Monthly Archives: October 2013


Koh Tao, Thailand



Ko Tao is the Northernmost of the three big islands in the Southern Gulf of Thailand. It is famous as a place where backpackers go to get dive-certified.

I visited for a couple of months in early 2009 and a week in May 2013.

Ko Tao has some very good coral growth. It is one of the best spots in Thailand for coral (since temperature-change events hit corals on the Western (Andaman) side. (However, the Andaman side still has reasonable corals and is better for fishlife and ‘picture-postcard’ beaches, IMO)).

Ko Tao is rocky. The coral grows on top of rocks, rather than as a discrete fringing reef. There is very good diversity of coral species.

There aren’t vast numbers of fish around, compared with other locations.

The best areas for coral are spread far-and-wide around different parts of the island. There are only a handful of beaches and the best snorkelling is often not at the beaches. Consequently, you hear many different views about where the ‘best’ snorkelling is. Each area has its own pros and cons. Typically, the top spots (in no particular order) are:

Nang Yuan island (Area V on the map below). There are a couple of lovely snorkelling spots. The downside is that you must either sleep at the island’s expensive resort or visit by taxi-boat (plus pay an extra entrance fee (!) for the island). Once the hoards of day-trippers have gone home, the island itself is beautiful.

Hin Wong Bay (Area A). Lovely snorkelling, but the area is all rocks and access to the water is difficult. There is a tiny private beach, but again, you have to pay to use it. Hin Wong is far removed from the main, touristic part of the island, so this may be a downside if you are wanting night-time entertainment.

Ao Tanote (C). Sandy beach, decent coral and friendly fish directly off the beach. Accommodation is a little expensive, but this place is a good bet if you can afford it. Suitable for families.

Sai Deang Beach (F). Famous for baby sharks cruising around in the rocky shallows. The coral in the bay is disappointing, although there is a small patch of good stuff at one end of the bay. Decent beach. Remote location – not good for those wanting lively entertainment.

Mango Bay (Ao Ma Muang) (W). Some great snorkelling in this isolated bay at the North of the island. Accommodation is expensive. Getting to the location is via boat or 4-wheel drive only. There is a ‘road’ leading to it , but it is near-suicide for motorcyclists. Technically, it is walkable, but is a looong way.



The cheapy-backpacker days of Ko Tao are mostly over, as resorts have moved upscale to cater to the midrange market. Cheapskates looking for access to reasonable snorkelling and sleeps under 500B might check out Lang Khaai Bay, Hin Wong Bay, or stay in the main town (Mae Haad) and walk/ride out to the beaches & bays for their snorkelling. Note that the hills on the island are VERY steep and the roads are often in bad condition. In the more remote parts of the island, the roads are not suitable for motorcyclists. Most places are reachable via a stiff walk, though.

The dry season is about January to August.

The island is relatively developed – there are ATMs, health clinics, shooting ranges, hotels with infinity pools and a million diveshops.

Best-ish seascape:

Typical seascape:
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

Map Notes: Ao = Bay; Laem= Cape/Point; Haat=Beach; Hin=Rock. The red line around the edge of the island is the areas I snorkelled. The big letters are references to each area listed below.

Don’t take my representation of the tracks and roads as 100% accurate. Grab an up-to-date free map when you get off the ferry.

I have only listed resort names when they are relevant to my text -there are actually hundreds of resorts on Tao.

Day trip
There is a round-island, big-boat snorkelling daytrip run by several operators. The itinerary seems about the same for all of them: Pickup from your resort; Depart from Mae Haat; Au Sai Daeng (Area F) Ao Leuk (D); Ao Hing Wong (A); Ao Ma Muang (=Mango Bay)(W); Lunch onboard; Ko Nang Yuan (V). The trip is a good way to get an orientation around the island and some of the better snorkelling spots. At about 800B, I wasn’t bowled-over with the value-for-money, but I guess it’s nothing compared with the price of your flight! There are accounts of all the stops in my detailed sections below.

Of course, you can also charter a longtail boat for an expensive private trip.

On my 2013 trip, I swam around almost all of the island. I didn’t quite have time to cover that North East corner.

Because I was swimming it, I haven’t-much researched walking routes to the various beaches. Tezza can help you out on that one.


There is no airport on Koh Tao. Ferries from Chumphon/Pha Ngan/Samui arrive at the main town port of Mae Haat (on the West coast, near Area Q, on the map). The main tourist/beachy area is Sairee, about 2km North of the jetty.

For my run-down of the snorkelling – let’s start across on the quiet East coast, in Ao Hin Wong/ Hin Wong Bay.



Area A – Ao Hin Wong

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Hin Wong is a quiet, rocky bay on the mid-East coast. There are three or four resorts there, including one classic ‘backpacker-y’ one (Hin Wong Bungalows). The bay is very remote and is no good for those wanting easy access to the party-town of Sairee on the other coast. The owner of Hin Wong resort has a pick-up/ute and goes across to the West coast a few times a day (He cruises for customers around the docks in Mae Haat when the ferries arrive). Guests of the resort can go along on the transport free-of-charge.

There is some great snorkelling in Hin Wong bay, but understand that the whole bay has a rocky coastline and access to (actually, access from) the water is tricky.

It’s not too hard to jump into the water from a rock, but the only way I found to get out of the water was to reverse-abseil up a rope tied to a small rock, then balance-beam the 5 metres along the frame of this old jetty.


There is a tiny, privately owned beach right next door (Mol’s bar). They charge you 100B (or the price of a drink at the bar) to sit on the beach. When I explained that I just wanted to pass through to get into the sea, they let me in without paying. I’m not sure whether this is the norm – if it is, then this is your best-option for access to the water.



Here is the view from the restaurant of Hin Wong Bungalows, looking left (North) towards the Northern jaw of the bay.

That’s where we are going to start, up at point A1 (on the local map, above). So lets jump in and sprint up to A1, then turn round and start a slow-sweep Southwards.



Area A1:

Most of the coral in this bay is growing on top of rocks. There is a great diversity in the coral species. Here are a few samples from the 200m run A1 to A2. These are a good representation of the best of Ko Tao:
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At A2, just off Welcome View Rock Resort, there was this nice patch of anemones:

All the guide books wax-lyrical about the multicoloured anemones in Ko Tao. These purpley ones are nice, but apart from this and the usual pink-variety I didn’t see any other colours.

‘Welcome View Rock Resort’ has a floating jetty out front. You could use it to jump in the water, but it looks too tall to use for getting-out again.

Heading from A2 back to where we started at A3 (Hin Wong Bungalows), there are some more attractive corals, parked-up on top of the underwater rocks:
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Here’s the view looking right from Hin Wong Bungalow’s restaurant:
Thai_Tao_0073_a-mid-south_P5073442 Lunch.JPG

We’re going to follow the coastline round and out to the headland in the far distance (A6).

There was a cool Scrawled Filefish hanging around the end of the little jetty. (btw, for the names of fish, see my SPECIESLIST).


After that, here are some samples of coral, mostly 10-15 metres off the rocky coast from A3 to A4:
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There is a monstrous apartment block at A4. It looks mostly empty. That guy has had a pirate flag up for at least 4 years. I do hope that he’s not paying for the place!

Here is some coral from directly outside it:

The seascape continues like this on-around the sweep of the bay.

Area A5 is the bit where the day-trip boats stop (mostly late morning).

There is a roped-off area marking-off the snorkelling–zone from the boat-zone:


There is some great coral in this snorkelling area (A5).
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Most of the better stuff is about 4 metres deep, but you can still get an OK view from the surface.

There weren’t that many fish around, but notable exceptions included this Blackcap Butterflyfish, schooling Virgate Rabbitfish, and blue-tailed Needlefish:
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Huge schools of Fusiliers like to hang around underneath the big-boats on the edge of the demarc-line:



Now, ready for the Great Leap Southwards, I headed-on around the cape at A6 to start down the East Coast.



From A to B (Hin Wong Bay to Laem Thian)

The East coast of Tao is characterised by huge rocks, both above and below the surface. Underwater, the rocks usually have coral growing on them – sometimes a lot of interesting, diverse species and sometimes not much at all.

This first stretch Southwards was one of the more boring sections, coral-wise.

Mostly it was like this:

With an occasional uplift to this:

But mostly it was an unrewarding, hour long slog. Not recommended.


Towards the Southern end of this stretch, as you approach the cape of Leam Thian (“Laem” means Cape/Point/Headland), the maps show an indentation to the right labelled as Ao Mao (Mao Bay).

There used to be a resort on the Southern side of the cape and the maps show a walking track from the resort to the back of Ao Mao. I guess it was a fun yomp to trek down to this remote bay. Other than that, I can’t see why Ao Mao qualifies for a name (any more than a hundred other unnamed bays). It doesn’t have any notable features. Maybe they were drunk when they decided to give it a name.

Here is the most landward part of Ao Mao. If it had a beach, this is where it would be. But it doesn’t.


Underwater, heading from the ‘beach’ back towards the tip of Laem Thian (on its North side), the sights were mostly unspectacular:
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Quirky Barrel Sponges gave a couple of highlights:
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Arriving at the most Easterly point of Leam Thian, this was the view West into Ao Mao and this was the view back North up the coast towards Ao Hin Wong.


This is the Northern side of Laem Thian:


Heading South – round the cape, itself, was mostly plain rock:

But there were these Orange-spine Unicornfish, spicing things up:



Area B – Laem Thian

Around the South side of the cape is what most people to refer to as Laem Thian. Here, you can see the ruins of the old resort:

I don’t know what happened to it. There are reports from 2009 of it being a great place to stay, but obviously something went wrong. FWIW, the old website url was – but it’s dead now. I assume that the tracks to the resort and to Ao Mao have grown over now.

The beach here is cute and a few longtails were bringing people the 1km from Tanote Bay here for some isolation. That’s them on the beach.


I had a good search of the bay outside the resort, but there was nothing doing, coralwise. Mostly it was just long-dead Staghorn coral.
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From Area B to Area C – Laem Thian to Ao Tanote

Heading South from Area B, there is a 1 km stretch of rocky coastline leading to the developed Tanote Bay.



Underwater, the rocks have some patches of coral on top :
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This stretch to the North of Tanote Bay (Area B to Area C)  is sometimes recommended as a place to explore if you are staying in a resort at Tanote Bay and you get bored with the bay itself. That is fine, but personally I found the rocky stretch to the South of Tanote bay to have better coral. On the other hand, the Southern stretch doesn’t have the sandy beach at the end of it, like the Northern one does.


You can’t help but notice Tanote Bay as you round the corner into it. Here’s one of the next batch of a dozen bungalows being constructed up on the rocks:



Area C – Tanote Bay

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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

Tanote bay is a snorkel-friendly bay on the East coast of Ko Tao. It is characterised by a clump of big rocks in the centre of the bay, just 30 meters from the soft sandy beach (right above the “com” of the watermark in the photo). There is decent snorkelling around these rocks and the mid-sized reef fish in the shallows are the friendliest and chilled-out fish that I have ever seen. The soft, gently sloping beach makes it easy for family snorkelling.

There is a fair-bit of development up-top and the accommodation looks to be expensive. Neither of these features attract me, but I’m picky like that. The snorkelling is very acceptable, though.


Since we are approaching from the North – let’s start with some (mostly submerged) rocks in the North East corner of the bay. These aren’t the main rocks in the centre of the bay – these one are much more rugged – shooting up from the seabed at about 8 metres deep, to just break the surface out on the North East corner.


Casual beach snorkellers probably wouldn’t come this far out (about 200m from the beach), but I thought that the rocks spelled ‘intrigue’ and had a good look around them.

Well, it turns out, I was wrong. There wasn’t much growth on them:
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Being so close to the surface, any surge/waves in the sea mean that if you get too close, you might be dragged across the top surface and sanded like a coffee table. Be careful.

Heading in from the NE rocks towards the centre of the bay, there is a lot of new Staghorn coral about 7 metres down.



I watched this Titan Triggerfish demolish about two square metres of it to get to a sea-urchin who was living underneath.



Out here in the deeper water, you might find some fish other than the traditional ‘reef’ dwellers, like these Longfin Pike.


The main snorkelling spot in Tanote Bay is the big rock 30 metres off shore, right in the middle of the bay.

(That’s Ko Pha Ngan in the background).


The best coral is on the North and West side of the big rock (closest to beach and the left end of the bay, as you stand on the beach).
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As you head around the seaward side, the coral gets deeper

And the rock plunges straight down to the seabed at about 7 metres down.


The Southern (right) side is a little patchy and unimpressive.

