Snorkeling in Koh Tao - The Next Best Thing to Diving

For as long as Evo and I have been together, he has wanted to share the underwater world with me. He would come back and tell me about the wonderful sea life and what he saw while scuba diving. Stories about the vibrant fish or how he picked up a beautiful shell on the sea floor only to find out there was a small octopus finding refuge inside sound incredible! Last year he shared the experience of visiting a wreck just off the coast of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and how the ship had been submerged for so long that the sea had made it its own.

Throughout my life I’ve been told I can’t do things and I usually respond by proving that person wrong. I am not one to let many things get in the way of doing something I want to do. However, I will never get to experience scuba dive due to my unfortunately quite severe asthma. It’s one of the reasons we left Arizona. My attacks aren’t constant, but dry air can trigger them. They’re never life-threatening, but they would be with having 60’ of water over my head. Hence, I don’t dive.

The closest I’ve gotten is snorkeling. I’ve snorkeled in Belize, Playa del Carmen, Lighthouse Bay on Koh Tao (about a month ago), and several other places around the world. But never have I wanted to scuba dive so much as while snorkeling off of Shark Island just off of Koh Tao just a few weeks ago.

One afternoon we kayaked around the Big Buddha to Thian Og Bay and snorkeled straight from one of the beaches. There were some fish but not as many as we had hoped to see. So we decided we would set off for Shark Island. Go big or go home, right?

Shark Island is about 3 km away from Chalok Baan Kao, where we started our day. Several dive crews and snorkelers were already in the area and we didn’t want to disturb them, so we ended up between some outcroppings on the backside of the small island. I jumped in first to tie the boat off to a fishing line and immediately saw the most vibrant colors of fish I’d ever seen! Tiny fluorescent blue/purple fish. Yellow and black striped fish. Iridescent purple/blue fish. There were so many brightly colored fish I was left in awe of what I was seeing.

Once we were both ready to move on, we faced a new challenge: How do you get back in the kayak without tipping it over? After a quick discussion, it was decided that it would probably be best if one of us threw our body up and over the side while at the same time swinging our legs into the boat. The person who is still in the water will be on the opposite side of boat to counter the weight. Evo went first and, once he was settled, I repeated the process. To our surprise, it worked perfectly and the boat remained upright.

Paddling over to the front side of the island, we came across a couple divers who had just come to the surface. We asked if they’d seen any sharks, but they sadly said, “no”. We paddled on and came upon the side of the island where we found a couple of other snorkelers. They mentioned they had seen a tiger shark (tiger sharks are (thankfully) not common in the Gulf of Thailand, so they probably meant the more docile black-tipped reef sharks). We tied off the kayak to a free buoy and jumped in again. Instantly, a strong current pulled us away from our kayak. We managed to stay together, Evo holding onto my ankle as I held onto the rope attached to the boat. But the sight was even more amazing than the last spot, with double the amount of fish! We saw a swarm of barracuda, a whole gaggle of clown fish, and so much more. Everywhere we turned there was color and sea life. 20 minutes later and quite exhausted from fighting the current, we boarded the kayak again without incident. Sadly, no sharks. Dangit.

But we weren’t done. We paddled into the outskirts of Aow Luek Bay, rumored to be the best area for snorkeling on the island. Evo jumped out first, but wasn’t impressed with the murky water. As he climbed back in the boat, I must have failed in my counterbalancing... because we quickly flipped the kayak. Luckily, both of our phones (we never seem to be without them — even when we are out in the ocean) were safe inside of a dry bag strapped to my seat. We struggled to flip the boat back over, took a more leisurely and considered approach to boarding, and managed an un-tethered, open water boarding. Success!

As we began paddling back to Chalok Baan Kao, we realized we hadn’t eaten lunch and were quite starving. We quickly paddled the 3 km back, grabbed a bite to eat, and brought our afternoon of snorkeling to a close.

Having asthma truly sucks! But even though it stops me from experiencing the full scuba experience, our day of snorkeling in Koh Tao gave me a good glimpse into the underwater world Evo has been wanting to show me for years. Now don’t mind me: I think I need to grab a snorkel and a mask and go for a swim!