Category Archives: Thailand

Thailand_PhiPhi

Ko Phi Phi (Don), Thailand

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IN BRIEF :

Phi Phi is off the West Coast of Thailand, 40 km South East of Phuket. It has some very impressive karst rock formations and many beautiful beaches. Its natural beauty, plus its fame from appearing in a Hollywood movie, has turned it into a mass-market tourist destination.

Most tourists do their snorkelling on a round-the-island boat trip.

Opportunities for off-the-beach snorkelling are limited. The reef-edge is about 100 metres away from the beach and is under the path of a hundred speed-boat propellers. It is not safe to snorkel at the reef-edge.

That said, there are a few options:

-The East coast of Phi Phi Don has some decent coral and, because the area is fairly remote, there is less boat traffic there.
-At the Southern end of Haat Yao (Long Beach), (known as “Shark Point”) there is a reasonable chance of seeing black-tip reef sharks in the shallows. Scared about sharks? Read this.
-A big rock 150m off the beach at Shark Point attracts a lot of fishlife, and provides protection from boat traffic.

Phi Phi is quite far from the mainland, which makes for a good range of fish species. Even in the shallower (=safer) waters near the beach, you can see a decent range of fishes – certainly those from my Thailand Common reef-fish page.

The coral is mostly Porites species (lump/hump coral) plus the occasional spots of branching, bracket and star corals thrown-in.

The condition of the coral varies from place-to-place. In the shallow-waters of the roped-off swim-zones, corals are generally shabby. The popular stops on the daytrip-tours are often smashed-up by boat anchors. But the coral on the East coast drop-off is in decent condition.

I visited for a week in April (the end of the dry season). Underwater visibility was about 6m, which isn’t quite as “crystal clear” as the tour-brochures suggest, but is good-enough, and typical of the Andaman Sea.

Overall, Phi Phi is a reasonable place to do some snorkelling if you are already there for your beach/party vacation, but, given that the best coral is kinda dangerous to get to, I don’t think I would make a special trip there for the snorkelling.

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.

Ko / Koh / เกาะ is “island”
Ao / Au / อ่าว is “bay”
Haat / Haad / หาด is “beach”
Laem/ Lam / แหลม is “cape/point/headland”
Hin / หิน is “rock”

A bay which also has a beach might be labelled as either Haat or Ao. Don’t get hung up on the difference – they are both the same place.

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General Orientation

Mu Ko Phi Phi (หมู่เกาะพีพี) is an archipelago of six islands. (Mu means “group”).
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The only island with accommodation for overnight stays is the biggest one, Ko Phi Phi Don (เกาะพีพีดอน).
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(image credit wikitravel).

As this website is all about off-the-beach snorkelling, this page only covers Ko Phi Phi Don. For everywhere else, access is by boat-trip only. There is (err, will be) another page here, which covers the other islands.

Phi Phi Don is often said to be in the shape of a weightlifter’s dumbbell – two rocky, hilly islands joined together by a low-level sandy isthmus. The Western island (Ko Nork, เกาะนอก, “Outside Island”) is uninhabited, with towering cliffs all over it. The Eastern island (Ko Nai, เกาะใน, “Inside Island”) is where you will find all the resorts, bars and beaches.

I have to confess, I’m not a fan of highly developed, tourist places.
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Maya Bay, Phi Phi Ley

Paying 2-3 times the market rate for everything; being kept awake ’til 3am by the noise of the teenagers jive-ing away at the lindy hop; then having to dodge all the puddles of puke in the morning is not my idea of a good time.

Previously, I have only seen Phi Phi from the relative safety of daytrips from Ko Lanta. But in April 2015, I decided it was time to give the place a fair-chance and stay for a week, to have a proper look around.

I stayed in (cheapo) Ton Sai Town, which was as dire and noisy as expected, but I did discover that around the rest of island is a wide network of walking tracks. Armed with a bottle of water, a sun hat and a mask & snorkel, there are plenty of more-isolated spots to discover.

Phi Phi Don is very hilly, so (unless you are shelling-out on a taxiboat), be ready for long hikes up and down steep hills to get anywhere. It is going to be hot – take some water and suncream.

There are several viewpoints dotted around the island – all worth visting if you have your walking legs on. They are marked as VP1, VP2, etc. on my map.

The tracks leading to the viewpoints are a good way to get from one end of the island to the other. Here’s a tip: You have to pay a small fee (30B) to get into (or through) the “”main” viewpoint (VP2), but there is a way of skirting this premium route if you don’t want to carry money on your snorkelling escapades. Details down the page (do a local search [Edit>Find (on this page)] for the “Walking Tracks” section).

There is a good general orientation on Phi Phi at wikitravel.

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Underwater Orientation

There is fringing reef around 60% of Phi Phi Don, but the best bit of the reef (the drop-off) is a looong way out from the beach – often 100m to 200m. This puts you slap-bang in the middle of the boat lanes, with daytrip speedboats and ferries from Krabi, Phuket, etc. all vying to be the first one to cut-off your head. Many beaches have roped-off swim-zones extending 30m off the beach, but these are built for sunbathers to wash-off their sun-cream, not for snorkellers to see some decent coral. The safe-zones don’t extend-out far enough to envelop any decent reef. You will need to hike to the quieter parts of the island to find decent coral in swim-safe areas.

The fish life in Phi Phi is pretty good compared with other islands closer to the mainland. Interesting fish often come into the roped-off, shallow waters. There is a good range of Wrasse, Rabbitfish, Surgeonfish species, as well as the usual Parrotfish and Butterflyfish, Less-common species seen include a few Sweetlips, and some schooling Trevally and Fusiliers.

The Burgundy coloured line on my maps is the area that I snorkelled.

Access
Most entry-points into the water are from sandy beaches. Hard-soled footwear isn’t essential, but it is always a good idea, just-in-case. Some beaches do have difficult access to the water at low tides, because of the coral in the shallows. See the individual sections, below.

Currents
Currents were no problem. There was a mild current running North to South down the East coast, which was tedious to swim against, but nothing serious. At more remote locations, I couldn’t get around the headlands at 10a or 8d. Elsewhere, there were no currents at all.

Jellyfish
In a week’s worth of snorkelling, I only saw two jellyfish and they were of the non-stinging variety.

General Safety considerations
Boats, boats, boats. Plus the standard ones listed here.

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That’s enough orientation – let’s get on with the area-by-area details:

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Areas 1, 2 and 3 – Southwest Ko Nai

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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

This stretch of coastline is characterised by long, flat, sandy beaches broken up by the occasional rocky headland. Most beach-side resorts are in this area.

There is a long track leading all the way along this stretch of coast. Occasionally, it turns-up the hillside to skirt-round a resort (even needing a climb-rope at one point), but, generally, this area is one of the easiest parts of the island to reach.

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Area 1 – Ton Sai to Viking Nature Resort

The first beach at Ton Sai (area 1a on the map) is mainly a boat-park. The beach is fine for sitting-out in the sun, and it is conveniently close to lots of bars and restaurants, but it is a non-starter for snorkelling. The shallows are mud-flats for about the first 50 metres off the beach and after that, the water is still only knee-deep for another 100m:
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You can see the location of the reef drop-off in the picture (waaay off in the distance – where the sea turns dark-blue,). Beyond this drop-off is the busiest area for boats on the whole island, as it is the deep-water entrance to the jetty. This area is a total non-starter for snorkelling. Move along, please.

Around the headland and into Haat Hin Khom (“sharp rock beach”), things aren’t that different. There is less mud and more sand, but the rake of the beach is still very shallow. At low tides, the few small chunks of coral get exposed to the air, which kills them off. The coral here is something to stub your toe on, rather than to marvel at.

The light blue areas on the map indicate this kind of shallow water (typically less-than knee-deep at low-tide).

Heading South East, when you get past area 1b, the water starts to get deeper.

Between areas 1b and 1c, you start to see actual, living coral:
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Satellite pictures show area 1c as a popular stop-off for snorkel-trip boats. Here’s the reef there, together with a smattering of reef fish:
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In Phi Phi, where there are boats, there are boat anchors. Boat captains don’t seem to worry about what they do to the corals:
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We are at the edge of the reef now, where the reef slopes down to the deeper waters of the bay. This reef “drop-off” is traditionally the best area for finding wildlife; but, being in the boat-trip lane of a developed tourist island – it is not very safe to come here. I visited in the late afternoon, when most boats had gone away. The early morning (say, before 8am) would be another possibility. At all other times, I wouldn’t even contemplate swimming here without boat-cover.

This is the drop-off between areas 1c and 1d:
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Here’s a Parrotfish and a Red Breasted/Maori Wrasse:
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…and a few schooling Moorish Idols:
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I also saw an uncommon adult Many-Spotted/Harlequin Sweetlips skulking-off under a rock.

Btw, if you hover your mouse over any picture with a fish in, you can see the name of the species at the bottom of your browser window. Also, check out the Specieslist for a longer list.

Approaching the end of Haat Hin Khom (at area 1d), I saw some of these uncommon Twotone-Dartfish (Ptereleotris evides). Here, they are surrounded by a variety of Wrasses:
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At 1d, a couple of new coral species come into the picture:
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The stretch from 1d to 2a had scrappy corals, but some decent life in the shape of this Vagabond Butterflyfish and funky two-tone Sea Urchin:
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I also saw an uncommon Blue Spined Surgeonfish here.