Although I did see a lovely Six-Banded Angelfish there. (But the picture didn’t turn out – that one is borrowed from elsewhere on Tao).


In the shallows between the beach and the rock, I found the most chilled-out fish that I have seen anywhere.

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Mouseover for species names. Mostly these species of fish run a mile as soon as they see you coming I guess they’ve realised that there is no subsistence-fishing going on in well-heeled Tanote Bay.

Slingjaw Wrasse can shoot out their lower jaw to capture unsuspecting prey. This happens very quickly and is almost impossible to photograph. This chilled out denizen of Tanote Bay gave me the opportunity to photograph him doing it. Too bad he swam behind something at the same time!


The 10 metres closest to the shore were pretty skanky, coral-wise.
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But weren’t entirely without merit:


Moving over to the South (right) side of the bay :

The Southern headland had some reasonable coral growth on it:
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As you get to the end of the headland, things get back to traditional ‘rocky’ again:



From Area C to Area D – Au Tanote to Au Leuk

Outside the bay and to the South, you have more rocky coastline:

and more coral-on rocks below the waterline. The diversity of the corals here was better than the more Northerly stretches of the coast:
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There was also a Square Tailed Grouper hanging around:



Ao Lang Khaai

About half-way from Tanote to Leuk there is this little bay (Ao Lang Khaai) with cute traditional backpacker-style bungalows. This resort is Yang’s Bungalows.

I haven’t seen the bungalows up-close, but I stayed at the Yang family’s restaurant in Mae Haat, and they seem like decent folk. These huts were listed as 300B. There is road access and another couple of resorts in this bay.

The bay itself is nothing special. There is a rough sand beach with difficult access to the sea (a few rocks underwater and some surge, when I was there). Snorkelling in the bay was unspectacular. But if you want somewhere quiet and cheap to hang your hammock and you don’t mind a long, pleasant snorkel round to either Tanote or Leuk – this could be for you.


Southwards from Ao Lang Khaai, there wasn’t much coral growth on the rocks.

Chasing Small Spotted Dartfish and watching the surge make plumes of spray were the main attractions here.
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further on South, there were a few decent patches.


Continuing South, the free island map shows a Dive site called ‘Ao Leuk point’, just before the coastline takes a right to head into the beach at Ao Leuk. There was a single mooring buoy here. I assume that this marks the Dive site.

This was all I could see there (at only about 6m, mind you)


A little further South, there was some more coral growth:


and I had a run-in with a few cool fish (a Six-Banded Angelfish, Blue Ringed Angelfish and some Yellowtail Scad)


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Rounding the corner into the wide jaws of Ao Leuk,there is this resort up on the cliffside.

It doesn’t seem to be marked on the maps, but it represents the start of a long run of surprisingly good corals heading towards the beach at Ao Leuk.
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and some cool fish, too:
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There is a roped-off swim-zone on this North side of the bay. This is your best bet for finding scenes like those above. There are even some concrete steps leading out of the water between the rocks. These steps lead to a fancy spa-resort on the cliffs to the Northern side of the bay. But with any kind of a swell or waves in the sea, the steps give a false sense of confidence and are more trouble than they are worth.



Area D – Ao Leuk

Ao Leuk is a wide, V-shaped bay. The overall bay is huge. It has is a sandy beach about 300m long and has several resorts on the beach. About 100m straight off the beach (towards the Northern end (left, when standing on the beach) is a roped-off swim zone with some decent snorkelling in it. All the daytrip snorkelling boats call in here, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find. The area is quite big, so you shouldn’t have trouble avoiding the crowds.

Here is a dump of photos taken here while on a snorkelling daytrip.
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..most of that was around 3 metres deep. The seabed slopes down and you can find more (generally, less pretty) stuff at 4-6 metres depth:
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Ao Leuk South

There seems to be quite a bit of boat traffic in the centre of the bay at Au Leuk. I went there at 7:30am one day to avoid the boats and check-out the area to the South/right of the roped-off swim zone. There was reasonable coral all across the bay, but not good-enough to justify jousting with boat propellers.

A much more user-friendly spot was the rocky, Southern cape of the bay.


There is decent coral starting close to the beach on the right/South end of the bay.
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The little indentation at the Southern reaches of this cape is often labelled as Ao Hin Ngam (Beautiful Rock Bay). I can’t say I saw any beautiful rocks here. Perhaps it refers to nearby Shark Island which is pretty cute.



Area E – Leam Kong Sai Daeng

The little cape that divides Ao Leuk from Ao Saai Deang is called Leam Kong Saai Daeng.

Underwater, the tip is mostly plain rock and unspectacular. There was a ginger Crown-of-Thorns starfish here, munching on some coral.
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Area G – Shark Island

While we are here at the end of the cape, let’s have a look at Shark Island (Ko Chalaam).

The island is only a couple of hundred metres off the cape, but it is not safe to swim to it because of all the boat traffic passing through the channel.

I swam out to here at 6:30am, before any boat trips had started. One dive boat arrived an hour later, but otherwise everything was deserted.

The Northern end of Shark Island is closest to Ko Tao. I started in the North and went clockwise around the island (N-E-S-W on the picture).

My welcoming committee was a huddle of Black Cap Butterflyfish; a Maori Wrasse, a Blue Ringed Angelfish and a few Moon Wrasse. You usually only find such an agglomeration when there is a Titan Triggerfish halfway through lunch, but there was no Titan to be found here.


The North East quadrant of Shark Island had some very good coral at depths from 2-5 metres.
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Do you see the Grouper hiding in that Barrel Sponge at the end? I do like a ‘Grouper-in-a-Barrel-Sponge’ shot. It’s a shame that these sponges are diseased.


Around to the East side, the rocks slope down more steeply and what coral there is, is quite deep (5+ metres):
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Around to the Southern tip, things are just plain rocky.

You might meet a few friendly Trevally coming in from the sea.


Back around the West side, near the little fishermens’ hut, I saw a Scrawled Filefish:

and a gorgeous Six-Banded Angelfish.


Further round to the WNW corner, there is a Dive site marked on maps. The coral in the shallows (2-4m) was pretty reasonable there:
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Just as I got back round to the start and was about to leave Shark Island, this cute little Pinktail Triggerfish came up to say goodbye.

Area F – Ao/Haat Saai Daeng

Arriving back at the tip of Laem Kong Saai Daeng (E) and continuing clockwise around Ko Tao – the Western side of the Laem Kong Saai Daeng (towards Ao Saai Daeng)
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has some decent looking coral.

Continuing around the corner into Ao Saai Daeng itself, this continues:

It doesn’t last too long, though. As you head-in towards the beach, the bottom turns into rocks and you are into shark territory.

This North East end of Ao Saai Daeng is the most famous spot on Ko Tao for spotting sharks. (Scared about sharks? Read this). They can be difficult to see at first, but as you get your eye in and they get more comfortable, they will probably come within visible range. I went there at 7am and was the only one in the water. There were about six sharks there, about 1 metre long, all patrolling that end of the bay.
Thai_Tao_0393_f_P5062856.JPG Thai_Tao_0397_f_P5062857.JPG

My big-boat snorkelling day-trip was supposed to stop here, but they skipped this location as some people had arrived late and they needed to make-up time, so I don’t know exactly where the boat trips park. Some people report not seeing any sharks here. I imagine having 50 snorkellers flapping around might be a good reason for them to stay away. Generally, you have the best chance of finding sharks at dawn and dusk.


Staying quite close to the rocks on the North East end of the bay and heading in towards the beach, there were a few other fish species worth seeing:
Thai_Tao_0399_f_P5063018.JPG Thai_Tao_0401_f_P5063022.JPG Thai_Tao_0410_f-Mauri-AKA-Redbreast-Wrasse_P5063040.JPG Thai_Tao_0408_f-Virgate-Rabbitfish_P5063036.JPG Thai_Tao_0406_f-Pink-Skunk-Anemonefish_P5063030.JPG Thai_Tao_0404_f-Honeycomb-Rabbitfish_P5062861.JPG Thai_Tao_0403_f-Hogfish_P5063024.JPG

Mouseover for species names, or check out the species list.


Here’s a view along the beach, taken from the North East end:


Further along the beach, in the shallows, there were a few of these cute Banded Sleeper Goby.


Continuing South along the bay (and clockwise around the island) – the rest of the bay is spectacularly unspectacular. There is a shallow rake to the seabed. About 100m off the beach the water is still less than a metre deep. It mostly looks like this:


100+ metres away from the beach, the water is a little deeper, but the seabed is all dead, broken-up Staghorn coral. Thank heavens for those Rabbitfish brightening things up:


Here’s a shot looking into Ao Saai Daeng from the South Western end.


At the far (South West) end of the bay, there was a lot of Fungia Mushroom Coral sitting on the bottom.


Going around the cape into Thian Ork bay, there is some patchy, healthy coral on the rocky headland:
Thai_Tao_0430_fh_P5063055.JPG Thai_Tao_0432_fh_P5063056.JPG



Area H – Ao Thian Ork
(btw, Ork is also variously spelled Og, Org, Ok. The Thai is ออก, which is ‘Ork’ in my book).
Thai_Tao_0499_MAP JK_1_JPG.jpg

Ao Thian Ork is a long and good-looking beach. Don”t expect too much from the snorkelling though. The bay is dead coral, pretty-much throughout.

Here’s a spot outside Jamahkiri Resort at the East end of the sandy beach:


Schooling Rabbit/Butterflyfish save the day in these shots, but the coral is toast:
Thai_Tao_0502_h-Virgate-Rabbitfish_P5063059.JPG Thai_Tao_0503_h-Blackcap-Butterflyfish_P5063063.JPG


These bannerfish were making the most of the cover of a single bommy of Hump Coral in the middle of the bay.
Thai_Tao_0505_h-Pennant-Bannerfish_P5063071 mid bay.JPG

In the centre of the bay, there was a line of buoys that looked like they were demarcing some kind of snorkel zone, but the coral was muck on both sides of it.
Thai_Tao_0509_h_P5063084.JPG Thai_Tao_0511_h_P5063086.JPG Thai_Tao_0513_h_P5063090.JPG


Out past the end of the main beach and past New Heaven Resort, there is a Dive site marked on some maps as “Biorock Artificial Reef”. Some maps show a ‘Taa Chaa Bay’ here. It was somewhere around here that I found this little field of healthy Staghorn coral
I’m not sure whether that’s officially the reef in the name of the Dive site, but I guess so.



H to J: Around the cape from Ao Thian Org into Ao Chalok Baan Gao

The big cape dividing Ao Thian Ork from the next bay, Ao Chalok Baan Gao, doesn’t seem to have a name  (edit: I since found one map in Thai that calls it แหลมตาโต๊ะ, Laem Taa Toh). It is famous for having a viewpoint (John Suwan Rock) where you can look North and see those two beaches to the right and the left and also the rest of Ko Tao off in the distance (example).

There are two sacred rocks at the tip of the bay: Hin Aa Mae (aka Hin Ya Ai Mae) and Hin Taa Toh. I think that this one is Hin Taa Toh:

Underwater, the scenery is big rocks with some spots of varied coral:
Thai_Tao_0522_hj_P5063101.JPG Thai_Tao_0524_hj_P5063103.JPG Thai_Tao_0526_hj_P5063109.JPG Thai_Tao_0528_hj_P5063113.JPG



Area J – Ao Chalok Baan Gao
You might find some alternative spellings for the name of this bay. The Thai is โฉลกบ้านเก่า – so it’s ‘lucky old house bay’, not lucky mountain house or lucky white house, as you might think.

Rounding the headland and looking back, you can see both sacred rocks – I think that that is Hin Aa Mae on the left.

On the West side, coral growth starts to pick up:

and I had a flyby from this school of Halfbeaks:


Heading along the cape towards the main beach, you will see a smaller beach on the right (Freedom Beach/ Freedom Beach Resort). There is a large patch of good coral about 50 metres off that beach.
Thai_Tao_0547_j_P5063119.JPG Thai_Tao_0549_j_P5063120.JPG Thai_Tao_0551_j_P5063121.JPG Thai_Tao_0553_j_P5063122.JPG Thai_Tao_0555_j_P5063123.JPG Thai_Tao_0557_j_P5063124.JPG Thai_Tao_0559_j_P5063125.JPG Thai_Tao_0561_j_P5063126.JPG Thai_Tao_0562_j_P5063128.JPG

The bigboat daytrips don’t come here but there were plenty of longtail and speedboat tours dropping snorkellers here, so it should be easy to find.


