Krabi top dive spots

Phi Phi is fantastic above and below the water

Phi Phi is fantastic above and below the water

By Jan Schauseil

Some of the planet’s finest diving sites are located along southern Thailand’s western coast, and Krabi is right in the thick of it, making this beach town the ideal base for scuba diving and snorkelling enthusiasts.

Incredibly diverse coral reefs and marine life, perfect winter weather, and unbelievably low prices make Krabi one of those rare places where almost anyone can afford the normally expensive thrill of scuba diving. The majority of Krabi’s local dive shops can be found on nearby Ao Nang Beach, a pleasant 30-minute drive from town. Most visitors will find the five main dive sites around Ao Nang enough to satisfy their appetites, but for those underwater junkies who crave more, Krabi is a well-established departure point for countless other spectacular areas farther afield.

The diving scene at Ao Nang revolves around Koh Poda and the seven small islets surrounding it which make up part of the Hat Nopparat Thara-Mu Koh Phi Phi Marine National Park. Diving and snorkelling options in this area range from safe and easy excursions, ideal for beginners, to deeper headwall dives requiring considerable experience and training. The marine life here is both diverse and prolific, with more than 200 species of fish and 80 species of coral having already been identified. Ao Nang guide.

One of the most popular of these seven islands is Koh Ha, where more than 60 varieties of coral encrust the boulders along with reliably large schools of barracuda, squid and even the occasional leopard shark. If you’re interested in searching for the camera-shy black-tip reef shark, Koh Dor or Koh Si are the places to go. Koh Dor is the nearest site to Ao Nang, and is well-known for its extensive coral gardens. But this also makes it the most crowded site around Krabi. ”Nobody warned us we’d see so many rare species of Humanus Touristas at Koh Dor,“ one American complained.

The relatively large island of Koh Talu has two excellent shallow swim-throughs lined with coral, which are ideal for divers of all levels. From Koh Talu, you can easily swim across a channel to GK Island, which is renowned for its seemingly endless soft coral reef and all the attendant creatures that thrive here like crabs, shrimp and brittle stars. More experienced divers may want to check out the quiet underwater realm around Koh Yawabon. The strong currents here mean most dive boats head to other islands, leaving some of the biggest fish populations in the region and even the occasional stingray to run rampant.

If snorkelling is your thing, don’t worry. The islands around Ao Nang offer plenty of incredible sites where the water is shallow and teeming with beautiful reefs and marine life. Koh Si is perhaps the best place to start due to its high visibility and shallow reefs. The two massive coral-covered plateaus on either side of this tiny islet are especially picturesque and contain reliable schools of snapper and plenty of giant groupers. Seahorses are another highlight of snorkelling around Koh Si.

Tropical islands are strewn around and about

Tropical islands are strewn around and about

Rivaling Koh Si for the best snorkelling around Ao Nang is Koh Yawasam. This island has some huge sections of shallow reef and flat sandy spots making it the ideal site for scuba instruction if you’re new to the sport. Snorkellers can meander for hours checking out the teeming psychedelic marine life which includes the rare but beautiful red saddleback anemonefish.

There’s plenty to see right around Ao Nang itself, and all of the diving sites are easy to reach and don’t require as much of a commitment to spending a whole day out at sea. However, for those divers who search of the most exclusive sites, Krabi makes a great base for starting your explorations.

Liveaboard diving cruises are the best way to really get out there into the Andaman Sea and crank out some serious dives. They’re definitely pricier than simple daytrips, but the unique experience of sleeping out in the middle of the sea and having everything taken care of for you is priceless. ”Worth every baht,“ a beeming gentleman confirmed.

A handful of dive outfits in Krabi have boats suitable for these types of multi-day trips which allow you to get intimately acquainted with some of Thailand’s premier sites such as the Similans, Surins and even the truly exotic and untapped Mergui Archipelago and the Burma Banks of Myanmar.

If liveaboard cruises feel a bit excessive, there are dozens of other world-class diving sites around Phuket and the Phi Phi Islands which can be done as daytrips from Krabi. Nearly every dive site on the books can be accessed from Ao Nang since it’s so centrally located.

To the east of Phuket are some excellent dives worth checking out if you want to see more. Koh Dok Mai, Anemone Reef and Shark Point are the main highlights. Common features of these sites include steep headwalls plunging dozens of meters down into the depths of the Andaman Sea, sheltered coves, and vast expanses of coral gardens. One of the most interesting dives around is King Cruiser, a massive car ferry that sank in 1997. Poking around this wreck makes for a unique experience, as a different group of sea creatures than those normally found in open-sea reefs have made it their home.

If you choose to explore the dive sites around Phuket, don’t miss Koh Bida Nai and Koh Bida Nok just south of the Phi Phi Islands. Both hard and soft coral gardens packed with healthy sea whips, gorgonian sea fans and a wide range of sea life including parrotfish, angel fish, sharks and even the odd eagle ray ring these two tiny outcroppings. At this single site, you can have a truly comprehensive underwater experience.

Phi Phi Island’s stunning Maya Bay, made famous as the filming site for the movie The Beach, is a great place for beginners to learn the ropes. This shore dive starts on the beach and allows for easy and comfortable diving. There’s plenty of action under the water in Maya Bay and lounging around the beach afterwards isn’t too shabby either. More on Phi Phi.

The Andaman boasts some fantastic coral reefs

The Andaman boasts some fantastic coral reefs

One of the more popular sites around Phuket is Shark Point, aptly named for the large population of leopard sharks that hang around the sandy bottom. Seven fascinating underwater pinnacles covered in coral make up this site, allowing for plenty of individual exploration. The sea life around here is also abundant thanks to its status as a protected marine environment.

Anemone Reef is the other half of the Shark Point Marine Sanctuary. This wonderful site is made up of two fully submerged pinnacles with a hard ridge completely covered in anemones running between them. Naturally, colourful Nemo-style fish move in and out of the waving tentacles of the anemones creating one of the more memorable sights of Krabi’s diving scene.

Visibility in the sea around Krabi is excellent, averaging 20 meters, with a maximum of 30 meters and more during the calm, clear dry season from November to April. Even the ‘green season’, from May to October, is a great time to dive around Krabi. The most popular dive sites are nearly deserted and the conditions are usually quite good despite being the rainy season. Another bonus is an average water temperature of 30°C, allowing for comfortable diving any time of the year. ”Ask around about the nude night dives,“ a young woman from Denmark suggested.

The price of diving in Thailand is among the cheapest in the world considering the quality and quantity of the sites scattered around the Andaman Sea. Lodging in Krabi or neighbouring Ao Nang can be as cheap or as luxurious as you like. There is plenty of excellent dining and lots of nightlife if you feel like unwinding after a day underwater.

Getting to Krabi gets easier with each passing year, thanks to its rising popularity and Thailand’s improving transportation network. Flights now arrive and depart at Krabi’s tiny airport every day from Bangkok, eliminating the long bus trip down the isthmus. Alternatively, visitors can fly into Phuket’s international airport and make the short road or boat journey south to Krabi. New dive sites are regularly added to the menu, proving that Thailand’s western coast is indeed one of the planet’s premier diving destinations and will continue to be so.

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