Back to World tour page; Travel Tales - Thailand: Beaches.; or SCUBA page
Thur 30 Nov. Ko Phuket, Thailand.
We get to Ko Phuket on the ferry in early evening, brush off the taxi drivers trying to convince us that 300 baht is a reasonable fare to cross the island (incredibly, some dopes must actually actually pay this for this scam to be viable) and climb on a local bus going the same way for 20 baht.
In Kata beach, we do a circuit of the dive shops looking to strike a late deal. We don't manage to find a last-minute rock bottom cash bargain - business is brisk even this early in the season, possibly because of unrest in other major dive destinations (Red Sea, Fiji etc) - but we get a healthy discount on MV Dive Asia, sailing tomorrow night for four days to the Similan and Surin Islands in the Andaman Sea. This still completely blows our respective budgets, but right now we both need to be pampered a little...
Fri 1 Dec. Ko Phuket, Thailand.
In the darkness and sheets of warm rain, 20 passengers laden with dive gear stumble and slide along a wooden jetty, jump from slimy steps to an impossibly tiny longtail boat, before transferring to the spacious and comfortable dive boat. The largest linguistic group on board is German, followed by English (mostly US, with Kat as token Canuck and me as token Limey), and Japanese.
The Similan Islands Marine Park is a small group of uninhabited volcanic islands in the Andaman Sea, 8 hours from Phuket, and one of Thailand's top diving destinations. The underwater scenery is enriched by the contrast between the monumental granite architecture and the soft edges of the coral growth; above water untouched beaches and piles of rock like giant fossilised elephant dung are backed by green peaks.
Dive 1: East of Eden, Similan No.7.
A simply beautiful site, scoops of white sand separating bommies of the most magnificent soft coral, Gorgonians and Acropora, swarming with Anthea, Damsel and Basslet. Down below 25 metres is a bed of Garden Eels, dancing into their burrows as we swim past. Fighting for space in the dive log are several Titan Triggerfish, Boxfish and pufferfish, Lionfish, a large Octopus and a couple of blue spotted lagoon rays.
The boat has adopted the civilised practice of providing each diver with a safety sausage on five metres of cord, allowing divers to do a flying safety stop in the blue, before getting picked up by the dive boat itself, deftly maneuvered by the captain as though it was a dingy.
Dive 2: Elephant's Head, Similan No.8.
Monstrous current, as strong as you would ever wish to try and swim against, swirling round a magnificent collection of enormous boulders. Fortunately swimming was limited to dashes between patches of shelter in the lee of the boulders, and some of the dive could be done as a drift.
Dive 3: Coral Garden, Similan No.8.
A very gentle drift past a sucession of coral heads with colour coded damsels (sky blue and brown/powder blue/black and orange etc etc) like entries in the Andaman Sea category of some "Best Kept Bommie" competition. Kat gets a few nasty stings from Sea Lice as we wait to be picked up.
Back on board, Flying Fish zip over the waves as we move up to Ko Bon for the night dive.
Dive 4: Ko Bon.
Dive 5: Ko Bon.
Starting in a shallow bay of badly dynamite-fishing abused coral, but quickly catching a good current round the point and down the side of the island. Jagged triangles of volcanic rock, every surface covered in hundreds and hundreds of tiny regenerating tiny soft coral growths like sprouting multicoloured stubble.
Kat points out a fleeting glimpse of a large Blacktip Reef Shark, and later we find a 3 metre Nurse Shark sleeping in a cave. A cheeky Remora starts sniffing around for a ride as we do our safety stop, and chases me right back to the boat.
Dive 6: Ko Tachai.
Chunky granite boulders, covered in small corals, with lots of healthy and colourful new growth. A Green Turtle eyes us warily, and coming over the top of a boulder into the full teeth of the current, we see the Japanese divers in a line peering over the parapets at a huge school of Banded Barracuda, sides glittering in the sunlight, barely rippling their tails against the force of the water.
Alloted air breathed, we commit ourselves to the mercies of the current, and are whisked back up into the blue, escorted by a friendly Batfish.
Dive 7: Richelieu Rock.
Dive 8: Richelieu Rock.
Into the water in late evening sun, and down to rubble strewn with groups of black urchins like mantraps. A couple of male Cuttlefish having a nightclub brawl, with tentacles flaring, as a bored looking lady looks on; a tiny masked Boxfish daintily nibbling soft coral for all the world like a fat little gourmet; Mantis Shrimp retreating under overhangs; another large school of Banded Barracuda silhouetted against the light at the top of the rock.
Then the visibility drops, and we are swimming in thick white clouds - it takes a moment to realise we aren't following some incompetent silt-kickers, but that all the oysters have decided tonight is their night for sweet luuuurve, and are simultaneously spawning. Cue Barry White soundtrack... Oh baaaaby...
Hanging at a metre or so under the stern of the boat, waiting for my turn to climb up the ladder and watching the light of sunset twinkling on motes in the water, when Bob, a - very experienced - American diver on board came sinking past me, kicking uselessly in his bare bootees. Bless him - I gave him a bit of a push back up. Always establish positive buoyancy before taking your fins off, Kids!
Dive 9: Richelieu Rock.
Dive 10: Ko Tachai.
Dive 11: Christmas Point, Similan No.9.
Fantastic dive of swim throughs and canyons between boulders larger than houses, every shadow crammed with Glassfish. In one of those swim-throughs I am attacked by a Green Featherstar - possibly dislodged by bubbles - which attaches itself to the shoulder of my BC like a buttonhole and refuses to let go. Oh well - it can come along for the ride.
Spot our first Sea Snakes foraging among the rocks. They can be highly curious about divers, and are fond of tasting wetsuits and investigating BC's - which, as they are several times more venomous than the most potent land snake, can be a little unnerving - but these snakes ignore us.
Even more unnerving are the large numbers of Titan Triggerfish, like trolls guarding every canyon. Another Remora decides Kat looks a a suitable candidate for his close attentions as we end the dive.
Dive 12: East of Eden, Similan No.7.
Very relaxed night drift dive. Nothing dramatic, but I have a fine dive peering into heads of Cabbage coral with shrimp and tiny, multicoloured coral crabs lurking in every fold. Kat has little interest in small stuff and hates this dive.
Dive 13: Stonehenge, Similan No.5.
Dive 14: Boulder City, Similan No.7.
In my (humble(ish)) opinion, this was a ridiculous site to chose for the last dive of a multi-day trip: Looking forward to a gentle pootle about at 10-15 metres, to relax and clear systems before the ride back to Phuket, we are pitched into a strong head-current in a deep dive site with nothing above 15-20 metres except smooth boulder tops without even a handhold to take a rest. After working hard at depth for 20 minutes without making any headway, Kat and I find a handy mooring line (not our boat) and abort, doing a glacially slow ascent including 10 minutes of muttering and seething safety stop.
Still, as we hang on the rope like flags in the wind, a huge school of Glassfish shimmer all round us, and a fantastic trip, with great food, great weather and generally getting royally pampered, can't have a shadow cast on it by one bad dive set against so many wonderful ones.
On to Travel Tales - Bangkok.
All content © COPYRIGHT Huw Porter.