by Harry (BigH) Ryalls.
14th-29th November, 2003: November 2003 saw the latest club expedition finally taking place. Organisation for this had started back in February, when the flights were booked for the group. This was the first leg towards what would turn out to be one of the best club trips that has taken place for the past few years. It all started back in late 2002 when Julie (The Wife) asked where we were going to go for our exotic holiday the coming year. We had visited Thailand a few time before and thought we would like to go back and see if we could visit those sites we were unable to see when we were last there. So we started to make our own plans. A few close friends from the dive club discovered our plans and asked if they could come as well, later a few others asked the same question, so we decided to see how many would like to come as our numbers had increase from two to five within a few days. Below is a copy of the “Dive On” sheet, which advertised the upcoming trip.
Are you interested in an exotic trip to Thailand?
Julie Ryalls is putting together a ’Do It Yourselves’ trip.
What is being planned?
Return flights from Heathrow Airport London to Phuket Airport Thailand, changing at Kuala Kumpa. The dates are from Friday 14th November 2003 to Saturday 29th November 2003, landing at Heathrow Airport on Sunday 30th November 2003. We can travel up by coach or train, cost additional to that quoted.
A 4 day /5 night liveaboard including full board transfer to / from the boat. We will be visiting the Similans Park on the West Coast of Thailand.
Bed & Breakfast Hotel accommodation at Karon Beach, Phuket Island (see http://www.karon-inonthebeach.com/ for additional information on hotel).
3 or 4-day trips, diving such sites as Phi Phi island, King Cruiser Wreck, Shark Point, Racha Noi, Racha Yai and others. (Seehttp://www.diving.phuket.com/diveclubs/diveasia.htm for additional information on sites). We will be diving out of Chalong beach, which are approximately 30 minuets from the hotel. The cost of this will be extra to that quoted, but should be around £200.
The rest of the time is yours to be used to site-see, get a tan or just to have fun.
There will be couple of things to do that will be compulsory.
At present the cost for the whole package is £1300, not including the extras mention above. This might change if number increase. We have a definite 5 people interested at present. Looking at the prices if booked though a travel agent, the package will cost around £1500 not including the wet stuff and the extras mentioned above.
Those interested so far: – Julie & Harry Ryalls, Mary & Tony Hartigan, Carol Sheppard.
Once we advertised the trip within the club, this number grew very quickly to fifteen. So we had our expedition group. Everyone knew the predicated costs and had stumped up for the flight tickets; all that we left was to discuss the diving. After doing some web surfing, I put together a handout of what diving would be available and recommending Dive Asia as our dive operator. We held a few Thai cosine nights at our house to discuss the pros and cons of the trip where we looked at all this information. As Julie and myself had already been to Thailand and Phuket Island previously, we had already dived with this operator and knew what he had to offer. Julie then started correspondence with Benno Brandon, Dive Asia’s manager in Phuket, about what we wanted to do, how much it might cost and what we need to do to book the trips. He was very helpful and answered our emails very quickly, which was a bonus as we could then keep the rest of the group informed of our progress and field and other question that might crop up.
Now why did we want to go back to somewhere we had already been more than once before?
Well here’s the sales pitch.
Phuket, the jewel of Thailand, is a tropical paradise island offering a wealth of exciting experiences for the discerning holidaymaker. The culture and warm friendly nature of the Thai people ensure that the holidaymaker will wish to return year after year and where the discerning holidaymaker will find everything they could ever want. Phuket is the largest island in Thailand. At 540 km sq, it’s about the same size as Singapore and is just over an hour’s fight from there or from Bangkok. With daily connections to most major Asian airports, Phuket is ideally situated for a short break or a relaxing vacation.
Phuket Island itself has it all! As well as the beautiful beaches, green tropical jungles, delicious local food and friendly people, there’s also lots to do. Phuket, neighbouring Phang Nga and the Phi Phi Islands, has some of the most stunning scenery in South East Asia. Combine a sightseeing tour with snorkelling, canoeing or fishing. Take a speedboat to one the islands. Play a round of golf or take a dive course. For the kids there’s plenty to keep them amused as well, Mini Golf, 10-pin bowling, elephant trekking and white-water rafting or simply playing with a Frisbee on the beach. All these can be done to increase the enjoyment of a holiday.
