Koh Lanta Scuba Diving
MOST people don't associate Ko Lanta with diving - Ko Phi Phi is the place most think of in Krabi - but it is growing in popularity. Some 20-odd dive schools now line the coast, ready to teach newbies the basics, as well as improve the skills of licensed divers and take them out on fun dives.
You should be aware, however, that the levels of teaching, safety and equipment vary quite dramatically, as many schools - even with the best intentions - will only be fly-by-night operators. If you're not happy with the service offered in the dive centre in or closest to your resort, we would advise you to hop in a tuk-tuk to Saladan, where the major dive companies have their head offices. You can then compare a few different schools before making your choice; hotel transfers are offered by all dive centres as part of the deal, so there is no need to worry about transport on the day.
When choosing a dive school, follow your instinct: these will be the people looking after you on the boat and in the water, so it is important that you feel comfortable with them. For example, you may find an instructor who speaks your native tongue is preferable to learning in English, if this is not your first language. Ko Lanta dive schools between them offer instruction in all major European languages as well as Japanese and Thai.
You can also ask about their dive equipment and, if possible, to see what condition it is in. A school that invests in good quality, new equipment is also likely to be more aware of your general safety. One place we recommend is Kon-Tiki Lanta Diving & Snorkeling Center - you can also get a list of current prices on their website.
So now you have chosen your dive school, what next? It's time to take the plunge!
If you've never dived before, most schools will offer the chance to do a PADI (the world's largest diving organisation) beginner's course, which can be anything from a one-day experience (Discover Scuba Diving) to the full Open Water course, which takes 3-4 days and gives you a certification to dive to 18 metres.
Licensed divers can also improve their skills with the full range of PADI courses, right up to instructor level.
Whether you are learning, improving, or diving for fun, diving from Ko Lanta means you have the closest access possible to some of the best sites in the Andaman Sea - some say in the whole of Thailand.
Hin Daeng and Hin Muang are a series of submerged pinnacles that attract divers from all over the world. They have the steepest and deepest drop-off points in Thai waters and their main draw is the almost guaranteed sighting of large pelagics such as Manta rays, Whale sharks (the world's biggest fish), tuna, as well as huge schools of barracuda. The maximum depth at Hin Muang is 70m+, which gives these large creatures the freedom they need to feed.
Visibility on a good day can be more than 30 metres.
Ko Ha Yai is part of a sheltered group of islands to the north west of Ko Lanta. The usually calm conditions make exploring the underwater caverns at this site a great adventure. The caverns - whose entrance is underwater - rise up some 30m above sea level in the interior of the island, and are spookily lit from below.
Scorpion fish, lion fish and angel fish are regularly seen here, as well as the elusive ghost pipefish, sea horses and nudibranchs.
Dive schools from Ko Lanta also regularly visit the Phi Phi Island dive sites, in particular the southern (and best) reefs of Ko Bida Nok and Nai, with their vast gardens of staghorn and star corals and colourful reef fish.
As with most places now in Thailand, you'll find a videographer on the dive boat, who will film the day and sell you the DVD after, so you can have your own personal underwater documentary - or rather MTV music video: the voiceover is replaced by a groovy soundtrack that the fish seem to dance along to.