Archive for 2012

At the office

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Whale shark at Chumphon pinnacle, Koh Tao. October 2012.

Me and whaleshark at Chumphon pinnacle, Koh Tao

Many thanks to Carly Marsh for letting me use her photo.

Similan islands liveaboard

Friday, November 9th, 2012

While twiddling my thumbs in Khao Lak, waiting for the phone to start ringing and offers of freelance instructor or dive master work to flood in I needed to do some diving. There is no shortage of dive shops to choose from and basically three types of diving – day trips, liveaboards and hybrid platform trips.

  • Day trips generally leave in the morning on a speed boat. They visit local dive sites around Khao Lak – like the Boonsung wreck, or more remote sites in the Similan Islands or Surin national park. There are usually two dives, one in the morning, a second in the afternoon. Lunch is provided in between the dives. The boat returns mid- to late-afternoon. Prices are around 3000-6000 baht including equipment and refreshments and depending on how remote the dive sites are.
  • Liveaboards make multi-day trips with guests sleeping onboard overnight in varying degrees of comfort. Trips are anywhere from three to six days in duration. Shorter trips tend to concentrate on just the Similan islands, or just Surin national park. Longer trips are likely to include both areas. Prices start around 15000 baht for a three day trip including a two or four bunk shared cabin, meals and refreshments but excluding alcoholic drinks, national park fees and equipment rental. A three day trip usually includes 10 dives, a four day trip 14 dives, a five day trip 18 dives. They are intense.
  • Platform trips are a combination using speed boats or longtails to deliver customers to a large boat which functions as a dive platform and may also function as a liveaboard.

I chose to do a four night, four day liveaboard trip with Big Blue Khao Lak. It was the first outing of the 2012/3 season for their new boat, M/V Hallelujah. And it was brilliant. Everything about it was brilliant – the boat, the accommodation, the catering, the crew, the staff and of course, the diving. We did 14 dives (three days of four dives per day, plus two dives on the last day); six in the Similan islands, two at Koh Bon, two at Koh Tachai, three at Richelieu Rock and one at the Boonsung wreck just off Khao Lak. I saw more lion fish on the first dive than I have seen on Koh Tao in over eight months, and more porcupine fish on one dive on Boonsung wreck than in all my previous dives combined. The visibility was generally excellent – often as much as 30m and the water so clear on some dives it felt like we were in an aquarium. We were inundated with lion fish, box fish, trumpet fish, cuttle fish, octopus, porcupine fish, box fish, trigger fish and moray eels. There were also plenty of nudibranchs for the macro lovers, a tiger tail seahorse, a peacock manta shrimp and a white tipped reef shark and a leopard shark. Sadly we didn’t see any manta rays (too early in the season for them) or whale sharks (but I’ve seen lots of them in Koh Tao recently).

Many people had told me how good the diving from Khao Lak was, how much better it was than the diving in Koh Tao. So I was expecting to be blown away and I was. Really there aren’t enough superlatives to describe how good this trip was.

Unfortunately I have no photos from the diving; I need an underwater housing for my camera or better still, a new camera and an underwater housing. Wonder what I’ll be buying myself for Christmas? In a way though, that was a good thing. It meant I got to spend more time looking at more critters than if I had been busy pointing a camera at a few of them trying to get the perfect shot.

Have you dived the Similans or Richelieu Rock? Have you dived anywhere you think is better? Tell me in the comments and maybe I’ll go there next year.

Khao Lak first impressions

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Khao Lak is a resort area spread along a few miles of the Andaman coast a couple of hours north of Phuket. There are a number of beaches from Khao Lak beach in the south to Bang Sak beach in the north. What is generally referred to as “Khao Lak centre” corresponds with Nang Thong beach, at least on my map. There is one main road running north-south with a number of side roads. The beach is about a quarter of a mile to the west of the main road. Stretched along the main road are a plethora of dive shops, taxi stands, assorted Thai and European restaurants, massage places, convenience stores, tourist shops, and reminiscent of Hoi An, dozens of tailors. The most amusing tee shirt I’ve seen for sale says “No, I don’t want a fucking taxi, massage or new suit”. Someone has their finger on the pulse then.

Many of the dive shops and restaurants have strong German connections, so many that I’m already thinking of the place as “Little Germany”. There are also a couple of Italian restaurants, English pubs and even an Argentinian restaurant although I’ve not seen that one open yet.

The season hasn’t quite started here yet and the town is fairly empty of tourists. There are a few down on the beach, mostly fat middle aged Germans, many of the men in speedos and the women in nowhere near enough clothes. It’s not a pretty sight. At least the beach is not littered with empty Chang or Singha bottles, unlike Sairee beach on Koh Tao. There are some huge resorts between the main road and the beach. I imagine when they fill up the place is going to be buzzing.

I spent a tiring afternoon on Friday looking for somewhere to live for at least the next month, or hopefully six. Several people had told me about an abundance of bungalows around the 6000-7000 baht per month mark. Well they may have existed last year, and they may have existed last week but not any more. I found one room for 6000 baht per month and it was not nice. I don’t need luxury but I’d prefer something more than a dank, musty smelling box with a knackered double bed, no other furniture and a skanky looking bathroom with cold shower. After speaking with some of the staff in a few dive shops it seems I arrived about a week too late. Most places are now only offering accommodation on a daily basis, around 400 baht per night for a fan room with wifi and hot shower. The best I could find was a nice looking fan room with double bed, wardrobe, bedside cabinet and small fridge, bathroom with hot shower, wifi and a small patio for 10000 baht per month. There are places asking 15000 baht per month for lesser rooms. Apparently there are still rooms around the 6500 baht per month level, but too far to get to without a motorbike. I don’t ride a motorbike and if I did they’re about 3000 baht per month to rent so not really much cheaper than what I have now.

Over the weekend I visited all the dive shops that were open, dropped off a CV at each and inquired about work. They all confirmed their full-time positions are filled but most expected to need some freelancers from about mid-November. So I’ve got a couple of weeks of thumb twiddling to look forward to and then the phone will start ringing and I’ll get to go diving.

Oh yeah, and it has a McDondalds :-)