Category Archives: ดำน้ำลึก

Thailand_AngThong

It will be a while before I can write this up in full detail.  Here is a short version for now:

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Ang Thong (Marine) National Park, Thailand

Ang Thong is a string of islands to the East of Chumphon and to the West of Gulf Islands Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Samui in Southern Thailand.   Ang Thong has about 40 islands in total.  The Northern half of the archipelago is designated as a National Park.

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Views from the surface and some elevated viewpoints are spectacular, but underwater visibility is extremely bad and most of the park is a non-starter for snorkelling because of this.

Apparently, the poor underwater viz is caused by the relatively shallow waters in the area combined with mainland river runoff (at the South of the archipelago).   Visibility improves towards the Northern end of the park and most of the day-trip boats from Pha Ngan and Samui do a snorkelling stop at the far Northern end where the snorkelling is pretty decent.

There are no public ferries to Ang Thong and most people visit the islands as part of a day-trip.  A day trip typically consists of a snorkel session; a walk around an inland lake; and a climb up to a spectacular viewpoint. Some trips also include a ~2km kayak trip along the edge of an island.

There is a National Park camp on one island.  There is a restaurant, toilets and tents where people can stay-over for a couple of nights.  Some day-trip operators will allow you to “split” a day trip – effectively using their trip as a means of transport for getting to and from the islands for your overnight stay.

I visited in May and stayed for about a week.  You are mostly land-locked on the camping island, and there isn’t very much to do there. One or two nights is enough for most people. I wanted to explore as much snorkelling as I could and I swam about 40km around the islands. I am not recommending that you do this.

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Here are a few snaps from the ‘official’ daytrip snorkel site at Ko Nai Phut (Point 5 on the map):
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Then the view heading South to the main body of the Park:
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The National Park camp is on Ko Wua Talap (Sleeping Buffalo Island) (At point 1 on the map).

There is a small, roped off, snorkelling area to the right of the beach, where you can have a snorkel as an alternative to making the long climb to the viewpoint.   There are some decent corals there, but the visibility is atrocious.
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I based myself at the National Park camp at Ko Wua Talap.  Below are some of the highlights from about 40km of snorkelling around the surrounding islands (my route is the marked by the burgundy line on the map, above).

Don’t be misled into thinking that it all that good, though.   99% of the snorkelling is like this:
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_12_Typical-snorkelling_P4281613.JPG

But here are the best bits, all the same.   Mouseover for speciesnames:

There are lots of these Jorunna funebris nudibranchs in Ang thong.  I saw more of them in just one afternoon than I had seen in five years.
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One-off sightings of other nudis:
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_15_Risbecia-tryoni_P4291833.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_16_Glossodoris-atromarginata_P5031973.JPG

Flatworms:
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_17_Spanish-dancer-flatform_P4250806.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_18_Flatworm_P4271256.JPG

Fishies:
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There is some decent coral dotted around.  Actually, there is more species diversity than you find in many other places in Thailand.
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It would just be nice to be able to see it properly!

I found  one spot where the combination of currents and shelter provided the perfect habitat for this small colony of whip corals:
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I haven’t seen these little orange ‘worms’ before – I think they are related to featherstars.
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Above the waves, you can sometimes find troupes of Spectacled Langurs on the trails or around the camp:
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Or hornbills flying by:
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On Ko Wua Talap, apart from the hike to the viewpoint, there is another trail to a cave:
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This hike is usually offered as a ‘less strenuous’ alternative to the viewpoint trail (although it is still pretty steep and needs hauling yourself up climb-ropes).

From the ‘cave’ trail, there is a nice view of the main (National Park site) beach:
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It doesn’t look this idyllic when it is packed with daytrippers and their boats.

Island Ko Mair Ko has an ‘emerald’ lake enclosed inside it (point 3 on the map).  There is a wooden walkway along one edge, with an elevated viewpoint and very steep staircases.  Walking around the walkway is a feature of all the daytrips.
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You can’t get into the water.

Some of the scenes from the movie ‘ The Beach’ were filmed here. There isn’t actually a beach here – the scenes showing the beach were filmed on Ko Phi Phi Ley, on the Andaman side.

The daytrips allow you to (pay extra) to take a kayak on a designated stretch of coastline.  You can get a close-up of the karst rocks and you can kayak underneath the overhanging rock.
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Here are some daytrippers conga-ing from point 2 to 3 on the map.

The slowboat trips have less time on the islands than the speedboat trips. Generally with the speedboats, you can do both the kayaking and the walk around the lake; but with the slowboat trips you have to choose one or the other.

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Off the daytrip routes – here are a couple of nice spots on the islands.
There is a natural rock bridge on the North side of Saam Sao island (4 on the map).
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It looked like only a couple of the high-end operators from Samui came here (Chat and Zero-degrees North).

The coastlines of the islands are 80% karst rocks, but there are a few lovely deserted beaches dotted around the place.  Here is the longest beach in the park, on Ko Hin Dap:
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(a 15km round-trip swim from Park HQ!).

