Thailand is a haven for divers with some of the best scuba diving locations in Asia found in Thai waters. And scuba diving can be addictive as our guest in this interview, Paul Meredith, will testify. In 2002, Paul gave up his job in the UK to move to Thailand and pursue his dream of becoming a diving instructor. In 2005, he opened his own dive centre, The Dive Academy, on Ko Samui. Paul shares with us his expert knowledge to help you plan a diving trip to Thailand.
What are your favourite dive locations in Thailand?
Thailand has many great dive spots and in general offer quite relaxed and unchallenging conditions. My favourite spots, in no particular order, are:
Richelieu Rock was named by Jacques-Yves Cousteau who said the purple colour of the soft corals at the site reminded him of the robes of Cardinal Richelieu. This location is arguably the best dive site in Thailand and suitable for relatively experienced divers. The site has beautiful soft and hard corals and an abundance of marine life ranging from small creatures like nudibranchs and shrimps to large pelagics such as manta rays and whale sharks.
Sail Rock is the first dive site I ever dived in Thailand and, in my opinion, is the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand. Sail Rock is a small rock located in the middle of the sea which rise to 15 metres above the surface and is dived by divers of all levels, including complete beginners. There is an abundance of marine life with large schools of fish and frequent sightings of whale sharks which help to make this the perfect dive site to hook people on diving.
Chumphon Pinnacle is a great dive location close to Ko Tao in the Gulf of Thailand. The top of the Pinnacle is at around 15 metres so it is only suitable for divers allowed to dive that deep. With lots of marine life and frequent whale shark sightings, this is a popular location for divers in Thailand.
Hin Muang and Hin Daeng
These twin dive sites are located close together and usually dived from the island of Ko Lanta on the Andaman Coast. Because of the strong currents here, Hin Muang and Hin Daeng are more suitable for experienced divers who can expect to see lots of small marine life and a chance of seeing manta rays and whale sharks.
Ko Haa is a group of five small islands located to the south-west of Ko Lanta. The formation of the islands creates a beautiful lagoon in the middle that is the perfect spot to try diving for the first time. Diving around the outside of the islands is also great for experienced divers. As well as seeing lots of small marine creatures there are also frequent sightings of manta rays, whale sharks and leopard sharks.
What are your top tips for a first-time diver in Thailand?
Thailand is one of the most popular places in the world for taking PADI diving courses, especially Open Water and Instructor Level Courses. There are many PADI dive centres on the islands of the Andaman Coast and the Gulf Coast of Thailand so wherever you go you will be able to get your certification.
Look online before you book your course and do your research to make sure you find a dive centre who have good reviews and look and sound reputable. Message them first and make sure you get a good feel from your dealings with them. Don’t settle for the cheapest. You need to make sure you are getting properly trained as diving has risks and taking short cuts could mean missing out on important skills or knowledge.
Make sure you enjoy taking the course. Diving is serious but is also supposed to be enjoyed so if you are not enjoying yourself taking the course don’t force it. Maybe take a break and try again in a few days or even try a different location or a different instructor. Take as much time as you need to complete the course and make sure you learn everything you need to and ask if there is anything you’re not sure about. Have fun!
The Dive Academy is the only PADI dive centre on Ko Samui that is still owned and managed by the original owner. Why do you think this is the case?
Working as a professional in diving is incredibly hard work and often for little financial reward. You don’t work in scuba diving to become rich but to live an amazing lifestyle and enjoy doing something that you love most days. That is why many people only stay in diving for a short time before moving back to the real world to do a ‘proper’ job.
Owning a diving centre is even harder work than just being an instructor as you are responsible for every aspect of the business rather than just taking care of your customer on a diving course or dive tour. To be a successful dive business you must be good at communicating with customers; answering emails quickly is a really important part of the job and is why we are often sat up beyond midnight messaging customers. To attract business nowadays you need to have a strong internet and social media presence. This takes a lot of work and being on the first page of Google search takes time and effort to maintain.
Dealing with staff, marketing, accounting, logistics, work permits and visas, bookkeeping and many other tasks are also part of being a successful dive centre owner. Many find after a while that it is too much effort for little reward or that they aren’t good at many of the jobs needed to keep the business competitive. There are many dive centres in Thailand all battling for the same customers so to be successful you need to be constantly doing everything you can to make the customers want to come with you. Dealing with the demands of the business also means you might not be doing as much of what you got into diving for in the first place i.e. going diving. But we have worked really hard for all the 14 years The Dive Academy has been open and still enjoy the lifestyle that diving and living on Ko Samui brings.
Thank you to Paul Meredith from The Dive Academy, Ko Samui. If you’re interested in diving in Thailand or would like to find out more, check out The Dive Academy website and Facebook page.
All images used in this article are from The Dive Academy Facebook page.
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