So you’ve come to Koh Lanta, Thailand, and you want to go snorkeling. A lot of people will try to sell you on the “legendary” Four Islands tours, which cover a white-sand beach at Koh Ngai, Koh Mook’s Insta-hell Emerald Cave, plus swimming/snorkeling spots off Koh Ma and Koh Chueak. Don’t listen to them. Three out of four of those stops are overrun with package tourists, and the coral is mostly bleached, broken, or otherwise dead. A far better option is snorkeling the beautiful Koh Haa lagoon in Mu Ko Lanta National Marine Park with Dive and Relax.
From our very first email exchange with Cameron, Dive and Relax’s Scottish owner, we knew we were in good hands. While other companies sent short, curt, and even nonsensical replies when we asked questions, Cameron took the time to thoughtfully address our every concern and then some. Our biggest worry was getting short shrift as snorkelers, as many combo snorkeling-diving companies lavish all of their attention and resources on their divers. Snorkelers are just like, yeah, whatever, bonus cash. Not at Dive and Relax—here, snorkelers are just as important as divers and our experience with them was a dream from start to finish.
At the crew’s behest, we stopped by the Dive and Relax office at Lanta Castaway Beach Resort two days before our trip to pay and get fitted for our masks and fins. Most companies dole out gear about 10 minutes before boarding the boat, which shows you how seriously Dive and Relax takes its guests’ comfort. Safety is another big priority. In our many experiences snorkeling in the Thai Islands, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Caribbean, and beyond, we’ve never received such a thorough safety briefing as we did the morning of our Koh Haa departure. And unlike so many dodgy boats in Southeast Asia, Dive and Relax’s speedboat was clean and in excellent running condition. It was also loaded with life vests, life rings, and anything else you would need in an emergency.
Having seen some of the dreadful, overpacked cruiser boats that do the Four Islands runs, we were thrilled to see how small Dive and Relax keeps its groups. Our boat had just four snorkelers, three divers, and six crew members, the captain included. In the water, that translated to two snorkeling captains for four snorkelers and two dive masters for three divers. (At maximum capacity, Dive and Relax takes up to 10 divers or 12 snorkelers, plus staff).
Our boat departed at 9 a.m. from Long Beach harbor and took about 40 minutes to reach Koh Haa. We were provided with mango juice, iced coffee, soda, and water on board. Even the Dramamine was gratis, though nobody needed it. When we finally anchored near the dramatic foliage-covered limestone karsts, ours was the only boat in eyeshot. We felt like we had the entire Andaman Sea to ourselves.
The guides were fantastic, too. Warm and friendly, great with instructions, and deeply knowledgable about the marine life in the area. In the Koh Haa lagoon, our guide pointed out long-nose butterfly fish, marbled sea cucumbers, giant clams and morays, lion fish, surgeonfish, banded sea kraits, a school of barracuda, loads of purple starfish, and one sneaky octopus. (He thought he was hiding but we totally saw him.)
All told, the day trip cost us 1,890 Thai baht per snorkeler ($57 USD), which was discounted from 2,100 baht ($64) because we booked online. The price included a mask, fins, snorkel, life jacket, lunch, and soft drinks. Another day trip option for snorkelers is Koh Bida Nok, the southernmost island in the Phi Phi chain. Cameron will advise you on which island is best at the time of your booking, given the climate and coral conditions.
In conclusion: Dive and Relax may be more expensive than some of its competitors, but its customer service, staff professionalism, and refusal to run just another shitshow tourist outfit makes it 100 percent worth it.
223 Moo 2, Phra Ae, Koh Lanta, Thailand; +66-89-050-3009.