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You'd assume an operator offering tours to idyllic islands would have the proper authority from the government to do it. It's not always the case in Thailand.
Uninhabited Koh Rin Island is located 14.7mi (24km) offshore from Pattaya. Many boat operators offer tours to the island to relax and get away from it all for the day. Others offer it as an enticing snorkeling and scuba diving spot. But there is nothing enticing about exploding military shells whizzing over your head and unexploded ordnances while you cruise around underwater.
Koh Rin Island is part of a Royal Thai Navy training ground, which includes Koh Leum Noi, Koh Leum, Koh Hu Chang, Hin Ton Mai, Hin Khao, Koh Klueng Badan and Koh Marhvichai. Koh Khram is also inaccessible, not just because of the military ban but because it's a national park and sanctuary for sea turtles.
The navy frequently conducts artillery firing tests in the area, and the waters in the area are littered with unexploded shells. Tour groups are actively discouraged from visiting the island, whether it's to land on the beach or for ocean activities, due to the high safety risk posed by military exercises.
In 2017, the navy intercepted a tour boat carrying 200 visitors which had set up for the day on the beach on Koh Rin. The visitors were playing volleyball, swimming and catching some sun on the beach completely oblivious to the surrounding dangers in the water. The captain and mechanic of the tour boat were arrested, and the visitors were ordered to pack up and get back on the boat, which was escorted back to Sattahip. The captain and mechanic were subsequently charged with intrusion into the military land.
It's hoped that the ban on accessing the far islands off Pattaya, implemented by the navy, will give the coral reefs at dive sites, including North Rock, Koh Rin and Koh Phai, an opportunity to recover from the damage caused by visitors and dive operations.
There are quite a few companies offering scuba and snorkeling trips to Koh Rin from Pattaya. Before you sign up and hand over your cash, you might want to quiz the skipper about where exactly they'll be taking you, and get some assurances you won't be taken into a live firing area.
By the way, if he says "Yeah, but don't worry about it", DO worry about it. If you deliberately put yourself in harm's way, such as sunbathing on a beach you know is in a naval live firing zone, it's unlikely you'll get the outcome you'd hoped for if you have to make a travel insurance claim.
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