I never knew I’d love scuba diving so much until I discovered it by accident while travelling. Back on my first backpacking trip in Southeast Asia I decided on a whim to get certified on the Thai island of Koh Tao. Once I had my first introduction to the wonders beneath the waves I was totally hooked and kept diving throughout my journey.

But now it’s been over a year since my last dive, and I am aching to take the plunge again. Recently, at home, I had a great dream about scuba diving and meeting all sorts of interesting sea creatures – perhaps it was the sea subconsciously sending me its siren call.

I chose to answer that call on my current trip on Koh Lanta, an island not far from the popular Phuket and Koh Phi Phi (but one with a more laidback atmosphere – I highly recommend staying there). Koh Lanta happens to be a great base from which to reach many popular dive sites in Thailand, including the reefs surrounding the tiny karst island group of Koh Haa. I chose to dive with Dive & Relax, which has some great facilities and two locations on Koh Lanta.

I met with my dive master Rhi, who began by giving me an excellent refresher of some of the diving theory. While scuba diving is easier than many people think, it isn’t quite like riding a bike. As I hadn’t dived in a year, there were a few details about the safety procedures and diving techniques that I might have forgotten. Luckily it didn’t take long for me to be reminded of all the important details, and soon we were on our way to the island of Koh Haa.

Thankfully Dive & Relax operates a speedboat, so we didn’t have to putter along on a slow long-tail boat. Instead we got to the dive sites in just the time it took for us to run through the pre-dive briefing. This suited me just fine as I was excited and eager to get in the water!

One thing I really like about scuba diving is just how zen it can be. It’s just you and the sound of your breathing, all the while being surrounded by all sorts of amazing things. The whole point is actually to move less so as to not waste any air, so it quickly becomes a very relaxing experience.

On our first descent though, I noticed myself being quite distracted and fidgety. I guess I had to adjust again to that fish-out-of-water feeling you get from being a human underwater. But once we got going, things began to feel familiar again.

Immediately upon descent we were greeted by a large porcupine fish. This is the kind of fish that looks like a blown-up balloon (and even more so if it puffs itself up). This curious fella hung around in the open water for a while for us to look a look at.

You never quite know what exactly you’ll get to see on a dive, but sure enough we got to see a full gamut of underwater life. This included several giant moray eels, a trumpetfish, a plethora of reef fish and even a group of three painted spiney lobsters, among many others. (Normally, these crustaceans are hiding during the day, so it can be a little rare for them to show their faces).

Beautiful crown-of-thorn sea stars

Thanks to some excellent spotting by my dive master we even saw a day octopus – my first ever octopus sighting! It was amazing to see it breathe with its whole body expanding and contracting amid some rocks on the ocean floor. There was some excellent macro (small stuff) to see as well, including some beautifully colored nudibranches. A little further along, we got a fantastic view of a banded sea krait (a seasnake) wiggling its way from the ocean bottom up to the surface.

But the highlight of my dive was when we eventually swam through a little canyon in the reef into a cavern that was absolutely filled with schools of fish. Floating around this cavern with the sun shining in through the top and hundreds of fish swirling around me was definitely one of those rewarding moments. It was difficult to peel myself away from this amazing underwater ambiance.

Since our diving was not too deep (up to about up to 22m) we were able to spend a good two hours underwater. This gave ample opportunity to take it all in, so at the end of our dives I felt doubly satisfied with the experience.

After we got back up we got a little bonus surprise visit from a sea turtle, whose head popped up above the water just near our boat. I wished we’d been more lucky to have encountered her down below, but it was nice of her to make a belated appearance.

All in all the diving at Koh Haa was splendid, with great visibility, easy diving and a great variety of marine life. It’s no wonder that Koh Lanta often comes up in the top places to scuba dive in Thailand. It’s a far cry from Koh Tao, which even though it’s a popular place to get certifified it can get so crowded as to find more scuba divers than fish at the dive sites. Around Koh Lanta I felt like you can actually focus on the diving and all the wonderful surroundings.

My experience with Dive & Relax was also fantastic – attentive staff, small groups, great equipment and a very pleasant diving experience allround whether you’re a beginner or a pro – and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.

LOCATION: Koh Lanta, Thailand

COMPANY: Dive & Relax. It has two offices on Long Beach, one inside Sayang Beach Bungalows and one in Castaway Resort, both just on the beach. The first one is close to where many of the backpacker hostels and guesthouses near Long Beach are clustered.

TOUR: 2 dive package at Koh Haa – prices and packages

Complimentary dives were provided.

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