If the cool interior of the forest is preferred, there are eco-adventures activities instead – trekking or kayaking in the national parks for instance. For those who prefer to explore at night there’s cabaret, discos, bars and lots of superb restaurants. No matter the interest, mood or the prevailing weather conditions, there’s something for everyone. With all these attractions that Phuket Island has to offer no one will every be disappointed
Phuket is often referred to as the ’Pearl of the South’ and for scuba divers it’s certainly the crown jewel of the Andaman Sea. This island paradise lies just 8 degrees north of the equator and enjoys a tropical climate with average water temperature of 28°C (78°F). It has an amazing variety of aquatic life and these true treasures of the Andaman Sea are hidden below the surface of the sea where the vast panorama explodes into a virtual symphony of colours and corals. The warm, clear water of the Andaman Sea draws the awe-inspiring whale shark as an aquatic visitor along with manta rays and large schools of tropical fish. This wealth and variety of aquatic life combined with good visibility will delight underwater photographers and marine naturalists.
World class diving, superb scenery, great entertainment and international resort facilities – Phuket, Thailand has all the right ingredients for a perfect diving holiday.
There are thirteen main resorts on Phuket Island for consideration; Mai Khao, Nai Yang, Bang Tao, Kamala Beach, Patong Beach, Karon Beach, Kata Beach, Nai Harn, Phuket Town, Nai Thon, Panwa, Chalong and Rawai (map of Phuket resorts).
In our case it was to the resort of Karon Beach and the ’In On The Beach’ Hotel that we turned our weary feet after our long haul flight. This small, select Hotel has two different styles of rooms for the holidaymaker’s choice. There are 26 first class deluxe rooms and 4 Suites, all equipped with air-conditioning and ceiling fans. Dependant upon the holidaymaker’s requirements each bedroom is equipped with one King size bed or two single beds (large size). There is also an option to add an additional single bed if requested. Baby cots can also be supplied. The American and Continental breakfast, which is fully inclusive in the room hire, is served in ’Tony’s Restaurant & Bar’ that is adjoining the Hotels. The Hotel has as its central feature, an elegant swimming pool that is ideally situated to ensure that all its guests enjoy a view of the crystal blue waters of the Andaman Sea. In addition to the extremely high standard of accommodation provided, additional services are on offer to further enhance your stay. There is a full tour service, Airport pickup and drop-off service, Car and Motorcycle rental, a full laundry service, even a doctor and dentist are on call if anyone is taken ill. Parking, Online access, along with acceptance all major credit cards.
For the weary and aching, there is a Thai massage service available, which can be offered in comfort of your room. If there is something different that you think is needed just asked for it. Only the impossible takes a bit of time. Ken and Buoy, the hotel owners, make all their guests feel at home and the staff go out of their way to help you enjoy your stay with them.
Karon Beach hosts a wealth of water sports facilities: Swimming, windsurfing, sailing, water-skiing, snorkelling, scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, and Para-sailing are all available during the season. With a host of excellent restaurants, bars and shops with prices to suit all pockets, the resort of Karon Beach is an ideal holiday destination, Phuket International Airport is only 40 Kilometres away and with lively Patong Beach only a 10-minute drive away, Karon Beach is ideally situated as a holiday base.
So that’s the end of the hard sell, now back to the expedition report.
We booked our flights in February with Malaysian Airlines, as this was when the best deals were available to us. The only downside to this being we had to pay the total cost then as well. These tickets were non-refundable and non-exchangeable, so we had to be sure everyone really wanted to go before paying. Thankfully everyone was committed to the trip. In our “Dive On” notice we explained what diving we intended to do and in our correspondence with Dive Asia we were able to get a reasonable price quoted for the group. All we now had to do is get the whole group to accept the itinerary we had put together. We did this by holding a Thai night at our house and provided authentic Thai cuisine as an attraction for everyone of the group to attend. Once everyone had had their fill we got down to discussing the plans for the trip. Each point was presented and accepted with very little discussion and with only one point having any contention. Finally even this point was resolved and the itinerary was now complete.
