Andaman Sea – Thailand – Scuba Dive Liveaboard

MQ7-boat

FEBRUARY 2015:



YOU SAVE YOUR LIVING ALLOWANCE:

Cenang Beach Sunset 3Gili Air Gita Gili Sunrise in the RestaurantSo, you are GRANDPAckers and have been retired (say) in Langkawi for a few months now and saved up most of your NZ$38 / day LIVING allowance…

Or, this could just as easily have been Gili Air where you have saved up most of your NZ$43 / day LIVING allowance…

You have saved up for 3 months and saved a total of at least NZ$2,500 / US$1,875 / €1,500 / £1,250. That means that you managed to save NZ$28 / day.

Carol Chalet LoungeLangkawi Monkey Beach EveryoneLet’s face it, you haven’t had to suffer much… even your ‘costs of existence’ provide a pretty decent lifestyle…

Yes, I said 3 MONTHS! Not the 1 year that you do back at home scrimping and saving whilst watching TV for entertainment…

Yes, in only 3 MONTHS whilst living on a tropical island, living in a modern 2 bedroom rental property in the best area of town, and eating in restaurants 3 times every day…


YOU GET TO KHAO LAK IN SOUTH WEST THAILAND:

MQ7-collageKhao Lak - Bang Niang Beach 2It’s time for a break (I would say that it is time for a holiday – but you are already having one!)… you jump on the boat from Langkawi to Thailand (or a cheap, booked-well-in-advance Air Asia flight from Lombok to Krabi or Phuket).

You, then, jump on a bus up to Khoa Lak…

You have picked up the maximum allowance of your favourite spirits duty free on the way.

Khao Lak - Nang Thong - Beach 1You have already pre-booked a Scuba diving adventure on board one of the many ‘liveaboard’ boats that tour the Similan Islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai, and (the world famous) Richelieu Rock.

You booked the trip with the same company that you used last time…

Because they remember you from last year, they have done you a deal:

  • 5 days / 5 nights for a total of THB25,900 / NZ$1,100 / US$825 / €660 / £550
  • All inclusive (except alcohol and Dive Insurance)
  • Including all rental equipment needed for the dives (except the Dive Computer)
  • 19 scuba dives
  • A Twin Cabin (instead of a quad) – so that the two of you can have your privacy
  • A free upgrade to a 15L Nitrox tank on every dive (instead of a 12L standard air tank) – which is better for your body AND it means that you can stay under water longer than everyone else.

 So, putting this into perspective you are:

  • Cruising in the Andaman Sea – for nothing
  • Eating – for nothing
  • Drinking water, coffee and tea – for nothing
  • Drinking alcohol – duty free
  • Sleeping in a Twin cabin – for nothing
  • With a crowd of like-minded people (that will become friends) – for nothing
  • And paying an average of THB1,360 / NZ$58 / US$44 / €35 / £29 per scuba dive

I SAVE MY LIVING ALLOWANCE:

So, I am still GRANDPAcking around the world in search of my own ‘perfect retirement location’. I have also been able to save up for exactly the same trip:

MQ7-Similans-Boulder-in-SunMQ7-Similans-Fish-in-SunThis means that, so far, I am NZ$859 UNDER budget from the past 2 months of travel.

If I am on the liveaboard boat for 5 days, I will, also, have my normal GRANDPAcking allowance of 5*NZ$80 = NZ$400.

This brings my grand total to NZ$1,259. This will cover the NZ$1,100 for the liveaboard and still provide me with NZ$159 (THB3,700) for any extras.


THE ADVENTURE BEGINS:

MQ7-Richelieu-1 MQ7-Richelieu-2So, here we all are… me with savings from my GRANDPAcking trip and you two with savings from your GRANDPAcking retirement location.

Let’s pretend that we don’t know each other…

And this is how the story goes…


PICK UP:

The Dive Shop picks us up from our Khao Lak hotel at 6:30pm; if we were in Phuket, they would pick us up from there too (for an extra fee).

MQ7 - Similans - 3MQ7 - Similans - 1We have packed what we do NOT need away into our main suitcases and kept what we DO need for the ‘liveaboard’ into a day-pack and a wet-bag.

You don’t need much on board (you are in the water 4 times each day), so what we take on board is minimalistic:

  • Smartphone / Kindle / Laptop
  • Power leads / chargers / cables / Travel Plug(s)
  • Swimsuit(s)
  • Something to throw on in between dives
  • Something to throw on in the evenings
  • Toiletries
  • Our spare cash (THB3700)
  • A wet-bag to put the important things into so that they don’t get wet

Our main suitcases go into safe, locked up, storage room at the Dive Shop.


