- Dive Destination #1 – Koh Phi Phi
- Dive Destination #2 – Ao Nang Local Islands
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. Scuba diving is one of the top activities available, both for divers with a lot of experience or those trying for the first time. We have written the following article to tell you everything you need to know about diving from 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 (March 2019 update: currently there are no SSI schools anymore in the Ao Nang area). 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. The majority of dive trips include two dives at two different sites. It may also be possible to go on a three dive trip.
Dive trips from Ao Nang often go to the beautiful and world-renowned Koh Phi Phi islands. 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 other open ocean sites 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, spotted eagle rays, and manta 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.
Different scuba diving shops will have slight variations, but generally this is what you can expect for a trip to Koh Phi Phi. You will typically go on a bigger dive boat, which can fit anywhere from 30-50 divers. It will take two to three hours to reach the dive sites. It is typical for a few dive shops to share the same boat. Your dive shop will pick you up at your hotel around 7-7:30am. Typical return time is 4:30-5pm for a two dive day, or 5:30-6pm for a three dive day. Most dive boats bound for Phi Phi leave from Port Takola, the newest marina located around 15 minutes drive from Ao Nang.
As of April 2019, there is no regularly scheduled speedboat trip for diving to Koh Phi Phi, although it would be possible to charter a private speedboat through most dive operators on request. This would shorten the travel time considerably, to around 45 minutes each way.
Since the trip to Phi Phi is long, it helps to have a big and comfortable boat to relax on the way. All of these boats should have an indoor dry area, outdoor shaded area, and sunbathing area. Sunscreen is always a good idea, as the sunlight reflected from the ocean is stronger in intensity. The trip will generally include light breakfast, lunch, fruit, water, electrolytes, and soft drinks. Boats typically have a designated smoking area at the stern, near the dive deck. That is the same spot you would make your entry into the water before the dive, typically using a giant stride entry. All boats will have at least one marine toilet on board. During the boat briefing, the boat chief will remind you not to throw paper or any other products into the toilets! It will go straight into the ocean and pollute the underwater environment. Safety is essential, so all boats should be equipped with life jackets, emergency flotation, oxygen, and first aid kit.
Here you can read about just a few of the many dive sites available at Koh Phi Phi.
Coastal sites – Suitable for both 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. Inside the bay, there is access to shallow sandy areas which are perfect for practicing skills during a course, making sure there is no chance to damage corals. For the fun diver, Viking Bay offers a varied mix of topography and sea life. A typical fun dive could 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, pufferfish, and tiny dancing shrimps for the macro-lovers.
Moving north along the site, divers can explore thriving coral gardens. They start as shallow as 4-5 meters, with some deeper pinnacles reaching over 20 meters depth. Here one can spot hawksbill turtles, pipefish, 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, Maya Corner provides a decent chance to spot a sea turtle. A number of hawksbill turtles make their home on the shallow ledge 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 sloping down to 18 meters depth. Here you can find colorful soft corals, along with some good macro life. Look here for many shrimp varieties, including durban dancing shrimp, banded boxer shrimp, and mantis shrimp. Bent stick pipefish also reside here. “The finger” is a very nice area of the site, where the reef juts out west in a finger shape, full of sea fans and soft corals. Around here you can usually encounter yet another massive school of fusiliers. Big golden trevally often lurk in the area, waiting for a quick meal. Shallowing up to around 5 meters depth provides another chance to see blacktip sharks, if you’re lucky. 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 a massively large school of fusiliers, easily numbering in the thousands. Big trevally 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 shrimps, pipefish, and nudibranchs make their homes here. Other common sightings at the Bidas are giant moray eels, cuttlefish, barracudas, banded sea snakes, turtles, blue spotted stingrays, pufferfish, and trumpetfish.
Open Ocean Sites – 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 hard to define the form of the wreck at times. 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. From bow to stern it is almost 90 meters in length. 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. If you’re really lucky, an occassional glance up just might reveal a passing whaleshark.
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, with a length of almost 50 meters. The depth and conditions mean this site is suitable for Advanced Divers or above. There is an abundance of life, including barracudas, fusiliers, pufferfish, scorpionfish, and lionfish. If you have really good eyes, it may even be possible to spot a frogfish here.
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 quite strong. Best to check the tide table to dive this site at slack tide. Anemone Reef is located near the King Cruiser wreck west of Koh Phi Phi Don (the King Cruiser sank after colliding with the top of the reef). Leopard sharks have been spotted at Anemone Reef, along with giant moray eels, seahorses, and of course numerous clownfish to occupy the anemones.
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 more unpredictable than Koh Phi Phi. The best visibility is around 15 meters, but oftentimes it is no more than 5 meters. All of the sites have the possibility of moderate to strong current, so always best to check the tide table here.
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 possible to spot bamboo sharks hiding in the rocks, and blue-spotted stingrays hiding in the sand. For experienced divers with approriate qualification, there is the chance to explore a wide variety of caves, caverns, and swim-throughs, some spanning through entire islands. Inside you can see spiny lobsters, banded sea snakes, pickhandle barracuda, and baby blue-spotted stingrays.
If you are diving the Ao Nang local islands, the trip could depart anytime from 7-9am, depending on the operator. Return time is early afternoon. There are a variety of different types of boats that make the trip – longtail boat (cheapest), speedboat (fastest), or big dive boat (most comfortable). Most trips will depart from the local longtail boat pier at Nopparat Thara Beach, within walking distance from Ao Nang Beach. Since the channel is too small for big dive boats to enter, you would need to first hop in a longtail boat for around 5 minutes to reach the big dive boat. Speedboat trips to dive the local islands generally depart from Port Takola, the same port of origin as most dive trips to Phi Phi.
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 contact us with any questions or if you would like to book a dive trip here!