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Area 2 – Haat Yao

Haat Yao (Long beach, หาดยาว) is a 500m stretch of sand, housing four or five popular mid-range resorts. There is a walking path leading there from Ton Sai town, (walkers’ Hint: At Bay View Resort – go past the restaurant then turn left up a paved service-road for a few metres; then turn right and continue along the elevated footpath running parallel to the coast. Hint2: At Viking Nature Resort, there are a few divergent tracks through the resort, but they are well signposted and end up at the same destination. When you get to the end of Viking Nature Resort, take a right, down the steep, rootsy track down to the start of Haat Yao. There is a climb rope here to help you down, but don’t be discouraged – I saw five-year-old children using it just fine.

Back at sea, you shouldn’t have any trouble spotting the headland where Viking Nature Resort is:
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Here’s the scene at the drop-off, halfway round Viking’s rocky headland:
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Rounding the headland into Haat Yao, at 2a:
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Centre-shot, slinking off into the distance, is the uncommon Yellowtail-Scad:
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Here is the scene about a third of the way down Haat Yao (level with Blue Sky Resort):
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..where someone has been trying to seed some new coral growth:
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This Whitecheek Monocle Bream is fairly uncommon:
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The best coral I found on all of Phi Phi was here, at the drop-off, about level with Long Beach Bungalows:
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Continuing South East down Haat Yao, there were some schooling One-Spot Snapper and Sergeant Major Damselfish:
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Towards the end of Haat Yao, I had some fun chasing around after some Orange-Spined Unicornfish:
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and saw an evil (coral eating) Crown-of-Thorns Starfish:
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Like I said – the drop-off is quite a way out from the beach and (even setting-aside the danger from boats), some folks might feel uncomfortable being this far away from dry land:
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The safer alternative is to snorkel closer to shore. Unfortunately, the corals are nowhere near as good here. The coral in these shallower waters are typically like this:
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Right next to the beach, there are roped-off safe swim-zones to keep swimmers and boats apart. It is a looong way from the edge of the swim-zone to the decent coral at the drop-off:
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But the fish-life can still be good there. I met this cheeky school of Trevally in the shallows near 2d:
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Area 3 – Shark Point

Shark Point is at the Southern end of Haat Yao. You shouldn’t have trouble finding it:
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There is a line of submerged rocks leading out to a bigger rock 100m offshore:
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(the rock is centre-right, btw, – not Phi Phi Lay, out on the horizon!)

Small blacktip reef sharks often cruise near the big rock – sometimes on the left (3b), sometimes on the right (3a).

Again, you need to be quite a way out from the beach to get to where the action is. See how far the rock is from the swim-zone?:
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At least you are protected from speedboats here, as they can’t get through the line of shallow rocks, and will take a wider berth.

If you feel more comfortable staying in the shallows, there is always a chance of seeing a shark there, but the chances are better the further out you go.

Don’t expect too much from the corals in the shallows:
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To spot a shark, you will have to be patient and eagle-eyed, as they are timid and well-camouflaged against they grey, rocky bottom:
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Underwater visibility wasn’t good here. In these pictures, I have had a lot of help from Doctor Photoshop to remove the murk from the water.

For the best chance of seeing a shark, try to keep still in the water. Be prepared to wait for a long time, scanning all around for a flicker in the greyness. It seems that most people arrive here in a boat, swim around for ten minutes, see nothing, then get back in the boat and leave again. Have patience, grasshopper.

I came here on three occasions and saw sharks on two of those – both times on the left/South/3b side of the rocks.

Usually sharks are more active in the low-light of the mornings and evenings, but here, they seemed just as forthcoming in the middle of the day.

Good luck!

Scared about sharks? Read this.

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Shark Point is not all about the sharks. I saw this Great Barracuda chilling-out in the shallows:
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…and the big rock at the, err, point of Shark Point provides shelter for a multitude of reef-fish.

This is probably the best place on Phi Phi for looking at reef-fish:
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(Mouseover for species names, or checkout the Specieslist).

There are even a couple of dabs of coral:
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Well, that’s the it for best of Phi Phi’s ‘easy-to-reach’ snorkelling. If you want more places for decent snorkelling, you will have to haul-yourself over the hill to the East coast.

I swam around the point (Laem Por) to get to the East side.

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Area 4 – Laem Por (แหลมพ้อ)

Leaving Shark Point, I had to twist & turn to avoid picking-up an unwelcome passenger:
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Sharksuckers attach themselves on to sharks and other big fish (and people) to get an easy ride (plus some free food). They are persistent little beggars and can rip your skin if you remove them wrongly, so it is best not to let them on-board in the first place. Repeated foot-in-the-face-moves will eventually get rid of them.

There was some living coral, at 4a,right at the end of Haat Yao:
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But, on turning the corner, everything became boring rocks:
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There is not much to recommend snorkelling this section of the island. Underwater, it is all rocks. Up top, it is one of the busiest areas for boat traffic, because everyone cuts-in to get round the corner to the Northern beaches or Krabi.

The only appeal here is a couple of intriguing-looking little beaches.

I think that this first one is part of PP Hill resort:
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I’m not sure about this one at 4b:
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If you want to investigate those, I would suggest coming by kayak. Swimming here from Haat Yao is probably not a good idea.

The rocky seabed continues on upto the beach at Ao Por:
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When you arrive at Ao Por, there is sand and rocks underwater, but no coral:
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Ao Por / Poh / Pooh (อ่าวพ้อ, ?Winge Bay?!) is a mysterious little number, accessible overland by some confusing tracks going over the hill from “Phi Phi The Beach Resort” at the Southern end of Haat Yao.
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It was high tide when I swam past Ao Por. The beach was non-existent at high water. But here is the more expansive version, at low tide:
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Apparently, Ao Por used to house a nice backpacker resort. At the time of writing (2015),there were only some abandoned, half-built luxury cabanas up the hillside and half a concrete outhouse behind the beach. I don’t know what the story is, but no-doubt it won’t be long before some kind of development resumes.

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Getting there:
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To get to Ao Por by walking from Haat Yao, start at Phi Phi The Beach Resort and head up the steep paved road running perpendicular to the beach. Follow the signs to the Seaview Sunrise Bar (or Monkey bar):
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When you get to the Sunrise Bar, continue straight ahead (through it) and on down the hill to find the rough track to the sea:
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If you are staying at Phi Phi Hill Resort, there is also a track next to Bungalow F4, which joins up with the West-East track on the top of the hill. Turn right on it to reach the Sunrise Bar and then continue as above.

Back in the sea, I continued past Ao Por and on Northwards towards Ao Lo Mu Dii. Soon the coral started up again. It was in quite good condition:
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Now that we’re back into coral territory, we can can consider the East coast to have properly started.

Area 5 – East Coast

The East coast is a bit of a hike from the rest of the island but with 6 km of coral reef running alongside, it is worth a visit.

Above the water, the coastline is mainly steep and rocky, but there are are a few long, sandy bays dotted up and down the coast. Most of the beaches have a couple of resorts – mostly quiet, midrange, family places.

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Getting there:
All the beaches can be reached by steep, narrow footpaths radiating down from the high-ground in the middle of the island. There is no formal coastal path but people report that you can rock-hop between beaches when the tide is low.

East coast (Southern half):
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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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Ao Por to Ao Lo Moo Dii

Continuing North from Ao Por (at 5a), there is a solid showing of coral, mostly in good condition, and with some species diversity:
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After about 500m, you approach Ao Lo Moo Dii/ Loh Mu Dee (อ่าวโละมูดี).

Phi Phi island was on the original migration route of the Chao Leh, sea gypsy people, who originated from Sumatra in Indonesia and took-up residence on various islands up the Andaman coast.

Many placenames on Ko Phi Phi are just the “sound” of the Chao Leh/Indonesian/Malay names and don’t mean anything in Thai. Anything starting with “Loh/Lo” is a case in point.

Ao Lo Moo Dii has a beautiful, long, quiet beach, backed by coconut palms:
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At the time of writing (2015), Ao Lo Moo Dii had no resorts – only a single, private restaurant which was marked-up as being for the exclusive use of the Nonthasak daytrip boat out of Phuket.

I’m not sure if the beach is private, but the caretaker fella didn’t seem to mind a few interlopers, as long as you don’t act like you own the place.

The area behind the beach was all marked-out with string, in preparation for the building of about 20 bungalows on the site. Tezza says that its been on the cards since 2002.

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Getting there:
You’re unlikely to come here by swimming. The walking route from Haat Yao is an extension of the service road for Phi Phi The Beach Resort. To find it, just head up the concrete road at the South end of Phi Phi The Beach Resort and, when you’ve got as high as you can, turn left to Ao Lo Moo Dii (instead of right to Ao Por).

There are a few signposts on the way:
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and those two maps to Ao Por apply again: 1 2.  (One of the maps shows a coastal path from Por to Lo Moo Dii, which I didn’t find).

It is not too far until you reach the track down to Ao Lo Moo Dii:
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And the beach:
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As with all the other beaches on Phi Phi, it is a long way from the beach to the drop-off.

The shallows are mostly sandy and free-from toe-stubbable coral relics.

Technically, you are still at risk from speed-boat propellers at the drop-off, but the amount of boat traffic is much lower here, because many of the boats will have veered-off South East towards Krabi. Also, the reef is a little wider, so you don’t need to go right up to the edge of it to find good coral.

The best coral in Ao Lo Moo Dii is at its Southern end. Here are a couple of spots in the South, near the drop-off:
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There is even a patch of lovely soft-coral:
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The coral is not pristine, but it is in pretty-good condition. This is certainly one of the best snorkelling spots on the island.

Here are a couple of notable fish found in the area:
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(Mouseover for species names), or see the Specieslist.

Here is a shot of the coral a little further North (about halfway along the bay):
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Some daytrip speedboats make a stop here:
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A few spots on the East coast enjoy the presence of mooring buoys, so that boats don’t smash-up the coral by dropping their anchors on it. I will never understand why nobody thought of this twenty years ago for the rest of Phi Phi.

