Manta Rays and Whalesharks in Thailand: Where to find the big stuff scuba diving in Thailand

March 17, 2010
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Of course, all levels of scuba diver salivate excitedly into their regulators at the prospect of spotting Manta Rays and Whalesharks in Thailand. Some divers are born lucky enough to have an experience with a Whalesharks and Manta Rays in Thailand on their first ever discover scuba dive, while for others it can take thousands of dives and many years of frustration always being just a few minutes too late or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I know dive instructors who have been in Thailand years with thousands of dives who have never seen a Whale Shark, on the other hand, I know relatively new instructors who have been here just a few months with only a couple of hundred dives, who have had five or six separate Whaleshark encounters in Thailand. It’s all to do with timing andbeing in the right place at the right time. It’s also has a lot do with luck. However, making certain you choose the dive trip that gives you the best chance of seeing what you want to see with regards to either Whale Sharks or Manta Rays, helps a lot.Here are some of the top dive sites in Thailand for big stuff.

The Best Dive Sites for Manta Rays in Thailand

Koh Bon – This is the dive site where you’ll have the best chance to see Manta Rays.  Fact. When they arrive they’ll be there for weeks or even months at a time, then they might vanish for a couple of weeks, or longer. I’ve had dives at Koh Bon where it’s been non-stop Manta Ray action from start to finish. Dive guides and staff on the liveaboards will generally know if there are Mantas in the area or not before the boat arrives at the site. Even with no Manta Rays, this is still a very classy dive site. Saying that, people dive Koh Bon for the Mantas, so it’s always disappointing to finish a dive there without any sightings.

Manta Ray at Koh Bon

Manta Ray at Koh Bon

Manta Rays come in numbers to Koh Bon because it’s both a cleaning and feeding station. There are around twenty different resident Manta Rays at Koh Bon that are regularly identified by their unique fingerprint like markings on their underbellies. Generally they’re not shy and are used to having lots of divers and bubbles in the water. They’ll glide past at touching distance seemingly as intrigued with the divers, as the divers are with them. Is it possible that after a hard day feeding, a Manta returns home to his friends and family, and says something like “Wow, guys, Koh Bon was amazing today, I saw at least fifty humans!”. Often, if a diver is some distance from his group, a Manta will single out the diver for a couple of fly pasts, circling closely, gliding effortlessly with barely any wing movement. Mantas don’t like to be touched and will leave immediately if they are harassed. Many Mantas also aren’t too keen on bubbles, and can quickly get spooked if a diver exhales as it passes by inches overhead.

For a full dive site description of Koh Bon click here.

Hin Daeng and Hin Muang – These dive sites lie around 65km south of Koh Phi Phi and are only accessible from Phuket on a liveaboard or a private speedboat charter. There are regular day trips on speedboats from Koh Phi Phi during the high season months from November to May. As with Koh Bon, when the Mantas are there they’re usually there for a few weeks at a time. There is also an excellent chance for Whalesharks at Hin Daeng and Hin Muang.

Hin Daeng and Muang are reputedly two of the best dive sites in Thailand, and indeed, if it’s both Whalesharks and Manta Rays you’re after there are no better dive sites where you’re likely to see both of these awesome aquatic beasts on a single dive.

For a full dive site description of Hin Daeng and Hin Muang click here.

Koh Tachai – On most Similan Islands liveaboard itineraries, Koh Tachai offers a pretty good chance for something special with regular sightings of both Mantas and Whale Sharks. This site can be challenging as the currents can rip through leaving divers struggling to find shelter. It’s quite common to see Mantas here, usually while descending or ascending the buoy-line at the start or end of a dive.

For a full dive site description of Koh Tachai click here.

The Best Dive Sites for Whalesharks in Thailand

Richelieu Rock – This is the best dive site in Thailand, and offers the best chance to see a Whaleshark along with Hin Daeng and Hin Muang. Even with no Whalesharks this site is absolutely awesome although at times, it’s at the mercy of strong currents and patchy visibility. On a good day, Richelieu Rock will leave you breathless! Richelieu Rock is in the shape of a horseshoe and is teeming with small critters and gems. Some species of marine life are native only to this one tiny dive site, and are not found anywhere else in the world. The Whalesharks tend to appear cruising outside the northeast edge of the dive site. This is where they are seen nine times out of ten. If you hear a lot of divers banging their tanks you should make your way to this area straight away. If you’re a dive guide, don’t forget to take your group with you or you’ll get lynched back on the boat. Once a Whaleshark appears it will stay in this area for several hours, maybe even for a couple of days. There’s no need to chase them, it’s futile and you’ll never keep up for more than twenty seconds or so. The best approach is to just wait for five or ten minutes and the Whaleshark will spin round and cruise past again and again. Don’t get too close and never try to touch a Whaleshark or hang onto its dorsal fin. They hate being touched and it can scare them away. If touched, Whalesharks will often dive and disappear for good. Whalesharks are also covered by a protective layer of mucus that inhibits parasites and disease. Touching them can remove this layer and leave them prone to infection.

For a full dive site description of Richelieu Rock click here.

Hin Daeng and Hin Muang – These two dive sites have the deepest drop-offs in Thai waters. It’s possible to see more than one Whaleshark here on a single dive. At Hin Daeng they can be spotted almost

Whale Shark at Richelieu Rock

Whale Shark at Richelieu Rock

anywhere on the dive site, and usually hang around for a couple of days or more. They tend to be fairly shallow at this dive site and can sometimes be seen from the surface. They come here to feed on the Plankton that wells up in currents from the deep surrounding water. This is also an excellent dive site for Manta Ray encounters as well.

On Hin Muang, the Whalesharks usually cruise around the edges of the dive site at depths of around 10 to 20 meters.

Koh Tachai – In recent years there has been an increasing number of Whaleshark sightings here. Some years there are more sightings here than there are further north at Richelieu Rock. In our opinion though, Richelieu Rock gives you a better chance to see a Whaleshark.

Summary

If you really want to see big stuff here in Thailand there are other factors that need to be considered, like the time of year for example. The Similan Islands including Richelieu Rock, Koh Tachai, and Koh Bon, are only technically open to scuba divers from early October to mid May. To give yourself a good chance of an encounter with something big, take a four-night Similans liveaboard trip that takes in Koh Bon, Koh Tachai, and Richelieu Rock. Give yourself the best chance, spend seven nights on a boat and take a four-night Similans trip back to back with a Hin Daeng trip. See our Similan liveaboards section to check out your options and our Similan Islands schedules and prices as well as trips for Hin Daeng liveaboards.

Hin Daeng and Him Muang, because of their remote location in open ocean, are generally only accessible from November to May when the sea is calm and the weather forecast fairly predictable. Hin Daeng day trips from Phi Phi are often cancelled at the last minute if there is an large swell or there is the possibility of storms. This is for safety as well as comfort. There’s nothing much worse than spending a day on a speedboat in choppy seas.

The best months for Manta Rays and Whalesharks in Thailand are February, March, and April.

Whalesharks and Manta Rays can appear almost anywhere in Thai Waters, so there’s always a chance you’ll be lucky. All dive sites around Phuket and Koh Phi Phi have regular sightings so remember to keep your eyes peeled, and look above you and out into the blue.

Other notable dive sites for Mantas and Whalesharks include Racha Noi (Manta Rays) and Chumpon Pinnacle off Koh Tao (Whalesharks).

If you have any Whaleshark or Manta Ray sighting info please post here in the comments section.

Good luck!

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