Heading in towards the shallows of the long, main beach, coral was patchy.

The Banded Sleeper Goby from (F) has a cousin living here:


The main beach is about 800 metres long. Underwater, there is a quite a shallow rake to the bay and you have to go out about 100m before you get past the skanky murk-zone and into the real coral.

Most of the deeper seabed in the bay alternates between live and dead patches of Staghorn coral.
Thai_Tao_0569_j_P5063141.JPG Thai_Tao_0567_j_P5063139.JPG

Sometimes you get both in the same spot:

And there is the occasional patch of other species:
Thai_Tao_0573_j_P5063142.JPG Thai_Tao_0575_j_P5063143.JPG Thai_Tao_0577_j_P5063144.JPG Thai_Tao_0579_j_P5063159.JPG

..but mostly it’s the Staghorn.


Midbay, I had a fleeting glimpse of some Yellowtail Barracuda

But the shallow waters generally seemed to be like this along the whole length of the main beach:
Thai_Tao_0582_j_P5063163 shallows.JPG



J to K – Around the cape from Ao Chalok Baan Gao to Haat Gun Jeua

Going around the headland past Viewpoint Resort
Thai_Tao_0587_jk_P5093829 viewpoint rst.JPG

I mostly found broken-up, dead coral.
Thai_Tao_0591_jk_P5093835.JPG Thai_Tao_0599_jk_P5093839.JPG

There were one or two exceptions in the bay:

…and off the point
Thai_Tao_0593_jk_P5093836.JPG Thai_Tao_0595_jk_P5093837.JPG


but mostly it was shabby.
The main highlight was a visit from an inquisitive Barracuda:



Area K:  Ao/Haat Gun Jeua
Gun Jeua is another place with different spellings. There are two spellings in Thai (กุลเจือ, จุนเจือ) and (at least) two romanised versions of each of those, leading to  Kul Jeua; Kun Jeua; Jun Jeua as well as Gun Jeua.


Whatever it’s called, this bay is a long one, with rocky stretches at either end and a long beach in the middle section. Visually, it is dominated by the nasty-looking Pinnacle Resort.


Starting at the South Eastern end, the coral is all dead and broken up. These photos are sequential, working Northwards to about the midpoint of the bay.
Thai_Tao_0633_k_P5093841.JPG Thai_Tao_0634_k_P5093842.JPG Thai_Tao_0636_k_P5093843.JPG Thai_Tao_0638_k_P5093845.JPG Thai_Tao_0640_k_P5093850.JPG Thai_Tao_0642_k_P5093851.JPG


You can see the condition improving a little as you reach the middle of the bay. This spot is near to the (new) Orchid Cliff resort:


Moving out into deeper water and continuing North West, the coral condition is better still:
Thai_Tao_0646_k_P5093856.JPG Thai_Tao_0648_k_P5093858.JPG Thai_Tao_0650_k_P5093859.JPG


and coming back into shallow water, it is all grotty again:


We are past the sandy part of the bay now and into the final rocky stretch. This is dominated by an Eastern extension of the old Tao Tong Villa. This new extension isn’t on any of my maps, but Tezza calls it Tao Tong 2.

Again, the corals in the shallow water are mostly dead:

You have to head out about 70m for things to get better:
Thai_Tao_0658_k_P5093867.JPG Thai_Tao_0660_k_P5093868.JPG

Further out still, near this mooring buoy, there is an explosion of Staghorn coral:
Thai_Tao_0662_k_P5093869.JPG Thai_Tao_0663_k_P5093870.JPG


Stay at this depth and continue North West towards the cape (Je Ta Gang) for some more fields of decent coral.
Thai_Tao_0665_k_P5093873.JPG Thai_Tao_0667_k_P5093874.JPG Thai_Tao_0669_k_P5093875.JPG



Area L : Laem Je Ta Gang (alt Jeda Kang)

Next comes a cute little cape. At its base is a small beach that connects to the bay on both sides. The original Tao Tong Villa is located here – it is a nice backpackery looking joint.
Thai_Tao_0674_l_P5093876 Tao thong villa.JPG

Heading into the sandy shallows, I had a photo session with a Batfish:
before climbing out and looking at the beach itself.

Here’s the view from the other side of the beach, looking Northwards up the coast.


Back into the water on the South West side, I took the scenic route and swam around the outside of the cape.

Saying hello to a Tripletail Wrasse on the way:


and heading out to the South Western end of the cape,

the underwater scene was this:


A little further round, there were some bulk corals:

Those are sea cucumbers at the front. Do you see the blue sponges on top of the Double Star Coral bommie at the back?


Here they are up close:


Further out was mostly plain rock:


And then rounding the cape into the Northern bay, there was some decent coral:
Thai_Tao_0691_l_P5093916.JPG Thai_Tao_0693_l_P5093918.JPG


This one is looking back at Tao Tong Villas’ Northern beach.

and this one is the same thing, just taken from further out to sea:
Thai_Tao_0697_l_P5052717 Laem Jeda ta Gang.JPG



The Long Stretch North.

The coastline straightens out here and runs on a simple North-South line for about 1.5km. There are a few tiny bays on this stretch. Various different maps name these differently. The freebie island map talks about a Sai Nuan Bay in the South and a Sai Nuan Beach further North. I follow this nomenclature. Tezza (and some other maps) label this area Sai Nuan 1 in the North and Sai Nuan 2 further South. No worries.



Area L to Area M: Cape Je Ta Gang to Ao Sai Nuan

Here‘s that shot again, looking North along this stretch L to M .

Underwater, the coral is largely uninspiring:
Thai_Tao_0705_lm_P5093923.JPG Thai_Tao_0711_lm_P5093921.JPG

with the occasional quirk:
Thai_Tao_0707_lm_P5093920.JPG Thai_Tao_0709_lm_P5093922.JPG



Area M: Au Sai Nuan (Sai Nuan Bay)

Thai_Tao_0713_lm_P5093925 Sai Nuan Bay Banana Bar tezza Sai Nuan 2.JPG

This is the place with Cha(r) Bungalow/Restaurant and Siam Cookies Bungalow/Restaurant and Banana Rock Bar. It looks like a nice, chilled-out spot.

Underwater in the shallows, the seabed was unspectacular


but there were a couple of small Sharks swimming around, which was a fun diversion:


There is a big rocky island in the water, not far from the beach.

I had a swim around it. The coral was unimpressive, but there was a Squaretail Coral Grouper sheltering underneath the rocks.
Thai_Tao_0728_m_P5093938.JPG Thai_Tao_0730_m_P5093940.JPG


Slightly further North, and about 100m off the coast, the coral was slightly better:
Thai_Tao_0733_m_P5093942 mid bay 150 m out.JPG Thai_Tao_0735_m_P5093943.JPG



Area M: Sai Nuan Beach
Thai_Tao_0740_n_P5052716 Haat Sai Nuan 1.JPG

Continuing North to Sai Nuan Beach/Sai Nuan 1, and a good way out to sea, the coral was rather tasty:
Thai_Tao_0742_n_P5093946.JPG Thai_Tao_0744_n_P5093947.JPG


I also saw this unusual Butterflyfish here. I haven’t seen this one before. It seems to be an Ocellate Butterflyfish/Coralfish, Parachaetodon ocellatus



Area N to Area O: Sai Nuan Beach to Leam Hin Saam Kon

Continuing North from Sai Nuan is a long, rocky stretch, at the surface.

Underwater, the coral is mostly uninspiring.

with the occasional decent patch, further out from the land:

Generally, the condition of the coral here improves as you travel North.


About halfway along this stretch, I saw a good-sized shark :
Thai_Tao_0761_no_P5093955.JPG Thai_Tao_0763_no_P5093958.JPG


I’m not certain, but I’m guessing that this resort is either Koh Tao Bamboo Huts, or maybe a Southern extension of Charm Churee Village:
Thai_Tao_0768_no_P5093961 Bamboo huts rst.JPG


There is some good coral here, especially 30+ metres away from the shore.
Thai_Tao_0770_no_P5093963.JPG Thai_Tao_0772_no_P5093965.JPG Thai_Tao_0774_no_P5093968.JPG Thai_Tao_0776_no_P5093969.JPG



Area O: Leam Hin Saam Kon

This is a mostly unremarkable cape, just before you get to Jansom Bay.

There were a few bulk corals,

But, underwater, was mostly deep rocks, with a few interesting fish:
Thai_Tao_0785_o_P5093974.JPG Thai_Tao_0783_o_P5093971.JPG
Do you see the Grouper departing?

This is the surface view as you approach the turn into Jansom Bay. You can see the Bungalows of pricey Charm Churee Resort across the mouth of the bay.



Area P: Jansom Bay

Jansom bay is a cute little inlet enclosed on three sides by high cliffs and expensive resorts. As you emerge from consuming your grasshopper in the Elvis bar, you can go for a snorkel in the sheltered bay.

Mostly the coral is a murky grey-green. There were a few more varied coral species present

and some interesting fish, including these Honeycomb Rabbitfish:

and some schooling Virgate Rabbitfish:



Area Q: Around to Mae Haat

This is the final run back into the main shipping, transport hub of Mae Haat. We’re getting into heavy-boat territory here and this area isn’t really suited to leisure-snorkelling.

Coming out of Jansom bay and past its Northern rocks, you see this thing, waiting to be beamed back up to the mothership. I guess this is an extension to Charm Charee Village.

The coral here was in OK condition, but was short of diversity.

Past a couple of intriguing pipes going out to sea (?water for dive boats?) and Jansom Bay Bungalows
Thai_Tao_0823_q_P5093989.JPG Thai_Tao_0825_q_P5093990 maybe Jansom Bay bungalows.JPG

you are into Mae Haad itself.


There is some reasonable coral near to the rusting lighthouse
Thai_Tao_0829_q_P5093996.JPG Thai_Tao_0827_q_P5093991.JPG

and a few more bits and pieces as you head in towards the beach at Mae Haat.
Thai_Tao_0833_q_P5093998.JPG Thai_Tao_0835_q_P5094001.JPG


As you enter the shallows, you might find this old iron shipwreck


Continuing towards the main beach, the patchy coral gets shallower and shallower
until you have to stand up and tippy-toe your way back onto Haat Mae Haat.
Area R: Mae Haat

Mae Haat is where all the big ferries arrive. I imagine that the jetty area is not suitable for snorkelling, but I ain’t about swim through the bilgewater and crap to try it out.

There are sandy beaches to the North and South of the jetty area. I can’t say that I have tried snorkelling these, but from the surface they look very much like ‘boring sandy bottom’ territory.


Area S- Sairee

Sairee (beach) is the main touristic beach on the island. The few spots I have checked out (in the middle of the bay) were all plain, sandy bottom. I suspect that all the rest is the same.

There is also a fair amount of boat traffic in the bay during the daytime. Here is the bay at 6am, before everone wakes up:


Area T: Sairee to Sun Lord Bungalows

Immediately to the North of Sairee beach there is some OK snorkelling. If you are on Sairee beach, go out to the headland at the right-hand end of the bay and have a look around there.

I snorkelled a lot around here on my 2009 trip, but I didn’t have an underwater camera then. The coral is OK, but not spectacular. It was already dark when I passed through on my 2013 visit, but these crappy flash shots might give you an idea of what the coral is like.
Thai_Tao_0870_t_P5083820.JPG Thai_Tao_0866_t_P5083812.JPG Thai_Tao_0868_t_P5083819.JPG

Note that if you are starting at the Sairee end, you will have to turn around and swim back to Sairee when you finish. You can get into the water at the Northern point (Sun Lord Bungalows), but you can’t get out.

If you want to cover the whole stretch, walk the 1.5km along the main road North from Sairee until you get to the Eden bar building on the left.

Then take a sharp left turn and walk down the big hill, through Sun Lord’s restaurant and on down to the rocks where you can hop into the sea and start swimming South.



Nang Yuan Island

You must have seen pictures of Nang Yuan Island (Ko Nang Yuan). It is a picture-postcard combination of three rocky islets all linked together by a white sand spit. Go on – do an image search for it now.

It is a privately-owned island and they charge you for setting foot on it. In the daytime, it is absolutely packed with daytrippers. Neither of these things appeal to me, so I swam there at dawn instead.

Like with Shark Island in the South, it isn’t safe to get here by swimming after the tourist boats start up around 8:30am. So if you are going to swim it, you have to be out and back before then.

To get there, walk as far North as you can on the Sairee road. There is a fancy resort at the end of the road and you can cut through it to get to the water. I think that the resort is called the Dusit Buncha. If you get to the Dusit Buncha and there is still a long tarmacced road ahead of you, keep going until you get to the last resort.

