Pattaya – Reputed to be the two best dive destinations in the area are a pair of shipwrecks: the Hardeep and the Bremen. But the Hardeep is numero uno. It sunk in 1942. This 40 metre long freighter from Indonesia now rusts in peace some 25 metres below the surface, between the isles of Samaesan and Chuang. For divers who enjoy a heady dose of fear along with adrenalin, you can now explore inside the hulk. Best of all, wrecks attract an abundance of fish and coral. The two aforementioned islands are also wealthy in hard and soft corals. For beginners Koh Kruk is the prime spot, and for middleweights its Koh Rin, replete with boulder-strewn swim-throughs.
Koh Tao – Within 45 minutes from turtle island are about 20 decent dive sites, ranging from sandy-bottomed beaches, to swim-throughs, soft coral gardens, and deep-water pinnacles. Sightings of pelagics, like whale sharks (the world’s biggest fish), are a common marvel. Many of the boats from Samui and Pangan visit the same places. Thanks to the ease of diving these reefs, washed by gentle currents, this is the premiere place in Southeast Asia for neophytes to get their fins wet.
Phuket – If you’re coming down here to dive chances are you’ll end up water-logging some time at the two most popular sites for daytripping divers: Shark Point and Anemone Reef. The former reef earned the moniker for its largesse of leopard sharks. Only two-meters long, they laze around on the sand, and are used to the divers approaching; but you should resist the urge to pet them, for fear they might be injured or infected. Also sure to spellbind is the slew of soft corals in pink and purple. Nearby is Anemone Reef, which teems with marine life. Alas, neither of these sites should be attempted by rookies; the currents can be swift and unpredictable, and visibility is often not that good.
Phi Phi Islands – There’s a sea of possibilites for aquanauts in this area of towering limestone crags. Koh Bida Nok, a sliver of an island, sees an awful lot of divers, enraptured by her plethora of staghorn corals and anemone fish, green moray eels and octobi. Also scoring high-water marks for marine diversity is Laem Tong, or Golden Point, near Koh Yoong. Trips here may include a plunge down to explore the pinnacle of Hin Jom – home to innocuous leopard sharks and stingrays. Schools of fusiliers, barracuda and jacks are repeat visitors, too.
The Similans – The reputation of these nine islands has made international waves, as they are one of the earth’s greatest living treasures for the amphibiously inclined. Situated around 100 kilometres northwest of Phuket, you’ll most likely have to book a liveaboard to navigate these pristine waters. Some of the more legendary sites here are Elephant Head, off island #8, which is renowned for its scenic swimthroughs and plethora of lionfish, coral trout, yellow goatfish, and on occation, the hawksbill or Ridley’s Turtle. Off the same island is Fantasy Reef, home to an array of clown and trigger fish and great swooping rays. But these sites are just rippling the surface – another 15-plus are waiting for you – varying in difficulty from intermediate to advanced.