From the Hardeep Wreck in Samae San to the near islands of Koh Larn and Koh Sak, Pattaya offes great, year-round diving with a variety of experiences. You can go deep on the HTMS Khram wreck off Koh Phai or ride the currents on an exciting drift dive off Koh Krok. Below is a short summary of the dive sites you'll visit daily as part of your Aquanauts Instructor Training internship..
The Near Islands are a cluster of three islands 5-7 km off Pattaya. The islands are Koh Sak, Koh Larn and Koh Khrok. Koh Larn means "Coral Island" in Thai. Koh Sak and Koh Khrok are so-named because they resemble a mortar and pestle, the kitchen tools used to crush peppers. Although the near islands are the most heavily dived sites in the area, we've noticed a marked improvement in visibility and soft coral growth over the past three years.
Koh Sak has two dive sites, Koh Sak East and Koh Sak West. Both sites start in a sheltered bay which makes them a very good training ground for students and perfect for those divers who have not dived in a little while and want a nice relaxing first dive back in the water.
Both sites have plentiful amounts of hard corals and abundant fish life including Jacks, Rabbitfish, Wrasse, Butterflyfish, Angelfish and thousands of Damselfish to name but a few. Koh Sak East has hard corals down to around 14 meters and Koh Sak West down to 12 meters. Although the diving is quite shallow, the abundant fish life and hard corals more than make up for this.
Koh Larn is the largest of the near island chain and therefore has more dive spots. The fish life is very varied and it is not unusual to see cuttlefish and turtles. The maximum depth for this dive site is 12 meters, although most of the better corals are in 9-10 meters.
Shark Point as the name suggest is a good place to see juvenile Tawny Nurse and Bamboo sharks, as these creatures are nocturnal you will need to be looking under corals and rocks to spot them. The maximum depth at Shark Point is 22 meters for soft corals although you can go deeper and explore across the sand.
This site is best known for the underwater restaurant. The restaurant wasn't supposed to be underwater but some questionable engineering caused the restaurant to sink into the depths before it was even finished.
Parts of the restaurant are underwater and at the waterline. And perhaps the most noteable feature of this site is a set of vertical concrete tubes teeming with coral, some small caves, good for practicing skills in PADI's Peak Performance Bouyancy specialty.
Laem Tong meaning Golden Bay is on the western side of Koh Larn. There is a very deep drop-off to over 50 meters although the coral line extends down to around 25 meters. Laem Tong also has some very nice hard corals in at around 7 to 10 meters so it is a multi-purpose dive site that can serve all needs. It's an outstanding site with a series of small walls, definite line dividing hard and soft corals, tawny nurse sharks and spotted rays virtually guaranteed.
Koh Khrok is a finger shaped islands that sits right along the tidal flow line and therefore is a great place for a drift dive. The island has lots of sea anemones and their attendant clown fish. In fact if you get close enough you can actually hear the clown fish snapping at you trying to convince you to go away! The site has a maximum depth of around 11 meters, but is long enough that even with quite a reasonable drift a 45-50 minute dive can easily be done.
These are three sets of islands about 15km off Pattaya. Because these sites are farther from the city, they don't get the volume of boat and jet-ski traffic as the near islands. It takes about 90 minutes cruising time to get there, but the sites are worth the trip.
Koh Rin has three dive areas, each of which can easily support more than one dive. Hin Ton Mai, also known as South Rock, is a very popular dive spot as the fish life is diverse with lots of Moray Eels and Barracuda. There are plenty of both hard and soft corals, coral whips as well as very good invertebrate life such as nudibranchs, brittle stars and feather stars. This site has very good coral life down to 16 meters.
Hin Khao also known as North Rock does not have as much coral life as South Rock but has lots of rock outcroppings that are homes to many sharks and eels. This is an excellent site for searching around for the more unusual nudibranchs, pipefish, razorfish and others that like to hide away. The site has good diving down to around 14 meters.
Koh Rin Bay is, unlike the two rocks previously mentioned, part of the main island of Koh Rin. Although this site only goes down to a maximum depth of 12 meters it is well protected from currents and is therefore a nice relaxing dive when compared to both South and North Rock.
Koh Man Wichai has two excellent dive areas, the first of which 'The Wall' cannot be completed in one dive. The Wall is a 7 metre high coral wall that runs down from 9 to 23 meters and is a dive in itself. The area around the wall itself is an excellent dive site, you can start your dive from the bay and go out along the soft coral line at 18 meters, finish half of your allotted time and come back to the boat along the hard coral line at 12 meters, giving you two environments in one dive. As each environment is different with the larger fish among the soft corals this is for me the best dive to be had around Pattaya islands.
The other dive site at Koh Man Wichai is called "The Fingers." It is a set a rocks stretching from land out to sea to a depth of 12 meters, the hard coral and fish life is very good and as there are five fingers (but no thumb). It's like diving across a large hand.
Koh Hu Chang is a very small island that, although quite shallow at around 10 meters, has some very good corals and abundant small fish life. Koh Hu Chang has more sea anemones than either Koh Rin or Koh Man Wichai and as it is well protected from the wind is a good relaxing dive spot. Koh Klung Bedan is another small dive site that is also quite shallow, maximum coral depth being 12 meters. This dive site has many Staghorn and Table corals as well as Boulder corals that have many Christmas Tree worms.
This is an island controlled by the Royal Thai navy, so the use of the beaches is restricted. There is, however, some good diving off the south side of the island. The small sheltered bay is excellent for beginner divers to do their skills. The main attraction of Koh Phai is the wreck of the HTMS Khram (depth 26m). This WWII landing craft was sunk in early 2003 to create an artificial reef.
The sites off Samae San offer some of the best diving in the area. Most people that go to dive at Samae San go to dive on the Hardeep, but both Koh Chan and Koh Chuang are very good coral dives in themselves.
The Hardeep was an Indonesian-registered freighter that sank in 1943 and therefore has had plenty of time to turn into the soft coral and tube sponge garden that it is today. As fishing across the wreck is virtually impossible the fish on the wreck live to be older and larger than do their cousins in the coral reefs. The fish life on the Hardeep includes Jacks, Trevellys, Butterflyfish, many varieties of Angelfish, Queenfish, large Wrasse and many juvenile Barracuda. The wreck itself is vary diver friendly and at only 42 meters in length can easily be thoroughly explored in one dive day.
There are some very large open cargo holds that allow in a lot of light as well as the engine room that still has the crankshaft intact. The wreck sits on its starboard side so the deck is in front of you giving the dive an interesting angle. As the wreck sits in 27 meters of water it can only be dived by those over entry level or of course those taking either the Adventure Diver or Advanced Open Water course.
Koh Chuang is a large island to the south of the wreck and we dive on the southernmost point of this island, the hard coral life is very good with abundant small fish as well as the occasional turtle and cuttlefish. The maximum depth of this dive site is 12 meters and although the dive site is quite small it has some very interesting invertebrate life.
Koh Chan is south east of the wreck and as with Koh Chuang we dive on its southernmost point, here there are lots of large boulder bommies and as you descend further down the ridge into the soft coral you will find literally hundreds of Yellowtail jacks that will circle around you. At this depth you also will find sleeping Tawny Nurse sharks under the rocks as well as a large variety of different eels.
Submarine Rock is a rocky ridge with good presence of hard corals, barrel sponges and gorgonian seafans. Marine life includes large rays and turtles.