Be polite and respectful as you pass through the nice peoples’ classy resort. The path through the breakfast area leads you to some steps and prominent rocks, right by the sea.

There is a tiny jetty for boats. You can jump in the water here, but it looks like it might be difficult to get out. Don’t start something you can’t finish – before you get in the water, figure out whether you will be able to get out at the end! I wasn’t planning on getting out here, so I didn’t pay much attention to it.



Area U – Dusit Buncha resort

While I was in the area, I had a quick look around underwater near the Dusit Bancha jetty.
Thai_Tao_0894_u_P5083483.JPG Thai_Tao_0896_u_P5083484.JPG Thai_Tao_0898_u_P5083485.JPG


It is a boring, twenty minute  swim across the strait to Ko Nang Yuan.



Area V – Nang Yuan Island

Thai_Tao_0923_v_MAP V_1_JPG

Arriving at Nang Yuan near the swimzone markers at the South East beach (V1), I was greeted by a nervous Blacktip Shark,

and a disinterested (poisonous) Sea Snake (aka Sea Krait)

While we’re on the subject of poisonous – take a look at my safety  section.


The corals around here were all broken up,

but there was lots of Mushroom coral with their tongues out.

I had heard that the best snorkelling was at Area V2, so I headed straight over there. Well – I wasn’t disappointed. This is possibly the best hard coral you will see while snorkelling in Thailand:
Thai_Tao_0938_v_P5083515.JPG Thai_Tao_0939_v_P5083517.JPG Thai_Tao_0941_v_P5083519.JPG Thai_Tao_0942_v_P5083520.JPG Thai_Tao_0944_v_P5083521.JPG Thai_Tao_0946_v_P5083523.JPG Thai_Tao_0947_v_P5083526.JPG Thai_Tao_0949_v_P5083527.JPG Thai_Tao_0951_v_P5083528.JPG Thai_Tao_0953_v_P5083529.JPG Thai_Tao_0955_v_P5083531.JPG Thai_Tao_0956_v_P5083537.JPG Thai_Tao_0958_v_P5083538.JPG


Next, heading South to V3, (on a track just outside the designated swim zone), the coral quality dropped a little, but it was still very respectable.
Thai_Tao_0963_v_P5083540.JPG Thai_Tao_0965_v_P5083541.JPG Thai_Tao_0967_v_P5083543.JPG Thai_Tao_0971_v_P5083545.JPG Thai_Tao_0973_v_P5083552.JPG Thai_Tao_0975_v_P5083553.JPG Thai_Tao_0977_v_P5083555.JPG Thai_Tao_0979_v_P5083557.JPG


Daahling – I am suuuuch an artiste  😉


On the North side of the middle island (near V4) a Titan Triggerfish was demolishing a sea urchin and a gathering of the local reef-fish-association was patiently waiting for the scraps.

They got some in the end
but you can understand them waiting – you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of those chunky teeth.
Further along, someone was seeding some corals. Good for them.

A bit further round, near area V5, there was some reasonable coral
Thai_Tao_1000_v_P5083576.JPG Thai_Tao_1002_v_P5083577.JPG Thai_Tao_1003_v_P5083578.JPG Thai_Tao_1005_v_P5083579.JPG
and sponges

and some Virgate Rabbitfish trapped in an old fishermens’ net.
I tried to help them out, but they didn’t want to know.

Just inside the South Eastern swimzone (V6), there was some healthy, smallish coral
Thai_Tao_1012_v_P5083592.JPG Thai_Tao_1014_v_P5083593.JPG

Outside the demarcation zone, the corals were broken up at the Northern end (V7)

with some friendly Trevelly passing by

Going further South towards V8, the seabed was rockier and the corals a little more healthy
Thai_Tao_1025_v_P5083503.JPG Thai_Tao_1028_v_P5083504.JPG Thai_Tao_1029_v_P5083505.JPG Thai_Tao_1031_v_P5083506.JPG
continuing on South, drawing level with the Southern Island (V9), the corals all turned to crap.
Thai_Tao_1034_v_P5083598.JPG Thai_Tao_1036_v_P5083599.JPG


even the Sea Urchins were trying to get out. Unfortunately the ‘Aerial Rescue’ division of the escape committee were continually let down by those slackers in the ‘H’ and ‘P’ teams.
__________Thai_Tao_1039_v_P5083603.JPG Thai_Tao_1040_v_P5083601.JPG_________

Moving on to the South West Corner (V10), coral condition picked up again:
Thai_Tao_1046_v_P5083606 South West.JPG Thai_Tao_1048_v_P5083607.JPG Thai_Tao_1050_v_P5083609.JPG Thai_Tao_1052_v_P5083610.JPG

The coral in and near the Western swim zone (V11) was OK, but nothing spectacular:
Thai_Tao_1060_v_P5083612 Western Swim zone.JPG Thai_Tao_1062_v_P5083613.JPG Thai_Tao_1066_v_P5083621.JPG
A chilled-out Grouper slinked away lazily, as I approached

Here is a view outside the Western Swim zone, looking North.
There always seem to be lots of Diveboats parked-up around here. I tried to plunge down to see what they were looking at, but whatever it was, it was beyond snorkelling depths.



The mid-West side was a mix of good and average. This Hump coral covered in Christmas Tree Worms was attractive:


and this Milkfish disappearing off into the distance, was an unusual spotting:

but the highlight of the wildlife trip was probably this lovely Dotted Nudibranch (Jorunna funebris).
Thai_Tao_1077_v-Dotted nudibranch-Jorunna funebris_P5083628.JPG
I saw a couple of them around Tao, but this was the largest one at about 6cm long. They eat the blue sponges.


Now, if I could only get that butterflyfish to move into shot. . .


That’ll do!



Further on North, there was some more Hump coral/Xmas Tree worms and a school of Topsail Drummers passing by:
Thai_Tao_1087_v_P5083642.JPG Thai_Tao_1089_v_P5083644.JPG

And beyond that, some more interesting coral:
Thai_Tao_1098_v_P5083645 North side.JPG Thai_Tao_1100_v_P5083648.JPG

Going round to the Northern coast – there was this unique field of soft coral:
Thai_Tao_1106_v_P5083653 Mid North.JPG

and some interesting rock formations:
Thai_Tao_1108_v_P5083655.JPG Thai_Tao_1110_v_P5083656.JPG

Going around the North East point:
(that’s the tallest (380m) peak on Tao in the background)
I found another long patch of really impressive, diverse coral here, similar to Area V2.
Thai_Tao_1122_v_P5083658.JPG Thai_Tao_1124_v_P5083660 North east corner.JPG Thai_Tao_1125_v_P5083661.JPG Thai_Tao_1129_v_P5083664.JPG Thai_Tao_1131_v_P5083665.JPG Thai_Tao_1133_v_P5083666.JPG Thai_Tao_1135_v_P5083667.JPG Thai_Tao_1137_v_P5083668.JPG Thai_Tao_1138_v_P5083669.JPG Thai_Tao_1140_v_P5083670.JPG Thai_Tao_1144_v_P5083672.JPG Thai_Tao_1146_v_P5083673.JPG Thai_Tao_1148_v_P5083676.JPG Thai_Tao_1150_v_P5083678.JPG Thai_Tao_1152_v_P5083679.JPG Thai_Tao_1156_v_P5083681.JPG Thai_Tao_1158_v_P5083682.JPG Thai_Tao_1160_v_P5083684.JPG Thai_Tao_1162_v_P5083685.JPG

Looking back at these pictures now, the coral doesn’t look as good as I remember it. I’m not sure if that is due to my memory or my camera, but this area is worth looking at if you have the time and finpower. You don’t have to swim all round the island – it’s quicker to get there from Area V2. I saw some folks with kayaks, so I guess you can get them from the resort on Nang Yuan.

the swim back down to V2 was a mixed bag. A lot of it was steep rocky drop offs like this.



Area V to Area W: Ko Nang Yuan to Ao Ma Muang (Mango Bay)

After looking right, left and right again, I did the long boring swim back to Ko Tao. Arriving back on its West coast, the underwater scene was the usual ‘big rocks with bits of coral on top’.
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Continuing North, there was a small bay with a line of demarc buoys for longtail boat-trip snorkelling.  There was a small patch of Staghorn coral there but the marked-off area was nothing too exceptional.
Thai_Tao_1177_vw_P5083698.JPG Thai_Tao_1179_vw_P5083700.JPG


You often see small white Sea-Cucumbers (Synaptula lamperti) living on the surface of Barrrel Sponges. The pairing has a symbiotic relationship. The cucumbers are protected from predators by the toxicity of the sponge and the sponge gets cleaned by the cucumbers’ feeding on the detritus settling on it – keeping its pores unblocked.   These Sea Cucumbers had grown-up big and strong.

The North West corner of Ko Tao is called Laem Namtok (Waterfall Point).  It looks like it used to be sponsored by Scotland or something:


It is an hour’s swim from Laem Namtok to Mango Bay.

Here is a (sequential) set of snaps along the way:
Thai_Tao_1192_w_P5083705.JPG Thai_Tao_1194_w_P5083706.JPG Thai_Tao_1196_w_P5083707.JPG Thai_Tao_1197_w_P5083709.JPG Thai_Tao_1199_w_P5083711.JPG Thai_Tao_1201_w_P5083713.JPG Thai_Tao_1203_w_P5083715.JPG Thai_Tao_1205_w_P5083721.JPG Thai_Tao_1207_w_P5083722.JPG Thai_Tao_1209_w_P5083723.JPG Thai_Tao_1211_w_P5083724.JPG

About half-way (at W1 on the local map, below), there are a few abandoned huts in a little bay.
I’m not sure if this is an ex-resort or just fishermens’ huts.  The first half of the sign is just the address of the place, I can’t see the second half.

Continuing on from W1 to Mango bay…
Thai_Tao_1215_w_P5083729.JPG Thai_Tao_1216_w_P5083735.JPG Thai_Tao_1218_w_P5083736.JPG Thai_Tao_1220_w_P5083737.JPG

When you see a dozen snorkel boats off in the distance, you can conclude that you are close to W2, which (I guess) is considered to be the start of Mango Bay itself.



Area W:  Mango Bay (/Ao Ma Muang/Au Muang)

Thai_Tao_1224_w-Mango-Bay-Map-W_1.jpg Thai_Tao_1224_w-WholeBay_P5052809_Marked-Up-JPG.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

Mango Bay is large, idyllic, rocky bay.  It has a tiny beach and two expensive resorts. There is good snorkelling on the East side of the bay and a roped-off swimzone. All the snorkelling day-trip boats come here.

There is a ‘road’ that leads to Mango Bay from the main part of the island, but it is very steep and in very bad condition. I recommend not taking a rental bike/motorbike on it. The road goes past the back of Ao Muang Resort. There is a tiny side track that leads down into Ao Muang Resort itself, but it is almost impossible to find.  The main road continues on to Mango Bay Grand Resort where vehicles can park-up and people can walk down a long, easy-to-find track to that resort. At sea level, the two resorts are only about 200m apart, but there is no road/track between them. You could probably rock-hop it.

The most practical way to get to Mango Bay is by boat.

I was swimming-in from the West, so this was the view from point W2 (on my local map, above), as I entered the bay.
That’s Mango Bay Grand Resort on the right. You can also see Mango Bay Resort’s elevated restaurant in the distance, behind the second yellow flag.


Here are some (sequential) photos, along the stretch W2 to W3.
Thai_Tao_1228_w_P5083743.JPG Thai_Tao_1231_w_P5083745.JPG Thai_Tao_1233_w_P5083746.JPG Thai_Tao_1235_w_P5083747.JPG Thai_Tao_1237_w_P5083748.JPG Thai_Tao_1239_w_P5083749.JPG Thai_Tao_1241_w_P5083751.JPG

I have marked a W4 on the local map, because I notice that my pictures from the (busier) daytrip day show some big boats moored up there. I didn’t check this area – it might be worth a look.

Arriving at the beach, I climbed the  mountain of steps and stopped-in for lunch at Ao Muang Resort’s restaurant. 180B for a fried rice with chicken seems like a crime to me.  But I guess it’s worth it for the view:
This is mid-afternoon, after all the daytrip boats have moved off.


The best snorkelling is on the right (East) side of the Bay.  My daytrip boat from a few days previous had dropped us by the little rocky cliff, behind the speedboat.

I wanted to explore a wider area, so went out to the far cape on a ‘deeper’ track (W5-W6-W7) and then came back closer to the shoreline (W8-W9-W10).

