By Mary Lou – (Southern California)
Where are the good spots for snorkeling in Thailand? I am going there from the last week in October until November 14, 2016.
I will be traveling all over the country and would like to know if there is any place that anyone can recommend for snorkeling?
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Sally – Sep 3, 2016 – Thailand Snorkeling
I can’t comment about all over Thailand, but my husband and I went aboard the MV Oktavia in 2014 for a five night liveaboard. I was excited about going because they cater to snorkelers with a dedicated guide, even though they have divers as well. Also, we thought since we were going away from shore, we’d get more pristine sites. The boat was well organized, and food was plentiful if not fancy.
Unfortunately, the coral has been hurt by the warmer water events of the past few years and was mostly dead where we could see. The divers had live coral, but at our depths, no. Some of the sites were clearly dive sites too deep for snorkelers.
Another thing we weren’t prepared for was the many, many large fishing rigs that were surrounding us at night with their multiple rows of lights attracting and netting the same fish we were trying to see during the day. It was sad.
The highlight — and what made our trip worth it — was the day swimming with two Whale Sharks! It was a thrill of a lifetime the way they were so close and kept returning to our group as if they were as curious as we were!
Good luck with finding a good snorkel site! By the way, ours was out of Khao Lak (just north of the island of Phuket) on the west shore.
Anonymous – Sep 3, 2016 – Koh Tao
Thailand has some good spots but they are weather dependent. There are two monsoons each year that affect the water quality. I have found some good shore based snorkeling around Koh Tao and have been told the Ang Thong Marine Park is good.
Anonymous – Sep 21, 2016 – Snorkeling Thailand
It’s a tricky time of year to choose where to go. In general the weather is best on the east coast gulf islands (e.g. Ko Tao) during the summer months and on the Andaman coast islands during the winter months. October/November is when the monsoon season is changing so you could be lucky or unlucky whichever side you choose.
The upside is that you’re going in low season so you absolutely don’t need to book any accommodation or tours in advance. See what the weather‘s doing when you get there. You can always hop over to the other side of the peninsula if the weather isn’t great where you are. Transport to anywhere in Thailand is very quick and easy to organize (most guesthouses and hotels double as travel agents) and the distances aren’t all that great.
Unfortunately Thailand is no longer a great snorkeling destination, in my opinion. Even in the best places, the coral has been severely bleached, supposedly because of high water temperatures, and over-fishing and mass tourism have taken a heavy toll on marine life as well.
The best snorkeling in the country is on the west coast in the Surin and Similan Islands. The coral was almost 100% bleached last time I looked (3-4 years ago) but there were still some turtles and sharks about, plus the usual pretty reef fish. The islands themselves are gorgeous, blinding white beaches and turquoise water with green jungle as a backdrop. Both archipelagos are national marine parks and I’m not sure if they’ll be open when you go. Quoted opening dates vary from Oct. 15th to Nov. 15th depending on which website you look at!
Accommodation and facilities are pretty basic. The national park rents out tents (or you can bring your own) and a few rather overpriced bungalows are available too. There’s a park restaurant, shower facilities, and electricity for a few hours in the evenings to charge camera batteries, etc.
The Surins are a bit less visited than the Similans and are probably more suited for snorkeling. In addition to shore snorkeling, which you can do whenever you want, the park organizes very cheap half day boat snorkeling trips as well. If you’re traveling independently you’d need to stay a minimum of three nights to do all the four snorkeling trip options because the daily ferries from the mainland arrive and leave around mid-day. You can also get private transport to the Surins or join an overnight tour from the mainland.
Other Thai national marine parks I’ve been to include Ko Adang (near Ko Lipe) and Ko Rok (near Trang). Both were quite nice but it’s over 10 years since I visited those and they may not be so good now.
If the national parks are still closed or if you’re looking for somewhere a bit more comfortable to stay, Ko Kradan is probably your best bet on the west coast. There used to be just two small resorts on this beautiful island but I’ve heard there are several more now. You can snorkel from shore or charter a long-tail to the nearby islands of Ko Ngai and Ko Muk (the latter has the famous “Emerald Cave” which is accessed by snorkeling through a pitch dark tunnel). It’s best to try and visit the Emerald Cave very early in the morning though, before the hordes of day trippers from Phuket and Ko Lanta arrive.
On the east coast Ko Tao is probably still your best option…meh… It used to be quite good last century but is now way over-developed in my opinion and you’ll likely see more divers than fish in the water! The main beach (Sairee Beach) is party central… Ao Tanote, Ao Leuk or Freedom Beach are a bit quieter and are a bit better for shore snorkeling but don’t expect anything very outstanding.
While Thailand might be OK if it’s your first time snorkeling, it does not compare to Indonesia and October/November is a perfect time to visit Indonesia weather-wise. If you haven’t already bought your flight tickets I’d suggest looking at places like Raja Ampat, Komodo National Park, Sulawesi or the Bandas, which have recently become a lot easier to reach.
Mary Lou – Oct 18, 2016 – Thank you!!
Thank you all for your help. Especially “Anonymous” on Sept. 21st. I printed out your thoughts and am taking the printout with me.