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Sleeps

Generally, people who stop-over stay in tents provided by the National Park on Ko Wua Talap.  These are about 300B per night. There are a couple of concrete huts for about 500B, but you will likely find that these are already in use.
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_41_NP-Huts_P5021938.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_42_NP-Accomodation_P4240742.JPG
(Prices correct at 2013)
The usual problems with booking National Park huts apply.  You have to pay within 3 days at a Thai bank.  There are plenty of tents though.

If you bring your own tent, it is 30B a night.

Drinking water is quite expensive – so you might want to bring a supply.

It is possible to rent kayaks for 500B per day. There are no other means for campers to move between the islands.

There are some English speakers at the National Park camp.

There is also a ranger station at Saam Sao island. The National Park website says you can stay there, but you can’t (well, you can – but only if you have your own tent, food, water, cooking facilities and boat).

Transport

There aren’t any public ferries going to Ang Thong. I got to the islands by ‘splitting’ a daytrip  from Ko Pha Ngan.  Head out on one day, stay over, then head back a few days later.

In 2013, there were three operators running daytrips from Ko Pha Ngan – two speedboats and one bigboat.  Only the bigboat was willing to split a trip so that I could stay over on the islands.
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The Orion (big boat, out of Ko Pha Ngan).  I paid 1700B.  The daytrip price included snorkel sets, soft drinks and lunch. Not alcohol or (optional) kayaking (or accommodation on the island!!).   The speedboats were >2000B.

There seemed to be about another 10 operators arriving in Ang Thong every day (presumably all from Samui).  Two of these were big boats.

National Park entrance fees are 200B, usually paid on the boat. (Edit: Increased to 300B in Feb 2015).

Other links
Detailed National Park Map
National Park webpage
(edit @ 2017: Use the button top right to change the language to English)

That’s it for now – someday I will get around to writing up the detailed, inch-by-inch version.

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Written: June 2013         Last updated: Apr 2017

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Thailand_Tao

Koh Tao, Thailand

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IN BRIEF :

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.

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

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IN NOT-SO-BRIEF:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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:
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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).

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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!
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Here is some coral from directly outside it:
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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).
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There is a roped-off area marking-off the snorkelling–zone from the boat-zone:
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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:
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Now, ready for the Great Leap Southwards, I headed-on around the cape at A6 to start down the East Coast.

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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:
Thai_Tao_0115_ab_P5073379.JPG

With an occasional uplift to this:
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But mostly it was an unrewarding, hour long slog. Not recommended.

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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.
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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:
Thai_Tao_0122_ab_P5073376.JPG Thai_Tao_0128_ab_P5073371.JPG

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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.

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This is the Northern side of Laem Thian:
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Heading South – round the cape, itself, was mostly plain rock:
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But there were these Orange-spine Unicornfish, spicing things up:
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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:
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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 laemthian.com – 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.

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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.

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Underwater, the rocks have some patches of coral on top :
Thai_Tao_0158_bc_P5073344.JPG Thai_Tao_0160_bc_P5073341.JPG Thai_Tao_0162_bc_P5073340.JPG Thai_Tao_0164_bc_P5073338.JPG Thai_Tao_0166_bc_P5073337.JPG

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.

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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:
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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.

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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.

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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:
Thai_Tao_0179_c_P5073317.JPG Thai_Tao_0181_c_P5073312.JPG

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.

Thai_Tao_0185_c_P5073309.JPG

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

Thai_Tao_0187_c-Titan-Triggerfish_P5073325.JPG

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Out here in the deeper water, you might find some fish other than the traditional ‘reef’ dwellers, like these Longfin Pike.
Thai_Tao_0183_c_P5073316.JPG

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The main snorkelling spot in Tanote Bay is the big rock 30 metres off shore, right in the middle of the bay.
Thai_Tao_0197_c_P5073255.JPG

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

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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).
Thai_Tao_0199_c_P5073292.JPG Thai_Tao_0201_c_P5073303.JPG Thai_Tao_0203_c_P5073298.JPG Thai_Tao_0205_c_P5073297.JPG

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As you head around the seaward side, the coral gets deeper
Thai_Tao_0208_c_P5073300.JPG

And the rock plunges straight down to the seabed at about 7 metres down.
Thai_Tao_0210_c_P5073301.JPG

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The Southern (right) side is a little patchy and unimpressive.
Thai_Tao_0212_c_P5073304.JPG

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).

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

Thai_Tao_0217_c-Parrotfish_P5073267.JPG Thai_Tao_0223_c-Coral-Rabbitfish_P5073274.JPG Thai_Tao_0221_c-Virgate-Rabbitfish_P5073269.JPG Thai_Tao_0219_c-Blackedge-Thicklip-Wrasse_P5073262.JPG Thai_Tao_0229_c-Honeycomb-Rabbitfish-_P5073286.JPG

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!
Thai_Tao_0227_c-Slingjaw-Wrasse_P5073277.JPG

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The 10 metres closest to the shore were pretty skanky, coral-wise.
Thai_Tao_0231_c_P5073259.JPG Thai_Tao_0233_c_P5073258.JPG

But weren’t entirely without merit:
Thai_Tao_0235_c-Pink-Skunk-Anemonefish_P5073266.JPG