If you look at the photo closely, you can see the demarc-line of buoys for the swimzone (running past the speedboat and the distant longtail).  Only W10 is inside that swimzone.

Here’s a (sequential) set of photos going out from the beach along line W5-W6-W7:
Thai_Tao_1253_w_P5083758.JPG Thai_Tao_1255_w_P5083759.JPG Thai_Tao_1257_w_P5083760.JPG Thai_Tao_1261_w_P5083762.JPG Thai_Tao_1263_w_P5083763.JPG Thai_Tao_1265_w_P5083765.JPG


I turned around at the Eastern cape and headed back, closer to the land this time. Here are some (sequential) pictures from W8 to W9:
Thai_Tao_1276_w_P5083767.JPG Thai_Tao_1278_w_P5083768.JPG Thai_Tao_1280_w_P5083771.JPG Thai_Tao_1282_w_P5083775.JPG Thai_Tao_1284_w_P5083777.JPG Thai_Tao_1286_w_P5083779.JPG Thai_Tao_1288_w_P5083782.JPG

My daytrip snorkel boat had dropped us at Area W9 – these pictures are all from the daytrip, around W9:
Thai_Tao_1290_w_P5052811.JPG Thai_Tao_1291_w_P5052813.JPG Thai_Tao_1293_w_P5052815.JPG Thai_Tao_1299_w_P5052818.JPG Thai_Tao_1301_w_P5052819.JPG Thai_Tao_1303_w_P5052824.JPG Thai_Tao_1305_w_P5052825.JPG Thai_Tao_1307_w_P5052826.JPG Thai_Tao_1309_w_P5052829.JPG Thai_Tao_1311_w_P5052831.JPG Thai_Tao_1313_w_P5052833.JPG Thai_Tao_1315_w_P5052837.JPG Thai_Tao_1317_w_P5052838.JPG


And finally, here is the (shallower) return to the beach W9-W10, latterly passing through the swim-zone:
Thai_Tao_1325_w_P5083787.JPG Thai_Tao_1327_w_P5083788.JPG Thai_Tao_1329_w_P5083789.JPG Thai_Tao_1331_w_P5083790.JPG Thai_Tao_1333_w_P5083791.JPG Thai_Tao_1335_w_P5083793.JPG



Area X – The Northeast corner

My visa was running out and I didn’t get time  to cover this corner.  Maybe next time eh?

Here’s a picture from a boat – you can see the lighthouse top-left.





Well, that’s it for the snorkelling.

Like I said at the start, what area is ‘best’ depends on your preferences about beaches, access to transport and the price of accommodation.

Classic contenders for best coral are Hin Wong (A), Nang Yuan (V) and Mango (W).  But I was also unexpectedly pleased with Leuk (D) and the little patch outside Freedom beach (J).

Tanote (C) is good if you value convenience.

The sharks at Sai Daeng (F) were fun and the ones at Sai Nuan (N) were unexpected.

Up to you.


I haven’t said much about life up-top.

Ko Tao has a well established tourist industry and there are a hundred web sites out there with useful information about the place.

Tezza exceeds his usual excellent standards in his comprehensive post about Ko Tao.  He has even done a dedicated page for Ko Nang Yuan.  I urge you to have a good read of both.   He also covers walking routes to beaches and walking distances/times between places.  I had always regarded Ko Tao as a big island, but I found that it’s surprisingly easy to walk to places that look like they should be very far away.

The roads on the main, touristed Western side (Sairee-Mae Haat-Chalok) are tarmacced /metalled and reasonably flat.  But if you go to the more remote parts of the island, it is a different story.

It doesn’t look like it, but this is a really steep hill.   How would you like to be hurtling down it on your rental motorbike only to find that the road just stops in mid-air, Mr Keneval ?
I can’t communicate just how bad the roads are in places. And steep. Steeper than you could ever imagine.

It is possible to rent All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)/Quadbikes, but they aren’t good for the environment and some resorts won’t let them in the car park/premises. If you have to get one, please drive it respectfully and don’t turn peoples’ villages into a racetrack.

Tao is somewhat famous for motorbike rental scams.  That is –  when you return your rented motorbike at the end of the day, the renter points out numerous scratches and scrapes on the paintwork and refuses to return your passport until you pay him the 300 US Dollars it will cost him to put it right.  Tao’s police stations are full of angry tourists trying to get satisfaction on such disputes.  It is not a very nice was to spend your holiday.  It is better not to rent motorbikes in the first place, but if you have to, don’t get them from the main streets in the most touristed areas. And, given the state of the roads, remember that there is a strong chance of you dropping the thing and scraping-it-up for real – so get ready to pay-up.

Or just take that taxi-boat instead. Or walk.

Tao is famous for training new divers and holds PADI’s world record for most revenue, sorry, certifications per year.  If you are new to the sport, you will love the training experience, the diving and the camaraderie.  Old-hands might find the diving a little dull compared with some other places.   I definitely recommend doing a dive out at Chumphon Pinnacle. It is a sea mount about 15km NW of Tao and is filled with schooling fish.  I went there with New World Divers – a small outfit in Sairee who go an hour before everybody else, so you have the place to yourself.   Sail Rock (halfway to Pha Ngan) is the other classy-spot.  I enjoyed it, but the visibility was bad when I was there.

There is no shortage of dive shops on Ko Tao. I imagine that they are all perfectly safe and competent.

Ko Tao is no longer a place where you can get a 200B hut on the beach.  Cheapskates might be shocked at the prices.  Cheaper options include: a couple of aircon dorms in Sairee; a couple of old-school backpackers places in Hin Wong and Lang Khaii and various unglamorous places in Mae Haat town, all around 400B.

Full-mooners flock over from Pha Ngan straight after the party and Sairee is packed (and the prices go up) for a few days afterwards.

General planning
Here are a few useful looking websites: 1 2 3 4 5 6

If you are doing internet searches for information about the island, searching on the name of an obscure bay or rock might get you past the wall of hotel booking sites.  If you are looking for pictures, you could search on the Thai spellings of the placenames (I have put a list of them at the bottom of this page).
If you are looking for information on specific hotels, there are the usual sources (tripadvisor, etc).

They give out free maps of the island at the ferry terminals.  These are updated a couple of times a year.  Here‘s one from 2012.

That’s it.  Have fun



Thai spellings:
Ko Tao – เกาะเต่า – Turtle Island (say “Tao” with a deep note, otherwise you are saying “Stove Island”)

Haat/haad – หาด – Beach
Ao/ Au – อ่าว – Bay
Hin  – หิน – Rock
Laem – แลม – Cape/point/headland
Ko/Koh – เกาะ – Island

Placenames (starting at Hin Wong (Area A) and going clockwise). English translations are mine and might be wrong!

Ao Hin Wong – แหลมหินวง  – Ring of Rocks Bay
Laem Hin Wong – อ่าวหินวง – Ring of Rocks Cape

Ao Mao – อ่าวเมา – Drunk Bay

Leam Thian – แลมเทียน – Candle Cape

Ao Tanode – อ่าวโตนด – Palmyra palm tree Bay

Ao Lang Khaai – อ่าวหลังค่าย – Back-camp Bay

Ao Leuk – อ่าวลืก – Deep Bay

Ao Hin Ngam – อ่าวหินงาม – Beautiful Rock Bay

Laem Kong Sai Daeng – แลมกงทรายแดง – Red boat-frame Cape (?)

Ko Chalaam – เกาะฉลาม – Shark Island

Haad Sai Daeng  – หาดทรายแดง  – Red Sand Beach

Ao Ta Som – อ่าวตาสม – Orange eye Bay (?)

Ao Thian Ok – อ่าวเทียนออก – Departing Candle Bay (?)

Ao Ta Cha – อ่าวตาชา – Numb-eye Bay

Jot Chom Wiw John Suwan – จุดชมวิว จอห์น ซูวรรณ – John Suwan Viewpoint

Hin Ar Mae – หินอาแมะ – Dispose-of-Uncle Rock (!)

Hin Ta Toh – หินตาโต๊ะ  – Eye Table Rock
Laem Ta Toh – แหลมตาโต๊ะ  – Eye Table Cape

Hin Por Ta Toh – หินพ่อตาโต๊ะ  – Father Eye Table rock (?)
Hin Yaai Mae –   ยายแมะ  – Dispose-of-Grandma Rock (!)

Hin Kai Chaa – (?) หินไข่ชาว์

Ao Chalok Baan Kao – อ่าวโฉลกบ้านเก่า – Lucky Old House Bay

Haad Son Chao – (?)หาดสานเจ้า

Laem Kul Jeua – แลมกุลเจือ – Cape of something mix
Ao Kul Jeua – อ่าวกุลเจือ
Laem Jun Jeua  – แลมจุนเจือ – Cape of Help

Laem Jae Ta Kang – แลมเจ๊ะตะกัง

Haad Sai Nuai – หาดทรายนวย – Beautiful Sand Beach
Haad Sai Nuan – หาดทรายนวน  – something Sand Beach

Laem Hin Sarm Kon – แหลมหินสามก้อน – Three Rock Cape

Ao Jansom – อ่าวจันสม / อ่าวจันทร์สม  – Crescent Bay

Ao Ta Saeng – อ่าวตาแสง  – Ray of Light Bay

Ao Mae Haad – อ่าวแม่หาด – Big-Momma Beach Bay

Haad Sai Ree – หาดทรายรี – something Sand Beach
Ao Sai Ree – อ่าวทรายรี  – something Sand Bay

Ao Ta Kan Di – (?) อ่าวตาคันดิ่

Laem Yaai Yii – แลมยายญี

Ko Nang Yuan – เกาะนางยวน   – err, ‘Stimulate Lady’ Beach

Laem Nam Tok – แลมน้ำตก – Waterfall Cape

Ao Ma Muang/ Ao Muang  – อ่าวมะม่วง / อ่าวม่วง  – Mango Bay

Laem Kha Joam Fai – แลมกระโจมไฟ – Lighthouse Cape

Kluay Thoen Bay – อ่าวกล้วยเถื่อน  – Illicit Banana Bay




Written:  June 2013 . . . . . . Last updated: June 2013



Ko Adang, Thailand

002_Location-map-1.jpg 003_Location-map-2.jpg


Ko Adang is one of the larger islands in the Tarutao National Marine Park in South-West Thailand. It is about 65km West of Satun town.

I visited in early November (at the end of the wet season) and again, 14 months later, in mid-January, during the ‘dry’ season.

Ko Adang is part of a National Park (=conservation area). There are no roads, very few tracks and only one place with accommodation. There are only two areas reachable for off-the-beach snorkelling.

The accommodation is in the South-East corner of the island. On the East side of the accommodation is a rugged, naturalistic beach about 1km long. Off most of its length, there is a wide strip of coral reef in good health. The coral is almost entirely Porites (Hump) coral – a rather unglamorous species, all in brown. The depth of the reef is 2 – 7 metres. There are plenty of common reef-fish around. The snorkelling here is similar to that off Sunrise Beach on nearby Koh Lipe. In Adang, the coral is in slightly better health and the fish are a little more relaxed.

The other bay, on the South side of the accommodation, has mainly sandy bottom with patches of long-dead coral rubble. Snorkelling here is generally disappointing. But, if you search hard, you can find a few interesting oddities or patches of attractive coral.

It is difficult to reach other parts of the island without a boat. Currents are often strong and the lack of roads means you can’t walk home if you get swept off-course.

Birdwatchers will enjoy seeing Hornbills and Sea-Eagles.

There are a couple of hiking tracks leading inland to rivers/waterfalls and cliff-top viewpoints.

Accommodation is in tents or a few concrete bungalows. There is a basic restaurant.

Best-ish seascape:

Typical seascape:
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

– – – –


All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

I first visited in early November 2012 (actually, the day after the Loy Krathong festival) day-tripping from Ko Lipe by rented kayak. November is at the end of the wet season, but I was lucky to have beautiful, calm conditions and bright sunlight throughout. The next time I came was in mid-January 2014, ostensibly well into the dry season. I was planning to stay three weeks and do some full-on underwater investigation. Of course, the day I arrived, the weather broke and we had pouring rain for two days. After that, the rain stopped, but the strong Easterly winds persisted for the whole three weeks I was there. This was not helpful for underwater visibility.

The pictures on this page are a mix from both trips. See if you can guess which ones are from the ‘stormy’ wet season and which are from the ‘calm’ dry season!


