Ko Bulon Ley, Thailand
It will be a while before I get a chance to write this up properly, so here’s some rough-and-ready notes and a few pictures. A fuller and shinier version with lots more photos will replace this someday when I get the chance.
Ko Bulon Ley is a small island about 80km North West of Satun in South West Thailand. It is usually reached from the port at Pak Bara – the same port used for Koh Lipe and the islands in the Tarutao National Park.
Ko Bulon Ley is not known for its snorkelling. Casual snorkelers just tripping off the main sandy beach won’t find very much exciting underwater.
But there is lots of good stuff around other parts of the island if you have the time and energy to go looking for it. Get ready with your long fins and your magnifying glass and there is a wealth of interesting things to be found around Ko Bulon Ley.
Starting in Area A and going clockwise:
The sandy beach along stretch A is the one that features in all the “Ko Bulon” pictures that you will find on t’internet. The beach is beautiful and is set-off by the rugged tree trunks that have been left there as coastal erosion eats away around their roots.
The two expensive luxury resorts (Bulone and Pansand) are near here and you could say that this area is the main focus for all things touristic.
The snorkelling isn’t great here, though. Sandy beaches are not conducive to coral growth and there isn’t much to be found in the sandy shallows off the beach in Area A. In the Eastern side of the bay, further out (~ 80m off the beach) there is a field of new branching coral. It is modest in age and size, and isn’t sufficiently mature to attract much aquatic life. But hey – coral is coral.
If you go further out still (say 120m off the beach, towards the Eastern end of Area A, you can find some scraggy hump coral, a few nemos and the occasional Moray Eel.
Continuing clockwise around the island, there always seems to be a strong-current in the shallows at the tip of the sandy spit (between A and B). It might be unnerving, but you aren’t going to be swept very far. There’s not much life around this sandy area, but you might see some small Spotted Darts.
The start of Area C is marked by a thick mooring rope that goes from Pansands’s beach, along the seabed, to a buoy about 300m offshore. This line is is your marker for the start of the better snorkelling.
Area C is the best spot for coral-reef on Ko Bulon Ley. There is a long, wide stretch of coral all the way along area C.
Further along to the South, the bulk corals start-up. The reef is quite patchy in the shallows.
It is not super-beautiful, but it is full of character and nooks & crannies to poke your head into and see who’s living there.
About 120m offshore there is a steep drop-off that goes from the reeftop (at 2 metres deep) to a sandy bottom at about 8 metres.
Plunging down to the bottom is a fun pastime. You can find cool sponges and other invertebrates on the underside of the corals.
The tidal range around here is about one and a half metres. The couple of times I visited, underwater visibility wasn’t great, so you will see more if you visit at low tide.
Note that access to the reef along stretch C can be difficult at low tide, due to sharp/delicate corals in the shallows. However, it is easy to enter the water on the sandy spit (A/B) or through Mango Bay (D), then swim out past the drop-off into deeper waters, then go from there.
If you’re getting in or out at Mango Bay, this will require a bit of walking along island tracks and a reasonable pair of shoes/booties.
I never found much current in this area.
There is a muslim fishing village in Mango Bay. Mostly, they don’t ‘do’ tourism – they’ll just peer at you curiously as you walk by. If you wanted to, you could approach them to buy some crabs from the catch of the day.
There was a sea-transport container washed up in Mango Bay in 2011 (and another one on the beach near the spit). They are both steadily rusting away. The side panel on the one in Mango bay flaps noisily with the waves and the wind.
I’m not sure what was in them, but I imagine it was rapidly whisked away, rinsed and resold. Only the wooden packing materials are left around the wrecked container in Mango Bay.
Across the mouth of the bay there is some OK coral and a couple of sea fans.
My total favourite spot on Bulone Lay was the two little rocky islands directly opposite Mango Bay (D99) . They are about 1km off the coast and you have to be a bit hardcore to get there. For that reason, I have put them in a separate section (Ko Bulon environs). If you can dive-down to ~6m and are rock-hard/stupid enough to endure the twenty minute swim through blind waters (and dodge any speedboat ferries that may be passing), they are well-worth the visit.
I swam this South Coast a couple of times. It’s a long-old haul without any exit points between Mango Bay and Panka Yai Bay. To be honest, there’s nothing good enough there to qualify for this abbreviated account of Ko Bulon Ley.
There are a couple of little caves on the way…
I suggest you don’t bother with this stretch unless you are looking for some serious exercise.
