Underwater Thailand: Our Snorkelling Experience at Koh Haa and Koh Rok

Sea water and view of white sandy beach with jungle in the background at Koh Rok, an island in the Gulf of Thailand.
Bea smiling while holding a bhan mi

Written by Beatrice Cox

March 03, 2023 5 min read

During our stay in Koh Lanta, we set off on a snorkelling adventure to the beautiful locations of Koh Haa and Koh Rok, some of Thailand's top destinations for seeing coral reefs. Our day began with a little unexpected drama on the boat but quickly turned into a fascinating exploration of marine life. From the five mini islands that make up Koh Haa to the white sandy beaches of Koh Rok, we had a chance to dive into an underwater world brimming with a fascinating diversity of sea creatures. We even saw the iconic clownfish, Nemo, and the striking Dory. Follow along to read more about our exciting day, the details of our snorkelling experience, and the extraordinary marine life we encountered in these turquoise waters.

We are picked up at 8:10 on the dot by our jolly driver and off we went to pick up the others. I suddenly realised that, when we were booking it, we hadn’t asked how many people would be on this trip. I was thinking the more the better we’d have a chance to go on a small ferry, rather than a speedboat.

We picked up everyone and also Selina who we met the week before at Yawee restaurant with her friend Rahel, both photographers from Switzerland. We whiz through Sala Dan and are dropped off at the tip of Klong Dao Beach where lots of other people were standing around waiting for the signal to jump on two big speedboats waiting for us about 10 metres from the shore. Wait, no pier?

We wade through the water and get on the boat with 3 massive Suzuki motors. There was a bit of commotion as one of the passengers was obviously quite shocked at the number of people on board and decided that he and his wife would get off and ask for a refund - the boat was full but not overcrowded, there was a seat for everyone and it wasn’t cramped.

Davide sat next to Julia, an Al Jazeera journalist, and I was next to Selina who had already mentioned she gets bad seasickness and the only thing that helps is to close her eyes The engine starts, or rather, those three humongous things make me understand how noisy the ride would be - just as well I didn’t have to speak to anybody as I wouldn’t have been able to hear anything.

The sea was calm but the boat jumped around a bit - a child who was sitting next to me, felt completely ill and vomited into the bin in front of me. Luckily the staff had sea-sickness pills to give out to the ones who needed them.

There is something about being out at sea which is so relaxing, but then I suddenly remember that I’m actually petrified of deep blue water and that the sea is not only around us, it’s also under us! Okay, calm down Beatrice.

Thirty minutes later we arrive at Koh Haa a pretty 5 island archipelago with a few other boats and other snorkelers, of course. We are all given flippers and goggles and are left to ourselves, so we jump off and explore the surroundings. Lots of different species of fish, huge blue starfish, fat worm like creatures on the sea bed, which I later find out are called sea cucumbers, and giant clams which are nestled in between the rocks.

The beauty of it momentarily takes my mind off my questioning of how environmentally friendly all this is. Hordes of people jump off into this natural habitat and marine biologists continuously try and remind everyone to not take advantage of the ocean’s vulnerability. Now I start thinking we should have looked for a smaller group.

A school of fish swimming with the current in Koh Tao, Thailand

We all get back on and set off, but soon realise somebody had been left behind - they were busy sunbathing on the small beach. We pick her up and set off for Ko Rok, another 30-minute ride (I’m trusting the guide’s time predictions, who’s reply to my 3 different “How long will it take?” Questions replied: 30 minutes - I didn’t have a watch, but of course, it seemed he was right)

As we approached Koh Rok, the white beaches stood out from far away and the calm turquoise water glistened in the sun. One could see the patches of coral beneath and the parrot fish even before reaching the pier.

Ko Rok is an island in the Andaman Sea in Thailand, the reefs here are part of the Mu Koh Lanta National Park and are home to a diverse range of marine life - this is a protected area aimed at preserving the natural resources of the region. The Thai government has implemented several measures to conserve the marine ecosystem in the park, including restricting the number of visitors, prohibiting the use of certain fishing methods, and creating designated zones for activities such as snorkelling and diving. However, according to the UN’s Social Development Goals Program, the protected coastal and marine area in Thailand is about 18,000 km2, accounting for 5.6% of Thai waters.

There are several organisations and initiatives focused on the conservation of the coral reefs in Southeast Asia. For example, in the surrounding countries, the Coral Triangle Center (CTC) has implemented a program to train fishermen in sustainable fishing practices and to monitor the health of the coral reefs. The CTC also works with tour operators and visitors to promote responsible tourism and minimise the impact of human activities on the marine ecosystem. (We are working on another article about the conservation of marine life and techniques used to bring certain underwater worlds back to life)

View, from within the water, of Koh Rok Beach

The coral reefs at Ko Rok are considered to be some of the best in Thailand, with clear waters and a wide variety of corals, including staghorn, brain, boulder and fan corals. The reefs are also home to a number of different fish species, including clownfish, parrotfish, and butterflyfish, as well as larger species such as barracudas and groupers.

There is only one place like this I’ve seen before and it’s in the north-eastern coast of Sardinia, Costa Smeralda, I suddenly have a flashback and remember the family summer camping trips and deserted beaches - I’m talking about the 2000s and earlier. 

Koh Rok has two islands Koh Rok Yai and Koh Rok Noi. Koh Rok Noi has a waterfall on the west side, if you’re lucky the guide will take you around the island to see the waterfall - we did not do this. We were taken to the East side and found the coral very different from Koh Haa, in fact, on all four dives we did we thought the sea bed looked very different with different amounts of aquatic beings and a lot of variety in the coral formations - we saw Nemo, yay! These clownfish are exactly as you would expect them, dancing in sea anemones protecting their eggs. Dory was also not too far away. 

A couple of clown fish spotted in Koh Tao, Thailand

We went back to Koh Rok Yai where we were greeted with an delicious lunch of marinaded chicken, steamed rice, stir fried vegetables and a variety of fruit. While we were having lunch we were being observed by a giant Monitor lizard - Davide seems less scared of them now.

After spending some time relaxing on the beach and taking in the beautiful scenery before it was time to head back to Ko Lanta. The ride back was just as bumpy as the ride there, but we all managed to survive it without getting seasick. As we approached the shore, I couldn't help but feel happy and humbled by having seen this unique and beautiful part of the world.

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