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:
- Stone Henge
- Deep Six
- West of Eden
- West of Eden (night)
- Elephant Rock
- Koh Bon
- Koh Bon
- Ko Tachai (night)
- Richelieu Rock
- Richelieu Rock
- Ko Tachai
- 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
cleaner shrimps, Richelieu Rock
chevron barracudas, Richelieu Rock
star fish on coral, night dive at Koh Bon
boxer shrimp, night dive at Koh Bon
porcupine fish, Bon Soon wreck
Bon Soon wreck
ghost pipe fish, Bon Soon wreck
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.
One of the things I love most about Thailand is their hawker foods. It is true that they serve excellent tomyam, pad thai, and ladna at just about any corner, but one of my favorite breakfast dishes in the land of smile has gotta be the noodle soup.
noodle soup stall by the road side
On the last day of the trip while off-gassing from diving at Phuket, we went over to a pretty inconspicuous stall right across the street of the budget hotel we’ve been staying at (Baan Suan Place, cheapest room rate at 700 baht/night, next to Phuket International Hospital).
Though there were quite a few eateries of similar set up at the area, but I knew we got the right place soon as I saw those coagulated blood in the jar displayed at the front of the stall. *slurps*
noodle soup with all sorts of ingredients, take your pick!
A few finger pointing gestures and some 10 minutes later, here’s the bowl of goodness that arrived on my table. Big flat rice noodle in subtle yet flavorful clear broth topped with cuttle fish, coagulated blood, liver, pork, a bit of mushroom, vegetable, and even a bit of white fungus.
There’s also a plate of bean sprouts and some basil ala Vietnamese noodle style on the side, and of course plenty of potent chili powder as condiment for those who love it spicy.
when in Thailand, eat like a Thai
The noodle soup costs around 30-40 baht and this place also serves coffee and other drinks at around 10 baht. While this stall is situated at Thanon Bangyai road behind Phuket International Hospital, you can basically find similar stalls at just about anywhere in Southern Thailand (perhaps Central/Northern part too).
Now I wish someone would bring this to our local hawker stalls, Thai food here in Malaysia seems to be limited to tomyam, pineapple fried rice, and the occasional pad Thai only… pity.
Wichit, Mueang Phuket,
Phuket 83000, Thailand
Just got back from a trip to the Similan Islands near Phuket/Khao Lak over the past 6 days that includes 4 days and 4 nights spent on the boat without touching dry land. My very first Live On Board experience.
enjoying a piece of grilled chicken at Khao Lak
It was pretty much a last minute thing as I only decided to join when a spot came up for the liveaboard trip. I’ll be writing a lot more about the trip in the next couple days.
mantis shrimp, shot at Similan Islands
The trip was full of unplanned events, but that’s until next post! In the mean time here’s a photo of a mantis shrimp taken at one of the 15 dives we did over the course of the entire trip.
This post is the continuation of the First day of Heineken Star Final at Krabi that was published in this blog about a week ago.
After getting back from Aonang beach the night before and having decided that there isn’t exactly anywhere to have authentic Thai food at the area, Mell and I decided to seek local food elsewhere.
Thai beef noodle, with beef balls and meat
Instead of having lunch provided by Heineken at Sheraton, we walked out of the hotel and chanced up upon this little beef noodle place just a block away to the south. With some finger pointing and my super limited Thai language, we managed to order a bowl of beef ball noodle for Mell, and another bowl of mixed beef and beef ball noodle for me.
The portion was quite small, reminding me of hawker food in Penang, but they do however, tastes rather good. The beef was tender and the beef ball had a good texture going on too. I particularly like the abundance of bean sprouts and vegetables served here. It was pretty good for brunch, and it was only 30 baht each.
happiness is when you have good breakfast to start the day
While horng and suanie were still on the island hopping trip arranged by Heineken (their accounts here, and here), Mell and I thought about heading to Krabi town. That idea was scrapped as soon as we saw that the hotel shuttle charges 400 baht per person for a round trip ride, which just doesn’t make economic sense.
And I had thought that hotel shuttles are free. Thanks Sheraton, for building your resort so far away from civilization and charge significant dollars for your shuttle services, hmph!
another nameless Tomyam place near Sheraton at Krabi, Thailand
After brunch, we spent some time walking around the hotel and chilling. We also discovered that there were computers with internet access at the business center for hotel guests, free of charge! That was when I took the opportunity to check my mails and go on twitter for a bit.
Since brunch was relatively light, we got hungry again by early evening. For the early dinner, we again went exploring at the small strips of shops outside the hotel and came to this little nameless restaurant with an old lady as the head chef.
two bowls of tomyam (prawn and chicken), and omelet
Again with my limited Thai language, I tried to order a tomyam prawn (tomyam kung) and a basil chicken dish to go with rice. After spending at least 5 minutes pointing and talking, I thought I had nailed it down.
When food came, it was two bowls of tomyam instead – tomyam prawn and tomyam chicken. Mission 50% passed. I then went to the kitchen and ordered an omelet dish so that we have some variety.
The tomyam soups were not as strong tasting as those we had at Pradiphat street in Bangkok, but they were pretty good in their own rights. We finished everything and only had to pay some 200 baht for a couple well fed and satisfied stomachs.
BBQ dinner with Heineken
At night, we gathered at the hotel for a Thai BBQ dinner that was actually pretty delicious. Highlights of Champions League games were played and we met quite a few hardcore fans in the ballroom. It was hilarious how some of the fans from Cameroon reacted when Eto’o failed to score as if it was a live game. VJ Utt from MTV Asia hosted the event with another pretty lady, but I didn’t pay much attention.
Mell and I decided to take some rest before the game and we ended up sleeping in the hotel room while Horng & Suanie danced away at the canopy with giant screen. It turned out to be a decent choice, Suan was too tired to watch the game by the time we got there, and Horng was so spent after the game he ended up not able to go to work the day after. Hahaha
Champions League Final – MU vs Barcalona
Heineken did put up a great show before and during half time of the game with their over energetic cheer leading squad flipping and jumping to the music. However, the game itself was a bit anticlimactic, MU basically went to sleep after 15 minutes. Two goals later, Mell, being an MU fan, couldn’t take it anymore and so we headed back to the room to watch it on TV instead.
We had an early breakfast at the hotel and headed to the hotel by 10 something in the morning to fly back to KL. It was a pretty enjoyable holiday in spite of the rain that fell quite heavily 60% of the time we were there.
That was 3 weeks ago, I wouldn’t mind another holiday now!