The restaurant/caretaker guy’s responsibilities seem to include buoy maintenance:
258_5-Buoy-Management_20150407_IMG_5948.jpg

There is also coral in the shallower waters, closer into the beach, but, like everywhere else, it isn’t as good as the deeper stuff. This is in about one meter of water:
260_5-LMD-Shallows_20150407_IMG_5931.jpg

(btw, the depth at the top of the drop-off is typically 2-3 metres, which is fine for snorkelling)

The coral continues in the North of the bay, but is in worse condition:
265_5-North-LMD_20150402_IMG_4857.jpg 266_5-Nth-Scraggy_20150402_IMG_4861.jpg

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Ao Lo Moo Dii to Ao Pak Naam

It is a 1km swim to reach the next beach to the North – Ao Toh Ko.

Here’s a coral shot from early-on:
280_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4865GT.jpg

There are some intriguing-looking derelict huts halfway along the way:
281_5-Intriguing-Derelict-Huts_20150402_IMG_4867GT.jpg
Note the kayak parked in the driveway!

More corals, from the same spot:
283_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4868GT.jpg 284_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4869.jpg

A couple of interesting species-finds were this Scorpionfish, who failed camouflage class:
285_5-Scorpionfish_20150402_IMG_4872.jpg

…some vertically-unchallenged Razorfish (Aeoliscus strigatus):
287_5-Razorfish-Aeoliscus-strigatus_20150402_IMG_4873.jpg

a pretty, Long Beaked Coralfish:
289_5-Long-Beaked-coralfish_20150402_IMG_4880.jpg

and a Bluespined Surgeonfish retreating into the depths:
292_5-Bluespined-Surgeonfish_20150402_IMG_4876.jpg

Here are the corals on the Northernmost bit of this stretch, approaching Ao Toh Ko:
296_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4881.jpg

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Ao Toh Ko (อ่าวโต๊ะกอ) is a secluded bay with a 200m metre beach and a lone resort.

298_5-Approaching-Toko_20150402_IMG_4882_.jpg
299_5-Toko-n-Rantee-from-the-Ferry_20150401_IMG_4743.jpg

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Getting there:
There is a walking track to Ao Toh Ko signposted from the track behind Viewpoint 2:
302_5-Its-a-Siiign_20150401_IMG_4774GT.jpg
(the junction is marked as J1 on my map).

Apparently, at low tide, it is also possible to walk along a coastal track to Lo Moo Dii. Tezza says that at low tides you can also rock-hop North to Ao Ran Tii.

Here are a couple of shots from the bay outside Toh Ko Beach Resort:
303_5-Toko-bay-Corals_20150402_IMG_4883.jpg 304_5-Beaked-Coralfish_20150402_IMG_4884.jpg

305_5-Tohko-Resort_20150402_IMG_4885GT.jpg

The next bay to the North is Ao Ran Tii. From Ao Toh Ko, it is a 300m swim around a rocky stretch of coastline.

I only took one underwater picture on this stretch, so I guess that the area was unremarkable. Here’s the picture. It is a Clam:
306_5-Clam_20150402_IMG_4888.jpg
It is fairly big, but it isn’t a Giant Clam, which is a distinct species (and extinct in Thailand).

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Ao Ran Tii (อ่าวรันตี) is another secluded bay. It has 300 metre beach and a couple of mid-range resorts:
309_5-Approaching-Rantii_20150402_IMG_4891GT.jpg

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Getting there:
Walking access (like with Toh Ko) is via a track from “Junction 1” (J1 on my map):

Tezza reports that, at low tide, you can also rock-hop South to Ao Toh Ko and North to Ao Pak Naam.

314_5-Rantii-Restaurant_20150402_IMG_4897.jpg

Here’s a view of the corals in the bay:
310_5-Rantii-Coral_20150402_IMG_4892GT.jpg 311_5-Rantii-Coral_20150402_IMG_4893.jpg

Continuing Northwards, here are some coral-shots:
318_5-Corals-North-of-Rantii_20150402_IMG_4900.jpg

Most (?all) of the Andaman’s shallow-water Staghorn corals were nuked by the temperature-warming events of 2010 (and 1996):
319_5-Corals-North-of-Rantii_20150402_IMG_4901GT.jpg
These are no exception.

Some interesting wildlife found on this stretch:
321_5-Juvi-Brown-Sweetlips_20150402_IMG_4898.jpg 338_5-One-Spot-Snapper_20150402_IMG_4927.jpg 337_5-Brown-Sweetlips_20150402_IMG_4916.jpg 335_5-Jellybean-Coral-n-Clarkes-Nemo_20150402_IMG_4922.jpg 334_5-Crown-of-Thorns-Starfish_20150402_IMG_4919.jpg Thai_PPDon_330_5-Coral-Rabbitfish_20150402_IMG_4913 325_5-Juvi-Yellow-Boxfish_20150402_IMG_4907.jpg 324_5-Silver-Batfish_20150402_IMG_4909.jpg 323_5-Yellowbelly-Damselfish_20150402_IMG_4904.jpg 322_5-Moon-Wrasse-n-Bannerfish_20150402_IMG_4903.jpg
Mouseover for names.

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The next secluded bay to the North is Ao Pak Naam (อ่าวผักหนาม). It translates as “Spiky Vegetable” bay – though I’m not sure which spiky vegetable.

The oldest resort here is called “Relax Beach Resort” and you will sometimes find the beach referred to as “Relax Beach”, rather than Pak Naam Beach (including on the sign back at J1):

I did use the walking track when I left this beach. When it reached the high ground at the centre of the island, I followed it round a tangle of tracks to emerge at junction J3, rather than J1 (where it is also signposted).

The coast-end of the access track runs parallel to the coast, about 30 metres above sea-level. This gives you a good aerial view of Pak Naam Bay:
341_5-Pak-Naam-Bay-from-Relax-Rst-Hilltop_20150402_IMG_4989.jpg

You can see a lot of corals in the shallows. These toe-stubbers make it difficult to get to the drop-off at low tides. This is common at a few of Phi Phi’s East coast beaches, but it seems to be the worst, here. There is a tiny group of fishermens’ huts at the North end of the beach – use one of their boat-lanes as an easy way to get past the toe-stubbers and out to the deep water beyond.

Out on the horizon are Ko Yung/Mosquito Island (on the left) and Ko Mai Pai/Bamboo Island on the right.

Here’s the view of Haat Pak Naam, taken from the drop-off:
342_5-Pak-Naam-Beach-from-the-Dropoff_20150402_IMG_4942GT.jpg

The corals out there typically look like this:
344_5-Haat-PakNaam-Corals_20150402_IMG_4944.jpg 343_5-Haat-Pak-Naam-Corals_20150402_IMG_4941.jpg

Some interesting sea-life here was this Varicose Phyllidia Nudibranch (a kind of sea-slug) and a small school of departing Lattice Butterflyfish:
346_5-Varicose-Phyllidia-Nudibranch_20150402_IMG_4939.jpg 348_5-Lattice-Butterflyfish_20150402_IMG_4947.jpg

The were also crowds of audacious Sergeant Major Damselfish:
349_5-Sergeant-Major-Damsels_20150402_IMG_4937.jpg
Hoards of Sergeant Majors is usually a sign that daytrip boats stop here and feed them. Please don’t feed fish – it is bad for the ecosystem. Why? Read this or this.

It is another 500m on to the next bay, Ao Lo Ba Kao.

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Ao Pak Naam to Ao Lo Baakao

Coral condition on this stretch is pretty good. These are from the Southern section:
357_5-Corals-Nth-of-PakNaam_20150402_IMG_4951.jpg 372_5-Coral-Nth-Paknaam_20150402_IMG_4958.jpg 363_5-Corals-Nth-of-PakNaam_20150402_IMG_4955.jpg 360_5-Corals-Nth-of-PakNaam_20150402_IMG_4953.jpg

Some interesting sea-life on the way included these schooling Sweepers:
377_5-Sweepers_20150402_IMG_4959.jpg

… a stealthy Scorpionfish:
378_5-Scorpionfish_20150402_IMG_4984.jpg

… the pookie-dancing juvenile Many-Spotted Sweetips:
383_5-Juvi-Many-Spotted-Sweetlips_20150402_IMG_4981.jpg

… and an uncommon species of Sea-Urchin, Mespilia Globulus:
384_5-Urchin-Mespilia-Globulus_20150402_IMG_4976.jpg

Further North (almost at Ao Lo Baakao), coral condition is more variable:
386_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4966.jpg 388_5-Corals_20150402_IMG_4973.jpg

with a good showing by a Sea Fan:
385_5-Sea-Fan_20150402_IMG_4985.jpg

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This fancy resort (?Villa 360) marks the start of Ao Lo Baakao:
390_5-Fancy-Resort-South-LBK_20150402_IMG_4963GT.jpg

By now, it was low-tide and it seemed impossible to get across the corals in the shallow bay:
391_5-Ao-Lo-Baakao_20150402_IMG_4965_.jpg
so I turned around and swam back to Ao Pak Naam, ready for the long walk home.

Apparently, it is possible to walk between Ao Lo Baakao and Ao Pak Naam along the rocky coastline. It looks feasible from here:
392_5-Rock-Hop-PakNaam-LoBaaKao_20150402_IMG_4970.jpg
..but why would you when you can swim 🙂 ?

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East Coast, Northern stretch
395_5n67-Map-5n67.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

Lo Baakao Area

I resumed my East coast journey the next day by taking the walking track from Ton Sai to Ao Lo Baakao.