We had decided that we would firstly do a trip to the Similans Islands, the Surin Islands and Richelieu Rock. The trip would be 4 Days and 4 Nights of world class diving, relaxing on board the boat between dives, exploring the nearby tropical islands, where possible and enjoying the international and Thai culinary fare offered by our onboard galley. We would leave the Saturday evening and head overnight to the Similans Islands. To make things easier we would leave the bulk of our luggage in our rooms at the hotel and only take a minimal amount with us along with all of our diving equipment. Thankfully Malaysian Airlines agreed to give us an additional 10Kgs baggage allowance for each diver, which was a tremendous help. We also looked at what day trips were on offer as there were a few sites we would like to revisit again. It was decide that we would leave this topic to later and give everyone plenty of time to look at what dive sites were on offer and decide what they would like to do. Julie and I let everyone know what we intended to do so they could look at those sites and decide if they want to join us, Asia Diver were also very happy with this arrangement. So all that we had to wait for time to pass until it was lift off. Some of the little things that need to be sorted was how to get to the airport, do we travel up the night before and stay in one of the many hotels around the airport, do we travel up the morning of the flight – by car, personal or hire, by train or by coach. As there was so many it was bound to work out that all these options would be tried. A few of us decide to go by coach as this looked to be the most reliable to us. The down side was the coach left Bristol at the unearthly hour of 3.30 am, so the day would be quite a long one, the upside being we were dropped right at the terminal we were travelling from and early enough to be first in the queue at check-in. As the saying goes ’time waits for no man’, and it was soon time for the off. Things did not start well, our booked taxi, which we said had to be a large on to accommodate four large suitcases, turned out to be rather smaller than we would have liked and we spent valuable time struggling to get the case on board. I ended up with one on my lap for part of the journey till we met and other taxi that the hire firm had sent to help. We arrived at the bus depot just in time to catch our coach. Hopefully this was not a bad omen for the rest of the holiday. Thankfully everything fell into place and we arrived at our hotel ’In On The Beach’ a whole day and a half later. Our bags were whisked away to our rooms whilst we had a refreshing welcome drink as we checked in. Then it was unpack change into shorts and a dip in the pool. A trip to Dive Asia’s shop in Kata Beach was next, so that we could confirm our day diving needs and pay the outstanding balance for the liveaboard, then back to the hotel, via a few of the beach front bars – it was very hot, where some of the group went for a short nap. Others tried to stay awake and overcome any jet lag by having a good night’s sleep, as tomorrow (Saturday) we would be off to the Similan Islands. Our itinerary was that we would be transferred in late Saturday afternoon to Chalong Bay where our dive boat M/V Dive Asia I awaits. Our journey would then take us about 6 – 8 hours overnight, when we would arrive at our first destination in the Similans Islands. Here the first day was spent diving around the Similans best dive sites like “Christmas Point”, “Elephant Head” and “Shark fin Reef”. The Dive Asia I then sailed off Northeast, stopping first at Ko Bon and then Ko Tachai en route for the Surin Islands/Richelieu Rock. These dive sites offered a wealth of underwater life and are justly famous for meetings with larger fish such as manta rays and whale sharks. On the third day the Dive Asia I cruised back to the Similan Islands, stopping at Ko Tachai and Ko Bon for some more dives at these fantastic sites. After 2 more dives at the Similan Islands on the fourth day the Dive Asia I headed back towards Phuket for an arrival time around 7 pm.
