Confession: I’m kind of a scuba snob. What can I say? With hundreds of dives under my belt, I’m just not really interested in suiting up unless the visibility is perfect, the sun is shining just so, and the boat is headed to the area’s top dive site. But for my most recent return to Koh Tao, the weather wasn’t really cooperating, and neither were the tourists — it generally takes a full boat for the captains to head to the more spectacular, and far flung, dive sites. Eventually, I started to get the itch. The urge to submerge. (Zing!) So when my friend Jay from Roctopus invited me to join one sunny Saturday for a laid back day of diving, I didn’t even ask where we were headed before signing on.
Turns out our destinations were Japanese Gardens and White Rock, two of Koh Tao’s popular beginner dive sites. Shallow and protected, these spots hug the edge of the island and are ideal for teaching. Because I typically hold out for more advanced sites like Sail Rock or Shark Island, I hadn’t been to this corner of coral in years.
It doesn’t matter the destination — there’s nothing like being on a boat under blue skies with your buddies.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — there’s nothing I love more than fun diving with off-duty instructors. Good thing I’m friends with a few of them! As soon as we anchored up, off we went.
Before we descended, Jay had asked if I was up for swimming off site for a bit to “look for some weird stuff.” Not overly invested in anything other than simply breathing underwater, I shrugged and said sure. We slowly worked our way into the blue. And there was nothing but blue.
After what felt like an eternity of swimming over sand, I was just moments from signaling I was over this expedition — and then we saw it.
It was the biggest jellyfish I’ve ever seen — a rhizostomes jelly, I’m told by people who know this kind of thing — and I was obsessed with it. Suddenly, the swim through the blue was paying off big time. I was mesmerized — by the pulsing movements, the changing colors, and the little fish swimming within the jelly’s head.
I could have stayed and watched and drooled over and photographed that mysterious blob till our tanks ran out, but after a very patient waiting period Jay eventually nudged us onward. Have I mentioned I love this camera?
After all, we had the Hin Deng Caves to explore.
And right as we were about to ascend again, we were sent off by a beautiful school of colorful fish flitting around the staghorn coral. Granted, my expectations had been low, but this dive blew them away.
Our next destination was nearby White Rock, one of the largest and most frequently-dived sites on Koh Tao. Unfortunately we descended to find a pretty lackluster showing of visibility, but went for a little fin around regardless.
Luckily you can get pretty good macro shots even in mediocre visibility situations — like these coral close ups that remind me of a project I did way back in my printmaking prime.
Eventually, we decided to call it a dive. A few underwater air rings and we were out of there.
Back on the surface, it was playtime again.
While I wouldn’t put Japanese Gardens or White Rock on a must-dive list for my super advanced scuba friends out there, they are lovely sites and the perfect places for beginners to get their sea legs — not to mention, a great way to spend an afternoon out on the water with my Roctopus crew.
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Many thanks to my longtime friends at Roctopus for hosting me. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill. Tell them I sent ya and give them a big hug from me if you go!
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Curious about my underwater photography setup? Check out my Obsessions page for information on my camera gear, editing programs and more.
This dive sounds amazing! The jellyfish, the caves, the coral–I’ve got to get into diving!
Heck yes! It really does open up a whole new world.
am I the only one who sees more cauliflower than jelly fish?
Looks like you had a great day!
Ha, it certainly does resemble a certain vegetable 🙂 But I swear, it was all sea creature!
Beautiful photos- especially the jellyfish! Your posts make me want to try diving so badly, despite the fact that I have asthma and may or may not be able to.
There’s always snorkeling 🙂 You can see a lot from the surface, though I admit I prefer getting face to face with the fishies.
I’ve only been diving once, but it was the most magical experience. Your pics make me want to go again!
Go for it, Claire! I miss the ocean so much when I’m out of it for too long.
That jellyfish is incredible!! And the caves look phenomenal!! Once again, your pictures are providing the perfect dose of antidote for my wanderlust. This post makes me want to run out and learn to dive right now.
I say don’t fight that urge, Marni 🙂
That’s the most impressive-looking jellyfish I’ve ever seen!! I still have never been diving, so would love to go somewhere like this and gain a bit of confidence. Lovely photos!
It’s the perfect spot to do so, Grace… and clearly a lot to see to entertain someone at any level!
I’d be into this dive site if I got to see those nudis and that crazy jelly! Then again, I’ve got a whopping 6 dives under my belt, not hundreds… not quite snob level yet 😉
You’ll get there, I promise 😛 I have to admit this was a lovely and easy peasy day out on the boat. It was a nice reminder I don’t always need to go to the top spots to have a good time.
I definitely see more cauliflower than jellyfish! It looks like a mushroom having sex with a stalk of cauliflower. Weird! Love the little fish swimming inside it!
Ha ha ha — this comment cracked me up. Very accurate description!
Looks like a ball! I don’t dive as much as you (landlocked for the moment!) but the more comfortable and confident underwater I get, the more I want perfect conditions too! It’s not just about making through, but getting the most out of it. That jellyfish is nuts!
