For someone who doesn’t really like mass tourism destinations, I can still occasionally be found in them. Normally, this is because I visited as a side trip to business travel, or because of friends and family. So it was when I found myself scuba diving in Phuket, even though it was the off season for diving.

I visited Phuket for the first time as my first international trip after national borders re-opened following the Covid-19 pandemic. I specifically wanted to do a dive trip, after unsuccessful domestic attempts to dive in the Perhentian Islands and Tanjung Jara earlier that year, thwarted by illness and boat maintenance. So when Jason mentioned having a layover in Phuket after his Europe trip, I decided that third time’s the charm, and decided I could go scuba diving in Phuket just as well as anywhere.

Going scuba diving in Phuket

At first, I wasn’t sure whether I could go scuba diving in Phuket. My impression of Phuket was that it had beaches and nightlife, but that it doesn’t typically feature as a scuba destination. And indeed, I was only half wrong.

Phuket is full of tourism, and it used to be a trading settlement with a tin mining boom. These usually do not correlate with a pristine coastal ecology. But Phuket still has plenty of dive shops, because it is boat trip distance to more suitable coral islands and wrecks. This means, Phuket dives are all boat dives. Not only that, they are a serious boat trip out rather than just popping out a little bit offshore on a gemini.

For a more detailed guide on scuba diving in Phuket, check out this article on Girls That Scuba. This post will instead be specifically about what it was like to go diving around Phuket in the off season.

Scuba diving over branching coral field in Koh Racha Noi
Scuba diver emerging from inside a wreck making peace signs
Scuba divers descending to the sea floor towards a wreck

When is the off season for Phuket scuba diving?

What do I mean by off season in Phuket? In Southeast Asia, the seasons are mainly monsoon related. These refer to which trade winds are currently blowing towards the region, bringing frequent rains. For tourism, this is considered to be the off season.

Incidentally, this also means that different parts of Southeast Asia have different off season periods. This is because, when the monsoon wind blows from the west, it brings rains to the western part of the region, but it’s peak season for the areas on the leeward side of mountains that block the winds. Hence, for Thailand and peninsular Malaysia, the west and eastern regions generally have opposite seasons. When the islands in the Gulf of Thailand have fine weather, the Andaman Sea islands are in monsoon.

Phuket, being on the Andaman side, has its off season between May and October. Since the winds also make the sea a bit rougher, and Phuket diving requires boat trips, this is also the off season for scuba diving in Phuket.

Typical scuba diving itineraries from Phuket

I wasn’t a solo diver while in Phuket. Ever the gracious host, my friend Weerachai sent over his daughter on vacation with me, along with his sister and brother-in-law, though he couldn’t come himself. So it was Amy who did the organising. She had just obtained her open water license, and had the opportunity to dive frequently while marooned on Phuket when the pandemic first hit. So she was very familiar with dive packages in Phuket.

There are basically three typical dive itineraries from Phuket, each comprising three dives.

  • The closest one goes east to the King Cruiser wreck, and nearby dive sites, i.e. Shark Point and Doc Mai. It takes about an hour on the boat from Phuket to the first dive.
  • The second goes south to the islands Racha Noi and Racha Yai. It takes about an hour and a half from Phuket to the first dive.
  • The third one goes beyond Doc Mai to Phi Phi islands. There are two variants; one with dive sites solely around Phi Phi, and the other with a stop at Shark Point. It takes about two hours from Phuket to Phi Phi.

I thought that Phi Phi seemed too far, so we opted for the first two itineraries.

Scuba diver at Racha Noi dive site interacting with a turtle from a respectful distance
Tik with a turtle at Banana Bay in Ko Racha Noi

For a detailed description of all dive sites around Phuket, check out this page on Aussie Divers Phuket. P.S.: Although the popular dive sites on Phuket require a boat trip out, apparently you can also do a shore dive off Kata beach.

Scuba diver hovering over a sunken motorcycle at a dive site near Racha Yai
Hovering over a sunken motorbike in Ko Racha Yai

Departing from Chalong Bay pier

The dive package included pickup from our accommodation. However, staying closer to Chalong Bay means that you don’t have to be ready quite so early, as you’ll be picked up last. It was one reason why I chose to stay at Kata beach. Although Phuket’s tourism beaches are along its west coast, and the pier is on the east coast, Kata beach is right across from Chalong pier.

At the pier, there’s a waiting area where you register for the boat. We dived with Bangtao dive centre. The dive boat, the MV Mandarin Queen, was a fairly large one, with two decks above the dive deck. It had a local crew, and we had local dive leaders who spoke good English. We opted for dive photography, so our dive leader brought a camera. All underwater photos in this article are either courtesy of Bangtao, or Tik.

The MV Mandarin Queen dive boat is painted white and trimmed in blue. A dive flag, red with a white diagonal strip across it, is visible on the side.
Going diving from Phuket

Sea conditions during the off season

Now, I’ve only gone diving in Phuket during the off season. So I can’t personally compare it with what it would be like in the calmer season. However, on both trips, the sea was quite choppy. It rolled enough that stuff was tipping from one side of the boat to the other. Amy’s aunt Tik has done a lot more boat dives, and testified that the sea was among the roughest that she’d experienced. Though her husband Dave didn’t dive with us, he has a lot more seagoing experience, and when Tik later described it to him, even he thought it was rough. Therefore, I can only assume that the difference is not insignificant.

