The Mueang Phuket district of the island of Phuket arguably offers some of the best scuba diving locations in the whole of Thailand. Taking in most of the southern end of this popular tourist destination, the district is a mecca for divers, and the towns and villages along the Chao Fha Road heading south from Phuket are littered with specialist shops and liveaboard operators, running daily trips to dive sites in the Malacca Strait and the Andaman Sea. Its position to the west of the mainland means it suffers from a monsoon season that begins around May and continues until November. Although this can be a pleasant time to visit for most vacationers, with cooler temperatures and scenery that’s at its richest, visibility below the waves isn’t quite as clear and the choppier seas make liveaboard trips a rare occurrence. Stick to the winter months and scuba diving in Phuket becomes a superlative experience.
The Mueang Phuket district is named after its main city of Phuket, a vibrant and lively conurbation with a population of just under 100,000 inhabitants. It sits on the eastern shore. Direct access to the sea, and a short drive west takes travellers just outside the Mueang District to popular Pa Tong, a vivacious coastal town where scuba diving is the lifeblood of the community. Upmarket hotels and international restaurants occupy prime land in this region, and with four hospitals, three shopping malls, a world class golf course, nightclubs and bars always within driving distance, time spent on land can be as lively and fulfilling as you’d like.
The dive shops on Phuket are largely grouped on the west of the island, with the majority located at Pa Tong, or in Karon further south. Being right on the Andaman Sea opens up day trips by speedboat to some of the harder to reach island chains, with the Similan Islands topping the list as one of the most popular dive sites in the Andaman Sea. It’s also the ideal location for beach access dives and snorkel trips with secluded and somewhat protected bays like Freedom Beach, a short long-tail boat trip off the headland.
Although Mueang Phuket is located in the southern part of Phuket Island, diving from here isn’t limited to the south coast. It does offer some spectacular beach dives as well as some short day trips to some popular reefs and islands that lie close to shore, but most dive shops in this area run longer trips or liveaboard tours to some of the most spectacular Phuket scuba diving sites further west in the Andaman Sea.
One of the most popular beach dives takes place on Kata beach on the west coast. While experienced scuba divers often overlook shore dives, here in Thailand there are plenty of sites that are well worth a look. Kata beach is one of those locations, with a variety of reefs to explore from 4m to 12 metres depth. It’s an ideal location for beginners to train in, but advanced divers can catch sight of some of the less common marine animals, including Dragonet fish and the usually elusive Harlequin Sweetlips that aren’t often found elsewhere.
South of Mueang Phuket, the twin Koh Racha islands are 12km off shore and easy to reach by speedboat. The largest island, Koh Racha Yai, has perfectly clear waters and two popular bays at its northern end, where the swells remain low and visibility is usually excellent, to around 30m depending upon the season. Its smaller sister, Koh Racha Noi, also offers outstanding diving, but the currents are stronger here and the depths much greater so advanced divers generally only visit it.
One of the most popular dive sites is the string of atolls known as the Similan Islands. It is possible to take a day trip to this protected island chain, but most scuba divers in Phuket will take a liveaboard tour out instead. There’s just too much to see to fit into a single day. The Similan Islands is a recognized National Park and named as one of the top five dive sites in the world by the National Geographic. The clear waters around this group of nine islands are teeming with unusual marine life and colorful corals, and, as a protected site, there’s a heavy emphasis on conservation in the area.
With so many scuba diving sites off the coast of Mueang Phuket, it’s no wonder this Asian island is one of the most visited dive destinations in the world.
With the southern half of Phuket Island a veritable hotbed of spectacular dive sites, visiting scuba divers might be surprised to learn that there aren’t too many dive shops located in the main city of Phuket. But travel southwards or to the west, and you’ll find the largest collection of specialist shops and tour operators in Thailand. Access from here to the clear waters of the Andaman Sea, as well as the treasures of the Malacca Strait, has allowed the sport of scuba diving to thrive. By the time you reach the border of Chalong and Rawai, where the majority of dive trips on the east of the island leave from, it’s almost impossible to travel without passing a dive shop or two.
Right here on that border is Kiwi Diver, one of the area’s specialist dive shops. The 5-star facility holds rebreather apparatus and is one of the few agents for Frog Dive Gear. Kiwi Diver has been here for years, and it’s hard to miss their brightly colored shop front as you turn off Patak Road. With almost perfect reviews on Trip Advisor, they run day trips and liveaboard tours, but also concentrate on the often-sidestepped beach dives - and have a few ‘secret’ locations needing 4x4 access up their sleeves.
By far the largest collection of dive shops can be found in Karon on the western coastline. This pretty coastal town lies directly on the Andaman Sea, and offers access to some of the best dives sites as far out as the popular Similan Islands. It’s also home to the Oceanic Dive Center, one of Phuket’s longest running centres, with a 13-year history, 5-star PADI certification and a certificate of excellence from Trip Advisor. It’s also a popular instructor-training center with every level of certification available.
Right on Karon Beach, Nautilus Divers is a great all-rounder, with love of everything to do with the sea. Operating since 1986, they specialize in beach dives from picturesque Kata beach, just south of Karon town and right on their doorstep, but they also run complete liveaboard trips to the outlying islands and speedboat tours for day trips to Shark Point and King Cruiser.
Getting to Mueang Phuket is easy by air, and its dedicated International airport in the north of the island means you can often fly direct from departure countries around the world without having to stopover in Bangkok. Many of the dive shops offer packages that include airport transfers and accommodation, but if you’re travelling independently, getting from the airport to the south of the island is never more than an hour by car.
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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.
Although Mueang Phuket is located in the southern part of Phuket Island, diving from here isn’t limited to the south coast. It does offer some spectacular beach dives as well as some short day trips t...
With the southern half of Phuket Island a veritable hotbed of spectacular dive sites, visiting scuba divers might be surprised to learn that there aren’t too many dive shops located in the main city o...