Seriously! Even if he was the only thing we saw all day, he would have been worth it.
that jellyfish is INSANE. gorgeously shot too. makes the little pink-spotted ones i saw in ibiza look pretty lame.
i think most of us are a bit snobby about our areas of expertise. ie) i won’t watch a film on an HD tv unless the projection mode’s been adjusted. we like what we like!!
I saw jellyfish in Ibiza too! But yeah, it’s going to be tough for any to top this guy….
I’m headed to Central America in a few weeks and, because of all these insanely gorgeous diving photos you’ve been sharing recently, I’ve decided to get certified in Honduras!
This should be interesting since I’ve been snorkeling exactly one time in my life, but it looks like such a blast! Thanks for sharing these lovely images.
That’s amazing news! 🙂 Honduras is a great place to dive. You should check out Cubicle Throwdown, written by a dive instructor on Roatan 🙂
Awesome photos! I can’t wait to get a diving license myself 🙂
Good luck, Evelina! It will be a whole new world! 🙂
That jelly fish is beautiful!! It looks so much like a cauliflower to me!
Ha, you guys really are right! Don’t know how I didn’t see that before.
Glad we’re not too picky yet 😉
Possibly your photography, but those sights look pretty damn good to me!
I’d like to give my photography a little bit of the credit 😉
Then do so! 🙂
Did you decide on whether you’d devote more time to Guatemala or Nicaragua yet?
On the whole, I probably have fonder memories of our time in Guatemala, but it really depends what you’re looking for (Nicaragua felt much more touristy… yes, that is a word)
Well, I know I’ll be in Nicaragua for 3+ weeks before I have to be in El Salvador, but I’m not sure how my trip will go after that so I have no idea how long I’ll be in Guatemala 🙂 We’ll see!
We loved El Salvador!
Such an underrated little country 🙂
Will you be there long??
Not sure yet 🙂 Playing it all by ear!
As a long time diver I am still constantly amazed by the underwater sights. That jellyfish is bigger than I have ever seen up close. I assume it stings as the only ones that do not are in Palau.
Thanks for the underwater view!
I’m not sure if it stings, actually — I hope not, because I got pretty close to get these shots, ha! Jay didn’t seem afraid and as he’s been teaching for so long I felt comfortable following his lead.
Whoa, that jellyfish is simply stunning!! Apparently there has been a sighting of a box jellyfish yesterday on Koh Tao…. O_O
They do see them occasionally! My old boss has some great footage of them.
Looks like you found lots of “weird stuff” 🙂 That jellyfish is just spectacular. Although jellyfish completely freak me out I would have been mesmerized by that one too. I wonder why those little fish swim with it…so cool!
I love all those symbiotic relationships in nature! I bet there’s a great aquarium out there somewhere with an explanation of this one 🙂
Holy moly! We saw these weird sea snakes in Koh Samui, that was me freaked out. I’m pretty fierce but anything snake related gets me- irrational fear developed in later life! Looks like a fabulous trip.
Oooooo, I love seeing sea snakes! They are always an exciting find, methinks 🙂
Love all your diving pics! It’s so cool seeing everything that lives under the sea — almost looks fake — and seeing your dedication to it. I don’t dive but I’d definitely consider trying it in Thailand if I ever have the opportunity.
I actually feel a little guilty about how few times I went diving this trip back to Koh Tao. Whoops! But at least all three days were winners 🙂
You’re dive pictures are amazing as usual. That jellyfish is sooo cool!
Thanks Miquel! Are you still in Bangkok? You should head down to the islands!
I am and my sister is coming to visit tomorrow! We’re heading to Koh Tao Tuesday 🙂
Awesome Miquel! Enjoy 🙂
Alex, I always enjoy your underwater shots…gorgeous!
Thank you Corinne! That means a lot. I try to get underwater as often as I can to share.
Oh I so wish I could dive, it looks such a magical place to visit. I am grateful I can at least visit via you. Except for the jellyfish… Bleh, they make me twitchy with fear.
This one wasn’t a scary one (I’m 99% sure… ha!)
Ahhhh dive porn! That jelly is the coolest thing! Never seen one so huge (that’s what she said, hehe).
Love how PG-13 this comments section has gotten, ha!
I wish I had seen anything like that jelly fish when I was on Koh Tao. I was learning, and barely remember anything other than the back of the instructor’s fins. Plus, the vis was super poor and the water was choppy – great conditions for a newbie! 😉
Aw, bummer! Well maybe you should head back for your Advanced Open Water… and cross fingers for better conditions 🙂
I love you being on Koh Tao because you are sharing so much of what I love about this little island and because on this post you dived with my most loved sea creature-the jellyfish. This one may I add, looks like a huge cauliflower! But maybe not as tasty. When I learnt to dive on Koh Tao in 2007 it was one of the most amazing places to dive and I felt priveledged to experience the underwater world with my family. Looking forward to hearing more of your tales. 🙂
There’s just one more diving post coming, so I better make it a good one 🙂 Glad I’m giving you a glimpse down memory lane!