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Getting there:
The track to Lo Baakao has a different starting point from the three previous ones. For Ao Lo Baakao, you have to haul yourself up to the highest viewpoint (Viewpoint 3) and take the little turning 100m before it (Junction 4 (J4) on my map), then descend Northwards down the narrow dusty path. When you get to sea level, there is a T-junction with a paved footpath. The right turn leads to the South end of Ao Lo Baakao; and the left turn loops around to the North end. The left turn also has a spur off to Ao Lo Laana on the West-coast.

(By the way, there is a section on Walking Tracks at the end of this article. It goes into more detail on directions, etc.).

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Ao Lo Baakao (อ่าวโละบาเกา) is a huge sandy bay, dominated by a single midrange (somewhat corporate) resort:
400_5-Lo-BaaKao-Bay-n-PP-Island-Rst_20150408_IMG_5978.jpg

402_5-PP-Island-Rst_20150404_IMG_5199.jpg

The resort keeps changing hands (and names). At the time of writing it had just finished being Outrigger Phi Phi Island Resort. Many of the signposts on the walking track still point to that name, so it is good to know, even though it is probably called something else by now (edit: I think it is reverting to its previous name of Phi Phi Island Village).

This part of the island is on low ground and it is one of the few places where you can get from one coast to the other without breaking into a sweat. There is another sandy bay (Ao Lo Laana) ten minutes away on the West Coast. On the flatland between the two coasts is a small village (labelled “High Street” on my map). It has a few general stores and some driftwood restaurants where escapees from the expensive resort can sample what they think is local culture and prices. Ha!

403_5-LBK-River_20150404_IMG_5195GT.jpg

404_5-LBK-Village-Restaurants_20150404_IMG_5196.jpg
853_ALTMAP2-Lo-Baakao-n-Environs_20150401_IMG_4783.jpg

From here North, everything is veeery expensive, with rooms typically in the 9000+THB range.

A couple of last-chance exceptions are Coral Bay Resort, set back behind the big resort:
406_5-Coralbay-Hut-2400THB_20150408_IMG_5973.jpg
But it is hardly a bargain. This hut (overlooking a dusty road) goes for 2400THB (sleeps 3).

There is also a dorm/tent/backpacker joint on the West side (more about that in section 7, Ao Lo Laana).

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Ao Lo Baakao to Laem Thong

Let’s get back in the water and continue our journey up the East coast….

That East Coast (Northern Section) map again.

The seabed in Lo Baakao bay is sandy, straight-off-the-beach. It is suitable for dunking the kids in on a hot day. But further out (in knee-deep water) there are many chunks of dead coral which, at low tide, would make it difficult to get any further. Not that there is any reason to do so – there is no coral reef here. A hundred metres out from the beach, the sandy bottom just slopes down and down into the depths.

This is the sort of place where you pay for the organised boat trip, not do do-it-yourself snorkelling.

If you do want to get in or out via the bay, there is a deep-water channel at the Northern end (that ultimately leads to the river which runs through the village). It is not a comfortable swim. You will have to compete with longtail taxi boats and more ‘industrial’ scale vessels delivering goods to the resort and village.

The coral reef starts-up again as you head North from sandy Ao Lo Baakao. But if you are swimming out from the bay, note that the drop-off into deep water remains sand (not coral). The reef, itself, sits in a narrow strip, closer to the shore. If you are further out (swimming North from the bay, following the sandy drop-off), you might fail to notice the reef.

See what I mean?:
431_5-Coral-Sand-dropoff-conundrum-MU_20150408_IMG_5979.jpg

Here is the coral a couple of hundred metres North of Ao Lo Baakao:
432_5-Leaving-LBK_20150404_IMG_5207.jpg

Here, I saw my only Moray Eel:
434_5-Moray-Eel_20150404_IMG_5210.jpg

Continuing North, the coral is in reasonable shape:
436_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5212.jpg

and I saw this Skunk Anemonefish playing in his Anemone home:
438_5-Skunk-Anemonefish_20150404_IMG_5220.jpg

Here is the coral about halfway to the next resort (Holiday Inn):
440_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5222GT.jpg

Continuing up the coastline, the coral is similar:
444_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5224.jpg

With an occasional flourish:
446_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5225.jpg

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Soon, you arrive at the hi-falutin’ end of the island – Haat Laem Thong.

Laem Thong is the long, skinny peninsula that occupies the Northern third of Phi Phi Don.

“Laem” means cape/peninsula.

Thai is a tonal language and it also has several letters which sound identical to each other. Consequently, for each “word” like “Thong”, there are actually up-to five (and often ten or twenty) different words in Thai that all end-up being “Thong” when squeezed into the tight shoes of the Western alphabet. Most maps are written in English and I was expecting that the ‘Thong’ in Laem Thong would be ทอง (golden). “Golden peninsula” sounds nice, doesn’t it? But, no. It turns out that the Thai is ตง. The best translation I can find for this is “girder”. So, welcome to Girder-Peninsula Beach, holidaymakers.

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Haat Laem Thong (หาดแหลมตง) is a 500m long stretch of sand hosting four or five high-end resorts. This is where the high-rollers come.

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Getting there:
There is a paved walking path from Ao Lo Baakao to Haat Laem Thong. Paved, so that the well-heeled resort guests don’t damage their, well, heels. It is wide and flat enough to take a luxury golf-cart taxi, so shouldn’t give you any problems walking it.

Walking North from Ao Lo Baakao, the path tips-out on the beach at the South end of Holiday Inn Resort:
452_5-South-end-of-HLT-by-Holiday-Inn_20150408_IMG_5986.jpg
The beach is quite narrow down this end, but widens-out, the further you go up the beach.

Ho-tel, mo-tel, Holiday Iiiin:
454_5-Hotel-Motel-HI_20150404_IMG_5233.jpg
This is actually quite a fancy resort.

Snorkelling in Laem Thong bay itself is as dull as ditch water. It is all plain, sandy bottom. This was the major highlight:
455_5-Haat-Laem-Thong-Snork_20150404_IMG_5230.jpg

Satellite pictures do show a coral reef dropoff, about 100m off the beach, but there were a lot of boats coming and going. Even to a suicidal-nutcase snorkeller, this was a propeller too far. Haat Laem Thong is another place where you are supposed to pay for the organised boat tour, rather than going it alone.

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Avoiding the boats and getting back into the deep-waters at the Northern end of Haat Laem Thong, this was the view looking back at the bay:
456_5-Leaving-HLT_20150404_IMG_5241GT.jpg

Heading North, the coral wasn’t all that great:
458_5-Coral-Nr-Natural-Rst_20150404_IMG_5242GT.jpg 464_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5246.jpg 462_5-Coral_20150404_IMG_5245.jpg 460_5-Nr-Natural-Rst_20150404_IMG_5243.jpg

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Area 6 – The Northern tip of Laem Thong

I wasn’t intending to swim right around the Northern point, because, according to the laws of snorkel-mechanics, ‘Strong Current + Remote Peninsula = Unhappy Ending’. So I gave it a few hundred metres out of Haat Laem Thong, then turned around and swam back again.

I went back to the Northern point a few days later on a walking-only sortie. I found that you can sneak through the back lanes, staff quarters and bottle dump of Phi Phi Natural Resort to reach the very Northern tip of the island. The last bit is a steep scramble down some climb-ropes to a cute little beach at the Northern tip.

It turns out there are plenty of snorkel escape-routes on both the North-East strip (seen here from a boat):
470_5-North-East_20150406_IMG_5734.jpg

..and the Northern-beach, itself:
472_5-North_20150406_IMG_5733.jpg 474_5-Northern-Beach_20150408_IMG_6000.jpg

The West coast would be more tricky to deal with – it is all steep rocks and no walking tracks.
Here is the view (from a boat), looking down the West side:
476_5-North-West_20150406_IMG_5728.jpg

I don’t recommend that you go to Area 6. From what I saw from the surface, the snorkelling didn’t look too special; there is a lot of boat traffic round the Northern point; and you never know what the currents will be doing. Plus, if you do need to make an emergency exit, you will have to trample through an expensive, private resort.

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Area 7 – Mid-West Laem Thong to Ao Lo Dalam

Having covered all I reasonably could on the East side of the island, I got ready to make my way back down the West side.

That North PP Don map again.

Halfway down Haat Laem Thong (near Jasmin Restaurant), there is a track going across to a service-jetty on the West side.

I went there, jumped off the jetty at 7a and started swimming South. Note that this a one-way ticket – you can jump-off the jetty into the sea here, but you can’t get back out of the water again (unless you can levitate!). It is all sharp rocks and surging waves on either side of the jetty, so don’t start something you can’t finish.

The West coast is quite pretty, with big rocks all along the waterline:
501_7a-L-West-Jetty-from-7b_20150404_IMG_5260.jpg
(if you look closely, you can see the service-jetty on the left, behind the orange buoy).

Unfortunately, lots of rocks above the surface often means lots of rocks below the surface. Which means dull snorkelling:
504_7ab-Rocks_20150404_IMG_5258.jpg

Occasionally, there is a peppering of coral growth on the rocks, but, generally, this section 7a7c is dull, dull, dull:
506_7-Rocks-n-Table-Coral_20150404_IMG_5266.jpg

There seems to be some kind of Sunset bar/restaurant up on the cliff at 7b:
508_7b-Sunset-Bar_20150404_IMG_5261.jpg
from the map, it looks like it belongs to Holiday Inn.

The rocky seabed continues as far as 7c, where some coral growth starts-up:
510_7c-Coral-Reef-starts-up_20150404_IMG_5268GT.jpg
It’s a bit scraggy, though.

