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  • Writer's pictureSarina Harper

Whale Sharks and Group(er) Sex in Thailand

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Believe it or not, I’d gone almost 5 months without diving - and the ocean was calling to me more and more every day! Adam and I flew to Bangkok, hopped an overnight train down to Chumphon, and the next morning set sail for Ko Tao - the first of two islands we planned to dive for a week.

While Ko Tao was stunning with its verdant, lush interior, the diving was unfortunately sub par. Aside from some highlight sightings (including a blue spotted ray!), we enjoyed our vibrant island hikes more than diving. Fragrant flowers in rich hues sprinkled the landscape, trees blossomed with exotic fruits and intricately patterned butterflies danced around us. We hiked steep, narrow dirt paths that lined cliffs along the ocean, seeking out hidden coves for snorkeling. In the afternoon, heavy tropical downpours had us dashing for shelter at beach bars, and we enjoyed happy hour refreshments while watching the powerful storms rile the sea into a raging mess. The heavy rains caused such a run-off of dirt from the island that the once sparkling sea morphed into a milky brown!

Across the island, our room was surrounded by the singing jungle, perched upon a hill which provided a stunning view of the ocean. Surrounded by nature, I felt at home once again. Every night I fell asleep smiling, grateful to be lulled to sleep by the sounds of the jungle.

A few hours on a ferry transported us to the next slice of paradise: Ko Pha-ngan! We stayed on a quiet beach where we enjoyed the sounds of nature, succulent fruit smoothies and scrumptious Thai food!

Our dreamy room was a stark contrast to our home stays last time we were in Thailand - every night I took a bubble bath on our patio overlooking the beach.

As usual, we were armed with our snorkels and masks so were able to go right off our beach. One afternoon we kayaked to another part of the island and snorkeled there for a few hours - we were in paradise!

And now for the real reason we came to the area - and more specifically - Ko Pha-ngan: to dive at Sail Rock! The giant pinnacle is known for its seasonal whale shark spottings, and in May you get your best shot!

We enjoyed a light breakfast (hard boiled eggs, toast, fruit and of course coffee!) on the hour long boat ride while our passionate guide briefed us. An avid photographer as well, she was relieved to lead Adam and I - experienced divers - so she too could bring her camera along for the adventure!

The first day we dove was exhilarating; we saw countless giant grouper - some larger than myself! We even caught two in the act, stopping for 5 minutes to watch as they danced around each other with the romantic backdrop of the colorful reef. It was the first time I’ve ever watched grouper sex! Swimming around the massive pinnacle, the rich reefs housed millions of uniquely shaped fish in a myriad of bright colors and sizes. Schools of intimidating barracuda creeped by, while aggressive triggerfish guarded their nests (we were advised to steer clear as they are a tad sensitive if you swim over them!).

The highlight of the diving that day was a massive school of trevally. I’m talking thousands of slippery, silver fish hanging in the current just off the main pinnacle. Deep in the blue, approaching the school was akin to approaching a tornado. Incredulous, we made our way towards the dense, conical formation of fish swarming around - the size was staggering. As we got closer, they encompassed us and all of a sudden we were the central vortex of this powerful swarm. Surrounded 360 degrees, I looked down: there were densely packed fish as deep as our eyes could see! Looking above, they towered towards the light at the surface. The trevally were calm, seemingly not having a care in the world. I, however, was quite overwhelmed! I looked at Adam, making a heart with my fingers - I felt so lucky to share such an amazing experience with someone I loved! It was a moment I will never forget. We passed our hour long surface interval on the dive boat, replenishing ourselves with spiced, warm curries over rice, finishing off with the freshest pineapple you could imagine!

I was hardly saddened to not spot a whale shark after two spectacular dives, but I wasn’t giving up just yet! The next morning we set sail again, and a lucky charm appeared as we cruised towards the pinnacle: A stunning rainbow stretched across the sky against a menacingly blue storm cloud.

Drawing closer to the site, we geared up quickly to beat the approaching storm. We dove into the bluest ocean I’d ever seen - the azure color was just mesmerizing. Our enthusiastic guide, determined to deliver to her clients today, peered under the surface, quickly exclaiming, “I see flashes of light going off down there. Hurry up, let’s descend quickly - there’s probably a whale shark in the area!” Adam and I put our regulators in our mouths, emptied our BCDs of air, and descended as quickly as our ears allowed us to. Clearing them frequently and carefully can make or break a dive, and the excitement of spotting my very first whale shark conflicted with my usual slow-paced descent. But alas, we reached a cool 15 meters, and I peered into the blue when suddenly...

He (we later dubbed him Wilbert) leisurely swam nearer, his usual posse of cleaner fish faithfully by his side, seemingly basking in the attention he was obviously getting from not only the divers, but fellow sea creatures! His presence demanded adoration and respect - and fellow divers were careful not to swim too close. Getting nearer, I took in the beautiful white spotted outfit whale sharks are famous for. In the excitement I was careful to monitor my depth - even while doing so I noticed I was ascending and descending erratically as I tried to keep up with him.

Finally he swam into the abyss, seemingly satisfied with the appreciation he deservedly was showered with. Ever hopeful, we hung out awaiting his return, and return he did - for a brief and final farewell.

As our boat headed back to the island, a massive storm unraveled around us. An impressive deluge of rain poured down, booming thunder startled us and quick flashes of light zapped around us. Everyone clamored for the shelter of the small tarp in the back of the boat. We huddled together, shivering in our wet bathing suits as the wind battered us, the boat bouncing over waves. What a day of adventure!

Back at the resort, I enjoyed a $5 hour long coconut massage while Adam worked. Afterwards, I walked down the beach as the sun was setting over the ocean. The sky lit up in stunning shades of orange, yellow, red - even purple! As usual when an adventure comes to an end, a huge smile spread across my face. I’m so lucky to be healthy, living the exciting life I’d always wanted, exploring the world each chance I get - and now with a handsome partner in crime!

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