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Tag / vilai samut

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 dive trip map
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
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
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
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
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
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

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
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

  1. dawn: Shark Fin Reef
  2. morning: West of Eden
  3. afternoon: Elephant Head Rock
  4. evening: West of Eden

Day 2 – we spent the morning dives at Similan Islands, and went up north after lunch

  1. dawn: Christmas Point
  2. morning: Breakfast Bend
  3. afternoon: Koh Bon
  4. evening: Koh Tachai

all these photos are of the same octopus!
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.

  1. dawn: Richelieu Rock
  2. morning: Richelieu Rock
  3. afternoon: Tachai Pinnacle
  4. 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

  1. dawn: Koh Bon Pinnacle
  2. morning: Koh Bon wall
  3. afternoon: BoonSong Wreck, near shore

a pair of fancy harlequin shrimps

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
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
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!

lion fish
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
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
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.

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