Here’s the view from 7d, looking towards the beach:
513_7d-LoLana-Bay_20150404_IMG_5280GT.jpg

Ao Lo Laana (อ่าวโละลานะ) seems to be all flat, sandy bottom and very shallow water – not really worth snorkelling in. There is a deep(ish) channel dredged at the Northern end if you want to get in/out to the deeper water.

I didn’t swim ashore there, but I did walk there a couple of times.

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Getting there:
The walking route from the South is the same as for Ao Lo Baakao – up towards Viewpoint 3; take the downhill turning at J4, continue past J5 for 100m until you come to a T-junction with a paved path, where you turn left (then left again) for Ao Lo Laana.

The beach is attractive and is probably the emptiest one on Ko Phi Phi:
519_7-Haat-Lo-Laana_20150404_STA_5187.jpg
(at low tides, when boats can’t get there, anyway).

The resorts over on the East side (Ao Lo Baakao) are ridiculously expensive, but back at the West coast (Ao Lo Laana) there was some building going on, which might turn-out to be lower priced:
518_7-LoLaana-Newbuilds_20150404_IMG_5186.jpg

The better option for cheapskates is Green Beach Camping, about 100m back from the beach at Ao Lo Laana. They offer three-bed dorms (pictured) and also rent-out tents:
516_7-Green-Beach-Camping_20150404_IMG_5182.jpg
Toilets & showers are at the end of the garden.

I can’t find where I wrote down the prices, but they wasn’t as cheap as I expected. Somewhere around 500THB for a dorm and 400 for a tent. (edit: now that it’s open season again, Agoda is saying 400B for the dorm and 600B for (their) tent).

You wouldn’t want to carry a heavy backpack to here from Ton Sai – you will need to invest in a longtail taxi, just this once. Apparently, the asking price is 1000THB, or you can get about a third off that if you book it through the resort.

Back in the water, the mouth of Ao Lo Laana (at 7d) is a popular stop for daytrip speedboats:
531_7d-Snorkelboats_20150404_IMG_5275.jpg

Though I really couldn’t figure out why!:
532_7-Snorkelboats-snorkelling_20150404_IMG_5278.jpg

There is a small fishermens’ village on the South-western jaw of the bay:
534_7-Fishermens-Village_20150404_IMG_5279GT.jpg

The coastline on the 7e-7h stretch is rocky. There is a cool pinnacle at 7e:
536_7e-Cool-Rock_20150406_IMG_5722.jpg

It looks similar under the waterline:
537_7e-Cool-Rock_20150404_IMG_5284.jpg

There isn’t much underwater wildlife in these rocky environments, but these tangled Jellyfish were an interesting diversion:
539_7e-Jellyfish_20150404_IMG_5286.jpg

There are a few small rocky coves between 7e and f:
540_7f-Rocky-Coves_20150404_IMG_5289.jpg

I met this colourful Crown of Thorns Starfish there:
543_7f-Crown-of-Thorns-Starfish_20150404_IMG_5292.jpg

Around 7f, there are a few caves and overhanging rocks that you can swim under:
544_7f-Rocky-Overhang_20150404_IMG_5295GT.jpg 546_7f-Cool-Rock_20150404_IMG_5299.jpg

With the surging sea rising and falling, it was quite difficult to get into this cave:
547_7f-Stalactite-Cave_20150404_IMG_5307.jpg

..but the stalactites inside were cool:
548_7f-Stalactite-Cave_20150404_IMG_5313.jpg

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Rounding the corner at 7f, you come to Camel Rock:
550_7-Camel-Rock_20150404_IMG_5305.jpg

And Ao Noi (อ่าวน้ย):
551_7-Ao-Noy_20150404_IMG_5320.jpg

The ‘cute beach plus towering rock pinnacle’ combo makes for classic island imagery and, unsurprisingly, this is a popular stop for the daytrip boats:
553_7-Ao-Noy-Boats_20150404_IMG_5316.jpg

While the daytrip boats are parked-up between Ao Noi and Camel Rock, they drop people in for a snorkel. The coral here is pretty skanky:
554_7-Ao-Noy-Skanky-Coral_20150404_IMG_5324.jpg

I wonder why:
555_7-Ao-Noy-Anchor_20150404_IMG_5323.jpg

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Apparently, at low tides, it is possible to rock-hop from Ao Lo Laana to a track that starts near the fishermens’ village (7d-ish) and leads to Ao Noi. Local guy Chat (?from ‘the Beach Bar’- in the “High Street” on my map) seems keen to provide directions &/or assistance. If low tide coincides with early morning (before the tour boats arrive), you can get some great pictures.

I would have liked to swim out to Camel Rock, but every boat on the island comes whizzing through this strait and it was no-way safe to swim there.

The corals in the Southern half of Ao Noi were a little better than at the boat-zone:
556_7-South-Ao-Noy_20150404_IMG_5329.jpg
..but I couldn’t find anything (coral-wise) to support the “good snorkelling” claims I had read.

The views above the waves are much better:
557_7-SouthAo-Noy_20150404_IMG_5330.jpg

Leaving Ao Noi and swimming South, the limestone formations are the stars of the show:
559_7g-Camel-Rock_20150404_IMG_5350.jpg
560_7g-Cliff-face_20150406_IMG_5717.jpg

The underwater rocks were 95% boring:
562_7g-Rocks_20150404_IMG_5341.jpg

…with just an occasional feature to draw the interest:
563_7g-Softcorals_20150404_IMG_5344.jpg

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At 7g, the sloping shelf of underwater rocks turns into a plummeting wall of underwater rock:
566_7g-Wall_20150404_IMG_5355.jpg

..which, 5m deep, played host to some attractive Sea-Fans:
567_7g-Sea-fan_20150404_IMG_5356.jpg

Rocky terrains don’t tend to attract reef fish. They are, instead, the habitat of algae-feeders. One of these is the Lined Surgeonfish:
570_7g-Lined-Surgeonfish_20150404_IMG_5360GT.jpg
This one came-up to say goodbye to me as I was reaching the end of the rocky section near 7g.

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Entering the wider Ao Lo Dalam (อ่าวโละดาลัม), there are two or three small, isolated beaches nestling in its corner. You can reach them by kayak, or at a push, by rock-hopping at low tide:
571_7h-LoDalam-Little-Beaches_20150404_IMG_5368.jpg
Note that there is no shade from the sun.

There is some coral here, but it is in very poor condition:
573_7h-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5367.jpg

This continues further into the bay, towards Ton Sai town:
575_7hi-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5369.jpg

I tried to get out of the water between 7h and 7i, but it was impossible because the tide was low and the shallow waters were filled with bulky near-dead coral heads.

Instead, I followed the “drop-off” around past 7i and into the bay. Here are some shots of the coral on the stretch around 7i:
576_7i-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5372GT.jpg 579_7i-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5376GT.jpg 578_7i-Scraggy-Coral_20150404_IMG_5373GT.jpg
The coral is all a bit skanky, but if you are in Ton Sai town and you don’t want to walk very far for your snorkelling, then this is your closest option.

The underwater visibility was appalling here. The rake of the beach is very shallow and I guess that the outgoing tide was dragging all the murk along with it. If you are coming here, give it a try just before high tide, when, in theory, the visibility should be better.

Standing on the beach and looking out into the bay, you can see (on the right) those shallow coral heads that make access-to-the-water a non-starter:
582_7i-LoDalam-Shallow-Corals_20150404_IMG_5380.jpg

There are some tiny swim-zones in the shallows of the beach at Ao Lo Dalam (7j):
584_7j-Lo-Dalam-Beach_20150405_IMG_5395.jpg
These are really just to separate cooling sunbathers from parascenders’ speedboats. Don’t expect to find any remarkable snorkelling in these roped-off zones.

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West of Ton Sai

The Western end of the “dumbbell” that is Phi Phi Don is sometimes referred to as Ko Nork (“outside island”). It is uninhabited and very tall and rocky.

Here it is, seen from Viewpoint 3:
600_8-n-10-from-VP3_20150404_STz_5150_MU.jpg

602_8910-Map-8910.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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Area 8 – Ao Lo Dalam to Monkey Beach

If you are standing on the beach at Ao Lo Dalam, then to the, left around headland 8b, is Monkey Beach (หาดลิง) (more formally known as Ao Yong Kasaem (อ่าวหยงกาเส็ม)).

You can get there by kayak (rentals available at 8a). Or its not that big a deal to swim there.

Starting at 8a, I was hoping to find some decent coral on the way.

No such luck.

Ao Lo Dalam was badly hit by the 2004 tsunami. The first half of the swim is mostly bricks and rubble from former resorts.

Heading further North towards 8b, there is some coral, but its in appalling condition.

The only thing I saw of interest here was a nervous Blue-Fin Trevally, scuttling-off over the coral remnants:
603_8ab-Bluefin-Trevally_20150405_IMG_5407.jpg
This was the only example of this species that I saw in Phi Phi, (although, actually, I wouldn’t have expected to see any at all in this environment).

Approaching 8b, there was a school of Black-tip Silver Biddies passing through:
605_8b-Blacktip-Silver-Biddies_20150405_IMG_5411.jpg

… and some Needlefish:
606_8b-Needlefish_20150405_IMG_5420.jpg

… and the similar (but different) Halfbeaks:
607_8b-Halfbeaks_20150405_IMG_5426.jpg
The nose on the Halfbeak is only, well, half as thick as that on the Needlefish.

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Monkey Beach is a popular stop on the round-the-island boat trips and you will find a never-ending stream of speedboats and longtails calling in here, hoping that monkeys will come down from the highland forest to the beach:
609_8bc-Monkey-Beach2-boats_20150405_IMG_5438.jpg

With all those boats and people, it’s not exactly tranquil:
610_8bc-Monkey-Beach2-AM_20150405_IMG_5440.jpg
(Although it seems to get quieter in the afternoons).

