Having been scuba diving in various countries around Asia, I am often asked where is the best place to scuba dive in South East Asia. Taking into account countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, here are my top scuba dive sites and the marine life you can spot during the dives such as sharks, manta rays, whale sharks and turtles. The following places are the best dive sites in my personal experience and I can’t wait to add more to the list. Consider these top diving destinations when booking your next scuba diving trip for some impressive underwater adventures.
Best Diving in South East Asia: Indonesia – Scuba Diving in Komodo National Park
To this date, Komodo remains the most exciting and awesome place to scuba dive that I have been so far. Healthy, brightly coloured corals and a whole range of marine life from manta rays, to sharks to turtles and macro life, Komodo has such an incredible underwater world. After a holiday trip here, I decided to do my divemaster course here and enjoyed every dive. There are strong currents so it’s a great place to improve your skills. You will be expected to pay extra national park fees whenever you enter Komodo National Park whether it’s for scuba diving or snorkelling trips. The most impressive dive sites are probably Batu Balong which is always a clear favourite, and you will see why once you jump in the water, but also the North of Komodo for crazy currents and lots of sharks.
Best Diving in South East Asia – Best place to dive with Manta Rays in Nusa Lembongan
Indonesia is one of the best countries to scuba dive in, both for learning to dive, like doing the Open Water course and also for the diversity of marine life you can see there. Nusa Lembongan boasts manta rays all year round and you would be extremely unlucky not to experience a dive or even a snorkel with a manta ray there. It also has some enjoyable drift dives and some dive sites with fairly healthy coral and a lot of frogfish!
Best diving in the Philippines – Thresher Sharks in Malapascua, Cebu
If, like me, you are a shark addict then definitely head to Malapascua, Cebu in the Philippines to dive with the thresher sharks. There’s an extremely high chance of seeing these 3 metre long sharks at around 25 metres so this is aimed for Advanced divers or those who have completed a deep dive speciality. The tails are so impressive and I’ll never forget the early morning experience of kneeling in the sand at the bottom of the sea being circled by these amazing thresher sharks.
Best place to see whale sharks in Thailand – Richelieu Rock and Koh Bon, Thailand
Scuba diving Richelieu Rock is arguably one of the best places to dive in Thailand. Not far from the Similan Islands or Koh Similan off the west coast of Thailand, it has lovely purple corals and a fairly good chance of whale sharks when in season. You can only visit during dry season, approximately October to May as this area and the Similan Islands are closed over the monsoon period.
Best diving in the Gili Islands, Indonesia – “Turtle city”
For those seeking turtles, head to the Gili islands off of Bali and the dive site they nickname ‘turtle city’. I was told by my dive instructor that if I only saw 10 that was considered unlucky!
Scuba diving in Tulamben, Bali – World War 2 Wreck Dive – The Liberty Bell
One of the best wreck dives that I did in Bali is the Liberty Bell in Tulumben, close to Amed and the jumping off point to the Gili Islands. The wreck is a shore dive so I strongly recommend diving at sunrise as there were no other divers around when I did and these huge bumphead/humphead parrotfish circle around the wreck in a school.
Thailand is one of the best destinations in South East Asia for wildlife and nature. There is so much nature to see in Thailand’s jungles, oceans, mountains, national parks and islands. Thailand has such a variety of different natural habitats that you can see wild elephants one day and scuba dive with whale sharks the next.
So, for the best places to see wild animals such as elephants, dolphins, whales, turtles, sharks, whale sharks, monkeys and more, continue reading my Thailand travel blog. I have recommended the best places for wildlife in Thailand, particularly ways to experience wild animals in their natural environment as I believe this is important for respecting the animals and ethical wildlife tourism.
Elephants in Thailand
The top wildlife that you can see in the jungle in Thailand are the wild elephants, in my opinion. Many travellers come to Thailand wanting to see elephants and many tourists end up seeing working elephants at questionable elephant camps where animal abuse can be rife. Luckily, travellers and backpackers are becoming increasingly aware of this elephant abuse and choosing better alternatives to elephant camps. Read here to see why you should never ride an elephant in Thailand. More sanctuaries where elephant riding is banned have opened up for tourists to have an ethical elephant experience. However, the best way to see elephants in Thailand is in their natural habitat, the jungles of Thailand.
Where to see Wild Elephants in Thailand
I think Khao Yao National Park is one of the best places to see wild animals in Thailand and the most common place to encounter wild elephants. They are amazing creatures and despite all the elephant sanctuaries in Thailand (ethical or not?), the jungle is where they truly belong and to have the opportunity to see Asian elephants in the wild, and not in chains or in a camp, is a unique animal experience that I would love more tourists to take advantage of. Paying National Park fees ensures that that protected areas like Khao Yai National Park will remain safe and ethical places to see animals like elephants.
Wildlife Safari in Thailand: See Wild Elephants in Khao Yai National Park
I strongly recommend the ethical wildlife safari called Greenleaf Tours as I thought they were fantastic and they have very knowledgeable guides and will even pick you up from Pak Chong, the town where the minivans from Bangkok arrive.
Want to visit the park independently? You can rent scooters from Pak Chong upon arrival from Bangkok and ride around 15 minutes until you get into the park. Like all National Parks in Thailand, you can camp overnight by renting equipment from the National Park office. Make sure to bring your own food.
Wild Animals in Thailand: Snorkelling with turtles or scuba diving with turtles?
