Sea anemone yes, but no clown fish.
Shallow water makes it easy for snorkelling.
Hole in the mountain gives Ko Thalu its name. Don't confuse it with the one off mainland Rayong.
As you look out to the sea from Bang Saphan Noi in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, there are three islands dotting the horizon, or rather one island and two rocky islets: from left are Ko Thalu, the biggest of them, and sister islets Ko Sang and Ko Sing that on this day lay veiled behind the sun's haze.
The sea around them is a treasure trove of underwater wonders and marine life forms that can be admired even by taking a casual dip, without having to dive to great depths, and they present their share of surprises.
The beach strip from Bang Saphan to Bang Saphan Noi looks great but it promises little else by the way of excitement. The catch: take a boat and sail in the direction of a rock rising out of water in the middle of nowhere. This is your Ko Sang where the sea is turquoise clear, just half an hour's ride from the beach.
As for us, we chose to spend a night in Bang Saphan by a beach called Hat Somboon. Although the sea was brownish laden with silt, it stretched far as you could see, ideal for jogging especially for city slickers who seldom get a chance this good in Bangkok.
Bang Saphan is a sleepy little town about 400 kilometres south of Bangkok, hardly the ideal weekend holiday destination, which is why it is still in good condition or insulated from damage.
From the beach at Hat Somboon you can see Ko Thalu. In the morning a pick-up delivered us to the pier at Hat Son in Bang Saphan Noi. We loaded snorkelling gear, drinks and lunch boxes and sailed out to sea. Half an hour later the boat anchored off a massive rock called Ko Sing.
The underwater world here was cool and peaceful. We saw a profusion of small colourful reef fish scattered over calcium rocks. Staghorn coral thrived among rocks of different shape and size. Some had maroon hue but others were tinted in bright green like aloe vera. The staghorns were the highlight here.
Why do corals have different colours? They actually take on the colour of the algae living off them. It is a case of symbiosis. Corals provide shelter to algae which in turn generate food for coral through photosynthesis.
Sea anemones were all over the place, their tentacles fluttering with to the flow of the water's current. Clown anemonefish hid under translucent beige tentacles - another example of symbiosis - that have stinging cells at the tip to help them catch prey, such as smaller fish, and also to fight off predators. The fish help clean the tentacles. It secretes a certain kind of mucus on the body that keeps it immune from the sea anemone's stinging tentacles.
Thriving among them are eerie-looking creatures combing plankton-rich water with their small fan-like structures.
"They're sea worms," my buddy told me.
A snorkeller enjoys a dip and marine life around Ko Thalu.
"Sea worms?," I repeated, without any clue to their appearance. They looked like the mythological Gorgonian head. The worms live in feathery tubes, their hideaway, that retract at the slightest sign of danger.
For an hour we drifted leisurely admiring the underwater beauty before being joined by another group of snorkellers.
"Over there is another school of sea anemone," uttered our boat master who had told us to swim close to the rock where our boat was anchored.
Underneath the rock it was again a world full of natural wonders. Anemones thrived everywhere: these weird-looking creatures clung on rocks and were in such great numbers that I couldn't believe my eyes. Perhaps the conditions were perfect for them because the current was pretty strong, bringing in plankton and other nutrients for them to feed on. But, we spotted fewer anemonefish here.
We returned to our boat which then moved on to a spot near Ko Thalu, which was no less appealing. In the afternoon's ebbing tide the coral appeared even closer. You could almost touch the anemones down there by hand.
Tiger fish were in abundance. Apparently you can never quench their appetite for food. In a frenzy they nipped everything that was fed to them. My friend hand-fed them and when I did the same I could feel them nipping at my finger tips.
Thereafter, our boat went around the island in a semi-circle. Our boat master wanted to show us how the island got its name: there was a gaping hole in the mountain - in Thai it translates into ko thalu. Some tourists come all the way just to see the hole and don't even bother to take a dip in the sea.
On this side of the island the wind was strong and the sea choppy, and although it was pleasant, the conditions were not ideal for snorkelling. We were told the sea around here was rich in clams.
It was late evening so we turned back to Bang Saphan Noi, delighted with the discovery we had made earlier in the day.
Ko Thalu is a private island 2.5-km long and 500 metres wide almost 400 kilometres south of Bangkok, off Bang Saphan Noi in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province.
It is connected by daily buses from the Southern Bus Terminal that depart at 9:30am, 11:30am, 2:30pm, 5pm and at midnight.
Ko Thalu can be visited throughout the year, except November to January when the sea is choppy.