Richelieu Rock Thailand: The best dive site in Thailand

April 26, 2010
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Devil Rays at Richelieu Rock

Devil Rays at Richelieu Rock

Scuba divers excitedly salivate into their regulators at the prospect of diving Richelieu Rock Thailand. It is usually accepted without question as the best dive site in Thailand. We’re going to ask why so many divers get wood over this one tiny dive site, and try to establish why Richelieu Rock Thailand is purportedly the highlight of any Similan Islands liveaboard.

Richelieu Rock History and Location

Richelieu Rock is actually part of the Surin National Marine Park and is a good 20km east of the Surin Islands as the crow flies. Richelieu Rock is around 200km north of Phuket and about 75km north of Khao Lak. The rock received its name after Captain Richelieu of the US Navy, ran his destroyer into it during the Second World War.The ship survived and limped back to port with a red faced Captain Richelieu contemplating how he could explain running into the only clearly marked

Richelieu Rock Pinnacle

Richelieu Rock Pinnacle

navigational hazard within hundreds of miles of open ocean. It’s a relatively small dive site and you could probably fit two or three Richelieu Rocks on a football pitch. Richelieu Rock is located in the open ocean so is generally only safe to dive between the months of October and May. To visit Richelieu Rock during the monsoon season would be reckless. Storms can blow up out of thin air, and there is nowhere for dive boats to shelter. Some boats run the gauntlet during good weather windows during the monsoon season, but it’s more risky than riding a Bangla Road bar girl bareback.

Diving Richelieu Rock

Scuba diving Richelieu Rock is a must for any serious scuba diver in Thailand. Of all the Thailand dive sites, Richelieu Rock usually tops the premier league. Richelieu Rock is the Manchester United of dive sites. Why?

For a start Richelieu Rock is one of the best dive sites in Thailand to see Whalesharks. There’s also a very good chance to see other large pelagics like Manta Rays or Devil Rays. The dive site is also home to a vast array of spectacular marine animals that are often high up on scuba divers wish lists of things to see. Colorful soft corals bejewel the intricate peppering of granite pinnacles and

White Mouth Moray Richelieu Rock

White Mouth Moray Richelieu Rock

boulders, that form the horseshoe like structure of Richelieu Rock. Sea fans sway to and fro lazily filtering microscopic particles from the nutrient rich water. Shadowy overhangs and crevices conceal treats such as cleaner pipefish and Harlequin Shrimps. Torches are mandatory for this dive, as is an experienced dive guide to lead you to all the hidden treasure and delights.

Visibility at Richelieu can change in minutes. The lunar cycle has a large bearing on visibility here so when the tides are weak, excellent visibility can be anticipated.

Richelieu Map

Richelieu Map

Thermo clines can envelope Richelieu in seconds and it’s not uncommon here for divers to see a distinct wall of brown murky water rolling towards them bringing with it a spine-chilling drop in water temperature. On a good day when crystal clear turquoise water bathes Richelieu Rock in 30m visibility the dive is simply awesome.

Maximum depth bottoms out at 37m towards the south of the dive site. Although a small dive site you could do at least three dives here and keep finding new stuff. Tigertail Seahorses, Ghostpipe Fish, Frogfish, Octopus, Cuttlefish, many different varieties of Scorpionfish, Lionfish, Pipefish, Cleaner Shrimps, Moray Eels including White Mouth Morays, Rays, Nudibranchs, Barracuda, Trivially, Jacks, Tuna, Groupers, Harlequin Shrimps and more all make Richelieu Rock their home, There is a species of Tomato Clownfish found at Richelieu that is native to this one small dive site.

In our opinion we agree that Richelieu Rock is the best dive site in Thailand. The sheer amount of life on this rock is astounding. Whether Macro stuff floats your boat

Pregnant Pipefish

Pregnant Pipefish

or you’re looking for the big stuff, Richelieu has something for everyone. Changeable conditions dictate though, that all dive sites have off days and Richelieu is no exception. In strong currents and bad vis it can make many first time divers to Richelieu Rock wonder what all the fuss is about.

Tips for Scuba Diving Richelieu Rock

  • Dive Richelieu Rock from a liveaboard. It can be a very uncomfortable ride out there in a speedboat for two rushed dives. You’ll also get to dive other sites like Koh Bon, Koh Tachai, and the Similans. Have a look at our liveaboard section. We also offer a three day / two night liveaboard trip that includes Richelieu Rock and the Similans click here for details.
  • Try to make sure you have a guide who is experienced at Richelieu Rock. The more dives your guide has there, the more hidden treasures he or she should be able to tee up for you. A guide working his first ever trip in the Similans and Richelieu is probably as clueless as his divers when it comes to finding cool stuff.
  • Whalesharks at Richelieu Rock tend to always appear in the same area to the northeast of the dive site. Look at the dive site map above and where you see the Whaleshark is pretty much where they appear. An experienced dive guide will often head to this area towards the end of a dive for the safety stop. Hopefully a Whaleshark will cruise past.
  • When Whalesharks appear they will usually hang around for the entire day or longer. There’s no need to chase them, and it’s futile trying to do so. Just hang back and let them cruise past. They will come around again and again giving you plenty of opportunities to get those killer photos.
  • If you hear a lot of frantic tank banging on a dive it usually means the arrival of something big. Take your head out of the crack it’s in and head to the northeast edge of the horseshoe.
  • Take a small underwater torch with you so you can explore the nooks and crannies. Many rare and interesting creatures inhabit these cracks at Richelieu. A small LED pen sized torch that fits in your BC pocket will suffice.
  • Remember, there are a lot of scuba divers at Richelieu Rock. Be patient and polite to other divers. Sometimes it gets crowded down there.
  • ALWAYS use an SMB when surfacing from a dive at Richelieu Rock. There is a lot of boat traffic here, including dinghies whizzing around picking up divers.

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