With one of the richest marine faunas in the world, Thailand has a wealth of opportunities for both the beginner and the experienced scuba diver, snorkeler and underwater photographer.
The often superb visibility and rich coral reefs (with an average water temperature of 28*C) makes it possible to participate in multiple dives and hours of snorkeling without the prospect of being restricted by loss of body temperature.
However, the sun burns, so cover up when snorkeling.
Many species of Gorgonian Sea Fans are found on reefs throughout the Andaman Sea dive sites and across many sites in the Gulf of Thailand.
( Photo: Spencer Finn)
With one of the richest marine faunas in the world, Thailand has a wealth of opportunities for both the beginner and experienced diver.
The often superb visibility and rich coral reefs (with an average water temperature of 28*C) makes it possible to participate in multiple dives without the prospect of being restricted by loss of body temperature.
Thailand's geography sees it facing the Andaman Sea on the west and the Gulf of Thailand to the east, and as such, divers can not only experience the Indo – Pacific species influenced through the South China Sea, but also cross over the peninsula and dive in the Indian Ocean.
Coupled with the world wide knowledge of Thailand's hospitality and reasonable prices, it is no wonder that divers flock there from across the globe.
Although the country is well populated and many thousands of tourists may be present at any one time, the facilities and the sheer number of resorts and diver destinations in the region ensures that there is adequate for all. In many cases the hotels and resorts, along with dive shops are right on the beach front, so the service is first hand, and, with a smile.
History of Diving in Thailand
Diving in Thailand began with the American Navy SEALs during the Vietnam War. Thailand’s first ever diving store was opened in Pattaya in just 1977.
Since then Thailand Diving has developed to where it is today, one of the world's premier dive destinations.
Gulf of Thailand
The fact that dotted along the edge of the Gulf of Thailand are hundreds of islands and reefs and although the visibility may not be as good as the Andaman Sea, the limestone island marine parks such as Ang Thong, the reefs off Chumphon and the island of Koh Tao are rich in coral and an excellent variety of species.
However, its best to visit the Gulf of Thailand areas during the Southwest Monsoon (dry season) because during the wet a lot of fresh water enters the gulf and the inshore areas are inundated with muddy fresh water. Some dive sites are well known "muck dives". The reason why "muck dives" are so productive and have such a wide range of peculiar species, is the occurence of fresh water run off.
On the western side the Andaman Coast runs for 870 kilometres and the hundreds of islands and reefs are regarded as having some of the best diving in the world. Certainly, the creatures found there are some of the most sort after species by divers and underwater photographers who visit from other countries.
The region is well serviced by the International Airport at Phuket which gives access by liveaboards to adjacent Similin Islands and the Surin Islands near the Burma border.
The Andaman Sea islands were formed by two separate forces and although the forest coverage makes both kinds visually attractive, they are made from different geological stratas. The Surin islands and the Similan islands are Granitic outcrops while some closer to the mainland like Koh Phi Phi, are Limestone formations.
The best times to dive Phuket and the Andaman Sea are during the Northeast Monsoon season, from November to April. During these ( winter ) months the weather is generally fine and stable. However, rain at any time is posible, although at this season the region is protected from the Northeast Monsoon and days can be sunny with flat calm seas for weeks on end.
The Southwest Monsoon season from mid May till September is the "off season" for the Andaman Coast and it may rain a lot and the seas can sometimes be rough.
Even so, daily dive boat trips are made during periods when the seas are down, just like everywhere else. On the offshore islands the visibility is still good, even with the normal runoff from the coast. The local dive operators make decisions based on the forecast and how they know the conditions will shape up.
Most of the diving in Thailand is done ofshore. Its well known that the reefs are fantastic, the visibility ( depending on your choice of timing and location) can be crystal clear and varies with the seasons and the local conditions and there are multitudes of exquisite creatures and hundreds of visually exciting dive sites.
However, unlike other dive sites in other countries, a visiting diver will not be planning shore dives, or skippering their own boat. Every dive is already planned depending on the local conditions by the normal schedule of the dive shop or dive resort that you are operating from.
So, in most cases each dive is planned and there will be a guide, or dive master to provide a dive plan, or explain the geography of the site being visited, with drop offs and pick up points. It is prudent for any open water diver to carry a "safety sausage' or pick up flag, so that if there is a clear indication of your presense if you need a pick up.
Some of the islands being dived around are inhabited by local fishermen often referred to as "Sea Gypsies". Their long propellor shafted, high prow boats are known as "longtails". With the popularity of the Andaman Sea coast rising, more modern fishing boats, dive boats, liveaboards, yachts and cruise ships are more frequent in the area.