Ko Adang sits in the Western group of islands in the Tarutao Marine National Park (maps at the Park page). The Western group is sometimes known as the Adang-Rawi Group, or the Butang Group.

At ~20 square km, Adang is quite a big island. The National Park accommodation is in the South East corner of the island and realistically, the only places you can reach for snorkelling are the beaches immediately to the East (A to C on the map) and South (D to G on the map).

I’m a swimming masochist and I also slogged-it all the way along the South coast to the South-Western cape at Area L and all the way up the East coast to Area R – just so I could see what was there. Realistically, these areas are very hard to reach and it’s probably unwise to try it, due to strong currents. So, let’s start by focussing on the more accessible areas A- G.

Here’s a zoom-ed in map:

All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.


The East Beach

The main event – snorkelling wise – is the long beach off the East side of the tent area. It is a bit of a natural beauty.


It’s about 1 km from the Southern cape to the rocky headland at the Northern end. Nine times out of ten, there was a current running parallel to the beach, from North to South, so the usual way to tackle this one is to walk up to the Northern end and then drift back down to the South.

There are some mooring lines and buoys near area C, so just double-check which way they are being pulled to see what the current is doing. Occasionally (and unpredictably), it flows in the opposite direction. If that is the case, just do everything in reverse.

Generally, all along the East beach, the profile is: (1) sandy shallows containing the occasional clump of Porites (“Hump”) coral. Depending on the height of the tide, this strip may be up to 40 metres wide; (2) then you have a wide band of good-health Porites/hump coral, often stretching another 30 metres out to sea. Mixed in with the Porites coral, you will find the occasional patch of Brain Coral or Double-Star coral and a few big Barrel Sponges to add some variety; and (3) further out from this you have a modest drop-off that goes down to sandy bottom (~7m deep at the Northern end, ~4m deep around area C). Further-out still, the plain sand quickly slopes off to over 15m deep.

You can get an idea of the profile from this picture, taken from the track leading to the viewpoint.

At low tides it can be difficult to access the water along this beach, due to coral in the shallow water. It is quite easy at points A and C (where there is less coral in the shallows), so plan to get in/out at those points.

OK, so entering the water at A, you can see (through the murk) the corals start to take over from the sandy bottom:
That’s a Redfin Butterflyfish centre-frame.

Further out, the reef-proper starts. Get used to seeing a lot of this Porites coral:
That’s a school of Lined Butterflyfish finding their way through the fog.

Turning right to follow the reef southwards towards B, the coral looks like this:

Barrel Sponges can provide an interesting spectacle:
024_ab-Barrelsponge-White-Collar-Butterflyfish_P1122232_.JPG 023_ab-Barrelsponge-Snapper_P1122202__.jpg 022_ab-Barrelsponge_P1122184_.JPG

As you go along the reef, you will find all your common-or-garden reef fish from Groups 1-3 in the Common Fish Page.
(by the way, those are shots from my SPECIESLIST, and probably weren’t taken in Adang. Don’t infer anything from the backgrounds).

There are also pictures of most of the common fish in my article on nearby Ko Lipe.

As you head South, the reeftop is wide and you can choose what section/depth you want to look at. Personally, I prefer to be deeper – closer to the drop-off, where you have more chance of seeing some interesting beasties. Here are a couple of the more interesting fish found on the stretch from A to B.
028_ab-Latticed-Butterflyfish_P1122197_.JPG 026_ab-Philippine-Damsefish_P1283930__.jpg
The species names are mentioned in the filenames, so hover your mouse over the picture to see the name. For more information, including the latin scientific name, check out my SPECIES LIST.

Also seen (but not photographed) near here were some juvenile Yellow-tailed Damselfish and some schooling Convict Tang.

Did I mention interesting beasties? Well, one day, in the murky shallows, I stumbled into this gentle lady.

It’s a White Spotted Eagle Ray – a quite big one, too, with about a 1.5m wingspan. Nice.


At the edge of the drop-off, where reef meets sand, you can find the occasional seafan (gorgonian), filtering food from the passing current.
There is a small clump of rocks on the beach, close to its Northern end

About 30 metres South of those rocks, out where the drop-off meets the seabed, there are a couple of beautiful seafans. Here, at point B, is my favourite photogenic location.


Thai_Adang_039_b-Nemo-Seafan_P1152530__.jpg Thai_Adang_040_b-Moon-Wrasse-Seafan_P1122259_.JPG  Thai_Adang_041_b-Featherstar-Seafan_P1122261__.jpg Thai_Adang_042_b-Anemone-Seafan_P1273731_.JPG

These are about 6-7 metres deep, so if you don’t dive down, you would need pretty clear water to see them very well. If you are planning on diving down to see them, please don’t break anything!

You can always rely on nemos to throw some shapes:
Thai_Adang_044_b-Rounded-Bubblegum-Coral-Nemo_P1273763_.JPG Thai_Adang_045_b-Nemo-Moorish-Idol_P1152529_.JPG Thai_Adang_046_b-Nemo_P1273761_.JPG

And there are three Red Coral Groupers down there, who gently slink off under a rock as you approach.

Too quick-on-the-draw for me was a beautiful Brown Pygmy Angelfish (Centropyge multispinis) who disappeared before I could get a picture. You’ll have to g0ogle for that one.

There aren’t really that many seafans along the main (Eastern) beach (perhaps about 8 in total), but when you do find one, there is often quite a lot of interesting other life nearby.

This one has some attractive white Scleronephthya species coral and lots of patrolling White Saddle Cardinalfish :

This one has two clusters of Ascidians; a Feather Duster Worm and some Sponges

…a pretty Brittlestar, some Sponges and a Narrowlined Cardinalfish

some Brain Coral and a Feather Duster Worm:

And this one has everything except the kitchen sink:
(Actually, I had to break-out the flash for that last one. Without the extra light, and down at 7m deep it doesn’t look quite so shiny.

Just South of Area B, a small freshwater stream runs down the mountainside onto the beach. During my January visit (in the dry season), the stream was dried up, but in my November (end of wet-season) visit, there was a big pool on the beach and a noticeable temperature-drop in the sea water. There was also a bit of a turbid thermocline underwater, where the fresh water and salt water mixed together. The stream doesn’t reach the sea at surface level, so presumably the flow is continuing beneath the sand and rocks.


The stretch of reef from Area B to C is the longest and most representative selection of the snorkelling on Ko Adang.

Here, you have your wide strip of Porites coral

Sometimes without the fishies

and with the occasional patch of more interesting, diverse coals.


Here are some pictures of fishes more interesting than the very common ones listed above:
Thai_Adang_067_bc-Longfin-Bannerfish_P1273788_.JPG Thai_Adang_068_bc-Lined-Butterflyfish_P1132389_.JPG Thai_Adang_069_bc-Vagabond-Butterflyfish_P1152619_.JPG Thai_Adang_070_bc-Peacock-Grouper_P1243294_.JPG Thai_Adang_071_bc-Scrawled-Filefish_P1203134_.JPG Thai_Adang_072_bc-Titan-Triggerfish_P1122271_.JPG Thai_Adang_073_bc-Map-Pufferfish_P1152560_.JPG
(mouseover these pictures for the species names)

Most interesting are:

this Slingjaw Wrasse.
Pictured here is the adult. Juveniles are bright yellow.

Both of them can fire their lower jaw forward to launch a surprise attack on an unsuspecting meal. I’ve never been able to get a picture of that happening, but there is some interesting video of it in a laboratory here.

These Golden Damselfish are cute. There were a few of them around the drop-off. They often like to hang around sea fans. This one was near to a seafan, but not close enough for the glamour-shot.

The big-nosed Bird Wrasse is fun and quickly darts around the reeftop. Its colouring is very different between its early and later life. This one is a male adult (Terminal Phase).

Indonesian Sweetlips are cute-looking, bigger fish. Sometimes inquisitive, sometimes flighty, this friendly late stage juvenile was about 60cm long.

This Emperor Angelfish is quite an uncommon sighting. I think that this one is pregnant. See the bulge in her side? Those horizontal stripes aren’t very flattering during pregnancy. I saw her here on most days and the bulge is on both sides.

You don’t often see Squid around, but I had quite a few sightings off the East beach in Adang. I got surprisingly close to this one. They travel around in groups of 10-15 and usually keep a distance of about 4 metres away from you – all edging-away in unison if you try to get any closer.

Some uncommon fish that escaped my camera here were a pair of Virgate Rabbitfish.


About halfway down the beach, there is a distinctive-looking Barrel Sponge at the drop-off. This always seems to attract fish who want to be stars of the screen.
Thai_Adang_082_bc-BarrelSponge-FeatherStars-Moorish-Idol_P1152553_.JPG Thai_Adang_083_bc-Longfin-Bannerfish_P1273785_.JPG Thai_Adang_084_bc-White-Collared-Butterflyfish_P1273802_.JPG Thai_Adang_085_bc-Moorish-Idol_P1152547_.JPG


There were a few Giant Moray Eels in their holes, looking mean
Thai_Adang_087_bc-Giant-Moray-Eel_P1152543__.jpg Thai_Adang_088_bc-Giant-Moray-Eel_PB290560_.jpg Thai_Adang_089_bc-Giant-Moray-Eel_PB290551_.JPG
That last one is getting his teeth done by a small Cleaner Wrasse.


Other animals that like to hide in the shelter of holes include the Rock Lobster, the Porcupine fish, various species of big Groupers:
Thai_Adang_091_bc-Rock-Lobster_P1152468_.JPG Thai_Adang_092_bc-Pufferfish_PB290548_.JPG Thai_Adang_093_bc-Grouper_P1152563_.JPG


…and the beautiful Lionfish
Thai_Adang_095_bc-Spotfin-Lionfish_PB290532_.jpg Thai_Adang_094_bc-Spotfin-Lionfish_P1283924_.JPG

There are two main species of Lionfish in the Andaman Sea – the Common Lionfish and the Spotfin Lionfish. These pictures are both Spotfin Lionfish (they come in both red and black). On the red one, you can see the blue spots on the pectoral fins, which is what gives the species its name (not the spots on the tail, which are also present on the Common Lionfish). The Spotfin also have antennae on their heads, which you can see quite well on these pictures. Be careful around these – each spine is connected to a chamber of strong poison inside the body. You wouldn’t want to step on one by accident.

While we’re on the subject of stings, have a look at my safety page.

Creatures hanging around the sandy bottom included this Flutefish:

And this interesting looking Sea Cucumber, getting ready for mo-vember:

There were quite a lot of schooling fish who liked to cruise the border between the reef and sand.

These Snapper win the numbers game, but the Golden Damselfish has the high-ground on aesthetics:
Thai_Adang_100_bc-Schooling-Snapper_P1122256_.JPG Thai_Adang_101_bc-Golden-Damsel-Schooling-Snapper_P1152509_.JPG

And these Five-lined Snapper look best when passing by a Sea Fan, Barrel Sponge and Rounded Bubblegum Coral:
Thai_Adang_102_bc-Five-lined-Snapper_P1273771_.JPG  Thai_Adang_103_bc-Snapper-and-softies_P1152493_.JPG

These Yellowfin Surgeonfish show-up from time to time. More often they are swimming in open water over the sand, rather than over the reef.

Area C

As you continue towards the South end of the beach

The seabed gets shallower and the coral starts to fade out.

By point C it has almost all gone and you are left with plain sandy bottom.

Most people don’t bother snorkelling here as there doesn’t seem like there is much to see. There was a resident juvenile Longfin Batfish who I saw most days.

Most of the fish around here are silver-grey in colour and your biggest problem is seeing them at all. Would you spot these fellas ?
Thai_Adang_114_cf-Bass_P1243321_.JPG Thai_Adang_115_cf-XXX-Dunno_P1152651_.JPG

You would? OK how about this one – do you see him ?


.No? Well move in for a closer look

Do you see him now ?
No? Well move in a bit closer, then. . .
Aw, you scared him off now!
If you spend half an hour searching around for where he ended-up, you might find him:

He’s a Flathead (Platycephalidae species). Either the camouflage guy was off-sick on the day they painted his tail, or it is used as a distraction for pursuing predators, so that they chase after disposable tissue, rather than vital organs.

Here’s that second picture again with his outline marked on it.


Even though the flat sandy bottom is not very exciting, if you have the time and patience, you can find some interesting stuff.

Here’s a cuttlefish placing her eggs underneath some recent wreckage from a longtail boat.
Thai_Adang_124_cf-Cuttlefish_P1132414_.JPG Thai_Adang_123_cf-Cuttlefish_P1132409_.JPG

There are some interesting looking anemones.