I tend to get seasick on larger boats but strangely not at all on small ones. And while I was ok out on the Great Barrier Reef because it was fairly calm, the sea around Phuket was definitely not. I took the seasickness pills on both days and still felt it. Although, going east to King Cruiser wreck was not as bad as the journey south to the Racha islands. I puked on a boat for the first time on that trip. In hindsight, I should have packed my full length wetsuit for extra warmth, so that I can get away without much – or any – breakfast on the boat.

Scuba diver on the right, faving a large school of juvenile fish against a blue backdrop

First day scuba diving

Both the scuba diving days were overcast. Fortunately, we would be underwater anyway and didn’t care. What wasn’t great, was that visibility was poor this day. What’s more, there was a noticeable current at all three dive sites, with Doc Mai being basically a drift dive. Knowing that we would be diving in current, I remembered from my Rangiroa lesson to carry extra weight to compensate for my light frame.

King Cruiser wreck dive

This site has a buoy descent, and it was annoying because the surface current was strong. However, it got better underwater. Down we descended to the wreck, which wasn’t that great, because visibility was so poor. The wreck is at 31 metres, so it needs an Advanced Diver certification.

Tik technically doesn’t have it, but it’s only because she never bothered to get certified. Fortunately, Bangtao took her actual experience into consideration. She actually has a lot more dive experience than I do, which is why I’m always amused (or concerned) with dive centres that assume I must be extremely confident for all dives just because I have an advanced qualification, without considering number of dives and duration in between dives. After all, the certification just means that I’ve had some extra training. Yes, my air consumption is typically brilliant no matter what. But I’m a lot more confident about still being good at buoyancy, and a lot less about navigation. And sometimes I get anxious with the first dive.

While I’m at it, dive centres in Southeast Asia should really take a leaf from the dive standards in the Great Barrier Reef, listen more, and take into consideration whether a diver has reasons to be uncomfortable, and if it affects dive ability. After all, the dive sites are invariably going to be new and unfamiliar for most tourist divers. And for all you know, a diver might have been recently ill, or their body might have changed due to pregnancy. As they get older, perhaps their eyesight has changed, or can’t cope with current as well. Just because you remember how, doesn’t mean your body is still the same one as when you last did it.

Large school of fish against the King Cruiser wreck
King Cruiser wreck

Shark Point

This site also had strong current, memorable enough to make it into my dive log. It took some effort to pull oneself to the boat along the rope. Visibility was also poor that day, but we did see one of the leopard sharks which are the signature feature of this dive site. I also saw my first cuttlefish here, so that turned it into a good dive immediately.

Ko Dok Mai wall dive

If the current was strong at the first two dive sites, at Doc Mai we had almost a drift dive. Visibility was a bit better, enough to take some pictures of sea fans and sponges.

Second day scuba diving

The second dive day did not start out great for me. I wasn’t sure I was up for diving after puking out the entirety of my stomach contents. But I’m glad I managed to get myself together, because the Racha islands dive sites were calmer and a nice change from the previous day’s exertions. In fact, I was over-weighted on the first dive, because I took the same weights as the previous day.

Banana Bay coral dive (Ko Racha Noi)

Racha Noi rewarded my fortitude by giving us a turtle encounter almost right away. While it wasn’t the best turtle encounter I’ve had, nor was the turtle the biggest I’d seen, the turtle was friendly and obliged with lots of photos.

Banana Rock coral dive (Ko Racha Noi)

I found the next dive site more comfortable. I was properly weighted again, visibility was good, and there was just a slight current, which I prefer over no current at all. There were many sea cucumbers out feeding, which I found fascinating. Tik was effectively my buddy for this dive, as we both enjoyed diving slowly to look at the sea creatures. There were lots of coral at this site, but at the same time it’s also a good invertebrate site. There were cowrie and conch shells, a tuxedo urchin, as well as bright green algae and feather stars I’d never quite seen before.

Banana Rock dive site at Ko Racha Noi

Yai Bay wreck dive (Ko Racha Yai)

Yai Bay was probably the most interesting dive site of my Phuket dive experience. We descended to a small wreck, which was a lot of fun to explore. Nearby was an artificial reef, where there was a large resident moray eel. Then we went on to a sunken motorbike for yet more fun photos – although you should first check whether the resident moray is hiding in the crevices before pretending to “ride” the bike!

Divers around a speedboat wreck in Racha Yai
Wreck dive
Scuba diver emerging from a door in a sunken wreck
Exploring the wreck
Moray eel peeking out from between two artificial reef frames
Surprised by moray eel

How much does it cost to dive in Phuket?

The typical dive package in Phuket costs 3,900 baht for the whole day. This covers three dives, hotel transfers, as well as breakfast and lunch on the boat. However, the price does not include equipment rentals and additional services like photography. It did seem customary to tip the crew; the amount was 200 baht. We also tipped our dive leader, particularly seeing how great the photos turned out! The amount depends on personal discretion.

Carbon offset information to Phuket, Thailand

Return flights from Kuala Lumpur to Phuket produces carbon emissions of approximately 533 lbs CO2e. It costs about $5 to offset this. 

If you’re coming to Phuket during the off season, would you do some scuba diving?

2 Responses

  1. We were very sad we did not get to scuba dive when we were in Thailand and when we visited Phuket. I got sick and could not do any water sports. But your blog post sure makes me sorry we missed the underwater beauty. Such stunning colour! Good to know that the seas might be quite rough on a visit during the off season. Even if underwater it is much better. Makes me want to get Thailand back on our scuba diving list! Thanks.

  2. Sonia says:

    Diving in Phuket sounds wonderful. I would be interested to know whether the seas are calmer during the regular season. That can spoil an otherwise beautiful outing when sea sickness kicks in.

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