( Information supplied by Tourism Thailand)
CENTRAL & EAST COAST
There are 26 provinces that make up Central and Eastern Thailand, and Bangkok is one of them. Geographically, this is Thailand’s heartland, extending from Lop Buri in the north and covering the rice bowl of the Central Plains around the Chao Phraya River. Further south, the area embraces the east and west coasts of the upper Gulf of Thailand.
This is Thailand’s most fertile farming area, a wide-ranging landscape of paddy fields, orchards and plantations.
More than 1,000 years ago Thai settlers moved down from the north, gradually replacing Mon and Khmer influences and establishing communities at Lop CENTRAL & EAST COAST Buri then at Sukhothai, before founding a kingdom that lasted 417 years with Ayutthaya as its capital. When the Burmese destroyed Ayutthaya in 1767, the capital moved to Bangkok.
The Central region has a dramatic history, and its heritage of ancient temples, battlefields and ruins and two capitals, Ayutthaya and Bangkok, are a continuing fascination for visitors. The east and west sea coasts at the region’s southern end also draw huge numbers of visitors every year.
On the eastern side, 400 kilometres of coastline extend from Chon Buri to Rayong with some of the finest beaches in Asia. Pattaya, with an enormous range of resorts, hotels and guesthouses, is its centre. If you are seeking a more relaxing experience, travel further down the coast to Rayong or Ko Samet, and the lovely islands of Ko Chang National Park near the Cambodian border.
On the west coast, the resorts of Cha-am and Hua Hin attract international travellers who prefer their more sophisticated yet laid-back atmosphere.
Far from the sea in the northwest of the region is Kanchanaburi, whose forested mountains, waterfalls and caves, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries on the border with Myanmar provide some of Thailand’s most enthralling scenery.
The North is the birthplace of the earliest Thai civilisation and has many sites of archaeological and cultural interest. Northern people are famous for their courtesy and hospitality, and the region is also noted for its variety of cultural traditions. Many tourists from the surrounding provinces converge on Chiang Mai for the annual Songkran Festival, and to Sukhothai for Loi Krathong.
The North falls into two distinct areas, the plains of the lower north from Nakhon Sawan to Sukhothai, and the mountainous upper north leading to borders of Myanmar and Laos. The mountain ranges along the borders are breathtaking, with waterfalls and fast-flowing rivers ideal for rafting. They are also the home of many ethnic hill people.
The region has three seasons, hot from March to May, wet from June to November and cool from December to February. High up in the mountains, though, “cool” may often mean extremely cold.
The Thai nation had its origins in the North, in city states that were gradually incorporated into the Lanna kingdom centred on Chiang Mai. Sukhothai became the first capital of Thailand, but the influence of the Lanna states of Laos and Myanmar can be clearly seen in the architecture and cuisine of the North.
The nomadic hill people of the region pursued their own course, moving back and forth across frontiers. There are six main tribal groups, Karen, Hmong, Lahu, Mien, Akha and Lisu, each with its own unique customs and clothing. Today, they are settled in villages on the mountainsides, a great attraction for travellers.
Most overseas visitors make for Chiang Mai, the northern capital, as a base for visiting ethnic tribes, soft adventure activities and shopping. Further north still, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son are centres for rafting, trekking and tours of tribal villages. To the south, the Historical Park at Sukhothai is an essential destination for all those wishing to discover more about the history and culture of Thailand.
The Northeast of Thailand, a vast plateau covering nearly one third of the country, is usually known as Isan. It extends northwards to the Mekong River which divides Thailand from Laos, and to the south and it ends at the Dong Rek mountain range along the border with Cambodia.
It is known to be an arid region with soil of poor quality, but for tourism, Isan is one of the country’s most intriguing destinations with many Stone Age and Bronze Age dwellings and artifacts, and several significant temples that are a legacy of the great Khmer empire.
The sandstone shrines are popular tourist attractions, particularly the superbly restored sites at the historical parks of Phimai in Nakhon Ratchasima and Phanom Rung in Buri Ram. The great temple complex at Khao Phra Viharn in Si Sa Ket on the border with Cambodian is now accessible to visitors after a long period of isolation.
BRONZE AGE SETTLEMENTS
The Bronze Age settlements at Ban Chiang in the province of Udon Thani provide fascinating evidence of the work of the local potters some 5,000 years ago. The red and white pottery with characteristic “fingerprint” designs are thought to be the first earthenware vessels known to man.
