To Dive For: is this Thailand’s Best-Kept Underwater Secret?

With more than 12 unique dive sites, near-perfect visibility and a resident whale shark, Koh Haa is surfacing as one of the Andaman Sea’s most spectacular diving destinations.

KOH LANTA, THAILAND: It is only after the buzz of the boat engine is replaced by the lapping of the lagoon water along the sides of the dive boat that the majesty of Koh Haa finally starts to sink in.

Eagles silently glide overhead, an occasional rustle can be heard from the nearby jungle-clad cliffs and schools of fish flit by in synchronicity close to the water’s surface. There is a sense of sheer remoteness. Arrive at the right time of day and there’s a high chance there will be no other boats around. And yet Koh Haa, which literally means ‘five islands’ in Thai, is little more than 60 minutes by boat from Kantiang Bay. Squint hard enough and the Bay’s famous Pimalai resort can just about be made out. People don’t come here to look back towards dry land, though.

Visibility and diverse marine life are what primarily appeals to the handful of dive groups that venture to Koh Haa on an average day, according to Saffron Kiddy, founder, and CEO of Scubafish Dive Centre.

From the gently sloping reef and porcupine pufferfish who populate The Lagoon — and ideal jumping-off point for first-timers — through to the more advanced dive point The Chimney, which is home to a complex cave system and marine life such as sea snakes, lionfish, and nudibranchs, the 12 dive spots that surround the cluster of karst islands each offer very different attractions. Other underwater residents include rare ghost pipefish measuring only a few centimeters to octopuses of all sizes hiding amongst the rocks and crevices, while the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle can often be spotted swimming amongst the pristine coral.

“You can see so much in a single dive at Koh Haa,” says Saffron, who operates several PADI five-star dive centers on Koh Lanta, including one at Pimalai. “The excellent visibility across all the dive spots means divers, and snorkelers can experience immaculate corals and an unusually wide variety of marine life, including some of the largest fish in the sea, which is a dream come true for divers and snorkelers.”

The presence of whale sharks may have become less common in many of Thailand’s established dive spots in recent years due to human impact and commercial fishing, but for those lucky — or persistent — enough, an encounter with the world’s largest, and tragically endangered, fish is becoming more likely around Koh Haa, where sightings over the last few years have been a mostly monthly occurrence. Manta rays are also occasional visitors to the island’s stunning reef scapes throughout most of the high season, which runs from mid-October to mid-May. November is considered one of the best times to visit, as the islands reopen to the public after the annual six-month conservation period.

“Koh Haa offers fantastic visibility and great conditions throughout the season,” Saffron says, adding that even in high season, it’s often possible to share Koh Haa exclusively with the marine life if the boat arrives early enough. Regardless of the season, it’s always advised to book ahead for dive courses, excursions and of course accommodation. An obvious choice for travelers crafting a getaway around trips to Koh Haa is Pimalai.

Located on Kantiang Bay, arguably one of Thailand’s most admired beach, Koh Lanta’s first five-star resort remains the place to be on the island. Since it opened its doors more than a decade ago on a 100-acre piece of land, the 121-room property has become a regular haunt for A-listers after a low-key hangout and repeat guests from all over the globe returning for their annual Pimalai pilgrimage.

Accommodation ranges from secluded pool villas hidden away in the hillside forest to beachfront suites situated only a few bare footsteps from the ocean. The onsite amenities, including the gym, dance studio, and spa, are suitably five star — as is the food as the three signature restaurants — and in addition to the excursions organized by Scubafish the resort also runs its own exclusive cruises to Koh Haa.

An ideal alternative for guests who want to soak up the stunning marine scenery of Koh Haa without the seriousness of scuba diving, the leisurely five-hour trip to Koh Haa combines canapes, free-flow drinks and the chance to snorkel or swim in The Lagoon. “There aren’t many better ways to spend an afternoon on the Andaman Sea,” jokes Franck de Lestapis, Pimalai’s long-serving general manager.

Referring to Koh Haa’s relative lack of reputation, Franck adds that it mirrors how Koh Lanta as a destination has flown under the tourist radar for many years. “We are incredibly fortunate to have such incredible natural attractions on our doorstep, especially ones that have not been damaged by irresponsible tourism,” he says. “It is our responsibility to ensure they stay this way, while also making sure that people know that these authentic Thai experiences still exist and can be enjoyed.”

For a special “Diving In Koh Haa” four-day, three-night package at Pimalai Resort & Spa see here for details:

About Pimalai Resort & Spa

Koh Lanta’s first five-star resort, Pimalai Resort & Spa has been redefining luxury hospitality on Andaman Island since it launched almost two decades ago. The award-winning property, located on the laid-back southern tip, cascades through 100 acres of tropical jungles easing its way towards one of Thailand’s best beaches: Kantiang Bay.

It’s here that guests while the days away lounging on what often feels like a private beach or spend action-packed afternoons out in the cerulean sea scuba diving, snorkeling or simply relaxing on a sunset cruise. A smattering of local bars and restaurants line the beach, but its Pimalai’s onsite eateries that tend to steal the show. The legendary Rak Talay beachfront bar and restaurant is as loved for the sumptuous Thai-style seafood as it is its sunset setting, while nestled in the resort’s jungle interior, Seven Seas serves up Michelin-chef-conceived menus throughout the evening. Guests can also indulge in an array of onsite wellness experiences, ranging from traditional Muy Thai classes to early evening tennis matches and pampered afternoons at the signature Pimalai Spa.

With no immediate neighbours, the 121-room resort is a serene sanctuary where guests can feel completely at peace in their private surroundings. From Hillside Ocean Pool Villas that command vistas of the stunning scenery through to the Beachside Villas, situated only a few short steps away from the shoreline, rooms at Pimalai cater to all tastes with spacious layouts and designs that seamlessly integrate with the natural surroundings. 

In keeping with Koh Lanta’s low-key, laid-back mindset, Pimalai Resort & Spa offers guests from all corners of the globe the opportunity to savor a truly authentic Thai island experience in their very own private sanctuary. For more information, visit www.pimalai.com