This one was housing a family of Boxer Shrimp.

You can see mama in the middle there, but do you see junior hanging around translucently at the edge ?

Here he is up-close.

There were about 9 of these cool translucent juveniles on the anemone. If you get too close, they instantly disappear then pop-up again at the other side of the anemone, like pressing the ‘hyperspace bypass’ button in Asteroids.

Do you see who’s here, where the steep beach of the cape joins the flat bottom of the seabed?
Well, fair enough. There’s nothing there.

Err, sorry about that.

There are some interesting photos in the Visitor Centre about how that little cape has grown and shrunk over the years.

Generally, there has been a lot of beach erosion over the years on that South coast, but the little cape comes and goes, comes and goes, comes and goes every ten years, or so.

Before we leave the East coast, it’s worth swimming out 70 metres to some of the buoy lines to see who’s living on/under them. When I stayed there, the weather was unappealing, so there were no longtails tied-up there or day-trippers’ boats coming and going to frighten-off the fish.

The big polystyrene buoy had these cute baby squid sheltering there.
Thai_Adang_131_cf-Squid_P1243309_.JPG Thai_Adang_132_cf-Squid_P1243311_.JPG

These clam-like critters were growing on the buoy line. Regular clams sit in the sand and filter-feed by sucking water through. These ones were extending their feathery tentacles every five seconds to collect any passing food particles; and then pulling them back into the shell for noshing.

Knotty buoy lines are a good place for baby fish to find protection from predators. These babby Sergeant Major Damselfish were cowering behind the knot

And these baby (?)Barred Flagtail were being a bit daring and extending their range until Mr Needlefish came calling, when they all sprinted back to the cover of the buoyline.


Returning back-in towards the beach and then round to the tip of the sandy cape, there was an attractive Sea Pen

..and then you were back to playing spot-the-camouflaged fish.

There were lots of these Longtail Silver Biddies

As well as their little cousins, the Blacktip Silver Biddy.

I assume that this little fella is a juvenile Blackspotted Pufferfish.  I have never seen one without any markings.

In the foreground here are a few Pompano
With a couple of Small Spotted Dart in the background.

The Darts are lots of fun – if you don’t scare them off initially, they will get inquisitive and start a game of ‘hide-and-seek’ with you.
They set the rules, so they always win.


Area D

Area D is the start of the bay on the South side of the island.  Longtail boats anchor in this bay and any coral has long-ago been smashed-up and is sitting as rubble on the sandy seabed.  Or maybe it was a South West monsoon that broke it all up.

This end (D) gets particularly busy around 5pm as all the ‘watch the sunset’ boats come over from Koh Lipe.

Most people don’t snorkel here, and if they do, they come out looking disappointed and never bother again. But if you have the time to look closely and explore a bit, you can find some interesting things lurking around.

For example – who would’ve thought that that chunk of boring rubble would be home to those pretty, delicate little blue Ascidians, filtering the sea water for food?

Or that the expanse of flat sandy bottom would be home to these pretty Hydroids?
(be careful around these, they sting like hell)

I don’t know what these are, but I found them hiding in the tangles of a buoy in the shallows.

The sandy seabed has some interesting bottom-feeders, like this Speckled Goatfish.

And the lack of cover means this usually shy Black-Blotched Porcupinefish has nothing to hide under!


As you move further from the shore, you start to find some bigger chunks of coral

Some of which may be hosting Featherstars

Or, if you are really lucky, you might find the winner of the local beauty pageant, the uncommon Picasso Triggerfish.
Thai_Adang_156_d-Picasso-Triggerfish_P1122341_.JPG Thai_Adang_157_d-Picasso-Triggerfish_P1243332_.JPG

(Actually, there was also an uncommon Black Patch Triggerfish here at the same time, but, let’s face it, the Picasso wins the ‘chase-me’ prize every time!)

Moving away from Area D and out towards Area F, there were also some interesting things to see.

Actually, to be honest, I couldn’t tell you exactly where “F” is. I took this picture from the viewpoint to try and map-out the best bits of DEFG, but away from the beach, I rarely saw the same features twice and I never could figure out exactly where I was in relation to the picture.

Just head from D towards Ko Lipe and see where you end up!

Winner of the ‘best fish’ contest here was the Bluespine Unicornfish. There were three of them out here on most days, all subtly trying to slink-off while you weren’t looking.
Thai_Adang_164_df-Bluespine-Unicornfish_P1152585__.jpg Thai_Adang_165_df-Bluespine-Unicornfish_P1152574__.jpg

Another good one is the Yellow Margin Triggerfish. These are fairly uncommon, sometime quite inquisitive and much more fun than their mean Titan cousins who just head for the hills as soon as they see you.
(btw, if a Titan squares-up to you, be ready to make an exit, as they can get aggressive when protecting their nests. I’ve never seen it happen, myself)

Other interesting fish include a passing Red Coral Grouper

Quite a few Yellowtail Scad

And this unusual Parrotfish, the adult Eclipse Parrotfish (Scarus russellii).
Pretty, but elusive.

You might find some small, colourful fish lurking in the cover of the shallower water, like these Andaman Damselfish (Pomacentrus alleni)

And there are no shortage of schoolers, here, especially around dusk.
Thai_Adang_173_df-Five-lined-Snapper_P1152601_.JPG Thai_Adang_174_df-Blue-and-Yellow-Fusiliers_P1152617_.JPG Thai_Adang_175_df-Misc-Snapper_P1253364_.JPG

On the non-fishy side, my favourite was a few of these punky Horned Sea Stars
Thai_Adang_177_df-A-Red-Horned-Seastar_P1152567_.JPG Thai_Adang_178_df-A-Red-Horned-Seastar_P1132435_.JPG


Out to Area F

Area F is a loosely defined spot, about 150 metres away from the beach. As you get out away from the shore, you start to see some bitty reef.


Earlier, I said:  “to get to Area F, just head from D towards Lipe and see where you end up”. Well, be careful with that! There can be strong currents parallel to the beach and where you end up might be in India!

Away from the shelter of the sandy cape, you will be subjected to tidal currents. As far as I could tell, the current runs from East to West when the tide is going out (= falling). And it’s pretty strong. Wearing fins, and swimming against the current, I could only stay still. With overarm stroke as well as the fins, I could make creeping progress.

When the tide was coming in (= rising), the current flowed from West to East, but was a little weaker.

If you’re going out away from the shore, be aware of the currents and make sure you will be able to get home again. There is less current closer to the shore. Make any corrections to your course early-on.



Area F has some patches of actual reef, with a few more fish species than Area D.

It even has the occasional fan coral, some soft (Scleronephthya species) coral and some diverse hard-coral species.
Thai_Adang_183_f-FanCoral-Yellowtail-Demoiselle_P1122325_.JPG Thai_Adang_184_f-Scleronephthya_P1162822_.JPG Thai_Adang_185_f-Acropora-Coral_P1132434_.JPG Thai_Adang_186_f-Featherstar_P1132432_.JPG

Fish-wise, there were more of the common Nemo (False Clown Anemonefish) as well as their cousin, the Clarke’s Anemonefish.
Thai_Adang_188_f-Nemos_P1273852_.JPG Thai_Adang_189_f-Clarkes-Nemo_P1132430_.JPG

Unusual fish in the area included these Indian Damselfish, sheltering in the Acropora coral

And this Lattice Monocle Bream, which isn’t as pretty, but I haven’t seen it before.


I have always wondered whether it was practical to swim between Lipe and Adang. Having now experienced the currents at the Adang end, I would certainly say that it is a bad idea. But one day, at slack water, I did venture-out past the coral at F and on South towards Lipe. All I found was a long sandy patch.

Oh, and ET’s bike.
I think ET, himself, must have burned-up on re-entry.


Back at the reef at F – every time I went there I had a visitation from about 15 late-stage-juvenile Golden Trevallys.
These guys make a living out of following bigger species (like sharks) around, nimbly dodging any snapping jaws. Maybe they came out and found me because it is their natural instinct to search-out big beasties. I like to think that it was my anti-sunburn/jellyfish/boat t-shirt (that is the same colour as them), making them think that I was their pappy.

Here’s a quick video of them nosing around. . .

Also on the Trevelly front, around here, I had a couple of visits from a school of ~8 inquisitive Blue Trevally

Plus, the occasional visit from a tentative Bigeye or two

Area G

Further West, I found a few isolated patches of attractive reef. These were the most picturesque spots in that bay South of the National Park accommodation.

In the foreground is the other common species of anemonefish – the Skunk Anemonefish. That’s not the Pink Skunk (who has an extra white stripe going down his cheek), but the Skunk.


There is some diversity in the hard corals with these Turbinara disc and bracket corals putting in an appearance:
Thai_Adang_223_g-Turbinara-Coral_P1162820_.JPG Thai_Adang_224_g-Bracket-Coral_P1152608_.JPG

And quite a few fan corals:
Thai_Adang_225_g-Softies_P1152629__.jpg Thai_Adang_226_g-Fan-Coral-Yellowtail-Demoiselle_P1263395_.JPG Thai_Adang_227_g-Fan-Coral-n-Brittlestar_P1263427_.JPG

And a few sprigs of Acropora coral vying for space with the Barrel Sponges:

You can find patches of the crazy Rounded Bubblegum coral dotted around everywhere. If you zoom in real-close, you can see the ‘fingerprint’ texture of the skin.

Fish-wise, there were some treats to be had. As well as this uncommon Yellowmask Surgeonfish:

There was an adult Oriental Sweetlips hanging around one reef-let.
Oriental Sweetlips are usually shy and run for cover when they see a human. Sometimes they develop an inquisitive streak once they feel safe. Not this one.

A new fish to me was this lovely Black-tail Angelfish.
I’m liking that yellow mascara! These little cuties are about 10cm long, and often found in pairs. They are a bit nervous, but not so much that they disappear entirely when spotted. The pair on this reef at G seemed to love a piece of green Brain Coral and kept returning there every minute or so. I also saw some others not far from Area D, so you don’t necessarily need to come out this far to find them.

I also had a fleeting glimpse of their cousin – the Brown Pygmy Angelfish, which is a similar size and shape, but in dark blue colours. Sorry, no pics.


I’ll say it again about the currents: Away from the shelter of the bay and the cape, you will be in tidal currents. When the tide is going out, the current runs from East to West and is pretty strong. When the tide is coming in, the current flows from West to East and is weaker.

I found it easiest to cover this area when the tide was going out. You can start at D, swim out to F, drift with the current down to G and then swim back into (sheltered) E before you get washed-out West. If you overshoot E by a bit, you can do a (somewhat difficult) rock-hop to get back on track.


Area E

Heading back from G to E is mostly flat sandy bottom with some coral rubble and a few small patches of living coral.

Cool sightings around here included an Indonesian Sweetlips, a sleeping Cuttlefish, an unusual (Largenose) Boxfish and a few Blue Spotted Stingrays:
Thai_Adang_203_e-Largenose-Boxfish_Rhynchostracion-rhinorhynchus_P1162826_.JPG Thai_Adang_204_e-Bluespot-Sting-Ray_P1152640_.jpg Thai_Adang_201_e-Indonesian-Sweetlips_P1263433_.JPG Thai_Adang_202_e-Cuttlefish_P1263438_.JPG

There were also a couple of Scorpionfish. You have to be careful not to step on these fellas, as they have extremely poisonous spines on their back. Fortunately, the ones I saw were all about 3 metres deep.
Thai_Adang_206_e-Scorpionfish-Maybe-Raggy-Venosa_P1152647_.jpg Thai_Adang_207_e-Scorpionfish-Maybe-Raggy-Venosa_P1273893_.JPG

Closer into shore at Area E there are a few small bommies of OK-condition coral. You can sort-of see it from the viewpoint photo. To be honest, I didn’t spend a lot of time here – I was usually too cold at the end of my D-F-G-E trip to stay in the water. One fella staying at the camp had found several nudibranchs in this area on a previous visit, but I couldn’t find any this time.

There are a few short strips of beach broken up by rocky patches here. It’s a good place to avoid the ‘crowds’ on the spit, but the beachlets lose the sun at about 4 pm. They are an easy place for a shallow snorkel, but I’m not sure you’d find anything spectacular here.

Here’s a bit of pretty Bristle Coral (Galaxea fascicularis) from around area E.


Generally, the Southern bay gets the afternoon sun and, as long as you avoid the sunset-trip boats, it is an OK spot for an evening potter. Featherstars come out at dusk:
Thai_Adang_211_e-Featherstar_P1273895_.JPG Thai_Adang_212_e-Featherstar_P1273881_.JPG

Sometimes you can catch one taking a walk to the top of its perch.


