Ao Nang is a lively tourist hub located on Thailand’s Andaman Coast in Krabi province. Some tourists just pass through on the way to the Koh Phi Phi Islands. But many decide to stay in Ao Nang as well, and for good reason. There are many activities to suit all tastes, in a beautiful setting. At some point in the future, we will make a series of blog posts to explain the many tours and activities available in Ao Nang. But for now, we will focus solely on our specialty: scuba diving in the Ao Nang area.
The Basics of Scuba Diving in Ao Nang
There are currently about 10-15 dive schools based in the Ao Nang area. Most shops are PADI-affiliated, but there is also representation from other organizations such as SSI and CMAS. Ao Nang is somewhat unique on the Andaman Coast of Thailand, because here you can scuba dive year-round. The best diving conditions are generally from November to May, with flat seas and visibility up to 30 meters. From June to October is rainy season, where conditions can be slightly more unpredictable. Water temperature ranges from 27-30 degrees Celsius year-round.
Dive Destination #1 – Koh Phi Phi
Dive trips from Ao Nang often go to the Koh Phi Phi islands and nearby surrounding area. It takes a typical dive boat around two and a half hours to reach Phi Phi from Ao Nang. A speedboat can make the trip in 45 minutes. Here there are as many as 20 distinct dive sites. Many have conditions perfect for beginners, but some others have potentially strong current. Visibility is often good, as the islands offer protection to many sites from prevailing weather conditions. Most dive sites are close to the islands, either the bigger Koh Phi Phi Don or smaller Koh Phi Phi Ley. There are various wall-diving opportunities here, but access to shallow sandy areas also provides ideal conditions for training. A few sites are set away from the islands in the open ocean, including two excellent wreck dives. Although currents can be stronger in the open ocean and visibility more unpredictable, these sites offer perhaps the greatest varieties of sea life on display in this area.
Typical sightings in the Koh Phi Phi area include hawksbill turtles, blacktip sharks, giant moray eels, and huge schools of fusiliers. Divers can spot leopard sharks as well at certain sites. Even whalesharks, dolphins, manta rays, and spotted eagle rays have been known to pass through from time to time. Macro life includes many varieties of nudibranch, durban dancing shrimp, banded boxer shrimp, mantis shrimp, pipefish, and even an occasional seahorse. Colorful soft corals blanket many of the sites of Koh Phi Phi as well.
Dive Destination #2 – Ao Nang Local Islands
The Ao Nang local islands provide spectacular scenery which gives this area much of its reputation. Sheer limestone cliffs rise out of the sea to create beauty not easily matched anywhere else in the world. These islands also offer a unique brand of scuba diving. Only a 40 minute ride by longtail boat or 10 minute ride by speedboat makes for a quicker journey than Koh Phi Phi. Each small island is generally its own dive site, with approximately 10 sites in the area. Conditions are generally more unpredictable than Koh Phi Phi. The best visibility is around 15 meters, but oftentimes it is no more than 5-10 meters.
Macro-lovers will appreciate the wide variety of macro life on display at the Ao Nang local islands. Here are the most varieties of seahorses, nudibranchs, shrimp, and pipefish. It is also common to spot bamboo sharks hiding in the rocks, and blue-spotted stingrays hiding in the sand. For experienced divers, there is the chance to explore a wide variety of caves, caverns, and swim-throughs, some spanning through entire islands. Inside you can commonly spot spiny lobsters, banded sea snakes, pickhandle barracuda, and baby blue-spotted stingrays.
Getting to and from the Dive Sites
Different scuba diving shops will have slight variations, but generally this is what you can expect getting to the dive sites. Your dive shop will pick you up at your hotel around 7-7:30am and bring you to the local longtail boat pier at Nopparat Thara Beach. There you will hop in a longtail boat, which will take you on a five minute ride to where the bigger dive boat is moored. In Ao Nang, it is typical for a few smaller shops to share the same boat, which can fit 30-40 divers but is not always filled to capacity. Usually the big boat will go to Koh Phi Phi. If you are diving the local Ao Nang islands, it is easy to reach by longtail boat.