Wow, really beautiful jellyfish photos!
Thanks Katie! It was such an exciting find.
Koh Tao has so many amazing dive sites … takes me back so the time I was there!
It’s a special little island, isn’t it! Thanks for reading Elaine.
Ah, I love White Rock! I saw a turtle there twice while diving last week! One of them was the “well-known” turtle that sleeps under White Rock, the other was one that came in from somewhere else. It was HUGE, and it had little fish cleaning it and stuff. Alex (the instructor) said it had to be at least 90 years old to be that big. SO COOL! I’m so happy I got to see two turtles while diving on the turtle island! 🙂
Ha, yeah, the name turtle island is a little misleading as really turtles aren’t so common here — you’re lucky you got to see two 🙂
Picture with the instructor, he seems very drawn towards you. 🙂
Ha, he’s just a very old friend!
Hi Alex and happy new year! Been quite busy setting up a freediving travel agency lately in France and other little things, thus my lack of comments and feedbacks on your always interesting posts. Did you have the opportunity to get to Blue Immersion in Koh Tao? It’s well worth a visit, and I am sure your feedback on a discovery like the bliss of a hang in 6O ft would be an amazing complementary perspective on the ocean…Bubbles from Paris!
I’m sad to say I didn’t Alex! I had big plans to try things like rockclimbing and freediving, but alas two months was just not enough 🙂 Oh well, I’ll be back soon!
I’m sure about it! I suggest a stop in Paris on your way there, there can be some rather funky things to blog about in the city of light!
With your extensive dive experience no one can blame you for being a “diving snob”. Having said that this dive just highlights some of the amazing surprises you can have on many dives.
It must have been amazing to watch that jellyfish, did you get a video?
You are making me yearn to dive again. Can’t believe I haven’t dived since I qualified all those years ago!
No video, unfortunately. I tend to really focus on either photography or videography during a dive — it barely even occurs to be to switch between them once I’ve committed!
um, wow! Alex this looks fantastic! I have never dived, but I get such envy when I see other peoples shots, it looks so fantastic!
It’s never to late to start, Laura!
I’ve missed your dive photos, Alex! It’s always so nice to (virtually) submerge with you. Your shots of the jellyfish are beautiful; I can only imagine how awesome that was to witness in real life!
One of these days maybe we’ll get to dive together in person, Steph! Blogger dive buddies? 🙂
This underwater world looks amazing! What camera you were using ?
The s100 that I have linked to on my Obsessions page — check it out, I wrote a full review of it! 🙂
Thanks, Alex ! 🙂
I love reading your diving posts,
I just want to ask, how much experience did you have as a diver before doing your videography internship at the cayman islands?
I am intersted in doing a 1 month course in Koh Tao with Oceans Below (not sure if you’ve heard of them before), however, I don’t have any photography experience or diving certifications (though I plan to get certified as a rescue diver this summer). The internship is 1 month long, I was just wondering whether you have any advice on this matter? E.g. do you think I should wait until I have more diving/ photography experience before i undertake the course (since its pricey, coming in at a couple of thousand pounds) or do you think its enough to be a beginner? What has your experience been like?
Sorry for the many questions!!
Hey Amy! I think I had about twelve dives at that point. I’m very familiar with Oceans Below and they do great work. However I have to ask… with no diving or photography experience, what is drawing you to the internship? Personally I think I’d like to try out one or the other before committing to a big investment of both time and money, but everyone’s comfort level will be different!
In that case I think I might complete my dive certifications in Koh Tao before contacting Oceans Below, I was just slightly concerned because they seem to have limited spaces for the course.
Although i’ve had no real experience, both diving and photography are something I’ve always wanted to get into 🙂
I’ve just kind of always put it off because of time and money..
I saw Elisabeth’s underwater videography and I think the quality is gorgeous, I considered doing the course since after this summer I think it’ll be a long time before I get back to Thailand.
I don’t think you’ll regret doing your dive courses first. I’m sure they’ll have room for you, and if not, there are plenty of talented videographers to learn from on Koh Tao (like my old bosses at Fat Fish 🙂 )
Hehe, thanks for your help Alex 🙂
I recently bought a power shot s110 with inspiration from you. I know you own the original canon housing for your s100, but have you heard any reviews about the Meikon housing? (as its quite a lot cheaper in the UK)
Also what camera settings do you normally use to shoot? (I particularly like your most recent photos from diving in kohtao, including the ones on this post) do you use a red filter??
Unfortunately I’ve never even heard of a Meikon housing, Amy! So I can’t be of any help there. I don’t use a red filter but I do use the underwater settings of the camera, which are basically an electronic version.
I have loved following your adventures, Alex! Thailand has always been on my dive bucket lists, but reading back to your posts I know that Koh Tao will be a must!
Aw, thanks Bekki! Koh Tao is the best — I hope you have a blast there like I have!