A bit about the Similan, Surin Islands and Richelieu Rock
The Similan Islands lie about 100 km Northwest of Phuket. Declared a National Park in 1982, the Similans are comprised of 9 islands, which run roughly North to South, and numerous smaller rock outcroppings. With snow-white beaches and a tropical jungle above the water and spectacular dive sites in often crystal clear water below, it’s not surprising that the Similans are ranked as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world! Nearly all of the 9 islands are surrounded by huge underwater rock formations, eroded by the action of a relentless sea. These stone giants are home to an amazing variety of marine life and reach down to 40 meters or more, with passages, caves and gorges forming a unique underwater landscape. All this has made names like ’Elephant Head’, ’Shark fin Reef’ and ’Christmas Point’ justly famous. A world of giant underwater boulders, caves, narrow passages, some 500 species of hard and soft corals and an amazing variety of marine life including leopard sharks, guitar rays, whale sharks and manta rays is waiting to be explored. Ko Bon, Ko Tachai, Richelieu Rock and the Surin Islands National Park lie to the North of the Similans, close to the Southern border of Burma. They offer dive sites with a wealth of smaller underwater life and a great chance to see passing manta rays and whale sharks – close encounters with two or three of these magnificent giants are not uncommon (if you are lucky) around Richelieu Rock.
Diving in the tropical waters of the Andaman Sea aboard on the many live aboard dive boats is truly one of the finest ways to spend your time here. You can retire to your private cabin for quiet moments; you can relax and read or ’stretch out’ between dives in the comfort of the lounges or the large covered/open sun decks. The spacious dining area available can be used for sharing conversation, looking at digital or video photographs taken on recent dives or preparing cameras for forthcoming dives. Sampling the delicious Thai and International cuisine that are served at meal times. All live aboard vessels are designed with the diver in mind, and come equipped with a well-designed dive platform for easy water entries/exits. The highly trained, professional staff on board these boats is committed to provide the highest quality of service and standards of reliability and to making your safety and satisfaction guaranteed on any of their liveaboard trips. Liveaboard diving not only provides comfortable and easy diving conditions, but also allows you to reach the most spectacular dive sites of the Andaman Sea with ease. Once you’ve chosen the trip that suits your needs best, you will need to choose the dive operator to take you there. As previously mention we had chosen Dive Asia as our operator, since both Julie and myself had dived with them in the past and opted for the 4 day /5 night liveaboard visiting the Similans Park on the West Coast of Thailand which included full board, transfer to / from the boat / Hotel.
A bit about our liveaboard dive boat “M/V Dive Asia I”
Since its maiden voyage the new M/V Dive Asia I has been taking guest divers to the Andaman Sea. While the old Dive Asia I, already a marvel on dependability, was well liked by all that ever went on a voyage with her, the new Dive Asia I would be in a class of its own. During the refit of the boat our main priority, besides safety and technical improvements, was to enhance the comfort of our guest. Spacious double cabins, each with air-conditioning and a lockable box for valuables. Three toilets and two showers as well as a large diving deck with room for everybody to kit up. Also included are facilities for E6 slide development and charging stations for underwater light or camera equipment. To reduce noise, the two compressors and generators are under deck allowing refilling of the air tanks without disturbing you while you rest between dives. On Dive Asia I’s second deck you will find besides the helm and staff quarters, a large dining area. Also added is a comfortable salon with TV-Video and Stereo system. The large top deck is devoted to sunbathing and relaxing. The entire deck is covered with soft mats and sheltered from the sun by a large sun sail.
Once back in Phuket, we off loaded all our luggage and dive equipment. After thanking all the boat crew and dive guides, we were transferred back to our hotel, to a warm welcome from the staff at Tony’s restaurant. After a couple of ’Chang Beers’ for me and drinks for the others, it was time for a good nights rest, as tomorrow (Friday) we would be doing the first of three day trips on Dive Asia day boat, Dive Asia II. We had decided to space these trips out and allow everyone time to sample the other delights of Phuket Island. Friday we were off to Ko Raja Yai and Ko Raja Noi in the Phi Phi Islands, Monday was King Cruiser Wreck, Shark Point and Ko Doc Mai, then Wednesday we would be off to the Racha Noi Island.
A bit about the day trip dive boat M/V Dive Asia II
The M/V Dive Asia II was build for the comfort of the discerning divers. The five professional dive masters on board will ensure the best diving this area has to offer. A comfortable salon and a large diving deck with room for everybody are at the lower deck. Two electrical compressors mounted below the deck allow us to refill your tank without disturbing your equipment, while you rest between dives. On the large upper deck you will find a spacious area devoted to sun bathing, relaxing and dining. The deck is partially covered with soft mats and sheltered from the sun by a large sun sail. With ample space for 25 divers the m/v Dive Asia II is one of the most comfortable day trip boats in Phuket.
