With hundreds of dive sites around the country, some of which are ranked among the best in the world, it is impossible to get bored of diving in Thailand.
The following list of the best places to learn to dive in Thailand consists of places which combine outstanding nearby dive sites with the availability of reliable diving companies and shops.
Courses by PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) are widely available across all of the following destinations, with SSI (Scuba Schools International) courses only slightly rarer.
It should be noted that the vast majority of the following places can only be dived during the high season, when sea conditions are at their best. In many cases, dive centres remain closed during the low season.
#1. Koh Tao
The name “Koh Tao” translates as ‘Turtle Island’, so it’s not that difficult to guess what the star attraction is. With the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Thailand and numerous sheltered bays, it is the perfect place to learn to dive in Thailand. Once you’ve mastered the basics and got used to being underwater, you can then enjoy stunning sights, including the whale sharks which frequently visit the offshore sites like Chumphon Pinnacle. Many a visitor to Koh Tao has come to learn how to dive, only to end up staying and working in the diving industry there!
Best Dive Sites: Chumphon Pinnacle, Koh Nang Yuan, Southwest Pinnacle
#2. Koh Lak
The coastline of Khao Lak, just north of Phuket, has a few pretty good sites, but the really must-see sites are around the islands nearby, specifically the Similan and Surin Islands, which are considered among the best dive sites in the world.
As you can’t easily stay on these islands, Khao Lak is a popular place to base yourself when you’re not out on the ocean. Both of these diving hotspots are part of an expansive marine national park, featuring perfect visibility and amazing coral reefs.
Some sites offer more challenging swells and currents for those who have a little more experience, but the rewards include leopard and whitetip sharks, turtles and giant bumphead parrotfish.
Best Dive Sites: Richelieu Rock, Elephant Head Rock, Christmas Point
#3. Koh Lanta
There are no remarkable dive sites actually surrounding Koh Lanta itself. However, a short ride on a dive boat will give you access to sites which rival the Similans for their sheer beauty.
Chief among these are Hin Daeng and Hin Muang, which are home to over 200 hard corals and 108 catalogued reef fish species. Part of the Mu Koh Lanta Marine National Park, these world-renowned sites have among the highest recorded number of whale shark sightings in the world, as well as regular sightings of leopard sharks, manta rays and more.
Best Dive Sites: Hin Muang, Hin Daeng, Koh Haa
#4. Phi Phi Islands
A very popular place for learning to dive, practically every other building in Tonsai Village is a dive centre. The sheer limestone cliffs of the islands themselves make for good wall diving sites beneath the clear waters of the Andaman Sea and are home to a wide variety of colourful corals and reef fish, as well as turtles and black-tip reef sharks.
The countless sheltered bays make for ideal conditions for raw beginners, offering great visibility and next to no currents. There are even a few underwater caves, if you want to try your hand at a more advanced course.
Best Dive Sites: Phi Phi Shark Point, Maya Wall, Palong Wall
#5. Koh Lipe
Koh Lipe is at the heart of one of Asia’s oldest marine national parks – Tarutao National Park. Aside from the amazing reefs immediately around Koh Lipe, there are 30 other uninhabited islands and hundreds of reefs nearby, supporting examples of about a quarter of the world’s tropical fish species. Some of the deeper sites, closer to the edge of the national park, are good places for seeing whale sharks and manta rays. Shallower sites close to Koh Lipe itself offer beautiful hard coral formations and a colourful variety of fish.
Best Dive Sites: Eight Miles Rock, Stonehenge, Koh Pung
With its striking coastline and many idyllic islands, it is not hard to find excellent dive sites around Krabi. The region is home to over 200 species of fish and 80 of coral, with stingrays, cuttlefish and leopard sharks all quite common around Ao Nang. The calm, clear, protected waters make a great spot for beginners while advanced divers will find some exciting caverns and swim-throughs, particularly on the nearby islands like Koh Yawabon.
Best Dive Sites: Koh Si, Koh Yawasam, Koh Dor
#7. Koh Samui
Koh Samui itself is not especially noteworthy as a diving destination, but is the closest point to the stunning Ang Thong Marine National Park. Undoubtedly beautiful above the water, the forests of hard and soft corals beneath the surface are no less amazing. This is the best place in the Gulf of Thailand to find lionfish and cuttlefish, with big schools of yellow-tailed barracuda and plenty of blue-ringed angelfish also common. The water is generally shallow and calm (during high season), making it a great place to perfect your scuba skills.
Best Dive Sites: Sail Rock, Koh Yippon, Dragon Island
Home to the largest diving centre in Thailand, Phuket has an excellent range of site for beginners and experienced divers alike, and is also a well-situated base for trips to nearby islands, including the Similans, the Racha Islands and Phi Phi. One of the most popular sites, particularly for those completing their beginner’s course, features two large elephant statues and a big oyster shell, which were dropped by the Thai government in 2006 to create an artificial reef. Various species of shark and many of fish are common throughout the area.
Best Dive Sites: Siam Bay Statues, Shark Point, Racha No
Despite being home to the first diving shop in Thailand, Pattaya is not noted for its outstanding underwater sights. The visibility is rarely very good and the area doesn’t see the more impressive sea creatures, though there are some resident turtles and occasional visits from dolphins. However, Pattaya can be dived all year round, instead of only in the high season, as is the case in many of the above destinations. Also, it has no less than five shipwrecks within recreational diving limits, including three ex-Royal Thai Navy troop transports sunk as artificial reefs and a genuine war wreck from 1945.
Best Dive Sites: Koh Rin, HTMS Khram, Hardeep Wreck
#10. Koh Chang
Koh Chang Marine National Park doesn’t have the same amazing visibility of destinations higher up our list of the best places to learn to dive in Thailand, but does have some really outstanding reefs at shallow depths, giving even inexperienced divers more time to explore. It’s a good place to perfect your buoyancy control before progressing onto the more impressive places further up this list. Sightings of whale sharks are not unheard of, but are quite rare, with turtles, blue-spotted stingrays and moray eels being much more common.
Best Dive Sites: Hin Kuak Maa, Hin Luk Bath, Hin Rap South