If you are lucky, you might get to see some monkeys. Hopefully not surrounded by all the plastic garbage from yesterday’s throngs:
613_8bc-Nature1_20150405_IMG_5441.jpg

It is not good to feed wildlife in its natural habitat. Please don’t feed the monkeys. Here is a poster from neighbouring Malaysia giving some reasons why:
612_8-Langkawi-Monkey-Poster_P3114589.JPG

Nobody seems to care about such conservationism in Phi Phi. Boat captains throw out food to entice the monkeys down to the beach, and tour assistants hand-out bananas to customers as monkey food.

Please don’t perpetuate this kind of unnatural practice:
614_8bc-Nature2_20150405_IMG_5446.jpg

Also, you might just get bitten by a monkey when you run out of food for it. Feed me, Seymour.

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Several speedboat tours make Monkey Beach a snorkelling stop, too. The coral here is in bad condition:
617_8bc-MB2Coral_20150405_IMG_5428.jpg

I wonder why:
618_8bc-MB2Coral2_20150405_IMG_5429.jpg

Also, you should maybe watch-out for the boat-dude, trying to entertain himself while his tourists are at the beach:
619_8bc-Boat-Guy_20150405_IMG_5436.jpg

I swam along the reef edge from 8b to 8c, but didn’t find any snorkelling highlights.

I also had a swim out to the headland at 8d.

The coral here was in better condition, but it was still nothing special:
621_8d-Coral_20150405_IMG_5461GT.jpg

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Area 9 – West Ko Nork

The Westernmost coast of Phi Phi Don is all towering cliffs plunging vertically into the sea. I had thought I might try and swim it, but wasn’t too sure as it is a long way without any exit points.

As it turned out, there was a strong current running around the headland at 8d and I couldn’t get past it, anyway.

Nautical charts show no coral reef on the West side of the island. Plain rock can be so boring, so I guess there’s not much missed here.

I went along the West coast on a boat. Here’s the view at the Northern end:
627_9-NW-Nork_20150406_IMG_5707.jpg

..and a long-distance shot of the whole West side of Nork:
629_9-West-Nork_20150406_IMG_5695.jpg

Some daytrips visit a hidden bay halfway along the West coast (?Ao Wang Long/ อ่าวหวางหลง). Some also take you to the rock at the South end, so you can climb-up and jump-off it.

That’s all I got on Area 9.

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Area 10 – South East Ko Nork = West Ao Ton Sai

699_10-from-VP3_20150404_STz_5150_MU.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

That Ko Nork map again.

This last area is another stop for daytrip boats. The area has some beautiful karst cliff formations; another Monkey Beach (actually, three) and some (mostly unimpressive) snorkelling spots.

I enjoyed it here – more for the views of the cliffs than the corals.

I came here early in the morning, which is the best time – the sunrise is lighting up the cliffs and the day-boats haven’t started-up yet.

I started from the beach and snorkelled 10i-10a-10i. But, for the sake of anticlockwiseisity, lets start from the cape at 10a.

There is a steep wall at 10a – above and below the waterline:
700_10a-Currenty-Wall_20150403_IMG_5105.jpg 701_10a-Currenty-Wall_20150403_IMG_5117.jpg

There was a strong current running South, so I couldn’t (safely) get any further than 10a.

Many species enjoy a bit of current and the presence of those species, in-turn, sets up a food-chain which brings-in lots of other sights to see.

There were sea fans and assorted softcorals, and lots of tunicates & sponges:
702_10a-Currenty-Wall-Seafan_20150403_IMG_5114.jpg

..plus Golden Damsels and schooling Fusiliers:
703_10a-Currenty-Wall-Seafan_20150403_IMG_5106.jpg 704_10a-Currenty-Wall-Wideband-Fusiliers_20150403_IMG_5107.jpg 705_10a-Golden-Damselfish_20150403_IMG_5111.jpg

Actually, if it wasn’t so far from dry-land, this spot could easily win the ‘best-snorkelling-on-the-island’ badge.

Right next to 10a is a narrow gap between two rocks, leading to a tiny “secret” beach:
706_10b-Little-Beach_20150403_IMG_5099.jpg
Boats can’t get in here, so swimmers will have the place to themselves. Well, apart from all the washed-up plastic debris that is. The beach is only 10m x 5m, so you probably wouldn’t want to spend the whole day here, but squeezing through the narrow channel does make you feel like a bit of an explorer!

Continuing North, you reach the first of the three “Monkey Beaches”. This one is quite small and, as it was high-tide, it was very small indeed. That didn’t prevent them from cramming four speedboats and two longtails in, though:
708_10c-First-Monkey-Beach10_20150403_IMG_5125.jpg

The underwater scenery was lacklustre:
710_10cd-Corals_20150403_IMG_5082.jpg

But the stuff up top was nice:
711_10cd-Pinnacle_20150403_IMG_5091GT.jpg

At 10d, is the second Monkey Beach. Actually, at high tide, there was no beach, so these two monkeys are perched in the trees, catching the banana slices that the boatmen throw to them:
713_10d-Second-Monkey-Beach10_20150403_IMG_5085.jpg

The last Monkey Beach is the biggest (although, again, underwater here):
716_10e-Third-Monkey-Beach10_20150403_IMG_5075GT.jpg
The metal sign to the right (hanging on the cliff) is a faded “don’t feed the monkeys” job. No-one seems to take much notice.

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I like the look of the cliffs here:
719_10f-Cool-Rocks_20150403_IMG_5074GT.jpg

..and the coral was looking a little healthier, too:
722_10f-Better-Coral_20150403_IMG_5070.jpg 723_10f-Better-Coral_20150403_IMG_5071.jpg

Once, on a daytrip here from Ko Lanta, we were dropped near 10g for a snorkelling stop. The corals are in bad condition:
727_10g-Scabby-Corals_20150403_IMG_5058.jpg 728_10g-Scabby-Corals_20150403_IMG_5052.jpg
I don’t think the boat captains have much idea about what is below the waves!

Nearby was an attractive Lined Butterflyfish:
729_10g-Lined-Butterflyfish_20150403_IMG_5057.jpg

Pop-quiz: Are these Needlefish?:
730_10g-Halfbeaks_20150403_IMG_5065.jpg
No, they are Halfbeaks!

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Here are some more cool rock formations between 10g and h:
732_10gh-More-Cool-Rocks_20150403_IMG_5046.jpg

and here, at 10h, a small beach seems to serve as a car park for locals’ longtails:
735_10h-Locals-Carpark_20150403_IMG_5040GT.jpg

During the last stretch, heading in towards Mamas Resort (if your mama is Donald Trump!) the coral was pretty scummy:
737_10hi-Scummy-Corals_20150403_IMG_5032.jpg 739_10hi-Scummy-Corals_20150403_IMG_5026.jpg
The water was none-too-clean either. Don’t linger!

The stretch of beach from 10i back to Ton Sai jetty (1a) is fine for sitting-out, but there are way too many boats coming and going for it to be suitable for snorkelling.

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Well that’s it for the snorkelling – about 15km of coastline covered!

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. But if you do come to Phi Phi, then certainly head to Shark Point and the East coast for your bestest off-the-beach snorkelling.

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Walking tracks

If you want to get yourself around the island without shelling-out on expensive water taxis, there are plenty of walking tracks.

Some wide:
805_WT-General-Wide-Track_20150401_IMG_4776GT.jpg

Some not so wide:
806_WT-General-Thin-Track_20150404_IMG_5161.jpg

The tracks on my map are pretty accurate. I walked all of them (except the ones down to Toh Ko and Ran Tii beaches):
807_WT-Map-All-Walking-Tracks-1-3a.jpg
These are the main ones, but there will also be other, smaller ones, here-and-there.

The map should be mostly self-explanatory, but here are a few tips on finding your way around:

The free way:
For most long-distance journeys, you will have to climb up and over the Viewpoint. The main track from Ton Sai to Viewpoints 1 and 2 starts at the North East corner of town (at Junction 0 (J0) on my map). Climb up a steep set of concrete steps opposite the Garden Inn Resort.

You have to pay to get into (or pass through) Viewpoint 2. At time of writing, the charge was a nominal 30B. You get a ticket/receipt which is valid for the whole day so hold onto it (and keep it dry!) if you want to walk back later.

If you want to travel cash-free, you can avoid the pay-wall by instead starting at the walking street behind Lo Dalam beach. Follow it East, over the stinky creek, past Junction 2 (J2), up along the steep road between all the resorts, then when you run out of resorts (at Dusit Bungalows) continue along that same track, following the power lines. You’ll come to a 90 degree left turn where you turn left to continue following the power lines up a steep, wide track. When you see a scrappy locals house (which is also the Reception to a non-existent resort) and a blue sign pointing right, saying “PP Viewpoint”:
808_WT-Jx-Paypoint-North_20150402_IMG_5009.jpg
GPS: 7° 44′ 48.174,98° 46′ 39.12
… you have reached the pay-point (marked $ on my map). Don’t turn right and don’t pay (even if they ask you to), just continue straight on (which is free), following the power lines up another 30m of hill, then back down the other side of that 30m hill.

Congratulations, now you are past (=East of) the Viewpoint (VP2). From here, you can see the telephone tower at Viewpoint 3. You can either head up the hill towards it to get to J3/J4 and the Northern beaches; or turn right to get to Junction 1 for the South-Eastern beaches.

Here’s that free track, marked in red:
809_WT-Map-Freeway-1-3b.jpg

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Everything else about the walking tracks should become obvious if you can find and recognise the key junctions J1-5.

