The biggest appeal of diving to me is the calmness I get when underwater, listening to nothing but the breath that I take and the bubbles flowing out from the regulator, the sense of weightlessness and the ability to move about without restriction in 3 dimension. It is a form of freedom you never get on land.
The magnificent seascape and underwater creatures, well, they are just a huge bonus. While no picture can convey that sense of liberty, here are some underwater pictures I took from various dive sites at Similan Islands.
My gears were Olympus E-PL3 with the underwater housing coupled, Inon UWL 100 & Dome port, and a single Sea & Sea YS-01 external flash.
swim through, Deep Six
I logged 14 dives over 4 days of diving living aboard M/V Vilai Samut operated by Liquid Adventure. (previous year experience here). The boat departs from Khao Lak at night, so night one started before day one. The sites we went to were:
West of Eden
West of Eden (night)
Ko Tachai (night)
Koh Bon (night)
Koh Bon Pinnacle
Bon Soon Wreck
tiny black reef fish atop table coral at West of Eden
We were lucky to have excellent visibility of at least 30-40 meters in more than 70% of the dives, and had at least 20 meters in the rest of the dives too. Comparing with Pulau Sembilan/Lumut’s 5-10 m visibility…
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the pics, and say no to shark’s fins!
giant spiny lobster, night dive at West of Eden
sea snake, Koh Bon
the reef at Koh Bon
clown fish in anemone, night dive at Elephant Rock
an unnerving cuttle fish, night dive at Elephant Rock
lion fish, night dive at Elephant Rock
Dave convincing a lion fish to pose, Richelieu Rock
Here’s a short video compiled from the video clips I took during the dive trip to Similan Islands. Looks like I’ll need a video light or shoot almost exclusively on shallow water under bright lit condition to make this better.
Most clips were shot with Olympus E-PL3 (except those not underwater, shot with Sony Xperia Arc), using Inon wide angle converter with dome port, no red filter (which I had and probably should have made good use of.. gah!)
It is always a mystery to me as to why there are so many people who insists on eating the things they are used to eating at home while traveling to another country. The phenomenon must be very prevalent, so much so that at most touristy places, there are more Western restaurants than there are local Thai places.
Khao Lakis more of the same, the small resort town (approximately 100 km north of Phuket) where we spent the day after liveaboard to Similan islands for degassing purposes. For us, that was of course a perfect opportunity to eat everything Thai.
Fire in the hole!
motorbike is the best way to get around
While Khao Lak is relatively small and there are cabs available pretty much everywhere, the best mode of transportation is a scooter. You probably don’t even need a license to rent one, but do make sure you know what you’re doing.
Our scooter cost 200 baht per day, and you can refuel from plenty of places by buying bottled gasoline for 40 baht per liter. If you value your life, ask for helmets, they provide them without extra charge.
som tam by the roadside, I had it last year too
If you love sour & spicy stuff, som tam is a must try. Made of unripe papaya or green mango, bean sprout, peanut, chili, dried shrimps and more. Comes with a kick, we paid 40 bath, would be cheaper if this stall wasn’t parked right outside hot tourist spots.
breakfast was this rice/noodle with extremely spicy broths
On the day of departure, we decided to forgo hotel breakfast and try something a Thai would have. After riding around a bit we arrived at this kopitiam with a couple Thai ladies operating a stall that offers rice or noodle with a selection of dishes with broth.
Thai: spicy haa!
Me: we kon Malay, spicy no problem!
I was mistaken. These shit was tasty, and really, really hot. Lucky for us there were fresh cucumbers & a variety of vegetables on the table to cool things down. It was a good meal, what do you call them anyway?
noodle soup is the yums, choices of beef, chicken, or pork
A day prior to departure, just before dinner, we stopped by one of the road side stalls right on the main street at Khao Lak for some “snacks” that turned out to be really delicious noodle soup.
