The area of sea enclosed by the island of Phuket, Phang Nga Bay, the coastal town of Krabi and the Phi Phi islands can loosely be described as the Gulf of Phuket. The landscapes are beautiful so it's no surprise that there is some very pretty scuba diving in this area. The soft corals around the Phi Phi islands are spectacular and at times they are mobbed by an amazing amount of fish. There are a few big animals like turtles and whitetip sharks and a good deal of small creatures – lionfish, puffers and so on.
Two of the most interesting dives are Shark Point and The King Cruiser. Located in fairly open water, these can be challenging sites. Shark Point, so the story goes, never did have many sharks, but was named that by a local divemaster to drum up interest in the incredible soft corals. The King Cruiser is a classic wreck dive. The rusting hull is coated in barnacles and mussels and attracts a large number of fish. Down by the propeller are masses of tiny baitfish that are preyed on by many more lionfish.
Other dives sites are promoted as being the place for mantas and sharks, some have caverns and swim-throughs and you are likely to see critters such as ornate ghost pipefish and the rare Pegasus Seamoth.
Lots! We dived with Calypso Divers who run great overnight trips to the Phi Phi Islands and SeaFun divers who focus on day trips.
PROS and CONS Access to Phuket is simple and Thailand is a lovely country with friendly people, good facilities and some of the best food you will ever eat – assuming you like it hot. With the pros over, the cons are that the Gulf is one of those diving destinations that feels like the Red Sea -– there is no such thing as being the only dive boat on a site. Not ever. These waters are busy, which is disappointing as some of the dives are truly fantastic. On land, development is rife although for those who come to enjoy the sandy beaches and lively resorts, it's ideal.
SCUBA DIVING The seas here have a tendency to be murky although that is a comparative statement. At an average of 15 metres all year it's not too bad, but will seem low if you have been out to the Similans. The water seems a bit clearer by the time you reach the Phi Phi islands and it's always warm in season. Even out of season, there are some protected dive sites.
OPINION We first went to 'quiet' Phuket as travellers in 1985. At the time, we hadn't discovered snorkelling, let alone scuba! Since then we have been back to Phuket and Krabi, but mostly on the way to dive the Similans. We returned to Phuket in 2008, and to avoid the crowds, stayed at Ao Chalong, location of the main boat jetty where all the daily dive boats are moored. There are a few resorts and the small town feels more Thai than highly developed beach resorts like Patong.