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Moving over to the South (right) side of the bay :
Thai_Tao_0237_c_P5073249.JPG

The Southern headland had some reasonable coral growth on it:
Thai_Tao_0239_c_P5073234.JPG Thai_Tao_0241_c_P5073242.JPG Thai_Tao_0243_c_P5073240.JPG

As you get to the end of the headland, things get back to traditional ‘rocky’ again:
Thai_Tao_0246_c_P5073239.JPG

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

Outside the bay and to the South, you have more rocky coastline:
Thai_Tao_0250_cd_P5073227.JPG

and more coral-on rocks below the waterline. The diversity of the corals here was better than the more Northerly stretches of the coast:
Thai_Tao_0252_cd_P5073224.JPG Thai_Tao_0254_cd_P5073219.JPG Thai_Tao_0256_cd_P5073218.JPG Thai_Tao_0258_cd_P5073225.JPG Thai_Tao_0259_cd_P5073216.JPG

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There was also a Square Tailed Grouper hanging around:
Thai_Tao_0261_cd-Squaretail-Grouper_P5073220.JPG

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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.
Thai_Tao_0263_cd_P5073211.JPG

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.

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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.
Thai_Tao_0267_cd_P5073201.JPG Thai_Tao_0265_cd_P5073209.JPG

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further on South, there were a few decent patches.
Thai_Tao_0268_cd_P5073202.JPG

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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.
Thai_Tao_0270_cd_P5073197.JPG

This was all I could see there (at only about 6m, mind you)
Thai_Tao_0272_cd_P5073195.JPG

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A little further South, there was some more coral growth:
Thai_Tao_0274_cd_P5073194.JPG

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and I had a run-in with a few cool fish (a Six-Banded Angelfish, Blue Ringed Angelfish and some Yellowtail Scad)
Thai_Tao_0278_cd-Six-Banded-Angelfish_P5073191.JPG

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Thai_Tao_0276_cd-Six-Banded-Angelfish_P5073187.JPG Thai_Tao_0280_cd-Blue-Ringed-Angelfish_P5073185.JPG Thai_Tao_0282_cd-Yellowtail-Scad_P5073183.JPG

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Rounding the corner into the wide jaws of Ao Leuk,there is this resort up on the cliffside.
Thai_Tao_0285_cd_P5073176.JPG

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.
Thai_Tao_0287_cd_P5062950.JPG Thai_Tao_0289_cd_P5073175.JPG Thai_Tao_0291_cd_P5062945.JPG Thai_Tao_0293_cd_P5062943.JPG Thai_Tao_0295_cd_P5062940.JPG Thai_Tao_0297_cd_P5062958.JPG

and some cool fish, too:
Thai_Tao_0299_cd_P5062956.JPG Thai_Tao_0301_cd-Mullet_P5073172.JPG Thai_Tao_0304_cd-Manyspotted-Sweetlips_P5073173.JPG

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.

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Area D – Ao Leuk
Thai_Tao_0310_d_P5052724.JPG

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.
Thai_Tao_0312_d_P5052754.JPG Thai_Tao_0314_d_P5052734.JPG Thai_Tao_0315_d_P5052752.JPG Thai_Tao_0317_d_P5052738.JPG Thai_Tao_0319_d_P5062968.JPG Thai_Tao_0321_d_P5052741.JPG Thai_Tao_0322_d_P5052742.JPG Thai_Tao_0324_d_P5052748.JPG Thai_Tao_0325_d_P5052750.JPG Thai_Tao_0327_d_P5062972.JPG Thai_Tao_0329_d_P5062967.JPG Thai_Tao_0331_d_P5052736.JPG

..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:
Thai_Tao_0333_d_P5052727.JPG Thai_Tao_0334_d_P5052744.JPG Thai_Tao_0336_d_P5052747.JPG Thai_Tao_0338_d_P5052729.JPG

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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.
Thai_Tao_0350_de_P5073167.JPG

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There is decent coral starting close to the beach on the right/South end of the bay.
Thai_Tao_0352_de_P5062996.JPG Thai_Tao_0354_de_P5062979.JPG Thai_Tao_0356_de_P5062981.JPG Thai_Tao_0358_de_P5062983.JPG Thai_Tao_0360_de_P5062986.JPG Thai_Tao_0362_de_P5062989.JPG Thai_Tao_0364_de_P5062990.JPG Thai_Tao_0366_de_P5063001.JPG Thai_Tao_0368_de_P5062978.JPG Thai_Tao_0370_de_P5063005.JPG

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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.

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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.
Thai_Tao_0375_e_P5063010.JPG Thai_Tao_0377_e_P5063011.JPG

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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).
Thai_Tao_0450_g_P5062846.JPG

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.
Thai_Tao_0452_g_P5062870.JPG

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The North East quadrant of Shark Island had some very good coral at depths from 2-5 metres.
Thai_Tao_0454_g_P5062931.JPG Thai_Tao_0456_g_P5062933.JPG Thai_Tao_0458_g_P5062920.JPG Thai_Tao_0463_g_P5062878.JPG Thai_Tao_0461_g_P5062927.JPG

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.

