The best diving of my life off Koh Lanta

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I love diving.

When you’re under the water nothing else matters.  It’s an alien world down there.  A beautiful, amazing alien world.  No matter how many breathlessly-narrated nature shows you’ve seen, they just doesn’t compare to actually being weightless twenty metres below the surface.

There is something unexpected everywhere you look.  Bright colours abound in the tropical waters where I prefer to dive, entire ecosystems visible with just a swivel of my head.  Corals of all shapes and sizes play host to hundreds, thousands of species of marine life.  Peering under a rock can yield all manner of surprises.

An hour below the waves simultaneously feels like a heartbeat and an eternity, with only the decreasing air gauge reluctantly pulling me back to the real world.  I always feel a sense of loss as my head breaks the surface, as if I’m leaving a part of me behind in the depths.

I did my PADI Open Water course years ago in Sydney harbour, a technically challenging location with not much to see.  Back in 2010 I dived off Thailand’s Koh Tao and near Coron in the Philippines, and it felt like every dive was better than the last.  I had heard good things about the sites near Koh Lanta, so last week I took the opportunity to see for myself.

Those three dives were the best of my life, no questions asked.

I had wandered into Flip Flop Divers (on the main road towards the south end of Long Beach) and straight away knew I’d found the right place.  A chilled-out vibe, a nice little cafe and friendly staff to answer all my questions.  Ady and Val, the husband and wife team that own the dive shop, don’t bother with the hard sell.  To be fair they really don’t need to … the experience pretty much sells itself.

Leopard shark

And so it was that I found myself on a boat early the following morning, heading out to the sites around Hin Bida.  I was fortunate enough to be the only person diving with Ady that day, so I could happily bug him with all sorts of inane questions while we got our gear ready and prepared to descend.

And down we went.

I had quite high hopes for my time underwater, as I knew that several of the larger marine animals that I had never seen were common in the area.  The visibility was exceptional, easily reaching 25 metres or more – I had never dived anywhere where I could reach my depth limits and still look up to see the surface!

Instantly my world was transformed.  Shoals of hundreds of yellow snapper darted all around us, the mass of fish splitting apart and reforming as we dropped through them.  Different species of shrimp emerged from cracks in the reef, glaring at the intruders as we shone a flashlight into their homes.  A sting-ray slid past, eyeing me curiously as I gave it a wide berth.

About twenty minutes in, it happened.  I nearly spat out my regulator with happiness as Ady pointed ahead and made the sign for ‘turtle” – something I had wanted to see in the wild since I first put a tank on my back.  A turtle on the move underwater is one of the most graceful things I can imagine, resembling nothing so much as a large, slow-motion bird in flight.

I could have spent the entire rest of the day just drifting along behind my new flippered friend, but there was so much more to see.  Dangerous trigger fish threatened from a distance.  A lazy leopard shark lay on the sandy sea bottom, waiting for its next meal.  Moray eels peeked out from amongst the coral.  And always, always, thousands of fish of all shapes and sizes darted and twisted around us, sparkling in the sunlit water.

Amongst the coral

By mid afternoon I was exhausted and exhilarated as we headed for home.  I had spent well over three hours underwater, and had seen more in a single day than I seen on all my other dives combined.  Even Ady was grinning at the success of our little expedition.  It had been a hell of an experience.

Sitting back in the shop a couple of hours later, though, I was already planning my next trip.  Diving is hellishly addictive like that.  I’ll be back in Koh Lanta in a few weeks, and there just happens to be a site nearby that is rated as one of the best dive spots in the world.  Manta rays and whale sharks are commonplace.  Hin Daeng, I’m looking at you.

I have a feeling that Ady and I might just be heading out on that boat again sometime very soon.

I can’t wait.

Ady and Val at Flip Flop Divers were kind enough to offer me a discount in exchange for a review, but as always all opinions are my own.


[Images via vonlohmann, TANAKA Juuyoh, Flip Flop Divers]

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  1. HOW GOOD ARE TURTLES?! No matter how many I’ve seen, it’s always the best thing I see on any dive! Spotted one in Gili Trawangan that was–no joke–as long as me. So incredible!

  2. I’m jealous! We used to see them often diving off Byron Bay as teenagers more years ago than I care to admit. I didn’t realise the diving off Koh Lanta was so fantastic. If you see a whale shark I’m driving up the next day! Hope the next few dives can live up to this one!

  3. Tell me about it! Whale sharks and manta rays are pretty much the two biggest things I have left that I would love to see in the wild! 🙂

  4. When I was learning how to dive in Egypt, the guys there were saying Thailand is the only place in the world with better diving. Guess I’ll have to find out for myself. I was pretty impressed diving Ras Muhammad National Park though. Saw so many unique wildlife in 1 dive.

  5. I love to look at the pictures of people that dive. I have and probably never dive. I am afraid to be under the sea. I do thank you for providing these great images on the ocean.

  6. Man, I am getting closer and closer to seriously considering learning how to dive! I also want to go cage diving with great whites – how awesome would that be?!