Thailand is a magical place. From the urban chaos of a city like Bangkok to the quiet peace that settles on Koh Surin once the generator’s power down, you can find whatever it is you’re looking for on holidays. As a keen spearo, I’ve wanted to try spearfishing in Thailand for a long time. The beaches, the reefs, the pristine water conditions all add up to some high-quality spearfishing. And it’s a sport that’s getting more and more popular.
First, you need to understand the legalities. The last thing you want is to get on the wrong side of the local authorities or end up fined and carted off to the Bangkok Hilton.
So first, you need to know the legalities.
Is spearfishing legal in Thailand?
Despite what many people think (or perhaps may wish), spearfishing is not, in fact, illegal in Thailand.
Where many people go wrong (like these guys), is that they spearfish in illegal areas. Thailand has some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, and an abundance of marine life unlike many other regions on the planet.
To protect the environments for future generations, many of the best and most diverse areas are classified as “marine conservation zones.” They’re entirely off-limits for any kind of fishing, spearfishing included. You may see the odd local flouting these zones, but this isn’t a free pass to break the rules.
These conservation areas are there for a reason and should be respected.
It’s also to note that no regulations restrict the use of SCUBA tanks while spearfishing. It’s not a practice I support, as I find it much more challenging to free dive spearfish, but to each their own.
Evidently, it’s also relatively easy to purchase spearfishing gear in Thailand, there are a few specialty shops in Bangkok, as well as in Phuket and Krabi who can kit you out with all the equipment. I found it a bit more expensive than back home in Australia so you may be best off merely borrowing what you need on tour, or bringing your own spearfishing gear along for the trip.
My thoughts on spearfishing in Thailand
There are so many people relying on ocean tourism for their livelihoods, along with all the people off on their “world discovery” trips, it’s inevitable that you’re going to get some sideward looks with an armful of spearfishing equipment.
One particular conversation has stuck with me to this day.
Phi Phi island has become a bit of a hub for the European backpacker, and there are waves and waves of them that flood through. Over a beer with an owner of a local dive shop, we were interrupted as this lass had been listening in on our conversation.
“You’ve been SHOOTING fish with a gun? That’s outrageous!”
And we were then given the pleasure of listening to a three-minute rant about how the oceans need to be saved, we’re the most horrible monsters on the planet, and we don’t deserve to be in a place like Thailand. Just go “the f*ck” home.
When she finally surfaced for air, I got a chance to get my piece in.
I won’t bore you with the details, but there are two key points to my philosophy on spearfishing that applies when you’re spearfishing in a place like Thailand.
First, don’t be a douche. Use your common sense when you’re spearfishing and don’t ever shoot something just for the sake of it. In every shot I take I’m confident it’s going to land. Injuring a fish only to have it die later on the bottom of the ocean is a waste. And needless killing is what gives spearo’s a bad name.
The second is to respect the ocean. And the best way to do that when you’re spearfishing in Thailand is to leave the territorial reef fish alone. Go after the big pelagics, they’re much more fun, and you won’t be impacting the diversity all the divers are there to enjoy by taking out the “locals” who call a particular reef home.
Where to go spearfishing in Thailand?
The most popular spot is Phuket.
A massive tourist hub, it’s also the perfect base to reach many of the islands that sit right off the coast. My advice is to book with a local company who can take you around to the best reefs. Many of the most popular spots, like Phi Phi island are all protected, so you’re going to need a specialized tour to get you where you need to go.
On my trip, I was taken to three different islands. If you’re new to the sport they cater to everyone from beginners to advanced, just make sure you brush up on some spearfishing basics so you don’t look like a complete noob.
We went to Koh Kaew Noi, which wasn’t too far from the shore, and provided an abundance of small to medium sized reef fish, lots of trevallies and even a couple of barracuda cruising by. Ko Kaew Yai was pretty similar, and things started getting really fun once we were out at Koh Racha. We stayed overnight on the island, but the deep water meant we also saw some cobia, queenfish, and a lone wahoo just cruising by. I’d highly recommend it. Even though we didn’t happen on any sailfish, that are meant to pop in here every now and then. Oh well, maybe next time…
If you’re looking for a more relaxed experience, you can also visit Krabi. It’s a smaller town about an hour and a half from Phuket, on a similar stretch of coast. What I love though is just how laid back the vibe is. Outside of the chaos of the big town, Krabi remains a hub for all things watersports, and you can access many of the same islands from here (as you can off Phuket).
If you’ve ever wanted to enjoy warm tropical weather while hunting some of the best game fish around, Thailand is a great place to go spearfishing. Just make sure you stick to the rules, stay out of marine protected areas, and get a local guide to show you the ropes.
Enjoy your time in the land of smiles, and happy spearin!