Area E to D shallows

The area close to the shore between E and D is mostly a boat park. It has sandy bottom and some coral rubble filling-in the spaces between anchors. At the West end, there are several big trees that have toppled into the sea as the beach is eroded. You might find some small fish hiding in amongst the tree branches, but other than that, there is probably not much fruitful snorkelling in this area.


You can stop reading now – that’s all there is for easily-accessible snorkelling on Ko Adang. Everything after this is only really suitable for ‘extreme snorkellers’ or people with boats!

By the way, you can’t rent kayaks on Ko Adang, but you can rent them from a few places on Ko Lipe, about 2km away. As of 2013, one place on Lipe is advertising Glass-bottomed kayaks – “Benji Glass Kayak at Forra Pattaya Resort”.


Down to the West Coast

Here’s that whole-island map again.

One more time with the warning about currents: Ko Adang is a remote location and it has strong tidal currents. You probably don’t want to get washed off the end of the island to spend a day in the open sea before dying of hypothermia and then being eaten by sharks, do you? Stay within your limits.

I wanted to get to the West Coast and planned to do this by riding the second half of the ascending tide for three hours until I got to the South West Corner, then have an hour looking around the South West side at slack-water, before catching the outgoing tidal currents back East to the National Park camp. Obviously, this takes a bit of planning (figuring out tidal-current patterns, distances and whatnot), and waiting for the right day when the tide-times will let you do it all in daylight. Oh, and you have to be prepared to spend eight-hours without food or water.

The plan pretty-much worked. Except (1) the water was cold and I had to get out to warm-up a bit, so I lost an hour of exploration-time; and (2) the Eastbound current turned out to be not as strong as the Westbound, so I had to do more swimming than expected.


Area H

Going out past the patchy, attractive area G, I continued on Westward. At Area H, the coral was still patchy, but again, it had the coral species-diversity that you don’t find on the East coast.

Following a juvenile Longfin Batfish around for a picture . . .

…out of the corner of my eye I saw a big, grey beastie cruising-along the bottom, right at the limits of visibility. It was a shark – a blacktip reef shark. A decent sized one, too, about 1.5 metres, with the stocky bodyshape of an adult. Then another one, right behind it. They did a wide circle and ambled-off into the murk. This is classic behaviour of a suspicious shark. I didn’t expect to see them again. I did fire off a couple of photos, but there wasn’t enough contrast for them to turn out.

Turning around, happy that I had seen the sharks, I saw a huge Feathertail Stingray glide past.
It must have been over two metres long, with the tail.

Happy again, I continued West, only to find that the sharks had come back for a second visit, closer this time.
Still not super-close, but good enough for a snap.

They did another circle, then toddled off again. That was the last I saw of them that day, although I did come back to the same spot a few days later and caught a few more fleeting glances. (btw, Scared about Sharks? Read this).

The coral here was patchy and uninspiring, but there were a few cool fish around. An Emperor Angelfish (not pregnant, this one)

And the uncommon Flagtail Triggerfish

Flagtail Triggerfish are generally quite flighty, but can sometimes show an inquisitive streak. It’s not too often you can get an up-the-nose shot like this:
I saw him both on the way-out West and also on my return journey.

I also bumped into this early-adult Oriental Sweetlips.
At the time, I thought he was an Indonesian Sweetlips, as the markings are similar and the Indonesian is more common. Also, this fella was far too friendly to be an Oriental Sweetlips. Nevertheless, he is an Oriental, and a nice specimen, too.

A little later, I came across the Feathertail Ray again, parked on the seabed.
The silver/yellow Checkerboard Wrasse at the top of the picture is about 15 cm long, for scale.

About 50m offshore, about level with the little headland, I found a sprig of this interesting looking (?)algae – maybe Sargassum polycystum
20 metres further along there was a huge patch of it. I never saw it after that.


Area I

Around the headland, and into area I, there is a beautiful, long beach with a few palm trees at the front

In the middle of the beach there is a luxury resort which is deserted, in a ‘Marie Celeste’ style.


Commercial development is forbidden on National Park islands. So how did this place get here and who uses it? Well, the most common version of the story is that it was built by a chancer-property developer with the support of a dodgy planning official on the mainland. When the transgression was discovered, the mainlander was fired and the developer was never allowed to open the resort.

So now it sits there, with the pool filled-up and cleaned, the hedges freshly trimmed and the footpaths neatly swept.

Thai_Adang_256_i-Resort_P1162696_.JPG Thai_Adang_255_i-Resort_PB290454_.JPG

I’m not sure whether or not that story is true. There is a plaque on the wall there saying อาคารราชพัสดุ. I can’t fully translate it, but my approximation sounds quite official and there is an identical plaque on the Chamber of Commerce building in Trang. Maybe it’s a private resort used only occasionally by lofty officials?

A caretaker/security guard sits out front, looking out for interlopers. The 2012 guy was friendly and let me walk round and take a few snaps 1 2 3 4 . The 2014 one was less accommodating and wouldn’t let me in. There is no problem with just visiting the beach itself, though. (edit @2017 – Nick has added a comment below saying that it is now open as a commercial concern)


Underwater, it’s not too impressive. The East end of the beach is shallow, silty rocks.
That’s a Goldsaddle rabbitfish in the middle of the picture. You can see the Gold/Yellow spot (=saddle) near the tail.

One interesting observation here was a fish with similar, but not identical markings, cruising around with a group of six Goldsaddle Rabbitfish. You can see it here, infront of a Goldsaddle.
It has the same yellow dot at the b  ase of the tail, but has vermiculations on the body instead of the usual spots. What is it? A mutation? It’s probably not a juvenile Goldsaddle, as they just have paler spots. Maybe a Vermiculate Rabbitfish? But they don’t have the yellow saddle.

Well, it is most-likely that it is another species, the Lined Rabbitfish (Siganus lineatus). It’s not an earth-shattering revelation, but such are the things that discovery is made of 

The middle of the beach has a big plain of young Porites coral.
but is otherwise unimpressive.

At the West end of the beach
..there is a stream running down into the sea (just behind the big rocks). There was also a big flock of Hornbill birds here. They like the tall palm trees.

Running underneath the sand is the old water-pipe that goes across the bay to Ko Lipe. If you ever walk up to the Pirate Waterfall on Ko Adang, you can see a couple of junctions in the waterpipe. The main one goes to the National Park accommodation to the East. Of the others, presumably one goes to the ‘forbidden resort’ and one goes to the Lipe pipe.

On the beach in Adang, you can’t see the Lipe pipe at the surface, but here it is leaving Adang underwater.
It emerges near the Princess’s Summer Palace, near Sunset Beach(es) on Koh Lipe.  I’m told that it’s no longer being used as a water supply in Lipe.

You can see from the water-pipe pictures that there is some bitty coral at the West end of the beach. Other than that, the only thing I saw here was this Nudibranch, Phyllidiella pustulosa – the only nudi I saw in Adang.


Continuing West out of ‘forbidden resort bay’, the seabed remains uninspiring – with a mix of plain-sand and some young Porites coral.
Thai_Adang_280_ijE-Bluespot-Stingray_P1162801_.JPG Thai_Adang_281_ijE-Typical_P1162703_.JPG

As you continue West, towards point J, the coral variety and condition slowly begins to pick up.
Thai_Adang_286_ijW-Typical_P1162706_.JPG Thai_Adang_287_ijW-Acropora_P1162708_.JPG Thai_Adang_288_ijW-Diversity_P1162712_.JPG Thai_Adang_289_ijW-Mix_P1162713_.JPG Thai_Adang_290_ijW-Green-Acropora-Yellow-Damsels_P1162716_.JPG Thai_Adang_292_ijW-Brain-Coral-n-Clam_P1162718_.JPG

This little Butterflyfish is only found in the Andaman Sea. So they called it the Andaman Butterflyfish. Seems fair.

On the way out (Westwards), I took the deeper water track, staying about 100-150m off the beach, where the coral was (probably) more interesting. The pictures above are from there.

On the way back East, I swam closer to the shore. I found this cute little Snowflake Moray Eel in the shallows there.

Game of ‘spot-the-fish’ anyone?
Yes, too easy – it’s a Sting Ray.


Area K

Continuing West towards Area K, about 150m offshore, there was more of the decent-quality corals with some diversity in the species.
Thai_Adang_306_kD-Corals_P1162724_.JPG Thai_Adang_307_kD-Corals_P1162725_.JPG

Notable was this sprig of freshly bleached coral

Presumably, he had been done-over by a Crown-of-Thorns Starfish.
There were a few around, but not in unduly worrying numbers.

Another notable around here was a small school of Long Jawed Mackerel, tooling around with their big mouths open. I couldn’t get a decent picture – this one, is borrowed from Malaysia.

The same goes for a pair of Coral Rabbitfish.

I did get a murky shot of this lone Brown Sweetlips


The purple chimney coral in the background here is a member of the Porites family.


I guess that there must have been a lot of it, because as well as being there in my outward sweep 150m away from shore, there was also lots of it on my return journey, about 40 metres away from shore.

Actually, there was a lot of diverse, good condition coral in the shallows of Area K. Because of the species diversity, I would have to say that this was the best area for coral that I found in Adang.

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Interesting beasties nearby included this Filefish and an out-in-the-open Giant Moray Eel.
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The last stretch from Area K to Area L is rocky.

Underwater, it is mostly boring.

With a bit of added-interest from this crazy Barrel Sponge

And these strange things growing on a rock.
Dunno what they are, I’m afraid.


The South West corner of Ko Adang is marked by that lone rock with the white stripe running horizontally through it (see the surface picture, above). I saw on one map that it was named หินขาว (White Rock) which is fair-enough.

Below the surface, it is all very ancient and ethereal


Corners of islands often get strong currents passing by, which many species enjoy.

There was a school of Big-Eye Trevally swarming around

And there is a whole aquarium-full of reef fish here:
I’m seeing– Moorish Idol, Powder-Blue Surgeonfish, Yellow-tail Sergeant Major Damselfish, Java Rabbitfish, Checkered Snapper, Longface Emperor, Andaman Butterflyfish, Vagabond Butterflyfish, Checkerboard Wrasse, Monarch Damselfish (maybe), Moon Wrasse, Parrotfish. That’s a pretty good turnout for one picture!

On the surface of White Rock itself are thousands of tiny little Ascidians, all fervently filtering nutrients from the passing water.

Here are some up-close.

At the depths, on the undersides of the big rock, there are some sea fans who had the same idea
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I only saw the one Sea Krait in Adang. He was here at the South Western tip, poking around between the rocks. Don’t get bitten by these.

Be careful around this rocky headland. Longtail boats taking daytrippers to the Western islands, pass close-in to the corner. At high tide, they even motor through the narrow channel between White Rock and Adang itself.


I had a little paddle up the West coast of Adang

I had intended to have a good look around the West side, but I had lost an hour warming-up in the sun, so I didn’t really cover much of it. At the surface, the first 1-2 km is all rocks. I expect that underwater, it is similar to the rocky stretch K-L, above.

Further North on Adang, the West Coast is a mixture of beaches and rocks, mostly beaches. I’m not sure whether this works, but here is a long-distance picture of the southern end. If you zoom-in enough, you can see what’s beach and what’s rock.

Here’s the same thing, closer to the Northern end.

I did once visit Area M, in the North West corner (on a ‘Trip 1’ boat trip from Lipe). There is a brief write up of that over here.


I’m now going to jump back to point A and have a look up the East Coast of Adang.

For (another) long distance swim like this, it’s a good idea to to know how the currents behave. I spent a lot of time snorkelling of the main stretch of beach between A and C. The current was almost always going from North to South. Out of about twenty occasions, only once was it going in the other direction.

In a way, this was a good thing. If you’re going to snorkel in a current, it’s better to swim upstream. That way, when you get tired, you should have a nice, relaxing float back to where you started from. If the current isn’t going to change direction, then at least you know what’s-what.

Sure enough, when I hit the windy East coast at point A, the current was coming from the North and I was swimming against it. It wasn’t massively strong, but it was enough to make swimming against it a real chore.

At the surface, North of the point A beach, there is a run of rocks about 500m long. Below the water, the same Porites reef from C-B-A just continues on Northwards, looking the same as it had done at C-B-A.

On the drop-off between A and Z, you have your standard, decent-quality Porites, “Hump” coral.


At Z – a long-ish beach starts.

Underwater, there was a big growth of nice fan coral.

And a patch of unusual soft coral: