hang about on the reef. If you only have time for one dive in the Similan Islands, make this your first choice.

Trang, Thailand

Sitting approximately 95km south of Phuket, Hin Daeng is just a small rock above the water, but what lies below the water is a different matter. It is the size of a football pitch with finger-like ridges that fan out, reaching down to over 65m, making it the deepest vertical dive site in Thailand. The southern side of the rock is almost sheer and known as the most dramatic wall dive in the Andaman Sea, where such depths and formations are rare.
For most divers, the highlight is the spectacular sight of the pinnacle itself – the water is quite clear below the five-metre mark so it is possible to get a real sense of the sheer size of the structure. Amazing marine life among the colourful soft coral and sea fans is another draw: thousands of clownfish, cuttlefish, scorpion fish, manta rays, leopard sharks and even, occasionally, whale sharks are among those hanging around to greet visitors.

Hin Daeng is best suited to advanced divers. However, with an experienced guide by your side, most can safely enjoy this other-worldly experience.

Information from : http://fahthaimagazine.com/2008/01/01/underwater-worlds/

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