Here they are:
810_WT-Map-Central-Walking-Tracks-1-3b.jpg

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Junction 1 (J1) – From the wide, mid-island, North-South track, at Junction 1, a little track runs down to Toh Ko and Ran Tii beaches.
302_5-Its-a-Siiign_20150401_IMG_4774GT.jpg
GPS: 7° 44′ 42.732″,98° 46′ 46.332″
Comment: There is a sign nearby for restaurant “Phi Phi Cowboy Hill”. Also, this map is posted nearby.

Junction 2 (J2) – East End of Ton Sai Town
812_WT-J2-Sign_20150404_IMG_5381.jpg
GPS: 7° 44′ 41.034,98° 46′ 26.592 GPS 5017 on the 2nd
Comment: Near the stinky creek that runs into the sea and near to Phi Phi Viewpoint Resort/Restaurant

Junction 3 (J3) – Marked “Jungle House” on my map, there is a stall here selling drinks to thirsty climbers.
814_WT-J3-Stall_20150402_IMG_4996.jpg
GPS: 7° 44′ 51.69,98° 46′ 46.902 (2nd 4995)
Comment: Under a tin-roofed awning nearby, these maps are on display: 2 3

Junction 4 (J4) – From (near) Viewpoint 3 to the Northern beaches
819_WT-J4-Signpost-to-the-North_20150404_IMG_5153GT.jpg
GPS: 7° 44′ 57.324,98° 46′ 47.382
Comment: On the signpost, “Ao Lam Tong Bay” is the same place as what I have called “Haat Laem Thong”.

Junction 5 (J5) – The low road from Lo Laana to Lo Dalam
Coming at it from the Lo Laana end, the approach looks like this:
821_WT-J5-Low-Road-to-Tonsai-Junction_20150408_IMG_6027.jpg
GPS: 7° 45′ 25.704,98° 46′ 11.904
The white sign says: “3 Ton Sai Bay right (60 minutes walk); PP Island Village down” (i.e. where you have come from);
The Green sign says: Ton Sai Bay Viewpoint up; Ton Sai Bay right.

Our track to the right (Ton Sai town) follows some coaxial TV cables (presumably linking PP Island Resort to a satellite dish somewhere).
823_WT-J5-Low-Road-to-Tonsai-Track_20150408_IMG_6040.jpg
This track eventually tips-out at some rocks near 7h (approx GPS: 7.752287, 98.771105 ). At low tides, you can then walk along the rocks and sand from 7h to Ton Sai town. At high tides, you can’t.

The track J57h is fairly hilly, but less-so than the main track, J5J4.

Those trail maps again: 1 2 3 4

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Viewpoints:

Viewpoint 1 (VP1) is the halfway-up-the-stairs, lightweight version of the “main” viewpoint, VP2.

VP2 is the place to be at sunset. The world and his girlfriend are there.

VP3 is higher, less busy and has better views than VP2. And its free to get in. On the downside, after dark, it is difficult to walk back down from.

VP1, 2 and 3 all look West, over Ton Sai, the sandy spit and Ko Nork, the Western island.

The names: “Viewpoint 1, 2 and 3” seem to be universally accepted as the way of identifying those viewpoints.

Viewpoint 3 is also known as “Top Viewpoint”

“Viewpoint 4” looks East towards the sunrise. The name seems to be a punt by the chancers who set up a drinks-stand there.

The names “Junction 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5” are made up by me, to refer to points on my map. No-one outside of this web-page will know what you are talking about if you mention these.

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Up top:

Accommodation:

There is already piles and piles of information out there about Phi Phi accommodation. Try finding something other than hotel booking sites in your internet search results.

Travelfish have a very informative guide, which is also downloadable as a 1.5MB pdf.

The venerable Tezza also gives an extensive coverage.

Just a couple of tips for cheapskates:

I stayed in Ton Sai because it is the cheapest place. Actually, its still not that cheap compared to other islands in Thailand. The rock-bottom option seems to be “The Rock” backpackers, with fan dorms for about 300THB in dry-season. These have lockers big enough for a smartphone or wallet, but not a laptop. Mostly, the other dorms on Phi Phi are air-con and more like 600THB.

In Ton Sai, there is no escaping the noise of dance music from the clubs on the beach. You could try the North-East corner of town (near the dam), but I doubt it would help much. The clubs are on the beach at Ao Lo Dalam (near 7j). To be fair, they would turn the volume down at 2am, but I’m not sure whether that is always the norm.

Here are some detailed maps of Ton Sai town (correct in 2015): 1 2

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The other cheapskate option is Green Beach (Dorm) and Camping in Ao Lo Laana at Area 7 (more details up the page, in section 7).

Mu Ko Phi Phi is a Marine National Park, but there are no Ranger Stations or National Park accommodation on Phi Phi Don.

If you have money to throw around, there are plenty of options for nice resorts on the South and East coasts.

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There are ATMs in Ton Sai, but nowhere else.

There is no road transport (except golf-cart taxis at the luxury resorts).

There are tons of dive shops. I didn’t try the diving, but the marketing videos looked nice. Prices are regulated and should be the same across all dive shops.

There are ferries from Lanta, Krabi and Phuket.

Dry season is November to April.

THB means Thai Baht.

Some other useful linkies: 1 2 3 4 5

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Alternative Maps:
1-Phi Phi Don map from National Park HQ Map
2-Lo Baakao Area signpost map
3-Tonsai 1
4-Tonsai 2
5-TAT
6-National Park Krabi Haat Nopparatthara and Mu Ko Phi Phi (in Thai)

Those trail maps again: 1 2 3

Those Laem Por tracks again: 1 2

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Originally written: July 2015   . . . . .  Last updated: November 2015

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.

zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_00_Map.jpg zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_01_Map.jpg

zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_04_Approach_P5062297_.jpg

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.

zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_02_Map.jpg

zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_05_Wua-Talap-Viewpoint_P4261202.JPG

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Here are a few snaps from the ‘official’ daytrip snorkel site at Ko Nai Phut (Point 5 on the map):
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_06_Ko-Nai-Phut_P4240618.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_07_Ko-Nai-Phut_P4240636.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_08_Ko-Nai-Phut_P4240648.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_09_Ko-Nai-Phut_P4240663.JPG

Then the view heading South to the main body of the Park:
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_10_Heading-South_P4240682.JPG

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.
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_13_Typical-snorkelling_P4250799.JPG

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.
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_14_Jorunna-funebris_P4250789.JPG

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:
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_19_Java-Virgate-Rabbitfish_P4250893.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_20_Queen-Talang_P4250900.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_21_Beaked-Coralfish_P4250785.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_22_Batfish_P4291761.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_23_Blue-Ringed-Angelfish_P4271230.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_24_Indonesian-Sweetlips_P4291922.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_25_Brown-Sweetlips_P4271421.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_26_Blackcap-Butterflyfish_P4271367.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_27_Golden-Trevally_P5032052.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_28_Catfish_P4291819.JPG

There is some decent coral dotted around.  Actually, there is more species diversity than you find in many other places in Thailand.
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_29_Hardcoarl_P4250878.JPG zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_30_Softcoral_P4250941.JPG
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:
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_31_Whipcorals_P4271211.JPG

I haven’t seen these little orange ‘worms’ before – I think they are related to featherstars.
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_32_Ophiothrix-sp-featherstar_P4281491.JPG

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Above the waves, you can sometimes find troupes of Spectacled Langurs on the trails or around the camp:
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_33_ xxx _P4261190.JPG

Or hornbills flying by:
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_34_Hornbill_P4271403.JPG

On Ko Wua Talap, apart from the hike to the viewpoint, there is another trail to a cave:
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_35_Bua-Bike-Cave_P5031980.JPG
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:
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_36_NP-Beach_P5062233.JPG
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.
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_38_Ta-Lay-Nai-Lagoon_P4240703.JPG
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.
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_37_Kayak_P4271239.JPG
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).
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_39_Natural-Rock-Bridge_P4281591.JPG
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:
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_40_ xxx _P5032059.JPG
(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.
zTemp_Thai_Ang-Thong_52_Orion_P4240674.JPG
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

Thailand_Rawi

Ko Rawi, Thailand

Ko Rawi is the big island to the North-West of the Tarutao National Marine Park in South-West Thailand.

Thai_Rawi_003_Map-LocationMap1.jpgThai_Rawi_005_Map-LocationMap2.jpg

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All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

There is nowhere to stay on Ko Rawi, so there is nothing much to report about the off-the-beach-snorkelling, I’m afraid.

One of the two organised snorkel trips out of Lipe and Adang stop briefly on the South Coast of Rawi.  There is an account and a few underwater pictures here.

Some friendly yachties once took me along on a trip around Rawi and we did some snorkelling at a couple of spots.  The underwater life there looks very similar to that in Adang and Lipe.  Lots of brown Porites (“Hump”) Coral in reasonable-to-good condition, with minor patches of other hardy hard corals like Double-Star and Brain.  Plenty of common reef-fish.

Quality ranged from this:
Thai_Rawi_240_Corals-less-good_P1213198.JPG

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to this (or slightly better):
Thai_Rawi_245_Corals-better_P1223243.JPG

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There are two Ranger Stations on Rawi, but they are for Rangers only – they aren’t open to visitors.

Some old travel guides  mention that you can camp independently on Rawi, but this is now forbidden after a couple of incidents where foreign campers and moored-up-yachties were shot dead in robberies. The perps were (apparently) Burmese fishermen who were in Thailand illegally. One of the incidents is recorded on the UK Government travel advice website, so presumably the stories are kosher.