Not everyone spells the Thai names for the islands the same way; Racha is often spelled Rajah and Raya. The Phi-Phi Islands are also spelled Pee-Pee. When reading about local dive-sites it helps to learn a few Thai words, Ao means beach, Ko (or Koh) means Island, Hin means Rock, Yai means large, and Noi means small.
There are quite a few dive sites available for the day trip diver who does not want to spend all of the holiday on a live aboard boat. Here is a short appraisal of the sites that we visited on our day trips.
Shark Point, a small rock outcropping approx 1½ hour’s East of Chalong Bay, Phuket is a famous marine sanctuary due to its tremendous variety of marine life. Particular attractions are the colorful soft corals and sea fans decorating the limestone pinnacle, the great range of tropical fish and the famous leopard sharks can all be found on the sandy bottom.
Anemone Reef lying not far from Shark Point is similar in character and you will be amazed at its extensive fields of sea anemones. Harmless leopard sharks are also to be found, with some massive schools of smaller fish and some larger pelages such as tuna and barracuda.
Ko Raja Yai, about 1½ hour’s South of Chalong Bay, Phuket is a beautiful tropical island with a lot of good hard coral reefs, colorful shallow water coral gardens and a great opportunity for some enjoyable drift diving. There are several excellent dive sites particularly suitable for the beginner and snorkelers, making this island a favorite destination for everyone.
Ko Raja Noi, the smaller of the two Islands chain, offers in addition to Raja Yai’s attractions, some truly spectacular sites with giant underwater boulders and scenery very similar to the Similans. Expect to see a higher proportion of colorful soft corals and more of the bigger fish.
Phi Phi Islands lying 3 hours due East of Chalong Bay, Phuket, and are a famous destination even for those unaware of the great diving available. You will find that the spectacular limestone cliffs above the water become sheer drop-offs and craggy coral encrusted the landscape under the water with a rich and colorful diversity of marine life. Even whale sharks are known to visit the area occasionally.
Ko Doc Mai is a small, jungle-topped island lying East of Chalong Bay, Phuket on the way to Shark Point and the Phi Phi Islands. It provides some of the best wall diving in the area with sea fans; soft corals and colorful sea life abound on its underwater cliffs. If you are lucky you may spot one of the hidden specialties of the Andaman Sea – the Seahorse.
King Cruiser Wreck an 85 m catamaran passenger ferry which strayed of course on the 4th of May 97 and hit Anemone Reef ripping one of her twin hulls open, subsequently sinking within an hour with no loss of life. With its multiple decks, great open swim troughs and depths between 12 and 30 meters is an ideal wreck dive site for all divers.
Racha Noi is the more isolated of the two islands in the group and is a popular dive-site for more experienced divers. The depths are generally greater and the currents frequently stronger than at its sister island to the North. Huge underwater boulders offer a good chance to see manta rays and whale sharks. The northern tip of the island offers an opportunity for good multilevel dives along a large pinnacle where spotting larger marine life, like Reef Sharks and Stingrays, is common. Off the southern point is a nice drift dive with some spectacular scenery on top of a large rock formation surrounded by deep water. On the southwest side there is a wooden shipwreck that draws a lot of interesting reef fish. Racha Noi offers many opportunities for enjoyable and rewarding deep-dives but due to the potential for strong currents divers need to have an advanced certification.
Racha Yai offers some of the best, local; year around dive-sites, but the visibility varies as to the season. On the north end of the island are two beautiful little bays famous for their deep clear water and colourful coral formations. Both of them have almost swimming pool features as they gradually drop to a depth of 40 feet onto a sandy seabed, providing ample opportunities for both snorkelling and scuba diving. The best diving is off the east coast where the current allows a gentle drift dive along a sloping rocky face that is covered with an amazing array of hard corals and the nutrient rich water draws large schools of tropical fish.
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