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Published: December 13th 2008
After a couple of weeks of silence, I didn't fancy joining the other guys at the full moon party on Ko Pangan. If I'd heard good things about the parties I'd probably have gone anyhow, but from what I hear, it's a load of pissed up tossers on a beach getting lairy and a load of thai policemen trying to catch people doing drugs. Not a great scenario for fun fun fun !
Instead, I decided to go do some underwater meditation instead......diving! I was really close to Ko Lak where a lot of dive boats operate from which seemed an ideal opportunity. On the last day of the retreat I'd spoken to a girl who'd been a dive master for a few years on the andaman coast in thailand. She'd said the closer you got up towards Burma, the better the diving got. Hence, I decided to try and get on a livaboard to Burma. It wasn't going to be cheap, but in true buddhist spirit, having been refunded my savings that I thought I'd lost in the Icesave crash, I decided not to cling to them as they were impermanent, and that I'd be far better off spending a bit and enjoying it! Good theory eh?! :O) Hence, I said goodbye to the guys from the retreat and headed off to Ko Lak.
Having trapsed round pretty much every company I found a couple who had boats going to Burma, one of which offered me a pretty good deal. He had a boat going with virtually no one on it, so he made me an offer not to be refused on a back to back Similan Island / Burma trip. Eight days on the boat with nothing to do but dive, eat, drink and sunbathe! How awful!! The only down side was I had to spend four days waiting for the boat to leave.
Ko Lak is a pretty awful place....... from a backpackers point of view anyhow. It was pretty destroyed during the Tsunami, but they've rebuilt it reasonably well now and from a package tourist point of view it's probably ok. From a backpackers point of view though there are virtually no travellers around to talk to and very very few of the package tourists were that friendly when I was there. In the four days I was there I did meet one fellow traveller who'd gone there to try and get a diving job.......and was heading out again as quick as possible. It did give me someone to go for a beer with though which was nice, coz I was getting pretty lonely! Luckily I had the diving to look forward to!
By the time the 16th came, I was really exited about the trip. I hadn't dived since doing my Padi in the andamans and I'd loved it there. The boat was great too. I had my own cabin with bunks as the boat wasn't full as well which was fab. The first 4 days we were going to the Similans and then the next 4 days we were heading up the coast to Burma. The other great thing about going to Burma was it co-incided with my visa running out and as part of the immigration in and out of Thailand, I'd automatically get a new 30 day stamp!
After getting everyone on board, we headed off for the Similans. There were a good mix of people on board the first 4 days. Everyone seemed to get on pretty well and everyone seemed relatively normal......which was fab......and I guess isn't always the case!
The Similans were fab. The diving is good......but maybe not as good as Andaman Islands, but that's made up for by the fact that the islands are gorgeous. The only down side is you have to share them with at least 10 other boats. That makes diving some of the sites pretty crowded too. This was right at the start of the season too, so I guess in high season that only gets worse.
On the second dive I had problems with one of my ears and couldn't equalise. It was flipping painful. I'd never experienced ear problems before, but now I know what it's like! Hopefully an experience not to be forgotten. It was also pretty worrying for me. It was only dive 2 on day 1......I'd paid a whole load of money for 8 days diving. If it didn't get better, that would be a pretty big waste :O/
Luckily it got better, as did the diving as we moved further north up the coast. Ko Tachai and Ko Bon were really nice to dive. It was just like the girl at the retreat had said.......and that boaded pretty well for Burma :O)
The weather was also fab for the Similans trip which meant lots of sunbathing inbetween dives..........that is when we weren't eating! P Mai our cook was fantastic........as a person and as a cook. I've never known anyone that happy all the time! The food was amazing too and there was just loads of it......4 or 5 times a day! It's a good job I was only there for 8 days or I'd never have fitted out my bunkroom door!
We saw loads of different fish that trip, but the winning ones for me were Tommy turtle (new facebook profile pic!)and Leo the leopard shark. Tommy turtle came to play one afternoon between dives when we were moored up and snorkelling off the back of the boat. We had no idea how friendly he would be. He stayed for ages and ages as well, swimming amongst a whole load of us off the back of the boat. He even ate some banana......and promptly sicked it up again! He was so close to us though, it was a truly amazing experience.