REGISTRATION:

We sit around the Dive Shop for a while waiting to register and sign all of the necessary paperwork.

MQ7 - Richard Shaun Estaban MQ7-Similans-8We are encouraged by the Dive Instructor to take out Dive Insurance at THB200 / day / person. We DO NOT need to as we have chosen our Travel Insurance wisely and it covers us for Scuba diving (as long as we are ‘diving with a registered professional” – which we are). That saved you THB2000 and me THB1000.

Whilst everyone is being ‘processed’, you are already getting to talk to your fellow travellers… some are on other boats and some are on yours. There is a quiet excitement in the air (and a couple of beers on the table – oops, some of that spending money is disappearing already!)…

It is 8:00pm before all of the people on the trip arrive and register. We are then taken one-by-one into the Dive Shop to be fitted for all of our Scuba gear. Once fitted, our gear goes into our own separate crate and onto the bus.

Khao Lak - PierMQ7 - Boat - On ArrivalIt takes about 30 minutes to get to Khao Lak pier on the bus and a little longer to get everyone’s gear loaded on board.

Everyone throws their shoes into a big bag (you don’t need shoes on board – wearing shoes is dangerous on wet decks) and we all climb on board.

The crew are very attentive – they’ve (obviously) seen a few people have accidents getting on and off the boat in the past…

You get your first briefing from the Lead Instructor about all of the important things… on-board safety… an overview of the trip… and, finally, your assigned cabin.

MQ7 - Arlene - Dive BriefingMQ7 - Jessica Gabriella Peter Sara Ben BobIn the cabins they keep couples together but single people are thrown together almost at random. Nationality, sex, and age are irrelevant.

I get partnered up with a young 31 year old Russian girl… however, as I suffer from sleep apnoea and I can snore like a Trojan after a couple of beers, I have a quiet word with the Lead Instructor (for the poor girl’s sake) and suggest that she may be more comfortable in another cabin with another girl. It gets sorted within 10 minutes. My new cabin-mate is from Taiwan.

MQ7 - CaptainMQ7 - Fa the Boat BoyAs the boat pulls away from the pier, the Thai crew set off fire crackers on the bow of the boat to bless our voyage.

Later we find that the bow is dressed in flowers – like a shrine – a sacred and special location that there-forward was granted due respect from all aboard. Thai sailors are very superstitious.

After quickly settling into your cabins, it is back up to the main deck for your first buffet dinner:

  • A soup (like a Tom Kha Gai)
  • Spaghetti with a sauce (usually tomato with no meat)
  • White rice
  • A vegetable dish (or stir-fry)
  • A meat dish
  • A noodle dish
  • Fruits (like Watermelon & Pineapple)

This is a typical lay-out for the dinners to come and is restaurant-quality every night.

By the time that you have finished eating, it is almost midnight and straight to bed.


DAY 1:

MQ7 - Similans - 1st Morning MQ7 - Similans - BeachThe boat has been at sea during the night and you get a wake up call at 7:00am and find yourselves moored off of one of the Similan Islands.

This is your first real glimpse of what’s to come. It is simply idyllic.

You go straight up to the main deck where, like a Hobbit, you grab your 1st Breakfast of toast and jams and coffee or tea.

It is about now that you first find the time to ‘take stock’ of your fellow travellers. It is a very mixed group:

  • The youngest is a Swedish girl of about 19
  • As GRANDPAckers we are the oldest at about 21  🙂
  • Everyone else must be 20
  • There are people from Argentina, Canada, China, Denmark, England, Germany, Quebec, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, USA, and New Zealand
  • The common language is English and, almost everyone talks it well enough to have a ‘normal’ conversation with ease (some speak English fluently – especially those from Canada, the USA, and New Zealand 🙂 )

MQ7 - Similans - View 2 MQ7 - Similans - View 1People have found their ‘initial seats’ on the main deck and they will ‘hover’ back to these seats in the first day or so as they start to get to know the small group of people around them.

This doesn’t last long, as people mix more and more each day.

By the end of the trip, the main deck is a free-for-all with everyone sitting everywhere talking with everyone like they have known each other for years…

You get your first dive briefing at 7:30am. Today’s diving will all be in the Similan Islands:

  • Anita’s Reef
  • West of Eden
  • Deep Six
  • Hideaway Bay – the only night dive

MQ7 - Similans - Getting Ready MQ7 - Similans - Getting Ready 2By 8:15am everyone is kitted up and jumping into the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea.

You get back on board and de-kit.

You make your way upstairs to the main deck and swap stories.