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Around to the East side, the rocks slope down more steeply and what coral there is, is quite deep (5+ metres):
Thai_Tao_0465_g_P5062882.JPG Thai_Tao_0467_g_P5062883.JPG Thai_Tao_0469_g_P5062884.JPG

Around to the Southern tip, things are just plain rocky.
Thai_Tao_0473_g_P5062893.JPG

You might meet a few friendly Trevally coming in from the sea.
Thai_Tao_0471_g_P5062891.JPG

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Back around the West side, near the little fishermens’ hut, I saw a Scrawled Filefish:
Thai_Tao_0474_g_P5062897.JPG

and a gorgeous Six-Banded Angelfish.
Thai_Tao_0476_g_P5062900.JPG

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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:
Thai_Tao_0479_g_P5062908.JPG Thai_Tao_0481_g_P5062909.JPG Thai_Tao_0483_g_P5062911.JPG Thai_Tao_0485_g_P5062912.JPG

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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.
Thai_Tao_0487_g_P5062913.JPG
aaah..
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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)
Thai_Tao_0378_MAP F_1_JPG.jpg

has some decent looking coral.
Thai_Tao_0379_e_P5063013.JPG

Continuing around the corner into Ao Saai Daeng itself, this continues:
.Thai_Tao_0391_f_P5063017.JPG

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
Sweet.

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.

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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.

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Here’s a view along the beach, taken from the North East end:
Thai_Tao_0411_f_P5062847.JPG

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Further along the beach, in the shallows, there were a few of these cute Banded Sleeper Goby.
Thai_Tao_0415_f_P5063046.JPG

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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:
Thai_Tao_0417_f_P5063042.JPG

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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:
Thai_Tao_0419_f_P5063051.JPG

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Here’s a shot looking into Ao Saai Daeng from the South Western end.
Thai_Tao_0390_f_P5052722.JPG

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At the far (South West) end of the bay, there was a lot of Fungia Mushroom Coral sitting on the bottom.
.Thai_Tao_0431_fh_P5063057.JPG

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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

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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:
Thai_Tao_0500_h_P5063058.JPG

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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

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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

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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
Thai_Tao_0517_h_P5063098.JPG
I’m not sure whether that’s officially the reef in the name of the Dive site, but I guess so.

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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:
Thai_Tao_0520_hj_P5063100.JPG

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

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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.
Thai_Tao_0540_j_P5052720.JPG

On the West side, coral growth starts to pick up:
Thai_Tao_0542_j_P5063116.JPG

and I had a flyby from this school of Halfbeaks:
Thai_Tao_0544_j_P5063117.JPG

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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.

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Heading in towards the shallows of the long, main beach, coral was patchy.
Thai_Tao_0566_j_P5063135.JPG

The Banded Sleeper Goby from (F) has a cousin living here:
Thai_Tao_0564_j-Banded-Goby_P5063133.JPG

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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:
Thai_Tao_0571_j_P5063138.JPG

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.

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Midbay, I had a fleeting glimpse of some Yellowtail Barracuda
Thai_Tao_0580_j_P5063152__.jpg

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

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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:
Thai_Tao_0589_jk_P5093834.JPG

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…and off the point
Thai_Tao_0593_jk_P5093836.JPG Thai_Tao_0595_jk_P5093837.JPG

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but mostly it was shabby.
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The main highlight was a visit from an inquisitive Barracuda:
Thai_Tao_0597_jk_P5093832.JPG

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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.

Thai_Tao_0630_k_P5052718.JPG

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.
Thai_Tao_0631_k_P5093840.JPG
Subtle.

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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:
Thai_Tao_0644_k_P5093852.JPG

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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

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and coming back into shallow water, it is all grotty again:
Thai_Tao_0652_k_P5093860.JPG

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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.
Thai_Tao_0654_k_P5093863.JPG

Again, the corals in the shallow water are mostly dead:
Thai_Tao_0656_k_P5093865.JPG

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

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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

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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:
Thai_Tao_0676_l_P5093879.JPG
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.
Thai_Tao_0678_l_P5093881.JPG

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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:
Thai_Tao_0681_l_P5093892.JPG

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and heading out to the South Western end of the cape,
Thai_Tao_0685_l_P5093894.JPG

the underwater scene was this:
Thai_Tao_0683_l_P5093893.JPG

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A little further round, there were some bulk corals:
Thai_Tao_0686_l_P5093895.JPG

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

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Here they are up close:
Thai_Tao_0687_l_P5093896.JPG

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Further out was mostly plain rock:
Thai_Tao_0689_l_P5093903.JPG

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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

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This one is looking back at Tao Tong Villas’ Northern beach.
Thai_Tao_0695_l_P5093919.JPG

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

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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.

