By far the best and most popular dive sites by day trip from Phuket or Phi Phi, these two pinnacles are located approximately 25km east of Chalong Bay in Phuket. Given official Marine Sanctuary status in 1992, these two dive sites are the only day trips in Thailand that offer world-class quality diving and except for the limited visibility, these are two of the best dives in the area. The rock explodes with life; the sheer density of fish and other marine life makes diving here a wonderful, sensual experience.
Shark Point, or Hin (Rock) Musang rises out of the water from surrounding depths of only about 18-20m. Considering the small extent of the rock above the water, the actual size of the reef underwater is a big surprise to most divers. Beginning from the relatively steep main rock pinnacle, the reef flattens out to the south until it rises towards the surface again about a half kilometer away. This second rock does not break the surface, and depending on the current, is an excellent place to begin the dive.
Like many places in Thailand, Shark Point's most colorful features are the profusion of purple and pink soft corals that cling to the rocks. The strong currents that sweep over the pinnacle provide food aplenty for hundreds of different species of hard corals and Indo-Pacific tropical fish. Literally every square centimeter is covered by something living, and at times it seems that every square centimeter of water surrounding Shark Point is filled with fish!
The name of the site comes from our common leopard (zebra) shark (stegastoma varium), a docile creature that hangs out in the sand surrounding the pinnacle. These completely approachable, trusting sharks grow to lengths of a little over two meters, and most divers think that they are one of the cutest sharks in the ocean. Divers who are not accustomed to seeing sharks are genuinely surprised at how big and approachable they are. Unfortunately, many times these sharks are taken advantage of and handled unnecessarily. Handling by divers can injure the animal and expose it to infection. Touching an animal in no way benefits it and–more often than not–seriously harms it.
Anemone Reef or Hin Jom (Submerged Rock) lies just underwater, about 600m to the north of Hin Musang. As the Thai name makes clear, no part of the pinnacle is exposed, and underwater the rock drops off more dramatically to a depth of between 20 and 27m until reaching a bottom of sand and oyster shells. Although not as colorful as Shark Point, the fish life here is excellent as well and our friends, the leopard sharks, often are seen free-swimming at the top of the rock in six meters of water.
A few years ago, my dive buddy and I counted 92 lion fish in less than 20 minutes at this dive site! Although this is not an everyday occurrence, as lion fish seem to move around from place to place, I know people that have spent years diving without seeing this many in total–much less on one dive. This gives you the idea of just how dense the marine life is in these areas.
Located just south of Ao Phang-nga and all of its fresh water rivers, visibility averages around 10m, often less, but sometimes more if you catch it on a good day. Although conditions such as this are not what divers dream of when they think of perfect visibility, the amount of marine life more than makes up for the often limited visibility. On days when the water becomes so clear that you can see the bottom, diving here feels like taking a breath of fresh air and even the fish seem to be happier. Unfortunately for the local diving community, conditions are virtually impossible to predict so I can offer no advice about the best times to go.
The only downsides of these sites are the visibility and the occasional strong currents, making both locations intermediate to advanced level dive sites. Beginners should be closely supervised by trained professionals and this is certainly no place to conduct beginning diving courses.
I remember the King Cruiser well. After spending so much quality time on this ship traveling back and forth between Phi Phi and Phuket drinking horrible coffee and eating stale rolls, I feel some kind of boat bonding. I guess it’s like male bonding–but harder to explain.
How many of you have happy memories of the wonderful tour guide/announcer on the King Cruiser, keeping us well informed of the days events? Well informed–like every three minutes (in three languages) we heard: “The beautiful, wonderful King Cruiser, the most glorious ferry boat travel every day to most beautiful Phi Phi Islands, the most famous Phi Phi Islands, home of delicious bird nesting and fabulous beach and crystal clear snorkeling time and the Phi Phi International Resort, the most...”. Well, it was confusing and irritating at best.
What made me happy on May 4 is that for the previous 10 years, the Phuket diving community had tried everything to get an artificial reef program started here (very successful in many places around the world) and had absolutely no luck. We were blocked at every level. We were given boats we weren't allowed to sink or asked to pay duty on boats we wanted to sink. Seriously.