Soon after, 2nd breakfast arrives: fried (or scrambled) eggs, toast, bacon, ham, fried tomatoes, salad, and fruits.

Cornflakes are permanently available for those who need their ruffage.

Again, this is a typical buffet breakfast and everyone is ready for it come 9:30-10:00am after the first dive of the day.


DAY 2:

You get the ‘call’ to 1st Breakfast at 6:00am. The dive briefing is at 6:30am. Today’s diving will be:

  • Elephant’s Head, Similan Islands
  • Three Trees, , Similan Islands
  • … a 2 hour cruise to Koh Bon …
  • Koh Bon dive 1
  • Koh Bon dive 2

MQ7 - Similans - Clear Waters 3MQ7 - Similans - Clear WatersElephant’s Rock becomes my favourite so far.

We see a 1.5-2.0m White Tipped Shark resting under a ledge and a Giant Moray.

MQ7-Similans - 11 MQ7-Similans - 12It was also fun swimming in crevices and caves. Watch the video: Swim through Rocks

On our first dive at Koh Bon, we met 3 Manta Rays: 1 large one (about 5-6m in width) and 2 smaller ones. Elephant’s Rock didn’t last as my favourite very long… this is now my favourite.

MQ7 - Koh Kon - Beach Trip 1MQ7 - Koh Kon - Beach Trip 2The Mantas circled around us and within us for almost the whole dive.

Seeing Mantas is a ‘special event’… some people have to dive 100s of times before they see their first Manta.

This was my 16th dive, ever (that includes 9 ‘training’ dives).

MQ7 - Similans - 2nd Day View MQ7 - Similans - Goodbye ViewWhen the Mantas appeared, I was swimming in open water at about 15-20 metres below the surface.

When I spotted the Mantas I froze (so as not to scare them away).

MQ7-Koh-Bon-Manta-Ray-5MQ7-Koh-Bon-Manta-Ray-1I was just floating in the middle of nowhere…

I swear to god that the largest Manta swam directly at me… not above me, not below me, not to the left of me, not to the right of me… DIRECTLY AT ME. Watch the video: Manta Ray and Shaun 1 (I am the guy at the front).

At about 5 metres from me, she gently glided to my right. Under water, distances appear closer – with that taken into account, I can honestly say that she passed within 2 arms lengths of me… I could almost reach out and touch her. Watch the video: Manta Ray and Shaun 2.

MQ7 - Koh Kon - View 1MQ7 - Koh Kon - View 2This didn’t just happen once…

She swam around and did it again a bit later!

It was almost as if she was ‘checking me out’. Watch the video: Manta Ray and Shaun 3.

Other divers had a similar, ‘close encounter of the wet kind’ experience.

Watch more Manta Ray videos:

Manta Ray 1Manta Ray 2Manta Ray 3Manta Ray 4, Manta Rays

What an amazing dive, when we all got back to the boat, everyone was humming. MQ7 - Koh Bon - SunsetMQ7 - Koh Kon - Goodbye

Least of all me!

We couldn’t wait to go down again.

We took our surface time break of just over 2 hours and hit the water.

There was one Manta Ray still swimming about… everyone started getting into position for the ‘show’.

MQ7 - Koh Bon - Manta Ray 3MQ7 - Koh Bon - Manta Ray 2Alas, it was ruined. One of the divers from another boat touched the Manta and scared it off.

Back on the boat, those who had a bad night sleep are starting to look at their options… tonight, there will be a couple sleeping up on the sundeck and a couple sleeping on the main deck. By the end of the trip, the top / sun deck will be full every night with people sleeping under the stars.


DAY 3:

You get the ‘call’ to 1st Breakfast at 6:00am. The dive briefing is at 6:30am. Today’s diving will be:

  • Koh Bon dive 3
  • … a 2 hour cruise to Koh Tachai …
  • Koh Tachai dive 1
  • Koh Tachai dive 2
  • Koh Tachai dive 3

MQ7 - Similans - 2nd Day Sunset MQ7 - Similans - 2nd Day Dive SiteThe overnight sail to Koh Tachai had been cancelled.

With Mantas sighted at Koh Bon, the Lead Instructor decided to stick around for at least 1 more dive. Alas, no Mantas this time.

However, at Koh Tachai, we met with Manta Rays again on our 2nd dive: 2 of them (accompanied by some Giant Trevallies). Watch the video: Koh Tachai – Manta Ray.

 After getting out of the water (and de-kitting), we spotted a group of divers off of the boat next to us circling in excitement… Whale Shark!