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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

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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
Thai_Tao_0721_m_P5093928.JPG

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but there were a couple of small Sharks swimming around, which was a fun diversion:
Thai_Tao_0722_m_P5093929.JPG

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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

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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

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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

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I also saw this unusual Butterflyfish here. I haven’t seen this one before. It seems to be an Ocellate Butterflyfish/Coralfish, Parachaetodon ocellatus
Thai_Tao_0746_n_P5093949.JPG

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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.
Thai_Tao_0757_no_P5093951.JPG

with the occasional decent patch, further out from the land:
Thai_Tao_0759_no_P5093952.JPG

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

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

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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

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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

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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,
Thai_Tao_0787_o_P5093975.JPG

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.
Thai_Tao_0789_o_P5093976.JPG

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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
Thai_Tao_0800_p_P5093978.JPG

and some interesting fish, including these Honeycomb Rabbitfish:
Thai_Tao_0804_p-Honeycomb-Rabbitfish_P5093982.JPG

and some schooling Virgate Rabbitfish:
Thai_Tao_0802_p-Virgate-Rabbitfish_P5093979.JPG

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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.
.Thai_Tao_0818_q_P5093987.JPG

The coral here was in OK condition, but was short of diversity.
Thai_Tao_0821_q_P5093988.JPG

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.
Thai_Tao_0831_q_P5093997.JPG

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

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As you enter the shallows, you might find this old iron shipwreck
Thai_Tao_0837_q_P5094007.JPG

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Continuing towards the main beach, the patchy coral gets shallower and shallower
Thai_Tao_0841_q_P5094009.JPG
until you have to stand up and tippy-toe your way back onto Haat Mae Haat.
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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.

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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:
Thai_Tao_0845_s_P5083481.JPG

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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.
Thai_Tao_0871_t_P1050458.JPG

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.

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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.
Thai_Tao_0892_u_P1050358.JPG

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.

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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

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

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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,
Thai_Tao_0929_v_P5083493.JPG

and a disinterested (poisonous) Sea Snake (aka Sea Krait)
Thai_Tao_0924_v_P5083487.JPG

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

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The corals around here were all broken up,
Thai_Tao_0931_v_P5083496.JPG

but there was lots of Mushroom coral with their tongues out.
Thai_Tao_0926_v_P5083488.JPG

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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

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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

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Thai_Tao_0980_v_P5083562.JPG
Daahling – I am suuuuch an artiste  😉

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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.
Thai_Tao_0989_v_P5083572.JPG

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They got some in the end
Thai_Tao_0985_v_P5083559.JPG
but you can understand them waiting – you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of those chunky teeth.
Thai_Tao_0987_v_P5083569.JPG
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Further along, someone was seeding some corals. Good for them.
Thai_Tao_0991_v_P5083575.JPG

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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
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and sponges
Thai_Tao_1006_v_P5083584.JPG

and some Virgate Rabbitfish trapped in an old fishermens’ net.
Thai_Tao_1008_v_P5083586.JPG
I tried to help them out, but they didn’t want to know.

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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
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Outside the demarcation zone, the corals were broken up at the Northern end (V7)
Thai_Tao_1023_v_P5083502.JPG

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with some friendly Trevelly passing by
Thai_Tao_1020_v_P5083501.JPG
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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
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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

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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_________

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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
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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
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A chilled-out Grouper slinked away lazily, as I approached
Thai_Tao_1064_v_P5083620.JPG

Here is a view outside the Western Swim zone, looking North.
Thai_Tao_1058_v_P5083611.JPG
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.

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

Thai_Tao_1075_v_P5083623.JPG

and this Milkfish disappearing off into the distance, was an unusual spotting:
Thai_Tao_1081_v_P5083638.JPG

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.

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

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Thai_Tao_1079_v-Blackcap-Butterflyfish_P5083634.JPG
That’ll do!

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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
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And beyond that, some more interesting coral:
Thai_Tao_1098_v_P5083645 North side.JPG Thai_Tao_1100_v_P5083648.JPG
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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
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Going around the North East point:
Thai_Tao_1120_v_P5083657.JPG
(that’s the tallest (380m) peak on Tao in the background)
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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
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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.

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the swim back down to V2 was a mixed bag. A lot of it was steep rocky drop offs like this.
Thai_Tao_1154_v_P5083680.JPG

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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’.
Thai_Tao_1169_vw_P5083694.JPG Thai_Tao_1171_vw_P5083695.JPG Thai_Tao_1173_vw_P5083696.JPG

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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

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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.
Thai_Tao_1181_vw_P5083702.JPG

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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:
Thai_Tao_1183_vw_P5083704.JPG
Geologywatch

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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.
Thai_Tao_1213_w_P5083725.JPG
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.

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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

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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.
Thai_Tao_1222_w_P5083738.JPG

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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.
Thai_Tao_1226_w_P5083742.JPG
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.

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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:
Thai_Tao_1243_w_P5083754.JPG
This is mid-afternoon, after all the daytrip boats have moved off.

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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.
Thai_Tao_1251_w_P5083752.JPG

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.
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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

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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
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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

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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

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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.
Thai_Tao_1500_x_P5052807.JPG

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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.

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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.

Roads
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 ?
Thai_Tao_9103_P5083807.JPG
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.

Diving
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.

Cheap?
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

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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

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

Thailand_Lipe

KOH LIPE, THAILAND

IN BRIEF:

Koh Lipe is a small island close to the Tarutao National Marine Park in the South West of Thailand. It has good off-the-beach snorkelling – I’d say it was among the top five places in Thailand for it. There is moderate diversity in the coral species, although there is not much of the classic staghorn-coral gardens than you might find in, say, the Philippines or Indonesia. There’s a pretty good population of colourful reef fish, plus you can also find more interesting species such as batfish, lobsters, sting-rays and moray eels.