Leo leopard shark was also amazing.......Billy spotted him during one of the dives. Only 4 of us got to see him as the others were too far ahead of us and we couldn't get there attention. He was asleep on the bottom but as we swum up to him, he opened his eyes. He let Billy stroke him though and then Ed and I also got to stroke him before he decided enough was enough and swum off to get some peace and quiet for his afternoon nap! Another amazing experience though! The skin was like sandpaper....not at all what I expected. Perfect spotted markings though......amazing! :O)
At lunchtime on Day 4, we completed the last dive of the similans trip and headed up towards Burma. Most of the guys were getting off the boat at the Burma border and catching the 'Siam Adventures' minibus back down to Kao Lak. Only 1 other person, Paul, also my dive buddy, was staying on board for Burma too.
When we got to Burma, the other guys got off and we all said our goodbyes and the new people joined the boat. It was quite a different vibe the second 4 days. Not quite as sociable as the first four days were but still pretty good.
Burma was a totally different experience to the Similans. Much more 'wet n wild'! The weather wasn't great which was a shame, but it didn't rain. It was just overcast and a bit chilly. No sunbathing this trip and shorties were replaced by long wetsuits pretty rapidly. I'd gone down to 1kg weight in a shorty, but needed to put another one back on in a long wetsuit.....they make you loads more bouyant than the shorties do, which completely threw me the first dive I wore one!
The fantastic thing about Burma is that you're virtually the ONLY dive boat there. No-one but you and the sea gypsie's fishing boats. Amazing. The diving was amazing there too. Much better than Similans. The only downfall was visibility. Some of that was down to the overcast weather, but I think vis there is generally less than in Similans.
I had my best night dive at a site called 'in through the out door'. I'm gonna put in Ric (the boat manager)'s summary of it, cos he sums it up pretty well and it saves me writing it again!..........
after last season's excitement at granny's crack we have already had another adrenalin pumping dive this season at the 3 islets. this time in the form of a night dive.
the excitement started immediately on entering the water. whilst doing the final okay i was speared in the arm by a large needle fish which was startled by the dive lights from jazz. we then descended into the canyon and had to negotiate our way through a school of hunting barracuda which were non too impressed about us suddenly lighting up their hunting ground ! one bumped into my head before swimming through the rest of the following group causing havoc along the way.
clive our intrepid leading then lead us into a school of large rainbow runners which seemed to react even more negatively than the barracuda to the addition of lights. by now we were at the very narrow end of the canyon about to enter the long thin swim through. clive was rewarded with powerful hit to the arm and andy almost had his mask removed by a frisky rainbow runner! all this in a confined space at night time!!
once into the swim through all seemed calmed until clive encountered a blacktip shark blocking the exit. luckily the shark made a hasty exit only to be replaced by a confused looking blotched fantail stingray about 1.5m wide. just big enough to fill the swim through and provide yet another dangerous obstacle for us to negotiate a way past. luckily the ray's sting stayed away no repeats of any steve irwin type incidents 😉
after that the rest of the dive passed in relative calm, but have to admit seeing other large rays and cobias near by kept the heart beating till the end!
luckily we had plenty of myanmar rum and beers on board to calm all us battered, bloodied and brusied divers down. what a fantastic dive, hope we have many more to come 😊 thanks to all who participated. ric.
I couldn't really add too much more to that! It was a fab fab dive.
Soon enough the Burma trip came to an end. Even though my mind was gutted it was over, my body was heaving a sigh of relief! My ear had continued to feel like a monster with a tesco's carrier bag had moved in and I'd developed servere shoulder and neck ache over the last few days which wasn't going away. I'm not sure how the guys working in diving do it. I was a physical wreck after 8 days of fun diving! I guess it's something you become accustomed too after a while, but hats off to them definitely. They were a fab crew on board MV Jazz......Ric and Clive and Billy the trainee dive master, all 'super-spotters' and couldn't do enough for you; The boat crew who also couldn't do enough for you pre dives and getting back on the boat.....and they were always smiling; Pmai the cook and her team in the kitchen and of course the driver and engineer....... Cheers all of you, if you ever read this......I had a fab time.
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