Lemon Shark in Bora Bora

Lemon Shark in Bora Bora

Monday, July 4, 2011

Scuba Diving at Bida Nok- Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

I travelled by bus from Kuala Lumpur Malaysia a 20 hour trek through the picturesque Kingdom of Thailand ending in Krabi on the shores of the Andaman Sea.

  From there it was a short ferry ride to the Island Paradise of Koh Phi Phi Don, known as Phi Phi Island. Pronounced Pee Pee. The Koh Phi Phi Island group is located in a national Marine park about 50 km S.E. of the much more developed Island of Phuket.

 Phi Phi has long been a popular destination for thrill seekers and backpackers. Its white sand beaches, high limestone cliffs, and world class scuba diving offer a robust assortment of activities that is sure to satisfy any traveler.  It also offers some a certain lifestyle that is fueled by cheap liquor and though punishable by death Thailand is also known as a hot spot for other mind altering substances that are never hard to find.

  Phi Phi Island was made famous by the Leonardo Dicaprio hit movie “The Beach” that was filmed there in 2000.

 Later Phi Phi was further made infamous by the tragic Tsunami that struck on the morning of December 26 2004 leaving the remains of over 2000 souls and almost that many more unaccounted for.

  It is an Island Oasis filled with tragedy, romance, adventure and debauchery, oh how I loved Thailand.  I stayed on Phi Phi for a several months and it will always hold a place in my heart. 

  Phi Phi was settled during the 1940’s by Muslim fishermen and is said to be about 80% Muslim today though there is also the strong presence of Buddhism and other religions.    

It has long been the site of a huge coconut plantation with thousands of trees towering over the village unfortunately most of these trees and the industry associated with them were lost to the Tsunami.

 Temperatures on the Island range from the mid 70’s in the rainy season, mid May until December but then shoot up to the high 80’s during the high season that starts towards the end of December and runs into May. 

  Water temperature is usually in the low 80’s visibility is not what I experienced in French Polynesia however it still offers at least 40 feet of vis during the rainy season and around 100 feet during the high season. 

  There are several world class hotels on the island such as the Phi Phi Don Chukit Resort, Phi Phi Don Cabana hotel, the luxurious Zeavola Phi Phi Resort and even a holiday Inn however there are also a huge selection of “Guest Houses” that offer travelers a cheap but comfortable option during their stay.

   I shared a guest house with a Swedish friend of mine and between the two of us we had a comfortable apartment with a great deck that cost us roughly $60 U.S. per month. 

  It is usually pretty quiet on the island there are no cars to speak of and the main form of transportation is a bicycle, or over water on the famous long tail boats.  Freight is usually moved by a push cart commonly referred to as a “Bim Bim” cart as the words Bim Bim are loosely translated to Beep Beep and it is the well used chant the operator uses to warn you that they are coming through.  The narrow brick walkways are lined with shops, restaurants and one of the highest concentrations of dive shops I have seen anywhere in the world. There were a couple Bim Bim operators for local dive shops that would partially open aluminum 80 so that it made a constant hiss.  This brilliant maneuver worked like a charm to part the sea of pedestrians that made their way through the narrow  thoroughfares. 

  The many shops, and restaurants that line the walkways offer consumers prices that are very favorable.  You can have a tailor-made suit created for just over $100, custom shoes for $75 or a great meal consisting of a nice Pad Thai with a 750ml bottle of Chang the local beer, for just over $1.  It is truly one of the greatest destinations you can ever find on a tight budget. 

  On to the diving.  There are at least 20 dive shops on the island but you will find that they all charge the same amount, it is decided what rates will be charged by all shops before the start of every high season and discounting is not looked upon favorably.

  The majority of the tourists are young Scandinavian backpackers from Sweden, Norway, Finland or Denmark and most of the dive shops cater to this demographic, almost all guides will speak English but I recommend you walk around and talk with a few to insure you find an operator that you are comfortable with.

  Some operators have huge dive boats that bring 30-40 divers out at a time I have always preferred a smaller group myself so ask some questions.  There are many great sites for every level of diver that are easily accessible from Koh Phi Phi including Hin Daeng/ Hin Muang known for there amazing soft coral formations and some caves and swim troughs, Shark Point and The Snake Cave they are pretty self explanatory, The King Cruiser wreck which is a car ferry that went down in about 100 feet of water under some pretty suspicious circumstances (also know as The Insurance Wreck) and I will detail all of these sites in future blogs but I will focus on the most popular site of Bida Nok in this entry.

