Just below the surface

Submitted by admin on 2012/08/20 02:11:20 PM
Photo by David Malabar

Even for long in the tank deep water divers, snorkelling can still hold colourful court.

Like most respectable beach junkies, I have spent a decent part of my travelling life underwater. If you've taken the PADI Open Water dive course you'll know just how easy it is to become totally addicted to marine adventures, and some of my friends are so obsessed they now base all their holiday destination choices on the wow factor of nearby dive sites. The problem with being smitten by the dive however, is that if you can easily forget the joys of the ocean's more simple pleasures as you search for the next awe inspiring encounter with a whale shark, manta ray or leatherback turtle. What's more, once you've seen all these admittedly incredible creatures in the flesh, the only option left is to train as a marine biologist or underwater cameraman in the hope that you will be assigned to work in the most remote and spectacular underwater locations on the planet. For most people, myself included, such ambitions are a little unrealistic, which is why I have re-learnt to love snorkelling. For some reason, even though I have stride-stepped off boats and descended below the surface of the ocean everywhere from the Great barrier Reef to the Galapagos Islands, in the right conditions, a gentle snorkel straight off the beach still gives me just enough of a marine buzz to ease the once insatiable urge to book a three week live aboard SCUBA trip in Micronesia. Basic elements like good visibility, plenty of live coral and colourful fish are still prerequisites, but with all this boxes ticked, an hour following shallow water species can still offer the ultimate otherworld adventure. To sate my oceanographic appetite I generally slot in a half or full day snorkel trip whenever I travel anywhere by the ocean in Asia. Luckily, with Koh Samui, Phuket and Bali being regular destinations the options for cerulean treasure hunting are considerable. Even though none of these three tropical legends are actually blessed with too many options for snorkelling straight off the beach in front of your villa, all three are surrounded by fabulous snorkel sites within easy reach on a modest sized speedboat. On, or rather off Samui, the best snorkelling spots I've discovered are around the stunning limestone islands of the Angthong Marine Park, which are best reached on a day trip (about an hour each way by speedboat). There are also some marvellous marine scenes to be enjoyed in the protected coves around Koh Tao – Mango and Tanote Bay being two classics, while for boat shy folk or part-timers, the reef off the tiny island of Koh Taen, just a few minutes from Samui's southwest coast can be very pretty when the seas are calm. Over on Phuket, the twin islands of Ko Racha Yai and Ko Racha Noi are easily reached (meaning quite busy in high season) on a tour and blessed with some lovely reefs, made all the more delicious thanks to their powdery white sand beaches. Of course Mr.Garland's famed Koh Phi Phi is even more incredible, but takes an hour to reach and can be even more crowded. For land lubbers, some nice sneaky beach snorkelling can be enjoyed at Freedom Beach, especially if you fin out a little from the shore. Bali is surrounded by top spots to dip your mask and gasp. Even the island's most famous dive site — USAT Liberty Shipwreck — is only 3 metres below the surface, while glassy Padang Bai is an hour's boat ride away and for those staying on or close to Bali's secluded northwestern shore, Menjangen is a unique experience thanks to its incredible gorgonian sea fans and the tumultuous  variety of marine life that passes before your gaze. It should be pointed out that all of the above locations offer variable visibility depending on the season and it's always best to either charter a speedboat (long tail boats in Thailand are fun and inexpensive too) or join a tour that guarantees limited numbers and leaves earlier than the masses so you get the chance to see more fish than fins. Even for experienced snorkelers, it's always best to refresh you fishy memory before you head into the blue. Common and funky species to look out for include  Bannerfish, Moorish Idols, Angelfish, Butterflyfish Parrotfish, Clownfish and the lusciously named Oriental Sweetlips. Hard and soft corals also abound and particular pleasure is to be had by floating motionless for a while whenever you happen upon a coral mound or pillar to focus in on the Nudibranchs (google it).     by LVH Marketing