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Psst. Did you read yesterday’s post about my diving dilemmas? If not, check it out. I need your help!

After a month stateside, I was itching to get back to Thailand and into the water. Luckily on my first day back on Koh Tao my friends had arranged a massive group trip to Sail Rock, one of Koh Tao’s premiere dive sites. It takes about an hour and a half to get to the dive site and I couldn’t wait to spend the time sunbathing on the deck and catching up with the girlfriends I had missed so much while I was away.

Unfortunately, nature had other plans. Jetlag had kept me up the night before the trip so I was awake for the storm that raged all night and into the morning. Knowing how hard it is to synch up everyone’s schedules we decided to brave the weather and cross our fingers for a clearing-up rather than attempt to reschedule. Two hours later we questioned our decision, as everyone on the boat, captain included, was an unnatural shade of green. I’ve never been on a boat trip quite like it and don’t hope to repeat it anytime soon.

As I was expending all my energy trying not to lose my breakfast over the side of the boat (and watching many others fail at the same mission) I don’t have my usual array of smiling boat pics and fun jumping in shots. Instead my coverage starts right where I was starting to feel like a human again: deep below the rough currents, in the midst of the Gulf of Thailand.

The above photo really sums up the beauty of Sail Rock to me… the beautiful blue of the open ocean, the endless schools of fish, and the powerful movement of the waves breaking against the rock. Can you spot the little banner fish in there?

This puffer fish was too much to handle. I was behind everyone and couldn’t get their attention to point him out so I just snapped this photo of him watching my friends swim away. Luckily on our second time around the rock, on our second dive, we ran into him again.

They might not have the enigmatic personalities that fish do, but nudibranch like these yellow and white species below fascinate me. They look like something out of Men in Black!

Sail Rock has many highlights but one stands out to me above all others: the schools of fish bigger than anything I’ve ever encountered underwater. Thousands of fish will move together as one massive object.

Another favorite Sail Rock feature is The Chimney, a vertical cave perfect for novice divers to explore. It’s much more easily captured on film than in photo, but this gives you a little idea.

And on this dive I was lucky to spend time with my favorite fish of all, the batfish. There is something about the shape of this creature that I adore.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts about Sail Rock, this is a hard site for practicing underwater photography because of the depth, which makes colors appear dull. On a cloudy day like this one the situation gets even bleaker. The solution is either an external strobe, which I don’t have, or a good old black-and-white filter like the one I used on the photo below.

At one point the girls motioned excitedly for me to come over. I finned over fast as I could, so curious to see what they were pointing to! I found this:

Ha ha, ladies.

I can’t remember the name of the fish below. They aren’t a common find in this part of Thailand though, so I was excited to spot them.

And then we were reunited with our friend the puffer fish! This time he was very cooperative, posing chummily with my friend Kat.

He wasn’t the only one hamming it up for the camera. I can’t think of the last time I saw a clown fish pout so perfectly for me.

This coral was another mystery to me. I had never seen it before (or noticed it at least) and I had to fight the urge to reach out and pop one of the little pods. Anyone know what it is?

As you can see, the colors are getting brighter and crisper, which means we were getting shallower! All my favorite photos from these dives were taken in the last ten minutes.

Aesthetically I was obsessed with this scene: The two contrasting anemones swishing around next to each other in the current, each with its own matching clown fish.

Near the surface, it becomes a bit more difficult to dive and a lot more difficult to take pictures because the current pushes you and everything else in the water around with it.

I love the way the anemones look, submitting to that current. The motion is so elegant and strong. And yet I can’t look at it without thinking of spaghetti. One track mind.

By the time we got back to the island I had survived five hours of battling sea sickness (two hours each way a one hours surface interval), a tank dropped on my finger due to the constant rocking of the boat, and two dive’s worth of rough currents. I went to sleep immediately and emerged the next morning with a banged up finger and a seasickness hangover. But I look at these photos, which are still far from the best I’ve taken, and I think to myself: Yup, it was worth it.

Divers, get yourself to Sail Rock!

  • Oh Meihoukai you have absolutely dazzled me with these pictures!!!! If I wasn’t a diver already, I would literally become one today because of you. AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Meihoukai
      May 28 2012

      Thank you so much Andi, that is so sweet! I have another diving post coming up this week and I think the photos are much better, so look out for that one 🙂

  • Briony
    May 28 2012

    Amazing photos Meihoukai. 🙂 love the puffer fish and clown fish with their matching anemones are great, so interesting.

    Hope all is well.

    • Meihoukai
      May 28 2012

      Thank you Briony! You picked out my favorite creatures!

  • Dad
    May 28 2012

    what a beautiful collection of photos

    • Meihoukai
      May 28 2012

      Thanks! I find most of these too dark, but I guess I am being too critical.

  • Emily in Chile
    May 28 2012

    If these are “bad” pictures I can’t imagine what it must look like in person on a good day!

    • Meihoukai
      May 28 2012

      Aw, thanks Emily! I guess I am overly critical of myself but I just find these pictures a bit dull, color-wise. I think I’m just wanting a strobe 🙂

  • wes
    May 28 2012

    I’ve only been there once. It sucked. Your pictures suggest what it could be on a good day.
    Fish is a lined butterfly fish.
    Coral is plaind bubble coral. It’s everywhere! Funny how we see what we see.

    • Meihoukai
      May 28 2012

      I swear I had never seen it before!? Maybe I am blind. PS: Your hat has been on a great number of adventures that I was not up to date on.

  • LAbackpackerChick
    May 31 2012

    Incredible pictures! I’m in Koh Phangan for the next two weeks and you’ve just sold me on going diving here!

    I wanted to wait for Sipidan in August but now I’ve got an itch to get in the water ASAP!

    Maybe I’ll see you around 🙂


    • Meihoukai
      June 1 2012

      Unfortunately I am back in New York now, much as I would love to meet you for a drink on the beach! Definitely make your way over to Koh Tao and so dome diving. I highly recommend my friends over at Roctopus, tell them I sent ya!