There are good facilities and beautiful beaches up-top.

Best-ish seascape:

Typical seascape:

All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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IN NOT-SO-BRIEF:


All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

By far the best snorkelling is around the drop-off that runs along Sunrise beach on the East coast (marked B to C, on the map). In my opinion, Sunrise beach is also the best beach on the island (softer sand, fewer crowds), so let’s start there.

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There are a couple of small beachlets at the South end of Sunrise beach, near Serendipity resort (and near A, on the map). Area A looks gorgeous from above.

Underwater, there is sandy bottom with the occasional small patch of coral. The snorkelling in area A isn’t particularly outstanding, but there are often big packs of grey parrotfish and moon wrasse scavenging around, and, more interestingly, I have occasionally seen blue-spotted stingrays and moray eels here.

Entering the water from the beachlets near area A is handy if you want to swim out the 100 metres to the uninhabited rocky island, Koh Usen. It is also a useful entry/exit point for the rest of Sunrise beach if there is an extremely low tide. Mostly, access into the water is not much of a problem in Lipe, but there is a big tidal-range and things can get very shallow at spring-tide lows. In the very worst case, you can get in the water at A and swim around the back of Koh Usen and approach the drop-off (at B) from the seaward side, but it’s a bit of a hike. 95% of the time you wouldn’t need to go to such effort.

Watch out for longtail boats passing around area A, taking tourists between the resorts and the long-distance ferries on Pattaya beach. Also, there can be a bit of a current parallel to the beach when the tide is turning. Neither one is a massive problem.

Koh Usen is rocky around the edges. There are some sandy shallows on the Lipe side where you might find some interesting critters sheltering, like this juvenile batfish:

Going round the far side of rocky Koh Usen is a bit of a schlep, but there you will find several attractive fish species that feed-off the algae on the rocks – like these powder-blue surgeonfish, lined surgeonfish and the beautiful but timid orangespined unicornfish.

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This Golden damselfish lives out there (about 6 metres down)

I have also seen a couple of black-tip reef sharks there, off in the deep. Scared about sharks ? Read this.

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The reef-proper starts at area B (roughly 100m straight-out from Idyllic Resort). Starting here, and running the whole (1km) length of Sunrise beach, you have a long, wide strip of reef at depths of 1m to 3m. At the edge, the reeftop has a drop-off, starting around 3m and goes to at least 10m.

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Between B and C, you have about 30 x 1000 metres of reef to potter around on. If you are starting from the beach and you haven’t found a solid chunk of reef around area B, then you haven’t swam out far enough. Just keep going, away from the beach.

Note that about one third of the coral is dead. Much of the living coral is simple hump-coral in various shades of brown, so it isn’t going to be the technicolour cornucopia you might want, but there is plenty to see and lots of interesting crevices to nose-around in for wildlife.

Pretty much everywhere off Sunrise beach you can see common species like parrotfish, nemos (anemonefish), colourful clams; damselfish and wrasse.

For more information on underwater beasties, have a look at the Specieslist.

All these pics were taken snorkelling off Sunrise Beach:

all images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

The reef is pretty interesting all the way along its 1km length and it is your best choice for snorkelling on Koh Lipe. If there has to be an exact best spot, it’s at D, near the drop-off (about 120m out), directly opposite Castaway resort. Castaway have a line of yellow flags flying on the beach, so you should be able to see where you are from these. But don’t get too hung-up on the exact best spot – it’s pretty similar all the way along the dropoff.

If you are entering the water from part way along Sunrise beach, be sure that you swim far enough out to find the reef-proper and the drop-off. Closer to the beach, the coral is pretty sparse and patchy and not very special. You sometimes see people getting out of the water looking unimpressed, because they didn’t swim out far enough to find the reef.

That said, it was somewhere in the shallows there that I bumped into this uncharacteristic patch of gorgeous purple porites coral:

I also found a bit of staghorn coral in the shallows toward the northern end, and a few other interesting coral species:

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While we’re on the subject of corals – there’s very little soft coral on Lipe. In fact, this is about the sum-total that I saw at Lipe:

However, I did see a lot more soft coral on a daytrip to some neighbouring uninhabited islands about 5 km away from Koh Lipe. I cover this in detail in another page here.

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Continuing North along Koh Lipe’s Sunrise beach, the small offshore islet Koh Kra has a cute little beach bisecting it.

There are lots of broken shell fragments on the beach there, so wear something on your feet of you are going to stop here.

Point E, just to the North of Koh Kra is another good spot for interesting coral and fishlife:

Koh Kra Brain Coral Koh Kra Featherstar

Generally, the fish around Lipe are a bit nervous around people and will swim away of you get too close. But, for unknown reasons, one morning I found heaps of friendly fish all lounging around area E, waiting to have their pictures taken, like this.

Moorish Idols

There was also a shoal of needlefish, cruising around the shallows near Koh Kra,

Needlefish

This hermit crab, was wandering around a chunk of hump coral.

