Phuket Island is internationally recognized as one of Thailand’s premier scuba diving hotspots, a veritable treasure of vibrant coral reefs, abundant marine life, and crystal clear waters. Divided into three distinct areas, the district of Kathu lies in its heart, with a western coastline touching the Andaman Sea. It’s here that divers converge on the tourist town of Pa Tong to experience the delights of scuba diving in Phuket.
Kathu is relatively well developed as a tourist destination. The majority of resorts line the west coast, but the tropical, hilly inland section is home to a few dive shops and offices based in the larger golfing resorts. Most scuba diving outfits can be found in the main town of Pa Tong, although there are some further north in the smaller coastal village of Kammala. Aside from diving, the district celebrates its love of the ocean in many other ways. Beach parties are part of local tourist life; a nearby surf school introduces you to the water from above the waves, and the aptly named Phuket Fantasea Theme Park, just south of Kammala, is a sensory attraction with links to local watery legends.
Kathu offers access to the best dive sites in the Andaman Sea. Two of the most popular National Marine Parks in Thailand, Surin and Similan, are accessible by speedboat and liveaboard trips, and most divers will have heard of the main attraction, a large under-surface formation known as Richelieu Rock. But diving here isn’t limited to the waters of the west, and dive outfits often run trips around the southern tip of the island and into the Malacca Strait, where a collection of much smaller islands offer everything from dramatic caverns to relaxing drift dives to enjoy.
Scuba diving in Kathu is a main attraction and forms a healthy part of the island’s industry, and visited by thousands of visitors every year specifically for that purpose. The dive shops that exist here offer a real international flavor, with European and Eastern-run outfits offering every level of training possible. For beginners and advanced divers alike, scuba diving in this part of Phuket is the perfect option for training or pleasure; however, it’s best to remember that along with the rest of Thailand there is a monsoon season that can affect diving conditions. The best months come in November to April before the strong winds and driving rain of the monsoon months hit in late summer.
Kathu is in the perfect location when it comes to choosing dive sites, and local outfits generally run scheduled trips to the most popular locations either by liveaboard or speedboat. Heading to some of the less well-visited sites can be booked by arrangement, but for first time visitors to the island of Phuket, the choice can already be overwhelming enough.
Kamala Rock, just minutes from the mainland by traditional longtail boat, is a collection of submerged boulders that can occasionally be visible above the surface at low tide. Home to lionfish, fusiliers, and the occasional blacktip reef shark, this location is ideal for beginners and is often mixed with snorkeling trips to extend a half day tour into a full day’s escape.
To the south of the island, the Koh Racha Islands are a good mix between gentle reef diving and strong current drift dives, attracting beginners and advanced divers alike. Easy to get to for full or half-day trips, they offer plenty of quiet and interesting coves and inlets to explore. Probably two of the best-known dive sites in this part of the ocean are where the Andaman Sea meets the Malacca Strait. These small atolls are well known for attracting a variety of colorful sea creatures, including the remarkable titan triggers, toxic puffer fish, and an assortment of colorful moray eels.
Advanced divers can head west, around 180km out of Pa Tong, to the limestone formation of Richelieu Rock. Completely submerged below the waterline, and somewhat hazardous to unprepared navigators, the ‘Rock’ descends the full 50m depth to the seabed below and offers an interesting dive for experienced and competent divers. Strong currents here make the dive site unsuitable during bad weather, but for those who do try it, the experience is worth the long boat journey out. It’s an attractive location, not just for tourists, but for marine life as well, attracting large shoals of pelagic fish like tuna and barracuda, as well as the ever-impressive whale shark.
Kathu has a number of very good beaches that are frequented by divers, but the main concentration of dive shops can be found in Pa Tong and Kammala. Easy to get to, with Phuket International airport to the north, these tourist favorites are brimming with resorts and hotels, beach bars and dive shops, as well as an impressive collection of liveaboard boats docked in the harbour.
With diving on Phuket Island such big business, caring for the environment and protecting fragile reefs and dives sites is becoming increasingly high profile. Several of the dive outfits in Kathu demonstrate their commitment to preserving their local surroundings and have been well rewarded for their efforts. The Kamala Dive Center is one team promoting the Project Aware policies, including the dedicated Protect Reef Living plan. They operate speedboat and liveaboard trips from their base in Pa Tong and cover all the most popular dive sites on a regular weekly schedule.
Also located in Pa Tong, Scuba Cat Diving has also been awarded the Project Aware Foundation Environmental Achievement Award, as well as several PADI 5 star certifications and an endorsement by National Geographic. It’s been operating on the island for over a decade, and runs full service liveaboard trips to the outlying Similan Islands on their MV Scuba Cat, complete with 80sqm sun deck. They cater for every PADI course available, getting beginners and advanced divers trained to the next level professionally and quickly.
Just 50m from Kamala Beach to the north of Pa Tong, Merlin Divers is located on Rim Had Road, within easy reach of the main hotels and resorts. Part of the Phuket Divers of Thailand group of dive shops, it is one of the few outfits located in Kammala and runs day, overnight and liveaboard trips from Kamala Beach. It’s also an official retailer for Aqualung gear for divers who’ve forgotten any of their kit, making it a handy local shop for anyone diving in the area.
Getting to Kathu is generally by air, and Phuket International airport is located just to its north. Some tourists arrive by land, crossing from the mainland by the bridge at the very north tip of the island, but journeys by bus can be long, depending on which airport you arrive in.
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I hadn't bee Scuba diving since I was 16 years old so I was nervous to start up again after so long. I called into the shop intending to do a refresher before a trip away and ended up signing up for the Advanced open water course. I was able to speak to the instructor at the shop and he explained clearly what my options were. I signed up to do my Advanced course and had a fantastic 2 days of diving. The visibility was terrible but Andy the instructor and dive center manager was able to make th...
Decent dive operation but this is not a luxury liveaboard. Tired decor in cabin, mattress on floor and badly leaking pipework in the bathroom. It is very basic. The crew are helpful though, the divemaster good and the dive deck well organised. The sites in Similan Islands are pleasant but average with the exception of Richelieu Rock which is very nice. All sites are very crowded with many boats around.
Kathu is in the perfect location when it comes to choosing dive sites, and local outfits generally run scheduled trips to the most popular locations either by liveaboard or speedboat. Heading to some ...
Kathu has a number of very good beaches that are frequented by divers, but the main concentration of dive shops can be found in Pa Tong and Kammala. Easy to get to, with Phuket International airport t...