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What's the quickest way to go SCUBA diving from Chiang Mai, Thailand (CNX)? Time is a bigger factor than money, but both 'count'.

I was thinking of going to Koh Tao, but all the flights seem to be booked (flights to Sirat Thani or Nakorn Si Tammarat - URT and NST). Flights to Koh Samui (USM) are too expensive.

A friend suggested Koh Chang, to which I can buy a bus ticket, but it goes through Bangkok, and ends up taking way too long. (Koh Chang is near Trat - TBV - but I couldn't find any reasonable flights available to there, either.)

My current best option looks like BKK to Koh Samet, getting to BKK by either bus or plane. That's not great, though - the bus trip is almost as long as to Koh Chang.

I'd like to pursue my basic Open Water cert (PADI, probably), so I'm not too concerned about the quality of the site (what an advanced diver would think of it).

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Just got a suggestion for some of theplaces near Pattaya. Normally I'd avoid Pattaya like the plague (same as Phuket et al), but if it's got a legit SCUBA school and works w/ my schedule ... So, 'closest to Bangkok' is also of interest (although for future reference, I'll leave this as CNX / prefer to accept a CNX answer) –  hunter2 Jul 18 '13 at 12:06
    
No, @Dirty-flow I don't think that's right. Not airport-transfer to the exclusion of the others, anyway ... maybe all three are equally valid/bad ... Buses, Air-travel, and some combination are all ways of getting there - maybe not what those tags are for –  hunter2 Jul 18 '13 at 12:07
    
ops sorry, my bad :) –  Dirty-flow Jul 18 '13 at 12:15
    
No prob. (Like I said, it's not specifically about any of them, so maybe bad on my part, to begin with.) –  hunter2 Jul 18 '13 at 12:17
    
the order of the tags doesn't matter –  Dirty-flow Jul 18 '13 at 12:30

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You're traveling during high season so everything is going to be packed. I would still suggest going to Koh Tao still though. They have 2-3 of the top 5 OW schools in the world (By # of students). You'll have the best dive sites and the cheapest certification (~9000 baht). I did mine through Big Blue in Koh Tao. Also, I'd always be interested in where you're going to be diving. Your first two dives it doesn't matter but the 2nd two you do you will actually start to appreciate the site.

The flights are always expensive to Samui because Bangkok Airways or Thai (Forget which) owns the airport so they control the rates hence why everyone else flys and then shuttles you via Lomprayah. If times a real issue I'd suggest flying to Bangkok then catching the overnight bus / ferry to Koh Tao. It isn't a 4 hour flight but if you flew into Bangkok at like 5-6 pm you'd be to Koh Tao by the next morning.

http://www.lomprayah.com/E/route.htm

There's a few other places in Thailand that are populer for diving but they aren't easy to get to or fast. If you're going to spend the same amount of time trying to get to Similan or somewhere, I think you're better off going to Tao.

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Thanks, good thoughts. I'd heard of them, but somehow didn't find the link before. Called and they're full - and wouldn't give me an answer on the boat from CJM tomorrow ... Do you know how feasible itwould be to piece this together? ( a) Get a late bus from BKK to CJM or Surat Thani - how long would it take? b) if Lomprayah is full in the morning, are there other ferries from Chum. or ST.? ) I also noticed that Lom.'s return times aren't great - might not be a lot of choices on that .. –  hunter2 Jul 19 '13 at 5:08
    
Koh Tao is definitely my first choice for all those reasons - if I'd booked things earlier, no prob. Wasn't really thinking Similans (which seem like theyd take longer)(maybe if I had a week+), was thinking faster - eg w/in a few hours of BKK (so I could get to BKK early morning and be 'there' by mid morn or lunch) –  hunter2 Jul 19 '13 at 5:13
    