MQ7 - Koh Kon - Morning View 1MQ7 - Koh Kon - Morning View 2A few people from our boat put their fins and snorkel back on (including myself), jumped in the water, and swam over to join them.

We found the Whale Shark. It was a ‘teenager’ of about 4 to 5 metres long.

Without a word of a lie, she swam directly underneath me only about 3 metres under the surface!

With much anticipation, we did our 2½ hours of surface time and went down for our last and 4th dive of the day.

MQ7 - Koh Tachai - ArrivalMQ7 - Koh Tachai - Hole Through IslandThere was 1 Manta still around but only in the distance.

There was a school of barracuda.

Then, the Whale Shark reappeared…

Under water, everyone was jostling for the best position. I was settled in near the bottom. Others were higher gently (and respectfully) clinging on to rocks and reefs.

A new group of divers arrived and my peaceful position fell apart. I had divers swimming into me from behind and above. I had flippers in my face from people trying to settle in ahead of me… I had enough.

I decided to head for higher ground… I liked the look of a spot on one of the rocks about 5 metres above me and 15 metres to my left… I waited until the Shark was in the distance and set off.

MQ7 - Boat - RelaxingMQ7 - Similans - 2nd MorningFirst, I had to get out of the crowd that I was in, so I kept things simple and slowly headed upwards.

I was making my way up when the Whale Shark turned and started swimming back in our direction.

Our briefing instructions were to stay still (so as not to frighten her away). I froze whilst still gently rising…

Again, without a word of a lie, she swam straight at me… not above me, not below me, not to the left of me, not to the right of me… DIRECTLY AT ME. By this time, I had my breathing under control and had stopped my ascent… I was just floating motionless in the water.

Watch the video: Shark and Shaun.

At about 10 metres from me, she gently glided up and to my right passing within 3-4metres of me…

Amazing.

With the Shark and the Manta getting so close, I made a mental note… ‘I need to change my aftershave – I’m attracting the wrong sort of women!’.


DAY 4:

MQ7 - Richelieu Rock - Sunrise MQ7 - Richelieu Rock - Boats 1The boat has cruised to Richelieu Rock early morning.

You can’t really see Richelieu Rock – it is mostly under water. All you can see is the dive boats at anchor waiting to dispatch their eager contents.

You get the ‘call’ to 1st Breakfast at 6:00am.

The dive briefing is at 6:30am.

Today’s diving will be:

  • Richelieu Rock dive 1
  • Richelieu Rock dive 2
  • Richelieu Rock dive 3
  • … a 2 hour cruise to Koh Tachai …
  • Koh Tachai dive 4

MQ7 - Richelieu Rock - Boats 3 MQ7 - Richelieu Rock - Boats 2Richelieu Rock is one of the most famous dive sites in the world.

There is good reason for it… it’s teeming with life and soft corals…

MQ7-Richelieu-5 MQ7 - Richelieu - 12Imagine a Greek Island type of landscape with rocky, barren hills covered in bushes of purple and white. Sink that image underwater and you have Richelieu Rock. Now add lots of fish.

MQ7 - Boonsung Wreck - 5MQ7-Koh-Bon-5Back at Koh Tachai we stopped to look at a school of Barracuda. I turned around to call over my ‘dive buddy’ to see a lone Barracuda only 3 metres away hovering just above the flat top of a rocky peak.

He was stationary as if he was ‘guarding his territory’… his name was Barry… Barry the Barracuda. Barry was about 1.2 – 1.4 metres long.

I thought I’d have a closer look, so I slowly and gently swam up beside him – approaching from behind.

MQ7 - Koh Tachai - SunsetMQ7 - Koh Tachai - GoodbyeI was an arms length from him – beside him… my head next to his head… his tail aligned with my knees… copying his every move.

He was eye-balling me… I was eye-balling him… I was trying my best not to make him feel threatened. I hovered very gently beside him for what seemed like several minutes before pulling away to re-join my group.

Later in the dive, we came across Barry again. He was in exactly the same spot. Everyone in the group had a go at swimming beside him for a while before we headed for the surface. Bye Barry!

Watch the videos: Barry the Barracuda 1, Barry the Barracuda 2


DAY 5:

MQ7 - Open Sea - Back to Koh Kon 2 MQ7 - Open Sea - Back to Koh KonThe boat  cruised to Koh Bon the evening before.

The evening was blessed with another one of those rosy coloured sunsets.

You get the ‘call’ to 1st Breakfast at 6:00am.

The dive briefing is at 6:30am.

