Koh Bida Nok is one of the most popular dive sites in South west Thailand. It’s a small island boasting wall diving and shallow reefs.
Koh Bida Noi and Koh Bida Nai lie to the south of Phi Phi islands, belonging to Phi Phi Archipelago. Together with Hin Bida they are known as The Bida Islands.
On a sunny Sunday morning I joined my friend Gianluca from Sea Gypsy Divers on board a brand new half catamaran half speed boat called the Ocean Manta for a dive adventure around the Phi Phi archipelago.
It had been a long long time since my last dive, about 3 years exactly, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from myself as a diver and from the marine environment of the area we were going to visit.
So I was a little nervous when I woke up at down in Klong Muang, but as soon as I grabbed my bag and hopped on my bike for the short ride to Sea Gypse’s office in central Ao Nang, I forgot all my worries and became excited for the day ahead.
At the office I met some of the other customers, we checked the equipment then we drove together to Port Tacola, the newest harbour just outside Ao Nang, where our boat was waiting.
Port Tacola is not affected by the tides as other piers in the area, and we could board the Ocean Manta through the main dock, loading all the equipment on trolleys for the short walk from the parking lot to the boat.
When we arrived at the pier, it was hard to miss that beautiful boat even among all the other catamarans and speed boat: the Ocean Manta was shining in the sun, all polished and neat, the prow pointing to the outer sea, eager to start her first official mission.
The boat has two very distinct zones, one dedicated to divers, on the back, and one in the front, for cruising, eating and chatting. The outside area, at the front, is spacious and super comfortable, and can easily accomodate 15 people.
Sun lovers rest assured: you can easily bask in the sun in between dives. I surely did that day!
Onboard I was introduced to the rest of the divers and snorkelers, the crew and the Finnish couple who are the owner of the Fast Manta.
The name is appropriate: the boat mounts 2 huge Mercury engines of 300 CC, and thanks to her catamaran shape it’s very stable and elegant on top of being fast.
We sat down at the tables in the lounge area and enjoyed the morning breeze and the splendid Krabi scenery while the boat departed.
It only took 1 hour and 10 minutes before we reached the first dive site, Bida Nok! That was really fast! I barely had the time to eat a slice of chocolate cake and prepare my equipment!
From the surface Bida Nok appears as a stunning limestone peak jutting vertically of the water. Underwater, it’s all about coral gardens, caves divers can swim through and vertical walls covered in soft corals.
Black tip sharks and leopard sharks are often seen parading around Bida Nok and typical reef fish like Clown Fish, red goby, angel fish, honeycomb eels can be spotted among the corals.
As soon as we approached Bida, the first shark appeared. We saw it from the boat, way before we were ready to jump in the water. Call it a welcome!
There was only another boat at the site, with a few snorkelers already in the water, but by the time we dove in, the black tip was still around. And it wasn’t alone. We saw three swimming in circle in very shallow waters, relaxed, not at all disturbed by us humans.
It was exciting to use a Go Pro during the dive for the first time, and I was so focused on getting on film everything that we saw that I was surprised once I realized the 60 minute dive was over. It was time to get on board.
On my first underwater movie I got the shark, a squid, some nudibranch, a baby banded sea snake, a ghost pipe fish, a group of large sea fans, some parrot fish and many more corals and creatures.
Turtles, barracudas and sting rays are often resting on the sandy area in the southern side, but we didn’t see any this time.
Back on board we cleaned our equipment and prepared the tanks for the second dive.
Lunch was served at the tables in the front covered area, consisting of a mix of fragrant white rice and diced tempeh in sesame seeds (or something similar that I can’t name, but very delicious).
We drank filtered water and soft drinks and there was some chocolate brownie as dessert, plus fresh fruits like pineapple and watermelon.
The only thing I really missed, but I hope the Ocean Manta guys will make it available in the future, was some hot coffee. A simple, instant coffee mix with hot water would be enough even for a coffee addict like myself.
I think that in between dives, specially if you get cold easily like I do all the time, some hot beverage would be very welcomed.
After lunch we had some time to relax or bask in the sun while the Ocean Manta headed to Phi Phi Leh.
We stopped for sightseeing and photo snaps at the entrance of Maya Bay, then we continued North along the coast of the island until we moored in a spot called Maya Nui, close to another dive site called Mushroom.
We could choose which one to dive, and we opted for the first one, more favourable given that a mild current was expected to rise by the time we finished the dive, and we could use it to push us back to the boat.
I honestly didn’t expect much from Maya Nui, but I was wrong.
Visibility wasn’t as great as in Bida, however we managed to spot black tip sharks again, and soon after a big, lazy, friendly turtle appeared, and decided to stay with us for part of our dive. She elegantly swam with us, keeping the same level and direction, then rising for breath on the surface before diving back down to us.
I love turtles and I was busy admiring her while, in the corner of an eye, I spotted a big octopus bouncing out at full speed from a cave.
I don’t know what pushed it to jump out, but it happened at the perfect time: the octopus was the biggest I’ve seen so far, and the bravest too.
From my experience, they don’t stick around mixing with divers for long, but this octopus did.
He started to show off, I would say, so much so that at the end of the dive my friend Bruno, who’s been a diver for 50 years, said: “I was about to ask him to leave, what was wrong with him wanting all the attention?”.
Of course he was joking, besotted as I was with the curious and friendly octopus.
Maya Nui is a shallow dive, but it boasts some colourful corals, large dramatic rocks and some interesting macro: It took me a while to see the tiny transparent shrimps that Gianluca was pointing to me.
Then, while we were ascending for the safety stop at the end of a 1 hour dive, a school of fish encircled us and I failed to understand the gesture Gianluca was doing to tell me what they were.
I got it later, but I enjoyed the swirling of the group none the less, they looked like a circus set up to amuse us during the required stop.
They were a large school of baby barracudas!
Back on board, more fruit and another piece of brownie, then we packed the diving gears and got ready to cruise back.
Again, the journey back was extremely smooth and fast: we all gathered on the outside deck to bid farewell to Phi Phi islands and to the adventurous day, and while the sky got dark and cloudy behind us we entered Tacola Pier and partied.
Hugs and googbyes, a few more photos, a pleasant ride back on my bike, riding ahead of the storm, and by 4.30 pm I was at home in Klong Muang, which is quite amusing considering that I had left Tacola pier at 9 AM in the morning and experienced so much in a such a short span of time.
Can’t wait to go diving again, that’s for sure!
For the divers: what is your favorite diving spot in the world?
Share it in the comment, and I'll share mine.