Hermit Crab

And this Scorpionfish, confidently sitting on the bottom at about 2 metres depth.

You don’t want to stand on a Scorpionfish, they have venomous spines on their back which can do you a serious injury. Generally, there aren’t too many underwater things that are going to hurt you in Southern Thailand, but here are a few to keep an eye out for:

Banded Seasnake/Banded Sea Krait Blue Spotted Stingray Urchin Yellow Margined Moray Eel

I have written some notes on snorkelling ‘dangers’ (and how to avoid them) over here.

There can be some current around point E (it runs parallel to the main beach). If there is a current running, it may be going from G to E to A, or in the opposite direction, A-E-G. For an easy life, work out which way it is running (look at buoys, moored boats, swimmers), then walk to the upstream-end and float down along the reef. Most of the time there is no current.

Heading North (West) from E, the reef fades out and its back to boring sandy bottom. There are some pillars from a derelict pier around F,

which provides shelter from currents and attracts some fish. I saw this uncommon juvenile boxfish there:

The official Koh Lipe map shows snorkelling around G, outside Mountain View resort.

The beach is gorgeous, but I couldn’t find very much spectacular underwater. Mostly plain sandy bottom with the occasional bommie of Hump Coral and a few nemos:

Thai_Lipe_105_G_Typical_PB270085.JPG Thai_Lipe_109_G_Nemos_PB270072.JPG

Edit: On a later visit, there were some Big-eye Trevally hanging around:
Thai_Lipe_113_G_Big-Eye-Trevally_PB270084.JPG

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Not wanting to miss anything I decided to swim round the lesser-visited North side of the island. It took 7 hours to get from Mountain Resort (G) round to Pattaya beach (K), so I don’t recommend doing it. There’s not much underwater worth seeing anyway.

If you are staying at Porn Resort on Sunset Beach (H), in the centre of the bay, you will find a few small patches of hump coral. (edit: Porn Resort was demolished in late 2014)
Thai_Lipe_120_H_Typical_PB270132.JPG

Slightly better coral  is over at the right side of the bay, outside the Government Fisheries Dept/resort.
Thai_Lipe_124_H_Typical-Right_PB270119.JPG

I have also found some Nudibranchs over there:
Thai_Lipe_132_H_Nudi_PB270135.JPG Thai_Lipe_134_H_Nudi_PB270127.JPG

A better option is to walk the 15 minutes over to Sunrise Beach for snorkelling that is 10 times better.

Heading (south) West (towards point I), you would go past Mia Luna Beach; Bila Beach and some remote, inaccessible beachlets which look cute, but suffer from lots of plastic waste washed up on them. There is nothing much of interest snorkelling-wise on this stretch.

At the cape, near point (i), there are a few rocks with the usual collection of algae feeders, but, there’s not enough to make it worthwhile making the long swim out here. There were a family of excitable monkeys on the rocks of the cape. There are no roads or tracks down that way so hopefully they will stay undisturbed.

Coming back along the south coast from I round towards J, there is nothing much special to look at – mostly it is just plain sandy/rocky bottom.
Boring bottom South Coast

As you get closer to the Pattaya end, there are a couple of isolated beachlets (which you can also reach overland from the road/track that runs West past Bila Bungalows), but there is nothing special to see underwater.

As you approach the main beach, Pattaya, you go past the quiet beach and resort of Sanom Bungalows (J). There are some nice patches of hump coral here, and a few reef-fish.
Thai_Lipe_141_K_Typical_PB270194.JPG

Unsurprisingly, the species on view are generally the same on this side of the island as they were on the East side, although I did see this one Blue Ringed Angelfish which I didn’t see any of on Sunrise.

Blue Ringed Angelfish

There are some more isolated clumps of coral  as you head round towards Pattaya beach (K). There are also some rocks and associated fauna.

Sanom Pattaya Reef

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Pattaya beach is the main beach on Koh Lipe. When it’s not too busy, it’s truly beautiful.
Pattaya2 View

Actually, there is reef all the way along Pattaya beach (about 200m out), but with all the boats coming and going, it’s just too dangerous to swim out there. If you want to snorkel at Pattaya beach, pick one of the two ends, K or L. There are rocks and a some coral at each end. The better of the two is K, near the rocks outside Sanom Resort. There are lots of isolated bommies of hump coral around there:
Thai_Lipe_147_K_Typical_PB270208.JPG
and you can find interesting critters like lionfish, morays and even oriental sweetlips hiding underneath them.

Personally, I would prefer to take a ten minute walk across the island to the more extensive reef off Sunrise beach, but areas K and L are also a good option in the evenings when the sun is over this side.

There is a nice little isolated beach near L. (I saw a monitor lizard slithering back into the jungle). Here’s some pics of the coral there:
Thai_Lipe_170_K_Beach_PB280303.JPG Thai_Lipe_172_K_Shallows_PB280313.JPG Thai_Lipe_164_K_Shallows_PB280369_.jpg

Interesting species nearby included this cheeky juvenile Black Snapper and some schooling White-Collared Butterflyfish:
Thai_Lipe_164_K_Juvi-Black-Snapper_PB280276_.jpg Thai_Lipe_162_K_WCB_PB280287_.jpg

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Just to complete things, I swam round from L to M, then on to A. Generally, there’s not much of snorkelling-interest on this long, isolated stretch. There are a few big-rocks with nooks and crannies to poke around in near M if you fancy making the effort, but it’s quite a long way – over an hour’s swim, and the better stuff is close to Pattaya beach at L. Also, there’s quite a lot of boat traffic going around that headland, so stay in the shallows to avoid it.

