Two things I didn’t see in the numbers I was expecting: whale sharks (apparently, they've been pretty rare the last few years, even though they’re mentioned in every book and blog post about the Similans)... and divers.
According to several dive instructors I talked to, “no one” is diving in Thailand anymore. They estimate that business is down about 50%. That means fewer boats are going out, and those that do are less full. Some freelance dive instructors reported working only three or four days this month… and no one is exactly sure why.
There has been “terrorist activity,” I suppose. But locals say these attacks are greatly exaggerated. No one has claimed responsibility, though there's a crazy rumored among expats that the bombs were made and placed in an attempt to create the fear and instability so the new King, Maha Vajiralongkorn, can change the constitution.
(On that note, another thing our government needlessly suggests we should fear… is malaria. There is some risk in Southeast Asia, but a country-by-country breakdown reveals that the malaria risk in Thailand is very low.)
Another instructor commented that it might have to do with the death of the king. While the country is, indeed, in mourning (we saw thousands of mourners lined up at the Grand Palaca in Bangkok), everything I’ve seen seems to be business as usual.
Yes, the rumor is that most people aren’t thrilled about the new king, who is a “65-year-old party boy,” but as a traveler, I haven’t sensed any tension or danger in the parts of the country I’ve visited (Bangkok, Phuket, Khao Lok, the Similan Islands, and Chiang Mai).
Another still suggested that, perhaps, everyone who wanted to dive in Thailand has already been here, and now they’ve moved on to other destinations, including the Philippines (“and everyone speaks English there, so it’s a bit easier”) and Indonesia.
I’m not sure if I buy that argument -- yes, there are only so many certified divers in the world, but newbies get certified every day. And! Plenty of veterans love Andaman diving so much that they are eager to come back for their next dive trip. There are liveaboards elsewhere in the world… but you’re not going to get better food anywhere else than you would in Thailand.
(Seriously -- the quality and quantity of the food, even on the cheapest liveaboard, far exceeded my expectations.)
Then there’s the issue of the floods. Unseasonable rains in the south of Thailand and into Malaysia have caused serious flooding, and several deaths. However, that hasn’t affected Krabi, Phuket or Khao Lok, which is where my Similar safari left from.
No one knows what the future holds, but as of January 2017, nothing on my itinerary has been affected by floods.
I have no unique insight or takeaway beyond what I’ve already said, except that there’s no good reason to cancel or postpone your trip to Thailand. In fact, given the availability, now might be a great time to score a last-minute deal. Contact the shops directly, rather than through an agency, to negotiate a rate -- you could save as much as 30% if you book directly through the dive shop, and offer to pay in cash.
So definitely try that, and this could be you: