Koh Tao and Koh Yang Nuan are islands were you can do some diving and snorkeling in the Gulf of Thailand. If you’re trying to get to these islands, your best option is to take a trip from the island of Koh Samui to get there. Koh Tao is one of the areas in Thailand where you can possibly see whale sharks (and regular ones!), and you will see lots of brightly colored tropical fish in the shallower snorkeling areas.
Given the recent announcement that the Thai government is considering restricting access to Koh Surin and The Similan Islands, it will be interesting to see if similar steps are taken to protect the coral for human development and other environmental pressures in other aquatic marine parks.
My wife and I stayed at the Koh Libong Nature Beach Resort when we stayed here over Songkran, 2010. While the amenities at the resort were not five-star, which was a nice change of pace from many of the places we stay at, the view and ambience was definitely five stars. The staff working there was largely family, with the wife running the restaurant and the husband running the long-tail boat, and there were tons of little kids running around. The family was also kind enough to run little errands for us to the local convenience store, which was a harrying adventure on motorbike.
The power at the resort went out at around 8pm or so, which meant that you had nothing but quiet after sunset around 7pm. No lights after 7p made for an interesting experience for a Westerner:)
Koh Yao Yai (and neighboring Koh Yao Noi) are islands that are reachable within about 45 minutes from the island of Phuket. The island lifestyle is probably very much like other parts of Thailand were 20 years ago, with just a bunch of relaxed villagers getting by on just a little bit of money and living off of the sea. Things have changed a little bit these days, largely due to the recent addition of some luxury resorts, but you definitely won’t find the craziness of Phuket on the island.
As you can see from this picture, it is almost possible to walk between the islands during low tide. Given that I am not the greatest swimmer, however, I decided not to chance it.
Many of the tourists that go to Phuket go there because there are some world-class spots (Similan Islands, Koh Surin & Koh Phi Phi) to go diving and snorkeling around there. If you’re doing a short trip to Phuket, or traveling with family and small kids, the good news is that there are tons of little day tours around Phuket that you can take to smaller islands. My lovely wife and I took a half-day trip to some of the smaller islands around Phuket, including Khai Nok, to simply check some fish out.
Some of the islands are only fifteen minutes from Phuket, which makes for a great half-day tour if you’re on a quick jaunt.
Koh Liblong is located in the Southern Thailand provinces of Trang. While the beaches aren’t as well-known as the other Southern Beaches (Phuket or Koh Samui), the added benefit is that you don’t have ten million tourists floating around to disrupt your ability to really “get away from it all”.
My wife and I stayed at a eco-friendly resort on Koh Libong, which meant that electricity (powered by a generator) was only available from 8am-5pm; this, of course, meant that hot water was only available during these times as well. The people that ran the resort were super friendly, very simple, and were probably more representative of the real Thailand than you would find in some of the more popular destinations (they ate their meals from what they caught in the sea that day).
While this probably isn’t my best photo from snorkeling at Koh Phi Phi, it was one of those times when I was able to just “hang around” while a bunch of tropical fish were swimming by.
I have to be quite honest in stating that taking pictures of fish is far more challenging than I thought. If the fish aren’t moving away from you rapidly, the tides will often change very quickly before you can even get off a shot. The only way I had any luck taking pictures of the fish was by brute force, which meant that I literally snapped over a thousand pictures to get to the 400 or so snorkeling pictures I have on my Flickr account.
A couple of alternatives to snorkeling in Koh Phi Phi would include Koh Surin and Koh Similan. These islands are only open from November to April, about two hours away by boat from Phuket, and you will most certainly have smaller crowds present than you will find at Koh Phi Phi (you can even choose to camp there…but you have to book camps/bungalows well in advance).
I don’t know what the name of this fish is, but the people leading the snorkeling trip said that this fish will bite if it feels like it is being followed.
The Similan Islands are a beautiful, remote area to do some snorkeling (or diving) off of the western coast of Thailand (about two hours by boat from places like Phuket or Khao Lak); my wife and I booked an overnight stay there, something I would recommend if you are going to spend a fair amount of time in or around the Phuket area. While Phuket is indeed beautiful, the Similan Islands provide a good opportunity to get away from the crowds.