Key Points of the Dive Boat
On your boat trip to Koh Phi Phi, your dive operator will generally provide you with breakfast, lunch, water, electrolytes, and soft drinks. Boats will have a designated smoking area and marine toilets. During the boat briefing you should be reminded not to throw paper into the toilets since it will just go straight into the ocean! There is a dry area for personal belongings and a sun deck for tanning. Sunscreen is a good idea, as the sunlight reflected from the ocean is stronger in intensity. Safety is essential, so all boats should be equipped with life jackets, emergency flotation, oxygen, and first aid kit.
If diving in Koh Phi Phi, the trip will take approximately two and a half hours each way. This means if you are taking a course, there is plenty of time to review theory with your Instructor on the way to the dives. Usually the day consists of two dives, up to an hour long on each dive. Some days you will also have the option to make a third dive. On a two dive day, expect to be back in Ao Nang around 4:30-5pm. A three dive day will arrive back usually around 5:30-6:30pm. Of course, diving the Ao Nang local islands will shorten your day significantly. Whether two or three dives, you should be back on the mainland by early afternoon.
Here you can read about some of the dive sites at Koh Phi Phi and Ao Nang local islands. This is not a complete list of dive sites, as between the two places we have more than 30 to choose from. These are a few that we feel are worth highlighting.
Koh Phi Phi Dive Sites – Suitable for beginners and experienced divers
Located off the northeast corner of Koh Phi Phi Ley, Viking Bay is an ideal site for beginners and experienced divers alike. Closer to the coast, there is access to shallow sandy areas which are perfect for practicing skills during a course. For the fun diver, Viking Bay offers a varied mix of topography and sea life. A typical fun dive will start towards the southern end of the site, where there is an artificial coral reef called The Pyramid. Ranging in depth from about 10-20 meters, The Pyramid is a collection of giant cement blocks piled on top of each other that provide a surface for corals to grow. Started after the devastating 2004 tsunami to help coral regeneration, The Pyramid has seen extensive coral growth and multitudes of fish. Batfish typically find shelter here, along with giant moray eels, scorpionfish, boxfish, and pufferfish.
Moving north along the site and shallowing up a bit, divers can explore thriving coral gardens. Here one can spot hawksbill turtles, cuttlefish, and many varieties of clownfish (nemo). Usually there is also a school of hundreds of fusiliers which, if approached slowly, can surround divers for a truly surreal experience. Don’t forget to glance in the sand. Hundreds of shrimps and gobis symbiotically coexist all over this site, along with mantis shrimp and blue spotted stingrays. Finally, take a safety stop at the far north end of the site along the wall of the island. Here is one of various places around Phi Phi that you can spot blacktip sharks. They are not at all dangerous, if anything extremely shy which can make them harder to encounter.
Moving to the western coast of Koh Phi Phi Ley, we can find one of the most famous beaches in the world: Maya Bay. This is the spot Leonardo DiCaprio made famous with the movie The Beach. Exiting the bay and turning just a little north along the coast is the dive site Maya Corner. Another site good for both beginners and experienced divers, this is arguably the best place to spot a turtle in all of the Koh Phi Phi area. Many hawksbill turtles make their homes on the shallow ledge closest to the coast at the northern end of the site, around 6 meters deep.
If you are lucky enough to see a turtle, continue by dropping off the ledge to 18 meters depth. Here you can find colorful soft corals, along with excellent macro life. Look here for many shrimp varieties, including durban dancing shrimp, banded boxer shrimp, and mantis shrimp. Bent stick pipefish also reside here. Moving south and shallowing up slightly, you can usually encounter yet another massive school of fusiliers. Giant trevaly often lurk in the area, waiting for a quick meal. If you make it far enough south, you can shallow up to 5 meters depth for a chance to see blacktip sharks. Your guide will take care not to get too close to the Maya Bay entrance, where constant speedboat traffic means divers should steer clear.
Bida Nok and Bida Nai
Off of the far southern tip of Koh Phi Phi Ley rest two small islands known as the Bidas. Bida Nok, the outer island, and Bida Nai, the inner island, provide some of the best diving around the Koh Phi Phi area. Divers can frequently spot blacktip sharks at various shallow water spots around the islands. It is even possible to spot a leopard shark resting in the sand. Bida Nok boasts perhaps the largest school of fusiliers recently seen in the area, easily numbering in the thousands. Giant trevaly often put on spectacular hunting displays, working together to create confusion in the school and catch a quick meal. As well, the macro life is abundant and varied. Many nudibranch varieties, shrimps, and pipefish make their homes here. Other common sightings at the Bidas are giant moray eels, cuttlefish, banded sea snakes, turtles, blue spotted stingrays, pufferfish, and trumpetfish.