If you wanted to visit, your best bet is to take the day trip, or if you wanted to throw money at it, you could charter a private longtail for the day (about 3000B).  But the snorkelling is really about the same as Lipe or Adang, which are much easier to get to.

Alternative maps: 1 2 3

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Written: Feb 2014    .  Last Updated Feb 2014

Thailand_TarutaoParkGeneral

Tarutao National Park, Thailand

Tarutao Marine National Park is a large nature conservation area in South West Thailand.

002_Location-map-1.jpg

The park has five large islands and numerous smaller ones.

Detailed information about the snorkelling on each island is given in these pages:

Ko Tarutao, Ko Lipe, Ko Adang, Lipe environs, Ko Rawi

This page is to give summary information about the entire park.

For now, it mainly contains whole-park maps, but later on, I may add some information on History, Geology and Stuff.

Maps:

Thai_ParkTarutao_011_Map1-Mainmap_P2180829_.jpg
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions

This is the big-daddy map. I slavishly copied it from one painted on a wall inside the main Park office on Koh Tarutao.  If you click-to-expand it, then zoom-in enough, you can see probably the most comprehensive list of names of places around the park.

That said, it is pretty old and there are some differences between it and newer maps.  In case you are looking in detail, notable differences I have found are:

1 “Also known as”:
Near Ko Adang:
Some maps call Ko Bitsi – “Ko Lek”;
Ko Bura is more often called “Ko Hin Ngam Noi” (เกาะหินงามหน่อย);
Ko Kata is more often called “Ko Yang” (เกาะยาง);

Near Ko Dong:
Ko Dong itself is sometimes called “Ko Batorng/Butang” (เกาะบาตอง/บูตัง);
Ko Raba is usually called “Ko Peung” (เกาะผึ้ง)
One map calls Ko Sarang – “Ko Chamuang” (เกาะชามวง)
I remain confused about Ko So Mong (ซวมวง) and Ko Sa Mong (ซามวง). It might be a legibility issue.

Near Ko Lipe:
Ko Tarang is also known as “Ko Talang”  and “Ko Talak”;
Ko Kla is usually known as “Ko Kra”
Ko Bung Kang is also known as “Hin Khao” (หินขาว)

2 “Too many/too few” islands:
Near Ko Adang:
The un-named small islands south of Ko Bitsi, may be called Ko Sai (to the West) and Ko Talu (to the South-East)

Near Ko Dong:
The island immediately to the East of Ko Dong is un-named on the NP map and also on many other maps. On a few maps (including a Government nautical chart), it is labelled “Ko Lokoi”. The NP map puts Ko Lokoi further to the South. One other map calls this more Southerly island “Ko Ling Kao”.
Ko Hin Sorn (เกาะหินซ้อน) seems to be immediately to the West of Ko Sa Mong, but it is not mentioned on the NP map;

Near Ko Lipe:
There is a Ko Usen close to the South end of the East coast of Ko Lipe

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Thai_ParkTarutao_012_Map2_P1030323_.jpg
Here is the official bill-board version of the National Park and most of its major attractions.

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Thai_ParkTarutao_015_Map3_P2110151_.jpg
Here is a fun topological one from the National Park Headquarters in Ko Tarutao

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Thai_ParkTarutao_016_Map5-Urak-Lawoi-Migration_P1110069_.jpg
and the migration path of the Urak Lawoi – the original settlers – from Indonesia (picture from the school wall at Ko Lipe)

Other maps: 1 2 3

There are more, zoomed-in maps on the detailed island pages.

That’s all for now – here are a couple of interesting links:

1 Wikipedia

2 Some history from a Ko Lipe travel agent
welovekohlipe.com/about-koh-lipe/view/the-history-of-koh-lipe/

3 UNESCO history of the Urak Lawoi people  (110 page pdf, 13MB)

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Written: Feb 2014    .     Last Updated: Feb 2014

Thailand_Tao

Koh Tao, Thailand

Thai_Tao_001_Location-Map1

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:
Thai_Tao_0100_a-south_P5052783.JPG
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Typical seascape:
Thai_Tao_0158_bc_P5073344.JPG
All images on this site are clickable for bigger versions.

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IN NOT-SO-BRIEF:

Thai_Tao_003_Main-Map.jpg
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

Thai_Tao_0053_a-north_P5052766.JPG Thai_Tao_0050_MAP A_1_JPG

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.

Thai_Tao_0054_a-north-Hin-Wong-Access_P5073443.jpg

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.

Thai_Tao_0055_a-north_P5073447.JPG

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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.
Thai_Tao_0056_a-north_P5073443.JPG

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:
Thai_Tao_0057_a-north_P5073460.JPG Thai_Tao_0058_a-north_P5073459.JPG Thai_Tao_0059_a-north_P5073456.JPG Thai_Tao_0060_a-north_P5073455.JPG

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At A2, just off Welcome View Rock Resort, there was this nice patch of anemones:
Thai_Tao_0061_a-north_P5073454.JPG

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:
Thai_Tao_0063_a-north_P5073450.JPG Thai_Tao_0064_a-north_P5073449.JPG Thai_Tao_0065_a-north_P5073445.JPG Thai_Tao_0067_a-north_P5073446.JPG Thai_Tao_0069_a-north_P5073448.JPG

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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).

Thai_Tao_0076_a-mid-south_P5073439.JPG

After that, here are some samples of coral, mostly 10-15 metres off the rocky coast from A3 to A4:
Thai_Tao_0075_a-mid-south_P5073430.JPG Thai_Tao_0079_a-mid-south_P5073436.JPG Thai_Tao_0080_a-mid-south_P5073434.JPG Thai_Tao_0081_a-mid-south_P5073433.JPG Thai_Tao_0082_a-mid-south_P5073431.JPG Thai_Tao_0083_a-mid-south_P5073403.JPG Thai_Tao_0084_a-mid-south_P5073406.JPG Thai_Tao_0085_a-mid-south_P5073414.JPG Thai_Tao_0086_a-mid-south_P5073420.JPG

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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!
Thai_Tao_0087_a-mid-south_P5073428.JPG

Here is some coral from directly outside it:
Thai_Tao_0088_a-mid-south_P5073413.JPG

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).
Thai_Tao_0090_a-south_P5052796.JPG
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There is a roped-off area marking-off the snorkelling–zone from the boat-zone:
Thai_Tao_0091_a-south_P5073397.JPG

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There is some great coral in this snorkelling area (A5).
Thai_Tao_0092_a-south_P5052767.JPG Thai_Tao_0094_a-south_P5052771.JPG Thai_Tao_0095_a-south_P5052773.JPG Thai_Tao_0096_a-south_P5052775.JPG Thai_Tao_0097_a-south_P5052776.JPG Thai_Tao_0098_a-south_P5052778.JPG Thai_Tao_0099_a-south_P5052779.JPG Thai_Tao_0100_a-south_P5052783.JPG Thai_Tao_0101_a-south_P5052786.JPG Thai_Tao_0102_a-south_P5052787.JPG Thai_Tao_0106_a-south_P5052798.JPG Thai_Tao_0107_a-south_P5052800.JPG Thai_Tao_0108_a-south_P5073396.JPG Thai_Tao_0111_a-south_P5052774.JPG

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:
Thai_Tao_0105_a-south_P5052797.JPG Thai_Tao_0103_a-south_P5052789.JPGThai_Tao_0113_a-south_P5073402.JPG

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Huge schools of Fusiliers like to hang around underneath the big-boats on the edge of the demarc-line:
Thai_Tao_0112_a-south_P5073398.JPG

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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:
Thai_Tao_0117_ab_P5073387.JPG

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.
Thai_Tao_0119_ab_P5073381.JPG

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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:
Thai_Tao_0121_ab_P5073375.JPG Thai_Tao_0126_ab_P5073368.JPG

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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:
Thai_Tao_0140_b_P5073367.JPG

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Heading South – round the cape, itself, was mostly plain rock:
Thai_Tao_0142_b_P5073365.JPG

But there were these Orange-spine Unicornfish, spicing things up:
Thai_Tao_0144_b_P5073362.JPG

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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:
Thai_Tao_0148_b_P5073354.JPG

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.
Thai_Tao_0146_b_P5073356.JPG Thai_Tao_0150_b_P5073355.JPG

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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.

Thai_Tao_0156_bc_P5073351.JPG

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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:
Thai_Tao_0168_bc_P5073334.JPG

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Area C – Tanote Bay

Thai_Tao_0195_c_P5052761.JPG Thai_Tao_0175_MAP C_1_JPG.jpg
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.

Thai_Tao_0177_c_P5073310.JPG

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!
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The 10 metres closest to the shore were pretty skanky, coral-wise.
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But weren’t entirely without merit:
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Moving over to the South (right) side of the bay :
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The Southern headland had some reasonable coral growth on it:
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As you get to the end of the headland, things get back to traditional ‘rocky’ again:
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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:
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and more coral-on rocks below the waterline. The diversity of the corals here was better than the more Northerly stretches of the coast:
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There was also a Square Tailed Grouper hanging around:
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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.
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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.
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further on South, there were a few decent patches.
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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.
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This was all I could see there (at only about 6m, mind you)
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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)
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Rounding the corner into the wide jaws of Ao Leuk,there is this resort up on the cliffside.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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).
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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.
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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):
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Around to the Southern tip, things are just plain rocky.
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You might meet a few friendly Trevally coming in from the sea.
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Back around the West side, near the little fishermens’ hut, I saw a Scrawled Filefish:
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and a gorgeous Six-Banded Angelfish.
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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:
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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.
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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)
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has some decent looking coral.
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Continuing around the corner into Ao Saai Daeng itself, this continues:
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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.
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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