Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Similan Islands Trip Report, November 2009

I just got back from a trip to the Similan Islands. We also visited Richelieu Rock, Koh Tachai, and Koh Bon, which are within a day’s travel to the north of the Similans and not technically part of it.

The Boat
We spent 4 days and 3 nights aboard South Siam Divers 4. South Siam Divers is quite a big operator with 2 day boats and 2 liveaboards. The boat was quite large, sleeping more than 20 and with room for 70 divers (!) on the dive deck. In my opinion, the right maximum number is probably something like 40 to avoid overcrowding. There was a large deck, sundeck, a small saloon, and 6 bathrooms on board. All were adequate. Each day, new divers boarded the boat at 10am, while divers leaving the boat departed at 3pm – I would have preferred no overlap as the boat got quite crowded and chaotic during those few hours. The boat was quiet and stable compared to what we have out here.

The Food
I had high hopes for the food on board given my experience with the Black/White Mantas and the fact that it was Thai food. I was quite disappointed. Most of the food was bland and dumbed down for foreign tastes. There were only 3 meals a day with no snacks offered in between. On the second night, I got a mild case of food poisoning, with stomach discomfort and diarrhea. Thankfully, it went away about 12 hours later. Out of our group of 9, more than half got food poisoning or stomach upsets. Divers from other groups also got sick. We couldn’t trace it to one particular source, so I suspect the food is either not fresh, not clean, or both. This is really unacceptable and is something that has to be fixed immediately.

The Diving
All the dives were around the Similan Islands except for one day, when we made the overnight trip to Richelieu Rock. There were generally 5 dives offered each day, with a maximum of 4 dives allowed per person. The fish and reef life was very healthy as the area is a well maintained and policed marine park. I was surprised to find lots of varieties of edible fish that weren’t at all afraid of divers. I’d never seen so many glass sweepers in my life – the schools were so thick that sometimes you couldn’t see what was behind them. Apart from the general reef life, there were a few rare and interesting creatures like longnose hawkfish, ornate ghost pipefish, leopard sharks, and McCosker’s flasher wrasse. We were disappointed to not see any mantas at Koh Bon, but I was told that they are more common from February to April. I actually found the dives at Richelieu Rock, Koh Tachai and Koh Bon the most disappointing as we went through all the hassle to find that the marine life was no different from that in the Similan Islands. My entire trip, I didn’t see more than a handful of nudibranchs, which was surprising given what I had heard about the place. Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun shooting with my 60mm and 12-24mm lenses. I did a bit of experimenting with camera settings, strobe technique and placement, and close focus wide angle.

As the boat mostly caters to tourist divers, the style of diving is rather hurried, with the dive guides rushing from attraction to attraction. We preferred a more relaxed pace and it took a few dives to get the message across. There are lots of dive boats operating in the area. At one point, there were almost 10 boats within sight. Yet, the boats are run quite smoothly and none of the dive sites seemed crowded.

Would I go back? Probably only during the February-April peak season and on a different boat that had better food and was less mass market.

Similan Islands Pictures

Full set of pictures here.