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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 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.

Diving with Roctopus

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.

Koh Nang Yaun

Diving with Roctopus

Thai Flag

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.

Diving with Roctopus

Diving at Japanese Gardens

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.

Diving in Koh Tao

Jellyfish in Koh Tao

Jellyfish in Koh Tao

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?

Diving at Japanese Gardens

Diving in Koh Tao

Diving at Japanese Gardens

Jellyfish in Koh Tao

After all, we had the Hin Deng Caves to explore.

Hin Deng Caves Koh Tao

Hin Deng Caves Koh Tao

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.

Japanese Gardens Koh Tao

Japanese Gardens Koh Tao

Japanese Gardens Koh Tao

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.

White Rock Dive Site Koh Tao

Diving in Koh Tao

White Rock Dive Site Koh Tao

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.

Coral in Koh Tao

Coral in Koh Tao

Eventually, we decided to call it a dive. A few underwater air rings and we were out of there.

Diving in Koh Tao

Diving in Koh Tao

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 crew.

Diving with Roctopus