By FOCUS REPORTER
WHILE Thailand is best known for its palm-studded beaches, forested mountain ranges and year-round sunny weather, the country is equally exquisite when one looks beyond its surface. In fact, the country’s Similan Archipelago in the Phangnga Province is rated as one of the world’s top 10 places to submerge oneself and explore underwater Thailand. The country boasts more than 1,600 kilometres of coastline and you have the option of exploring two bodies of water – the Gulf of Thailand facing east or the Andaman Sea facing west.
“We’ve seen more and more scuba gear items amongst our check-in luggage and Thailand is definitely establishing itself as one of the top destinations for South African divers. While each airline’s conditions differ when it comes to sporting equipment, Thai Airways International (THAI) allows passengers to include their scuba gear in their baggage allowance,” says Niruth Sripawatakul, general manager of Central, Eastern and Southern Africa for Thai Airways International (THAI).
A popular destination for first-time divers is Koh Tao in the Surat Thani Province because of its shallow and calm waters. Koh Tao translates as Turtle Island, because in the past the waters teemed with sea turtles. It has the shape of a kidney bean, for there is a large bay curved into the land on the western side, and its crystal-clear waters and eight-kilometre long coral reef house an unimaginable abundance of marine life. You’ll share the waters with pelagics, spotted rays, giant trigger fish, barracudas, big-eyed jacks, tuna, giant travellys and clown fish. With the exception of November and December, known for Thailand’s monsoon season, Koh Tao offers year-round diving opportunities.
Phi Phi Island is fast becoming a top destination for aquatic discovery and should definitely be included on your diving itinerary. Consisting of six islands, Phi Phi Don is a must for avid cave explorers. The island’s exquisite surrounds of limestone cliffs continues into its waters, resulting in an intricate network of caves. Many say that Phi Phi Don’s marine life is unmatched and you’re likely to find long sea whips, giant range sea fans, black corals and an astounding variety of tropical fish.
“An interesting trend that has emerged post-tsunami is eco-diving and we’re seeing more and more green operators establishing themselves in Thailand. A project known as Green Fins was launched in 2004 to promote the protection and preservation of marine life in Thailand. Participating diving operators commit themselves to the Code of Conduct which includes awareness training, reef protection and monitoring and improving reef health. Through participating operators, you’ll have the opportunity to become involved in reef clean-ups and the installation of mooring buoys while exploring underwater Thailand,” Sripawatakul explains.
With THAI’s Sawasdee Thailand promotion extended until 30 November, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t experience the Land of Smiles not only on terra firma, but amongst its marine life as well. For more information on THAI and its various promotions, visit www.thaiair.co.za or phone (011) 268 2580.