Today’s diving will be:

  • Koh Bon dive 4
  • … a 2 hour cruise to Boonsung Wreck …
  • Boonsung Weck dive 1
  • Boonsung Weck dive 2

MQ7 - Koh Kon - Moored BoatMQ7 - Koh Kon - ViewOur last dive in Koh Bon was just a swim-around really (compared to our Manta Ray encounters it felt a bit more ‘tame’!).

Boonsung Wreck was good because it attracted lots of sea-life: Honeycomb Eels, Lion Fish, Scorpion Fish…

MQ7-Boonsung-Wreck-3 MQ7 - Boonsung Wreck - 4The highlight for me was when I carefully worked my way into a school of fish that was circling part of the wreck.

I had to do it by almost not moving at all… the slightest movement scared them away…

MQ7 - Open Sea - Shrimp BoatsMQ7 - Boonsung WreckI did it in the end though… I had fish in front of me, above me, below me, left of me, and right of me. I didn’t dare look behind – as this would have scared them off and ruined the moment.

I did a full 360 degree swim with them and re-joined my group.

Watch the video: Swimming with Fish.


OUR RETURN:

MQ7- Pier - Arrival 2 MQ7- Pier - Arrival 1After Boonsung Wreck we headed the boat back to Khao Lak Pier.

5 days and 5 nights with 19 dives was enough for me but, in another way, I wished that it could go on for a while longer.

We got all of our personal things packed whilst the crew packed all of the kit back into their crates and did a stocktake / audit.

The Lead Instructor’s last briefing included a request for tips for the crew (if we felt comfortable with doing so). They earn so little.

I hope that I am not breaking any confidences in saying that the Captain of the boat gets only THB12,000 / month. This puts the crew on, probably, only THB6,000 / month. This is TB200 / day… the cost of 2 large bottles of Leo in a restaurant.

MQ7 - Bus Home 1MQ7 - Bus Home 2The ladies in the kitchens have cooked you restaurant-quality food for 5 days.

The Captain has spun his boat on a sixpence to pick you up out of the water and make it as easy as possible for you.

The kit guys have helped you in and out of your gear 19 times – always with a smile.

Many of the crew start work before you wake up. They go to bed after you go to bed. The Captain drives the boat at night to your next dive spot so that you can wake up in the morning and go diving without any delays.

Of course you leave them a tip. THB1000 is normal. A similar tip for your Dive Guide is, also, normal.

We were back at the Pier by 17:45 and back at the Dive Shop by just after 18:00. We all had time for 1 more beer with our new-found friends as the final paperwork was done and the buses arrived to take us back to our hotels.

Au revoir liveaboard… I will be doing you again in some other beautiful spot somewhere else in this beautiful world!


ROUND UP:

MQ7 - Daniel - Bad LookMQ7 - Similans - Main DeckI was in touching distance of a Manta Ray on my 16th dive and, again, of a Whale Shark on my 21st.

Some people have hundreds of dives before seeing their first Manta Ray.

How lucky was I. How lucky were we.

MQ7-Bart-Dive-Team MQ7 - Whole Team GoodbyeBut I was not the luckiest one! Daniel, our friend from Argentina, was doing his Open Water Course when he saw the Mantas and his Advanced Course when he saw the Whale Shark. He saw both before becoming a qualified Advanced Diver.

We suggested that he give up scuba diving, buy a lotto ticket, and take up some other hobby with his winnings.

So, in the end we saw almost everything that there is to see in that part of the oceans:

  • Nudies
  • Flatworms
  • Garden Eels
  • Cleaner Pipefish
  • Pipefish of all kinds (like the Ornate Ginger and Flat Nosed)
  • Clown Fish
  • Morays
  • Trevally
  • Boxfish
  • Dogtooth Tuna
  • Harlequin Shrimps
  • Spearing Mantis Shrimp
  • Turtles
  • Peacock Mantis Shrimp
  • Coral Crabs
  • Stone Fish
  • Ribbon Eels
  • Sea Snakes
  • Barracuda
  • Pigmy Pipe Horse
  • Squat Shrimp
  • Napoleon Wrasse
  • Octopus
  • Larvian Sponge Snail
  • Trigger Fish
  • Trumpet Fish
  • Lion Fish
  • Scorpion Fish
  • Snapper
  • Fusilliers
  • Blue Spotted Stingrays
  • White Tipped Shark
  • Whale Shark
  • Manta Rays

Everyone on the boat agreed to swap pictures and videos. As soon as I get them, I will post them in a separate Posting.

Meanwhile, for those who like watching videos, here are a few more: Koh Bon – Cuttlefish, Koh Bon, Large Fish, Blue Spotted Stingray 2, Blue Spotted Stingray 1.

TTFN.


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