On ANZAC Day, nine of us set off for a trip to the Similan Islands off the west coast of Thailand. It was an early start and we had arranged for a party bus to do the rounds and pick us up. I naively thought this meant a cheap old bus to keep the cost down, but no, at 4am the bus turned up outside our house with music blaring and purple lights flashing. We drove to the airport watching music videos and drinking strawberry champagne. Not a bad way to kick of the holiday!
After two flights and an overnighter in Khao Lak just north of Phuket we transferred to the dive boat at 5pm. It was a bit of a clamber over another boat then a bit of a rush to unpack dive gear and a few essentials in the cabin before the 4 hour steam out to the islands. We had looked out at the ocean from the hotel all day and the sea had been flat calm so it was a surprise when we had a bit of a lumpy crossing; nothing major but several of us opted to stay up (drinking) until we dropped anchor. The boat was only half full and we had it to ourselves apart from a nice chap from San Francisco called Stuart. My only experience of a live aboard previously was on the Barrier Reef and this boat was a much better experience.
The first dive of the trip was at 7.30 and was unremarkable apart from regretting to add more weight to my belt at the last minute as everyone else had more weight than me. But that did not portend what was to come for me. On my second dive I dropped three lbs of lead and took my camera and after taking photos of my first couple of subjects I looked up to see my dive master disappearing into the distance so headed after her. Into a moderate current, I knackered myself out for 20 minutes trying to catch up with her, but at least I could see another group. After another 10 minutes of training for an underwater Rotto swim I had had enough and signalled to the other DM I was at 60 bar and ready to go up. Full disclosure, the DM weighed about 30kg and could sit in current without being moved but I am hardly hydrodynamic especially when carrying a large camera rig.
I skipped the third dive but the fourth, and my next dive, was even worse. My DM led three groups round a huge boulder straight into a strong current. Being granite it was completely smooth with nowhere to peg in. Having finally bashed through the current she then turned us back the other way. While the current behind us meant I was not chewing through my air still, I was struggling like mad to stay with the group and not get swept away. It was like being in a washing machine! I decided the best tactic was to leap Spiderman-like from one bombie to the next (albeit upside down) which worked for a while. But then the next bombie was a 45 degree massive granite one and as I attempted a face plant there was an up-current over it and I ended up at the surface despite dumping all my air and swimming against it. Having taken a second to assess my situation I decided a bend was unlikely (long surface interval, short dive, ascent from just 11m) I but shouted and waved to the boat to come and get me, not because of the bend concern, but because I thought I may get swept away. And because I was p****d off with my DM.
Credit to the boat, they were in the dinghy to come and get me in a jiffy. The others were surfacing by this time and Sue said she was glad I had bolted as she was glad to be out of there too. I gave the DM in the boat an earful, but it didn’t change anything. Unfortunately Sam was far more worried through all of this than I was and it probably contributed to her deciding to stick with snorkelling with Jan and Rose for the whole trip despite doing a dive refresher just before we came away (thanks Graham).
I decided to miss the first two dives of the day as the DM’s warned to expect strong currents but there was none. They had almost a 100% success rate at incorrectly predicting whether there would be current throughout the trip. Sindy was feeling better and joined the diving on day 2. I didn’t have any more major issues with the diving after that, but was careful to peg in wherever possible and conserve air (Nitrox). I did decide to leave my camera behind about half way through the diving to enjoy it more, and because the DM was rubbish at pointing things out to us, but on the last evening I decided to borrow Sam’s GoPro instead and it flooded (we are still arguing over whose fault that was but someone is getting a shiny new one). They all decided I should write this article as I had the most to report on (and as penance).
If that all sounds a bit doom and gloom, it was far from it. I saw a whale shark (well fin tip of one) while missing one of the dives, saw a manta ray while hanging off the back of the boat (some divers saw lots) and Richelieu Rock in particular was an awesome dive site with some unusual things like the yellow seahorse and Maldivian sea sponge. Dom, who normally runs the office but was on the boat for once was a great host and I joined Sam to snorkel with him a few times. For the last dive on the way back to the mainland we did a wreck dive and I buddied with a different DM, Victor. It was so much more pleasurable and I was kicking myself for not asking to change groups earlier.
Back in Khao Lak we were joined by another 6 spouses and friends for a beach holiday. Most of us spent all morning in the pool then propping up the pool bar (when it eventually opened). We explored several local bars and restaurants in the evenings and the quality was always excellent, even if we did have to wait 2½ hours to get our meal in one of them. I have to say I much prefer Thailand to Bali based on this experience.
Many of us did a small boat trip to the Islands of Phang Nga which was incredible. The 4am start was worth it to beat the crowds (even if Bee was so befuddled she couldn’t remember the difference between an elephant and a monkey at that hour). We were canoed into lagoons and walked through caves before lunch at a traditional village and a quick stop at a Buddhist temple. Sam reports she had Phil and me snoring in her ears in stereo on the drive back to the hotel. Some of us did a Thai cookery course and numerous massages were had. But enough of that, this is a dive report so if you want to know about lady boys, synchronised swimming / planking or a recreation of Dirty Dancing ask Phil or Rae / Graham (aka the King of Siam) over a beer.
The 15 of us made our way home in small groups and at different times. Some partied on in Patong, Sam and I had a few days in KL, some went to Singapore and some just went straight home.
Once again, thanks to “Admin” (Jan) for taking care of the logistics for us all. It can’t be easy but is greatly appreciated. It was an amazing trip.