If you want the best snorkeling in Ko Phi Phi – first get yourself a diver!

Usually snorkeling and diving don’t mix in the same spot – divers want to go deep to find their beauty and snorkelers want shallow water with all the goodies close to the surface. The one exception I have found to this rule is Ko Phi Phi, a mecca for divers and snorkelers alike. In fact the keys spots are so popular for snorkelling that they are ruined by too many snorkelers– if you book a day trip then you will probably find yourself on a 50-100 person mega boat, with compulsory wearing of life jackets as many of the snorkelers cant swim. In other words, my version of snorkeling hell.

the Beach, Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh, Thailand
the Beach, Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Leh, Thailand

Ko Phi Phi – overcrowded snorkeling.

Dive trips are very popular too and there are many operators but most boats are taking around 8 to 12 divers, so the scale of overcrowding is nowhere near as bad. And the key dive spots are reserved for dive boats only, the snorkelers have to go to their own designated sites, mainly in shallow bays rather than around the karst chimneys.

snorkelling at Ko Bida Nok, Thailand
snorkelling at Ko Bida Nok, Thailand
So there seems to be two ways to achieve your snorkelling pleasure. The first is to rent your own long tail boat and do your own itinerary – even better if you can figure out the big boats’ timetables and arrive at the best spots when they are least likely to be there. But this can be an expensive option. Or, grab yourself a diver, and when they book their dive trip, book yourself on as the travelling buddy of the diver and then they will let you come along as a “non-diving” companion, who can then jump off the boat and go for a snorkel – for a bargain price. Good thing Travelling Sis is a diver, otherwise I would’ve had to scour the bars for a diver to accompany.

Ko Phi Phi – best snorkeling spots

One of the most common dive trips from Ko Phi Phi is a two-dive trip to Ko Bida Nok (a karst massif just south of Ko Phi Phi Leh, which itself is about 1.5 km south of Ko Phi Phi), and Malong, a section of the external karst walls of Ko Phi Phi Leh. At both these sites you are diving along these karst walls – near vertical sandstone cliffs, which means it is just as interesting on the surface for the snorkeler as it is 15m down for the diver – and I had a great view of the divers below me at times too. And of the languid turtle who swam over the heads of the divers and floated straight under me. There’s coral and huge amounts of colourful fish and anemone life close to the surface, the water temp is a languid 31 degrees, and there are usually no surface currents, especially in the morning. And I have all this to myself for nearly two hours.

snorkelling off Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
snorkelling off Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

Maya Bay – paradise wrecked

Between the two dive stops we stop off at Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh – the famous location of the filming of The Beach. It is possible that it is still a gorgeous bay, but very hard to tell through the line up of dozens of jet boats, dozens of long tails, and 3 or 4 big 100 person tourist boats, which combined with the people disgorged, makes it almost impossible to see any part of the green waters or white sand. I hear there is an overnight beach camping trip, if so, this may be the only way to experience the original beauty of this bay. Were you lucky enough to see Maya Bay before it was overrun, or have you found a great snorkeling experience from Ko Phi Phi? If so, please leave a comment.



What would James Bond think of all this?

James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

36 years after The Man with the Golden Gun, tourism in Thailand is still making a mint out of the iconic view of Scaramanga’s hideaway. The karst pillar in Phang Nga Bay originally known as Ko Tapu, has been called “James Bond Island” ever since. It seems that every day there are hundreds of long tail and speed boats ferrying tourists out to have a look, and today, I am on one of those long tail boats.

We are dropped on the small karst island next door (Ko Phing Kan), and walk about 30 metres through a ravine completely filled with market stalls of the usual trinkets. We emerge on a tiny 20 metre wide beach, and there it is, straight in front of us, James Bond Island, about 50 metres out in the middle of the bay. This is the viewing spot, from this angle it looks completely stand alone with its huge backdrop of sea and other karst islands in the distance.

The de rigueur smug shot here is to be photographed as though you are holding the island in the palm of your hand. This seems a bit lacking in originality, perhaps a gun stance surrounded by bikini babes would be more appropriate, or perhaps a beach stall selling martini’s ,shaken not stirred, balancing the island on its roof? Or maybe I should just take a photo of the island, no tricks.

Sea canoeing in Thai caves and islands

Our longtail also takes us about 10 minutes away to Ko Talu Nok for some cave canoeing. I am disappointed that I am not allowed to paddle my own canoe. We sit in the front while a local guide paddles at the back. But it’s enjoyable enough as we spend the next half hour lying back and looking up at cave roofs 10 cm above our faces, up sheer cliffs of internal lagoons accessed through caves and covered in rainforest, and at sea worn karsts shaped like skulls, alligators and more.

Like all the karsts in this area, the sea erodes from the base in, so all the karats look narrowest at sea level. At Talu in particular the sea has worn away a lot of caves and tunnels to internal lagoons, with towering cliffs and glimpses of the sky from the middle of the island.

All of this is in Phang Nga bay area, where we originally boarded our long tail boat.  The tour operators insist on everyone wearing lifejackets but as the water is generally about one metre deep and the life jackets are a “one size fits no-one” and rather hot in this weather, most of us ditch the lifejackets as soon as we leave shore.

We also eat well at the floating village on the Ko Panyee, known as the Muslim Village. Lunch is a banquet including chilli fish, deep fried prawns, chicken and cashews, tom yum soup, omelette, spicy chicken legs, stir fried veges and fresh pineapple. And there is an interesting little craft market to explore, with a side of voyeurism into the village life.
As we leave James Bond Island we see a group of people arrive on a speedboat named James Bond, and I realise that I have only scratched the surface of the James Bond experience – next time!