   Bida Nok is one of two towering limestone islands located close to the Famous Beach featured in the Leonardo Dicaprio movie.  It is home to some of the healthiest and robust coral formations I have ever encountered.  Huge formations of colorful soft coral, large “Elephant Ear” corals nice ledges and some spectacular drop offs. 

  It is also home to an abundance of sea life such as large leopard sharks, I have watched as the guides flip these large docile creatures over on their backs and put them into a trancelike hypnotic state called tonic immobility and  they will rub its belly and pass it around so guests can take a turn handling them.   I am not sure I agree with this type of interaction but I must admit it is entertaining to say the least. 

Groups of Black Tips  reef sharks are often seen patrolling the site and it is not uncommon to encounter multiple whale sharks depending on the time of year. Hawksbill turtles, glassfish, gorgonians, parrot fish and the always popular scorpion fish are also found on almost every dive to this site.

  Banded sea snakes that are among the most poisonous snakes in the world are a regular site.  Though deadly poisonous it is comforting to know that they are not very aggressive and they are so small that they apparently can not open their mouths wide enough to bite a diver.  They say you only have to watch your ears and the webbed part between your fingers.  I’m not sure how much of this was true however I will admit the I had my hands over my ears with my fingers closed the first time I entered the snake cave.  I am not sure but I think I may have seen my guide laughing at me while I assumed this defensive dive posture. 

  Seahorses and sea dragons, I could spend a 45 minute dive just watching them dance through the water.  Unlimited Nudibranches are also common attractions to this thriving ecosystem. The moray eels here are very odd looking.  I am used to a moray having black dead looking eyes but the eels here have these unique white eyes with a dark pupil, to me they resemble the eyes you would find on a stuffed animal I called them Muppet eels.  I found them a bit comical.

    Of all of the sea life that I have found here the one I enjoyed the most and have yet to see on any other dive was the cuttlefish.  For those of you who have no encountered one they are related to squid and octopus. However they have a very large almost sad looking face.  They are masters of disguise and can completely change not only the color of their skin but also the texture itself. 

  The cuttlefish have 8 arms though much shorter than you will find on a squid and they do emit a dark cloud of ink as a defense against predators.  Watching them reflect the light as they swim in open water is fascinating but even more fascinating is watching them as the move around the coral trying to hide, they capture and mimic the colors of the coral below them instantly.  They can be very difficult to spot as they are so well camouflaged that one may think they are actually transparent. 

  This dive can be done easily at a 30-40 depth.  You could go deeper if you wanted but this dive offers so much to see that you will want to milk every minute of bottom time you can.  Bring your camera because you will seldom find a location that has more unique and beautiful subjects to capture on film.

   An excellent dive in a land known for many excellent dives.  As a small island you meet almost everyone in a very short period of time.  If you are thinking of a trip to Thailand there are much better advertised dive destinations but any diver I met said that they preferred the diving around Koh Phi Phi to any of the better known locations. 

  Send me an e-mail and I can steer you in the right direction for food, accommodations, dive operators and some pretty epic bars.  Give the Banana bar a shot you won’t regret it.  Tell them ScubaSteve sent ya!


  1. Thank you very much. I apprciate the suppot

  2. I love that you love my stuff!

  3. It looks like such a great place, Will it ever be the way it was before the Tsunami?

  4. Awesome sites and travels beautiful pictures and informative material thanks Scuba Steve!!

  5. very nice photos and detail. Quite the adventures, I'm sure you have enjoyed every minute.

  6. I love the fact that you make this blog, and put in so many interesting facts about the places around the world. If I may say one thing it is that if you have been diving with people who flip the Leopard Shark on Phi Phi, they're clearly not serious. Phi Phi is in a marine park, and all of the companies I've been diving with has a strictly "no touch" policy. As it should be.
    But I agree...the diving there is really good :) Just love the Bida's :

  7. Thanks for all of the great Comments. I have enjoyed every minute of my adventures. Yes I do know that Bida Nok is a Marine Park and divers should observe a "No Touch" policy here, and anywhere else for that matter. I don't belive in shark feedings or "flipping" I think we should observe animals in their natural habitat and do our best to avoid interaction like that. I never participated personally however I did witness it numerous times and did nothing to prevent it. In Thailand as in many other places we are just visitors and locals tend to take offence to what they feel is interference by outsiders. They are good people but they do not always share our views on conservation. When in Rome my friend.

  8. Great blogs Scuba Steve ! I could read theese all day !

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