Area F – Ao Panka Yai
This area is quite a deserted compared with the Eastern side of the island. There is one resort which occupies most of the bay. There is a rough-sand beach and a flat rock bed in the shallows.
It is difficult to access the water at low tide, and easy at high tide. There is nothing overly glamorous about the snorkelling in this bay, but it does have some interesting critters in the shallows and, more-so, out in the bay.
In the sandy shallows near the beach there are hundreds of prawn-goby pairs – a famously symbiotic relationship where a small goby fish shares a nest with the, very different, Mr Prawn.
The prawn is almost blind, but is good at digging holes. The goby has good senses, but has no digging skills. The goby sits in the entrance to the nest looking out for danger, while the lobster carries on digging away, bringing out clawsfull of debris every 20 seconds to deposit them outside. If you get too close, the goby will raise the alarm and they will both disappear into the burrow. But if you play-it cool, you can watch the prawn coming and going, dropping off his building rubble in the street outside, ready for the next load.
There are many nudibranchs and flatworms to be found in the shallows here.
My, that’s a long one!
One of the highlights of my last trip to Bulon Ley was larking about with the pelagic fish offa Ao Panka Yai. We were seeing Blacktip reef sharks every day – about where the letter F is on the map. (Scared about Sharks? Read this).
The sharks were smart and stayed right on the limits of visibility. I think I saw three together at the same time, by my friend Bart swears he saw five.
Further out and slightly to the East was a good spot to pay ‘Dances with Trevally’. Turn upside down and spin round in circles and a passing crowd of these friendly fellas will circle round with you, keeping eye contact all the time. They have a backup team of buddies running defense. The second team will gyrate round in another concentric circle, wider than the first team and going in the opposite direction – y’know – just in case.
Huzzah! What larks.
At low tide, you can walk round the rocks from Panka Yai to Panka Noi, passing some mangroves and a fishing village on the way.
Underwater, the Eastern part of Area F has some big-scale bulk coral growths out in the deep and, in the shallows, a thin layer of diverse but, mostly unglamorous, coral growing on the surface of the rocks.
Area G – Panka Noi bay, back round to Bulone Resort.
This is a stretch for enthusiasts only. Basically an Eastern extension of Area F – there are patchy (but huge) bommies of Porites corals in the deep and mostly thin layers of mixed species of coral growing over the surface of the rocks in the shallows.
Access to the water is easy at high tide from both Au Panka Yai and Ao Panka Noi. Access is more difficult (but still possible) at low tide. You’ll need something on your feet.
If you make-it all the way round to Bulone Resort’s sandy bay (Area A), exit from the water is easy by walking up the beach. There are no other places that you can stop on the way – it is all high cliffs.
There is an intriguing-looking rock with a lighthouse on it about 1.5km off the coast at H. I swam out there. There was some more Trevally fun to be had out here, but mostly it wasn’t worth the effort of an hour’s swim each way. There are some more notes about it in section 3 of the Ko Bulon Lay Environs section.
Getting there: There is one speedboat a day to/from Pak Bara in Satun province. Two companies run small speedboat ferries up and down the Andaman coast, which call in here. The big Tigerline ferry does NOT come here.
Ko Bulon Lay is in a National Park protectorate and further resort development has been prohibited (thank goodness!). There is limited accommodation on the island – about 8 resorts – so book ahead or be prepared for some rather basic accommodation. The whole island can fill-up just before Christmas.
Cheapskates looking for sleeps should head inland towards Jungle Huts resort.
There are no restaurants on the island, other than those tied to resorts, so food is much more expensive than the mainland.
You can rent kayks from Bulone Resort and more cheaply at Jungle Huts, but for the latter, you will have to carry the kayak the ~800m from the resort to the sea.
Bulone Resort runs half-day longtail boat snorkel-trips to a few nearby islands. See the Bulon Lay Environs page for more details.
There are expensive internet cafes at Bulone Resort and Pangsan Resort. Last time I was there, they only operated when the generators were on (at lunchtime and in the evenings).
Look out for snakes when walking the paths and tracks of Ko Bulon after dark.
As always, the venerable Tezza has done a great job of describing the place from the surface, so check out his site for more logistics stuff.
Well, that’s all we’ve got time for this week, Basil. I would encourage you to read the Ko Bulon Lay Environs section, which has even better snorkel spots on it. Eventually, I will get around to writing them both up in more detail and with more pictures.
Originally Written: Nov 2012 Last updated: Nov 2012