Two of Thailand’s best-loved national parks, Khao Yai, Phu Kradung and Phu Rua in Loei, are in Isan. Other major attractions include the villages in Khorat and Khon Kaen where the beautiful local silk is woven by hand.
Isan is a comparatively poor region whose main income is from agriculture, and many of the younger people in the villages migrate to the city. But Isan folk have a distinctive character and dialect and a vigorous culture, with their old traditions still reflected in the many festivals unique to the region.
With its strategic position bordering Laos and Cambodia, Isan has in recent years risen to become a useful starting point for adventurous journeys to destinations along the mighty Mekong River. There have been important developments in infrastructure to accommodate what is expected to be a boom in tourism.
Travel in the region has been improved by domestic airlines with regular flights to regional airports; and it is no longer impossible to find luxury accommodation, especially in large provinces of Khon Kaen, Udon Thani Nakhon, Ratchasima and Ubon Ratchathani.
This region extends southward along a narrow peninsula lying between the Andaman Sea its west side and the South China Sea on the east. It is a rich land in terms of the abundance of its natural resources, the fertility of its soil, the diversity of its people and its commercial viability.
The South is made up of 14 provinces from Chumphon in the north down to the Malaysian border 1,200 kilometres from Bangkok. It has a long coastline on either side with sandy beaches and offshore islands on both, and a rugged central hinterland of mountains and forests.
The east coast on the Gulf of Thailand always seems to be more relaxed, with long, wide bays and calm seas; the Andaman Sea coast tends to be more rugged and exhilarating, with its strange limestone rock formations and cliffs.
The occurrence of two seasonal monsoons means that the climate differs from the rest of Thailand. The southwest monsoon sweeps the west coast and the Andaman Sea from May to October, while the northeast monsoon moves across the Gulf of Thailand form November to February. The peninsula forms a barrier so that rain rarely falls on both coastlines simultaneously.
The area was once part of the Buddhist Srivijaya Empire but later came under the rule of Ayutthaya and then Bangkok. Chinese and Malaysian influences have played a large part in the cultural makeup of the region; the further south, the stronger the Malaysian influence, with a dialect akin to Malay, a predominance of Muslim communities and mosques. Rice fields give way to rubber plantations, and Chinese tin mining operations become evidence.
The coastline attracts most tourists, though Samui island in the Gulf of Thailand is growing in popularity as a laid-back holiday spot with first class diving opportunities nearby on Tao and Pha-ngan islands.
The Andaman Sea coast offers more sophisticated choices in the island province of Phuket, Thailand’s premier holiday resort. However, the fascinating rock formations and offshore islands at Phang-nga, Krabi and Trang are extremely popular for the diving and sailing opportunities they offer.
The mountains, rivers and forests in the national parks in the interior of the peninsula are also gaining popularity with eco-tourists, as can be seen with the growing numbers of safari expeditions on foot, by elephant and in canoes.
Neville Coleman's diving expeditions, fauna surveys, photographic fauna surveys and marine life identification courses include every major group of marine life.
Neville Coleman's expertise in marine life identification extends to the identification of Algae, Sea Grass, Forams, Sponges, Stony Corals, Soft Corals, Sea Anemones, Sea Jellies, Zoanthids, Corallimorphs, Black Corals, Flatworms, Segmented Worms, Crustaceans, Barnacles, Shrimps, Rock Lobsters, Hermit Crabs, Squat Lobsters, Molluscs, Chitons, Univalves, Bivalves, Cephalopods, Octopus, Cuttlefish, Squid, Opisthobranchs, Nudibranchs, Sea Slugs, Bryozoans, Sea Mosses, Echinoderms, Sea Stars, Feather Stars, Brittle Stars, Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers, Ascidians/Sea Squirts, Marine Fish, Sharks, Marine Reptiles, and Marine Mammals, all found in the waters around Thailand and its many islands.
( Copyright Neville Coleman)
Hospitals and Clinics
Most provincial capitals have hospitals and clinics, with well trained Doctors and Nurses. Emergency ambulances are available from private hospitals.
As for most other countries in Asia.
Thailand and its 800 year old history now contain around ninety percent of people following forms of Buddism, with ten percent being comprised of Christians, Hindus and Moslems.
Travel insurance to cover air flights, cancellations and baggage loss, or cancelled bookings etc. is advised.
Divers must also seriously consider Diver insurance and diver evacuation insurance as there is no medicare helicopters and few decompression chambers available in case of accidents.