Gallery: 7 of Thailand’s incredible underwater sights
Once you’ve learned to achieve the neutral buoyancy that lets you literally hang out like you're flying underwater, its easy to see why NASA uses scuba diving to simulate being in space -- the sense of near weightlessness underwater is the nearest most of us are going to get to being an astronaut.
Besides the serene sensation of slowly floating under the ocean's surface, there is a never-ending feast of aquatic eye candy to spark the imagination. Here are seven of the incredible sights you might see around Thailand's dive sites, and where to find them:
1. Rhinopia, Hin Muang
Something of a holy Grail for repeat divers, the strange appearance of the extremely hard to spot rhinopia often inspires muffled cries of "WTF is that?!" through the masks of less experienced divers. A type of angler fish that uses a lure over its mouth to reel in prey, the rhinopia's lacey fronds act as remarkable camouflage whilst also making this undeniably ugly fish look mildly camp. This rhinopia was found on the underwater pinnacle of Hin Muang, which lies to the south of Koh Lanta.
2. Octopus, Hin Daeng
Usually the only place you’ll see an octopus is on your plate or in an aquarium. But octopus in the wild are often curious, playful and even mischievous. (It’s been known for octopus to grab and run off with divers’ cameras, before depositing them elsewhere on the reef). This octopus at Hin Daeng, the sister pinnacle to Hin Muang, moved across the rocks with an alien, fluid grace before elongating and squeezing its entire body into an impossibly small sized fissure, before splaying its tentacles and re-emerging to pose for this photo.
3. Hard and soft corals and fan, Anita's Reef
Located several hours off the Andaman coast from the town of Khao Lak, the Similan Islands are widely regarded as one of the best places to dive in the world -- and the corals at Anita's Reef are among the specific reasons why. Here you can see a riot of hard and soft corals that clash their colors in spectacular fashion, like Jackson Pollock let loose underwater. The vibrancy of the reef's palette combined with the silky looking textures of the soft corals and gravity-defying fan coral bigger than a man -- which has taken decades to grow to such impressive size -- makes for an engrossing experience.
4. Yellow Snapper, East Of Eden
Thailand's oceans are in danger of being over-fished, with the demand for fresh catch often outstripping what the ocean can supply. It's heartening then to see a breathtaking sight like this -- hundreds of yellow snapper schooling together at East of Eden in the Similan Islands, moving in perfect synchronization together to mesmerizing effect.
5. Barracuda, Richelieu Rock
Beyond the northern most point of the Similan Islands lies what's widely regarded as Thailand's best dive site -- Richelieu Rock. This horseshoe-shaped pinnacle in the middle of the ocean is home to a hotbed of marine life, acting as a safe haven and food source for animals roaming the ocean. This big school of barracuda hovered in the blue just off the Rock before heading in regimented fashion back out into the ocean.
6. Glassfish and reef, Anita's Reef
As well as the cornucopia of coral life to be found in the Similans, there is an abundance of smaller creatures that make their homes around the reef. Among the most memorable are the tiny glassfish that school en masse around particular sections of reef, shifting and moving together at the slightest hint of trouble like a thousand points of light. Sometimes the carpet of glassfish over a reef is so dense that it's hard to see the coral itself until they shift and change again.
7. Sea Star, Koh Bida
Being underwater is like entering another world, but it also gives an interesting new twist to our perspective of the world we leave behind. This sea star resting on fronds of hard coral at Koh Bida, an island just off Koh Phi Phi, is powerfully lit up by the sun even 15 meters underwater, and the sunlight also gives the ocean its ever-changing, enveloping hues of blue. It's the strength of Thailand's sun that lets these incredible coral reefs and fascinating creatures survive and continue to thrive.