Open Ocean Sites Around Koh Phi Phi for Experienced Divers
King Cruiser Wreck
One of two wrecks in the Koh Phi Phi area, the King Cruiser sunk off the west coast of Koh Phi Phi Don in 1997 in an apparent accident after colliding with the shallow pinnacle of Anemone Reef. In the twenty years since, the wreck has been transformed into a thriving reef. Tremendous coral growth, along with the collapse of much of the original vessel, make it almost hard to tell at times that this is indeed a wreck dive. A mooring line is tied to the shallowest point of the wreck, around 16 meters deep, with the rest of the wreck dropping as deep as 30 meters. The depth, along with sometimes challenging conditions, means this site is suitable for Advanced Divers or above. In addition to the coral growth, thousands of fish have flocked to the area. Divers commonly spot big schools of jacks, barracudas, and snapper. A closer look at the wreck will reveal many scorpionfish trying to blend in to the background. Lionfish reside here as well. In November 2016, a lucky group of divers spotted a whaleshark passing over the wreck.
Kred Gaeow Wreck
Purposely sunk in 2014, the Kred Gaeow was formerly a Thai Navy vessel that now provides another fabulous wreck dive opportunity in the Koh Phi Phi area. Off the east coast of Koh Phi Phi Ley, the wreck has seen excellent coral growth during its short time underwater. The shallowest point of the wreck is around 14 meters deep, and extends to around 30 meters at its deepest, making this site for Advanced Divers or above. There is an abundance of life, including barracudas, fusiliers, scorpionfish, and lionfish. If you have really good eyes, scan the mast area for the possibility to see a frogfish, this site providing one of the rare chances to see this camouflaged angler.
As its name suggests, this site boasts loads of anemones on its submerged pinnacles. The amount and variety of life makes this site one of the best in the area. The majority of the site is made up of a single underwater pinnacle, reaching around 20 meters at its deepest and rising to 5 meters at its shallowest. The depth makes the site accessible for Open Water Divers, but the open ocean setting means currents can be strong at times. It is located near the King Cruiser wreck west of Koh Phi Phi Don, as colliding with the top of the pinnacle is the reason the King Cruiser sank in the first place. Leopard sharks have been spotted at Anemone Reef, along with giant moray eels, seahorses, and of course numerous clownfish to occupy the anemones.
Ao Nang Local Islands Sites
The main feature at Koh Yawabon is a tunnel-sized swimthrough spanning the entire island. Qualified divers should make a point to visit. About 50m long, at a certain point you can actually surface to see brilliant cave formations inside the island. Underwater, the biggest attraction is that the tunnel serves as a nursery for baby blue spotted stingrays. At times they cover the sand completely no matter which direction you look. Also keep an eye out for meter-long pickhandle barracuda who use the cave as a hideout during the day, before hunting at night. Outside the cave, there are plenty of chances to see the macro life that the Ao Nang local islands are known for. Look for seahorses, pipefish, and nudibranchs.
Koh Sii provides a great opportunity to see a variety of life that the Ao Nang local islands are known for. Only about 15 meters at its deepest, go slowly to spot macro life such as seahorses, nudibranchs, bent stick pipefish, and shrimp. Bamboo sharks often hide in the rocks, and even little babies no more than 20 centimeters long have been spotted. There is a short swimthrough where it is possible to see banded sea snakes and spiny lobster.
Koh Talu is yet another site at the Ao Nang local islands that has a great swimthrough for qualified divers. As with Koh Yawabon, this one also spans the entire width of the island, but it is considerably shorter. Inside you can spot a unique and beautiful kind of nudibranch, a flabellina variety that is purple and yellow. A tigertail seahorse usually resides at the mouth of the cave, along with a pair of bamboo sharks hiding in the rocky outcrops. Keep an eye to the sand for blue spotted stingrays, and be sure to look for macro life, which is abundant. Most of your dive here will be around 12 meters depth or less, allowing for a long dive to enjoy the life on display.
We hope this information has been helpful as you consider planning your scuba diving trip in the Ao Nang area. Year-round accessibility and wide varieties of life make this a great destination for your diving holiday. We are more than happy to help with any questions you may have. Feel free to leave a comment below, or contact us here on our site and we will respond as soon as we can.