Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Thai dive

At last. At long, long last. After 294 days I managed to escape from the Lands of the Sand to somewhere a little bit greener. More specifically, I'm now back after a week or so in and around Phuket.

Thanks to Qatar Airways and my copious collection of frequent flyer miles the return trip to Bangkok cost me a mere Dh600; the cost of airport taxes. Thai Air Asia dealt with the Bangkok-Phuket flights at a mere Dh350 return. Thai Air Asia is very much an equivalent to SleeziJet, in that the baggage allowance is a minuscule 15kg and on-board refreshments involve the exchange of cash.

I met Mme Cyn in Bangkok, and together our excess baggage charges cost more than the original tickets. But I had brought some of Mme Cyn's additional diving goodies as requested. On the return trip I transported some of Mme Cyn's purchases back to Dubai, exploiting the 40kg baggage allowance that frequent flyer members get with Qatar Airways (and everyone else too, I suspect). But despite Phuket International's baggage handlers loading my 39kg bag and Bangkok's unloading it without a problem, I was advised at check-in to Dubai that the rules prohibited any single bag being heavier than 32kg. Why can't everyone employ burly stevedores as baggage handlers as they apparently do in Phuket? I had to unload some of the luggage and mummify it in about a kilo of clingfilm before it could be checked in.

So much for the flights. The holiday itself consisted of a stay in a small resort bungalow either side of a three-day liveaboard trip to the Similan Islands. I booked all accommodation, diving and transfers with Sea Bees. Having picked them out of the small ads of a diving magazine virtually at random, I was very pleasantly surprised at how the entire holiday went like clockwork. Perhaps it's something to do with Sea Bees being run by some legendarily efficient Germans. This is meant to be a compliment, not a racist slur.

It was perhaps a little unfortunate that the sea around the Similan Islands was cloudier than I'd been led to believe. A plankton bloom was in progress, together with upwellings of cold water that made a wetsuit necessary despite the sea surface temperature being a Speedo-friendly 28 degrees (or 82F in old money). At least all the crap in the water would encourage the appearance of the large planktivores (who do not, as the name suggests, eat nothing but long, flat pieces of wood).

Sure enough, on two separate dives manta rays appeared. On one occasion a manta loomed over me out of the red tide, but alas was so close I didn't have time to get any decent pictures. Most of the dives involved mucking about among the coral and rocks, seeking out minor denizens and trying to photograph them.

It seemed rude to have a week in a tropical diving destination and only to dive over three days. Mme Cyn and I went on a day-boat trip south from Phuket to Racha Noi and Racha Yai. I loved the boat, Excalibur II, and spent a lot of my time aboard fantasising about how I could convert it into a luxury yacht for my own personal ownership. Maybe I'd repaint it not banana yellow for a start. Again, the diving was very well organised, and we got three decent, albeit a bit murky, dives. I spotted one leopard shark, cruising languidly in the distance too far away to photograph with any chance of success.

I took around 500 photographs. I'm ever so glad I bought a 2GB card for my Sony DSC-T1. With a capacity of around 800 high-res shots, or about 90 minutes of 640 x 480 MPEG video I didn't have to worry about having to download the photos every day. The photos weren't limited to underwater stuff. Driving around Phuket, elephants, gibbons and a Buddhist temple were included in the itinerary, but I'll leave those for a separate post.

Giant stride off the boat, and there it was, just below the surface

This turtle hung around the boat, being fed bananas and cucumbers

A forest of Christmas-tree worms

Shocked at being caught with a cleaner wrasse in its mouth

That's one enormous hermit crab in a full-size conch shell

Psychadelic slugs

An octopus, being timid

Here is a short video clip of a different octopus. A broadband connection is recommended...

Stonefish? Scorpionfish? Ugly and with tons of attitude

I think these are coral shrimps. They're less than an inch long

A nervous blenny peeking out of its hole in the coral

Oral hygiene, tropical reef style

This is a banded cleaner shrimp, I think

The minuscule coral crab, spotted on a night dive

A group, or at least a brace, of coral groupers


KJ said...

I am so jealous right now I would find it odd that you have not exploded :P

Kidding.. about the exploding part.

I'm really glad you had fun! I can't wait to get out of the dunes on my own... too much sand makes you.. uh... dry.. and I need.. uh.. water. Green. Whatever.

Mme Cyn said...

It's a boxer shrimp. And I've got about 17 fuzzy, dim pix of them, so I should know.

Fan of Bangkok Hotels said...

I will plan my next trip on Phuket. My destination is the beach. I knew that beaches in Phuket is very beautiful during Nov till March. If i go there, i will share my traveling picture and blog as well. I like your story so much....


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