Artificial reefs are good for tourism. They are good for the environment when sunk correctly. Fish dig ‘em. Now we have wreck diving in Phuket!
In the end (or the beginning) what happened was the perfect Thai solution. What happened is the reason I love this country. I'm going to stay here forever.
This 85 meter-long steel ferry had been on the same route seven days a week, 365 days a year for the past ten years. She remarkably managed to hit the only navigational hazard within 25nm and created the perfect wreck dive. She sank on a lovely spring day with no wind, no waves and perfect visibility. No one died. She's in 32m of water and already, after seven months, is attracting amazing marine life.
At 25m, you'll find the engine room and the car deck, a huge open area. The engine room has been penetrated, but it is a pretty small place, and still lots of stuff is floating around... like oil. Yuck.
Moving up to 18m you'll find the passenger section which has the heads, the bar, and lots of tables and chairs. Even though the ceiling is pretty low, this is safe to penetrate as the doors are now broken so there's no chance of being caught inside. For further penetrations, a reel is a must.
At 12m lies the captain's cabin and the wheel house. Many things have unfortunately have been taken as "souvenirs", such as the wheel and telephone, but it's still a nice view over the bow of the boat. We did find a nice bottle of Mekong Whiskey in the captain's cabin, so that makes you think a bit. No wonder they couldn't find him after the 'accident'. Hmmmm....
The smokestacks are sitting at about 6-7 meters, so a nice place to hang for your safety stop. Lots of fish have been attracted to the wreck over the years, as well as eels and zillions of crabs. It's location near to Shark Point has undoubtedly had something to do with it's rapid population growth. It's extremely popular with local and visiting divers alike. You can do penetration dives. We couldn't have planned it better. Wow.
You see, in Thailand, it all works out in the end. Thanks captain. Nice shot. Keep up the good work.
Even from miles away, Koh Doc Mai is an imposing sight, as the steep cliffs of this small island tower far above the sea. Underwater, the scenery can be equally impressive, with dramatic topography and abundant marine life. Upon entering the water on the north, east, or south sides of the island, you will find coral encrusted walls dropping almost vertically to a sandy bottom at 27 to 30m. On the west side, underwater terrain slopes more gently, giving this part of the site a completely different feel. A perfect multi-level dive, Koh Doc Mai offers great scenery at every depth from the bottom right up to the surface.
Marine life is varied and healthy, including a wide range of invertebrates like nudibranchs, golden wentletrap snails, zig-zag oysters, barrel sponges, black corals, sea whips, gorgonians and various hard corals. When the current is running, the south and east sides can be especially scenic, as the wall seems to "blossom" with orange cup corals which open up to feed. The north side is also very attractive at such times, due to abundant soft corals in this area. Fish life is extensive, including blue-lined groupers, lunar wrasse, blue-ring angelfish, several species of morays and a host of other colorful species. It is best to watch where you place your hands here, as scorpionfish and lionfish are very common, and both are quite talented at blending in with the scenery. Also among the local camouflage experts are two very unusual and uncommon species—tiger-tail sea horses and harlequin ghost pipefish.
Leopard sharks are also seen from time to time, either sleeping on the sandy bottom or cruising gracefully along the reef. Banded sea snakes are encountered here frequently as well, browsing among the corals or sunning themselves on the rocks at water's edge.
Two large caverns and several smaller crevices punctuate the wall on the east side, including one which extends at least 15m back into the island. The walls and ceiling of this largest cave are covered with sponges and shellfish; it is well worth having a look. It is best to stay close to the exit, however, as the bottom is quite silty and can create very hazardous conditions if kicked up. While visibility averages only 5-15m, it may occasionally reach 24m or better; at these times Koh Doc Mai is indeed a spectacular dive. Like Shark Point and Anemone Reef, Ko Doc Mai is officially designated as a Fisheries Reserve.
This text is taken from the original award-winning Lonely Planet's Diving and Snorkeling Thailand, by Mark Strickland and John B Williams. This original version is no longer in print but still available from Amazon and other sources. Visit Mark's website for beautiful underwater photography.