Here you get to choose any combination of 3 ingredients: pork, chicken, and beef. I had mine with chicken & beef while Haze opted for pork and beef. This reminded me of Vietnamese pho, and had the same basil/bean sprout on the side too, but as with anything Thai, the flavors were stronger. Yums.
50 baht for each, water was free. 100 baht well spent.
pad thai wasn’t bad, the fried oyster tho, disappointing
Our last meal there was at this little restaurant a couple kilometers away from Khao Lak (scooter brings you places!). We had pad thai with prawns & squid, and another plate of fried oyster to share.
The pad thai was rather average, and the fried oyster.. well, after the experience at Penang’s version, this was a complete disappointment. Each plate was 50 baht, with 15 baht each for coca-cola t hat comes in those classic glass bottle.
Yes, my stomach is still recovering from all those chili overload, but of course it was worth it.
Just got back on another excellent live aboard diving trip at Similan Islands, as with last year, the experience was nothing short of awesome. The photos are now transferring onto the computer and waiting to be processed, in the mean time, here are a couple photos from the trip.
dive buddy Dave in picture, at Koh Bon
Proper blog post on the trip, more photos, and perhaps a video is on the way soon as I get some time to work on them.
moray eel in full view, Koh Bon, Thailand
Back to the office tomorrow, been an awesome CNY holidays away from work, and the dive trip made it so much sweeter.
My first dive trip of the year started out with a simple facebook update that went something like “need to get wet!”.
Rich, my colleague and fellow dive buddy then informed me about a spot available on the Similan Islands liveaboard dive trip, and less than a week later I found myself at LCCT with a bag full of diving equipment, and a ticket out of the country.
Similan Islands liveaboard itinerary
A tip for you would be travelers – always check your passport. I made one of the most stupid errors of all time by bringing Haze‘s passport to the airport instead of mine and was only able to board the plane thanks to some crazy driving from LCCT-PJ-LCCT + Horng helping out by saving me 2 km’s worth of driving + AirAsia flight delay.
Talk about an exciting start to the trip.
Khao Lak, the stopover town for Similan islands trip
Anyhow, we made it to Phuket airport by late night on Valentine’s day, and took a truck/van to to Khao Lak. The journey took about 1.5 hours although it is only some 80 km away. We should appreciate the Malaysian highway system, similar journey would have taken only half the time here.
We checked into Nangthong Beach resort for the night. We shared a bungalow style room, and the resort has a nice, tranquil pool with beautiful garden and walkways. The only downside is that it is also almost exclusively filled with European retirees.
No bikini babes here.
good eats at Khao Lak – burger, mango salad, noodle soup, grilled chicken
Like most small tourist towns in Thailand, the main street (there’s only one) of Khao Lak is littered with massage parlors, restaurants, and luckily, many portable hawker stalls too.
Over the course of the day, I had some awesome mango salad, sweet grilled chicken, noodle soup with coagulated pork blood, and a plate of forgettable pad thai (from an overly tourist friendly restaurant, no surprise there.)
MV Vilai Samut, operated by Liquid Adventure at Khao Lak
In the evening, we gathered at Liquid Adventure (our dive operator)
and were sent to the port to get on our liveaboard boat – M/V Vilai Samut.
According to Liquid’s boss, Joachim, the name of the boat translate to something like “young lady”. She had just entered her teens, and measuring a healthy 26 meters in length and 6 meters wide.
The liveaboard caters to 18 or 20 guests with some 10 crews (captain, helpers, dive masters, kitchen staffs). Living cabins aren’t exactly spacious, but they are air conditioned at night and pretty comfortable.
every meal is taken care of on board, mostly Thai cuisine
There were two kitchen crews on board and food is typically either Thai, Western, or a little bit of a mix in between. We had tomyam, French toast, fried rice, noodle, vegetable, fruits, grilled fish, soup, and more. Three meals a day and an afternoon snack in between lunch and dinner too.
