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WHY DIVERS PREFER THAILAND
The fringing reefs of Thailand's long coastline and its hundreds upon hundreds of islands support a rich marine life. And, aside from the tens of thousands of exotic organisms which inhabit the coral reef, divers may get to see things such as manta rays and whale sharks. These harmless giants, visitors from open waters, sometimes actually seem to enjoy human company.An incredible variety of scenery, both above and below the sea. What with the astonishing scenery on
the surface, diving in Thailand is a pleasure even before you get to the site. Add the incredible variety and colour underwater, and you have an unbeatable combination.
Much of the fascination lies in the sheer variety of diving available. Just the Similan Islands alone have almost everything - coral walls, huge sea fans and barrel sponges, big rocks, swim-throughs, and plenty of shallows for snorkelling besides. (Although the waters around the islands average from 30 to 45 metres, there are splendid coral gardens in as little as six metres). Whale sharks and manta rays are occasional visitors from the open ocean, coming in especially often during planktonic blooms in late March and early April.And Ko Similan is only one of many excellent diving areas in the country.
Year-round diving. Some areas can be dived 12 months of the year, while others are seasonal. What remains true is that you can have an excellent dive trip at any time of the year, either in the Gulf or in the Andaman. When the weather is at its worst in the Andaman, it's generally at its best in the Gulf, and vice versa. Again, when conditions permit, diving may be possible at any time of the year in the Gulf; but scheduled cruises should be planned for the southwest monsoon.
Ko Chang National Park, one of Thailand's next dive frontiers, is an exception. Among these 47 islands in the province of Trat, the diving season is November-April (similar to that of the Andaman Sea, rather than to that of the rest of the Gulf, protected as these islands are from the northeast monsoon).
The months of November to midMay are high season in the Andaman, though with favourable weather reports daytrips to many spots - famous dive sites such as Shark Point Marine Sanctuary, Ko Phi Phi, and Ko Racha - are possible. Even live-aboard cruises to more distant attractions such as Ko Rok Nok and Hin Daeng in the south may be organized in the low season, weather permitting.
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Exceptionally clear waters. Underwater visibility can be very good at any time of the year. At its best, in areas such as Hin Daeng in the southern Andaman Sea, or the Similans, or Ko Tao in the Gulf, it can extend to 25-30 metres.
Warm water. On both sides of the peninsula, all the way fromsurface to 40 metres and deeper, the water is so warm you don't need a wetsuit.
Fantastic live-aboard cruises. Try scheduled live-aboard cruises which give you everything in one seven-day trip - the Similan Islands, the fabled Burma Banks, the Surin Islands, and Richelieu Rock. Or take a shorter cruise to a new dive frontier - for example, a few days south from Phuket to the islands and submerged rocks off Trang province, to world-class sites such as Hin Daeng.
Wreck diving. One attraction accessible from Pattaya is the sunken shipwrecks off Sattahip and Samae San, fascinating artificial reefs, home to thousands of species of marine organisms. Another wreck which is drawing scuba divers is the warship off Ko Chang, in Trat Province. Still other wrecks are being explored off the province of Trang.
Sailing-diving cruises. For many this is the ultimate tropical experience. Combine all the pleasures of diving with those of yacht sailing on one trip.
Professional scuba facilities. Equipment sales and rentals, as well as first-rate instruction, are readily available in Pattaya, Chumphon, Samui, and Phuket. Ko Tao, in the Gulf, now has scuba facilities. Ko Phi Phi Don also has a number of dive shops.
Expert instruction. What better souvenir of a trip to Thailand could there be than certification as a qualified open-water diver? You can do the whole course in four days, beginning with classroom and pool instruction. If you're not sure how you'll take to diving, some shops provide an introductory pool lesson for free. Day-long "resort courses" are also an inexpensive way to test the waters.
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If you're already an experienced diver, on the other hand, this is a fine opportunity to do a specialty course. How about Search and Salvage, for example, or Wreck Diving? Underwater Photography is rapidly growing in popularity. These take as little as two days each, and can often be done while you're on a live-aboard cruise out among the islands.Thailand has some of the best scuba instruction facilities in the world, including at least three PADI Five-Star Instructor Development Centres.
Frontier after frontier. In the Gulf of Thailand, Ko Chang and the whole Trat area is just beginning to open up to -sports divers. Meanwhile, diving in the Andaman Sea has also pushed on from frontier to frontier. As recently as the early 1980s, the Similans were the fabled destination. Then it was the Surins. Most recently, the Burma Banks and the islands off Trang Province have been creating excitement in the diving world.
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