Seeing turtles when snorkelling or diving is definitely possible and you can have a good chance in some areas of Thailand. The island of Koh Tao is named after turtles although I have seen more when scuba diving around Koh Chang, Koh Phi Phi and around the Similan islands. The type of turtles that I have seen most frequently in Thailand are Hawksbill turtles.
Koh Phi Phi Travel Tip: allow more time as the ferry has often taken longer than 2 hours for me.
Wild Animals in Thailand: Scuba Diving with Whale Sharks
The whale shark is the biggest fish in the ocean and are one of the best marine animals to see in Thailand. They are generally spotted around Chumpon Pinnacle near Koh Tao and occasionally around Koh Phangan. Richelieu Rock, above the Similan islands is the dive site where I was lucky enough to see my first one and most divers will tell you this is the best dive site in Thailand for whale shark spotting. Rainy season around Koh Tao and Koh Phangan sometimes brings more in and a few were spotted around June-July of this year (unfortunately not by me!)
Diving Thailand Tip: For dive trips to Richelieu Rock and the Similan islands, take a night bus to Khao Lak and book your diving in centres there. It can get busy so consider contacting a dive centre in advance to ensure your place.
Short answer – yes. There can be dangerous animals in Thailand particularly some species of snake so it it always advisable to enter national parks with a tour guide or stay on allocated paths when trekking in Thailand.
Dangerous Animals in Thailand: Monitor Lizards
These enormous monitor lizards can be found all over Thailand and even in Bangkok. They can grow up to a couple of metres. We regularly see them in Bangkok’s parks and have a good look when crossing over any canal as you can often see them swimming (and not what I thought was a crocodile on first glance!). They eat small birds and can climb trees. Despite many locals nonchalant attitude towards these massive lizards, they are actually extremely dangerous and their bite can be fatal to humans so do not approach them. If you want to see monitor lizards then visit Lumpini Park in Bangkok. It is home to many monitor lizards who are used to people wandering around the park and co-existing with us.
Thailand Wild Animal Fact: The nickname for a monitor lizard is an extremely rude swear word in the Thai language.
Where to see monkeys in Thailand?
There are monkeys all over Thailand and they range from shy to over-friendly with tourists depending om how they are treated in that area. In the National Parks they are treated as a wild animal and the monkeys are extremely shy and will steer clear of humans, whereas on crowded tourist islands like Monkey Beach in Koh Phi Phi, the monkeys are fed by people and therefore associate people with food and can be aggressive.
Wild Animals in Thailand: Monkeys
Thailand has a variety of different species of monkey. Macaques are probably the most common monkey that you can see on the mainland and also on some of the islands. They live in huge families so often where this is one, there are lots more. I love seeing them in Khao Yai National Park as they are still a respectful distance away from humans, whereas places like Lopburi you can see them but they can be aggressive and often steal items from visitors. I also heard some good advice once which was not to smile at monkeys – they see the act of baring your teeth as a threat.
Dusky Langur Monkeys – These monkeys are fairly rare but can be seen in various places around Thailand. I have personally seen them in Khao Sok National Park, Railay beach and Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park.
Thailand Animal Abuse: Be aware that monkeys should be in the wild and never pay for a photo with a ‘pet’ monkey as monkeys are treated as a tourist attraction. They often have their teeth removed, are wearing nappies and on chains. Read here for more things to avoid doing in Thailand
Wild Gibbons in Thailand
Gibbons are one of my favourite animals to spot and to hear in Thailand. You can often hear their distinct voices but catching a glimpse of these tree-top dwellers is more difficult. You can often hear gibbons calling to each other at dawn and dusk. After watching a documentary on them I discovered that when they mate for life, their mating calls develop and become more complex and have a wider range as years go by. I’ve spotted these in a few different national parks around the country such as in Khao Yai National Park and Khao Sok National Park.
Marine Life in Thailand: What sea animals are there in Thailand?
Thailand is home to a huge range of marine animals and it is the best destination to learn to scuba dive because of the cheap cost of open water courses. Thailand is home to the rare pink dolphin as well as spinner dolphins, whale sharks, manta rays and passing Bryde whales in season.
Wild Animals in Thailand: Spot Wild Dolphins in the Sea
Dolphins will always remain an amazing animal to me, no matter how many times I go dolphin spotting and I love seeing them when I am not even expecting to. I was told that on boat trips to Koh Similan, dolphins were spotted on average twice a week during dry season (October-May). I have recently been to Nakhon SI Thammarat to go pink dolphin watching which was an incredible experience, read about how and where to see pink dolphins in Thailand here.
Wild Animals in Thailand: Go Whale Watching in Thailand
During the months of August-November, huge Bryde whales migrate to Thailand to feast on anchovies in the Gulf of Thailand. I went last year and was lucky enough to see around 5 whales including a mother and calf and they even swam around our boat while we were having lunch. I did the day trip from Bangkok with Wild Encounters who were very professional, extremely knowledgeable and answered all of my many questions about whales.
Dive and Snorkel with Sharks around Thailand
If you are a shark lover then definitely consider a shark watching trip either diving or snorkelling. Thailand is a great destination for budget dives and a high chance of seeing a variety of sharks. I have seen sharks around Koh Phi Phi and diving the Ao Nang islands near Krabi. I’ve spotted black tip reef sharks, bamboo sharks and once I was lucky enough to see a 3 metre leopard shark while diving in Koh Phi Phi. Thailand doesn’t have any dangerous sharks and some people think you have more chance of seeing them snorkelling than diving as the bubbles can scare them away. Some dive centres like the Adventure Club on Koh Phi Phi have a specific shark watching trip that I plan to try out in the future.