Thailand’s best dive site to see whale sharks
Richelieu Rock is widely regarded as Thailand’s best dive site in general, and specifically the best place in Thailand to dive with whale sharks.
It’s 18 km east of the Surin Islands and is part of Mu Ko Surin national marine park. The best way to dive there is by liveaboard. This is because of it’s distance from the mainland. A few day trip boats go to Richelieu in the high season but for the best chance of a quality whale shark interaction it’s best to be there early, before the day trip divers arrive. It’s a dive site that deserves multiple dives.
The diving season at Richelieu Rock is November to May. Whale sharks, sightings are not guaranteed but the best time of year, if you want to maximize your chances, is late January to April.
Richelieu is not just about whale sharks. You can also see big schools of chevron barracuda, batfish, mackerel, tuna and rainbow runners away from the rock.
On the rock it’s a macro photographer’s paradise, highlights include yellow tiger tail seahorse and harlequin shrimps.
You will also see moray eels, lionfish and scorpionfish. You will probably see octopus and cuttlefish. Richelieu Rock is covered in colourful soft corals, barrel sponges, sea whips, anemones and gorgonian sea fans.
At low tide the Richelieu just breaks above the surface. Max depth at the bottom of the rock is 35 metres, you can find more depth by swimming out in the sand. The main section of the rock is horseshoe shaped, and there are also several smaller rocks.
A typical dive starts deep, then circles the pinnacle, slowly ascending throughout the dive. Some days visibility is excellent, on other days it can be a bit green with a lot of suspended particles. Currents can also be strong at times, although the shape of the dive site means that shelter in the current shadow can be found. Still, the currents and depth mean that this is not a dive site for beginners.
How to dive with whale sharks
If you encounter a whale shark do not to chase it, they are faster than they look. Instead hang in mid water and wait for it to come around again. Whale sharks are gentle giants and a wall of divers chasing them just scares them away.
Whatever you do, never touch a whale shark as you can remove the protective algae coating from their skin which leads to disease.