I guess what I mean about return times is: It looks like I'd need to spend most of Tuesday on Lomprayah, and get back to BKK at a not-very-useful time. Any idea if there would be a way to go from KT earlier or later on Tue (eg, to get to BKK on time for a bus at 1800 Tue, or a later-departing overnight way to BKK for a morning flight (and a few more hours on KT)) –  hunter2 Jul 19 '13 at 5:40
    
I thought Lomprayah had an overnight bus then you caught the morning ferry? You'd spend the entire day traveling but the other option is to fly via Samui then take the hour + ferry. There isn't really a fast way outside of flying. You could always look at going diving in Malaysia but again you're going to spend a decent amount of time traveling to Tioman or Langkawi. If you're in Thailand, try and find a helpful / friendly travel agent that's willing to help you. They may mark it up a bit but if it finds you another way, it could be useful. –  Greg Jul 19 '13 at 14:28
    
Yes, they do. What I meant (at 5:08) was that the Lomprayah bus from BKK to CJM was fully booked - so I wanted to know if it would be easy to find another (non-Lom) bus to CJM, and then try to catch a ferry (Lom or otherwise) from CJM to KT. // Wound up doing something different, posting momentarily. –  hunter2 Jul 28 '13 at 7:29

Greg's answer (fly CNX-Bangkok, bus/ferry combo from BKK to Koh Tao) is pretty sensible. Because I am not sensible, and planned at the last minute, I did something a bit different. I wouldn't particualrly suggest following what I did, but it did work out well for me, and maybe some of the other details will be of interest.

What I did:
Fly CNX-BKK, bus from Ekamai to Koh Samet, SCUBA with the guy on Samet, 'direct' bus back to CNX.

Pros:
-Samet has less rain than many locations on the Gulf.
-Cheaper than Koh Chang, or anything involving flying through Samui.
-Do-able at the last minute or on the cheap (bus-only, almost).
-Samet is fun (to be fair, that probably applies all around).
-Because it is not as much of a SCUBA hotspot (and, probably, because it's rainy season) I got one-on-one instruction from an instructor who's been diving for 40 years.

Cons:
-The lessons themselves were about 50% more money than the advertised rates on Koh Tao, and didn't include accomodation. (IMO, well worth it for what I got, see last 'pro')
-The diving is probably worse. Visibility was very low (I think it would have been elsewhere due to the weather), but even if it wasn't, I can believe that many other locations would be better. That said, it is still diving, and there is stuff to see; I take Greg's point (re, you*can* appreciate what you're seeing from early on), but I still enjoyed the diving, and will go back. Just adjust your expectations.
-Not as quiet as I'd thought. Probably quieter than the other options, but it's an easy weekend trip from Bangkok, and has a pretty thriving, growing beach bar/party type scene. Up to you if that's a pro or con.
-Thai-expensive. Likely applies to all options, and 'Thai-expensive' is still 'pretty cheap' for many foreigners.

Other thoughts:
-As far as I can tell, at the moment, the only domestic direct flight destinations from CNX are BKK/DMK, USM, HKT, and HDY (and Mae Hong Son). Otherwise (Trat/Koh Chang, NST/URT/CJM) you need to change (in Bangkok).
-If you do things at the last minute, they get booked and/or expensive, especially on a holiday. Duh, right? And yet, I never learn ...
-As always, there is more than one bus. Both of the ones I took were considerably slower than expected. I thought they would be ~2.5 and ~13 hours, instead they were ~5 and ~17. I know I got the wrong bus to Samet (and there is a right one), I do not know if there actually is a faster bus b/w CNX and Samet (I hope so).
-I called the bus from Samet to book the return trip. They insisted that I couldn't reserve, and would need to buy it in person. This is not true.
-This might be a seperate issue/Question, but 'high season' seems to me to be most of the year. I would call early January 'highest season'. We're in rainy season, now (although that doesn't necessarily mean low season for the whole country, and this particular weekend was a holiday).

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Update: Samet just had an oil spill. Yikes. They say it's small, so should be back to normal pretty soon. They say ... –  hunter2 Aug 6 '13 at 4:33

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