Live on the liveaboard boat is fairly repetitive, and revolves around – Dive, Eat, Sleep. Throw in a bit of reading in between, since most of the time there’s no phone connection at all, let alone internet.
Leila from France, and Linus from Sweden are 2 of our 4 dive masters
Our dives are guided by 4 dive masters – Linus & Sandra from Sweden, and Kevin & Leila from France. They were very professional, friendly, and to many, good looking people too.
Each dive master usually leads a group of four or less divers. This ensures that everyone is taken care of and us not over crowding a single fish at the bottom of the sea, for example.
the sea is teeming with thousands of small fish
Most dives started out with Linus giving a briefing on the dive site with wacky but useful illustrations on the white board before we proceed to the stern of the boat and basically just jump off from there.
There were a couple dives where we used the dingy to get to the dive site, but that was only for evening/night dives usually, when the boat is basically parked and we needed to go fairly close to the rocks.
puffer fish hiding in a small cave
Over the course of 4 nights and 4 days, we did a total of 15 dives. Averaging 4 per day, and 3 on the last day.
The dive sites for day 1 were all at Similan Islands
dawn: Shark Fin Reef
morning: West of Eden
afternoon: Elephant Head Rock
evening: West of Eden
Day 2 – we spent the morning dives at Similan Islands, and went up north after lunch
dawn: Christmas Point
morning: Breakfast Bend
afternoon: Koh Bon
evening: Koh Tachai
all these photos are of the same octopus!
Day 3 – we headed up north to pretty close to border of Myanmar at Surin National Park, spent half a day there before making our way down south again.
dawn: Richelieu Rock
morning: Richelieu Rock
afternoon: Tachai Pinnacle
night: Koh Bon
Day 4 – the last day, we did two dives at Koh Bon and stopped by to check out a wreck before heading to shore
dawn: Koh Bon Pinnacle
morning: Koh Bon wall
afternoon: BoonSong Wreck, near shore
a pair of fancy harlequin shrimps
Despite the fact that we did not have the luck to spot one of the big fellas (leopard shark, whale shark, or manta ray), the dive trip still turned out to be rather awesome.
This was the first trip where I had an underwater strobe to go with the camera, it is a Sea & Sea YS-01 Haze bought for me during our Hong Kong trip. I think it helped the quality of photo quite a bit.
pipe fish, dog faced puffer, giant puffer, giant baraccuda
There were also some new stuff I saw during this trip that I haven’t seen before, among them are the pair of exquisite Harlequin shrimps at Richelieu Rock, a few octopuses at Koh Bon & West of Eden, honeycomb moray eel at Boonsong Wreck, and groups of tiny baby barracudas (about 2 inches long).
jewel grouper, plenty of them around pretty much all the reefs we visited
To me, one of the most awesome visual feast was the feeding frenzy between a group of few dozen rainbow runners and tens of thousands of anchovies (or some other fish fries). The coordinated movements of the anchovies was just unreal, and all of these happening right in front of our eyes (and around us too), amazing stuff!
this is probably the 10th lion fish I saw
Unfortunately, I also flooded the camera on the 6th dive. The trusted and well used S90 is now not responding, and I might have to fork out some $$ for a replacement (perhaps an S95 as it should fit my ikelite underwater housing).
Lesson learned here – always service the O-ring after opening/closing of the underwater housing.
camouflage exposed by strobe, a scorpion fish
Of the 15 dives, it is hard to pick favorites. Some dives are very atmospheric with lots of swim through under giant boulders, some had crazy amount of marine life, some beautiful corals, and some relaxing while others more challenging.
But if I had to pick one, it’ll be Richelieu Rock. Visibility isn’t that great at 15-20 meters, but there are ghost pipe fish, harlequin shrimps, sea horse, and generally very beautiful seascape. If you head over to this part of the world for diving, don’t miss out this dive site.
moray eel, honeycomb moray eel
With the first dive trip of the year filed away, I now wait for our local diving season to start. Perhaps a PADI rescue diver is something I should aim for this year.