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Other
Dry/peak season is ostensibly November to April, but the climate has been quite erratic over the last few years, so you can still get rain and winds 6 weeks either end of this.

Prevailing winds are mostly from the East in dry-season. This gives a nice cooling breeze on Sunrise beach, but when it picks up, it can also reduce underwater visibility and blow in sting-y jellyfish (annoying, but not life-threatening). Good visibility here is generally about 10 metres. I have also seen it down to 3m.

The coral at Lipe didn’t seem to be affected by the temperature change that caused problems around the Andaman sea in June 2010. There must be some deepwater currents or something.

The water temperature has always been a pleasant 28-ish celcius when I’ve been there (between October and May). Very comfortable – you can stay-in the water for ages without getting cold.

You can rent snorkelling equipment and kayaks at various places around the island.

There is hardly any soft coral on Koh Lipe itself, but there is quite a lot of it on nearby islands. You have to take a longtail boat to reach these. It is pretty cheap to join a tourist snorkelling daytrip. I did some of these and have written a separate page on Koh Lipe environs.

There are about ten diving shops around Koh Lipe I haven’t dived here, but they say it’s reasonably good. See the Dive site maps page for a map of local dive sites.

There are no ATMs on Lipe. A couple of the big resorts can give you a cash advance on a credit card at an extortionate mark-up. They also change travellers’ cheques at not-very-good rates. (edit: apparently ATMs arrived on Lipe in 2014).

You can find lots of information about Koh Lipe on the internet including these sites: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Edit: As of 2013, one place on Lipe is advertising Glass-bottomed kayaks to rent – “Benji Glass Kayak at Forra Pattaya Resort”.

Here are a few Gratuitous Pretty Pictures, taken off Koh Lipe:

White Collared Butterflyfish Batfish Nemos (False Clownfish) Featherduster Worm Checkerboard Wrasse Brain Coral

If you want to see more Gratuitous Pretty Pictures from Lipe, there’ s a separate page full of them here (Link)

Other links :

Tarutao National Park General info

Species List

Glossary

If you have come here via a link or a search engine, you can see a menu of all the places I have written about by clicking here or on  nemo’s nose, at the top of the page.

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Written: May 2012           Last edited: April 2015

Thailand_Kradan

KOH KRADAN, THAILAND

Aerial picture of Koh Kradan, taken from the South East. (image credit)

IN BRIEF :

Koh Kradan (เกาะกระดาน) is a small island about 10km off the South West coast of Thailand, near the town Trang.

Kradan is one of the best spots in Thailand for off-the-beach snorkelling. Towards the Southeastern corner, there is a drop-off that runs for about 1km. Here you can find some cool moonscape coral formations and multitudes of friendly fish.

Up top, there are stunning beaches and rugged forest scenery. There are a handful of mid-range, small-scale tourist resorts on the East coast.

Accommodation is more expensive than on other islands nearby. Tents are available for low-budget types.

Best-ish seascape:

Typical seascape:

All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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IN NOT-SO-BRIEF:


All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

Koh Kradan is probably my favourite island for off-the-beach snorkelling in Thailand. It’s all about the seascapes and big schools of reef fish.

The best stuff is in the South East corner, about 50m offshore, around a drop-off that runs in a long strip from the southernmost cape (A) up to the National Park headquarters and accommodation (C). The stuff along the main beach (D to F) is OK, too.

For this better, Southern, stretch (A-C) the best place to enter the water is by the restaurant of Ao Niang resort. Ao Niang resort is the only accommodation on this beach – the other resorts on the island are 15-ish minutes walk further North. If you are staying at one of the other resorts and want to walk down to Ao Niang – there are a couple of small rocky headlands to negotiate (just South of Area C) . At low tide, you can walk around these; otherwise you will have to do a short wade/swim around them. Alternatively, there is a narrow walking track that goes from the Southwest corner of Paradise Lost Resort to the back of Ao Niang Resort – but it’s a pretty long diversion and is closed-off during the wet season.

An advantage of getting in the water by Ao Niang’s restaurant is that there is a channel through the coral there. It is easy to walk or swim along this. At low water, access can be difficult at other locations.

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Outside Ao Niang resort, the coral starts at about ankle depth and slowly gets deeper until it is about a metre deep when you are 30 metres offshore. At that point (B) there is a drop-off that goes down to a sandy bottom at about 8 metres depth.

When you reach the drop-off, you can find decent snorkelling at 2-3m depth by turning right or left. If you turn right (South, towards A) there is good snorkelling for about 200 metres, or if you turn left, it is good for about 800 metres. The most popular spot is the first 100 metres after you turn left (North, towards C). Here are some pictures from that area:

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