Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dec 28 2013 - Diving the Similan Islands in Thailand

Sunrise in the Similans

With the goal of scuba diving and snorkeling in the Similan Islands of Thailand, we set off Saturday morning on a 11 hour flight to Tokyo, 7 hour flight to Bangkok, overnight layover, 1 hour+ flight to Phuket, 1 hour+ taxicab ride to Khao Lak, and overnight on the dive boat to the Similan Islands. Was it worth the effort? It was worth every KM of travel, every second of lost sleep, every GB of photo space...

Great snorkeling!

I had gone on 16 dives before - including a few while I was initially getting certified - but after getting to the boat and meeting the other 20 passengers, I quickly realized I was a novice and would require a little patience from everybody. Not only did I have a very small number of dives (16 compared to hundreds and thousands for everybody else), but also I hadn't dived since December 2012 - everybody else on the boat had dove sometime in 2013. I was quickly buddied up with a South Korean gentleman named Woo. We were a good match - his desire was to slowly and methodically test out his new camera equipment and practice taking high-quality deep underwater photographs - and I was advancing my knowledge of diving techniques.

Found Nemo!

We were also matched with Tom, a kindly but strict dive instructor/guide from Berlin. When he "yells" at you with menacing hand gestures 25 meters underwater, you can easily imagine an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type guy breaking your back over his knee. His admonitions are as strong as his praise - the joy of seeing a rare beautiful fish is as strong as the desire for Tom to flash you the Ok sign when he sees you handle a difficult situation under pressure.

Moray Eel on a night dive - we were later given safety briefing about big teeth! :)

Other than Woo, Olga, and myself, all other passengers were from two distinct regions: US American military personnel stationed at the military base in Okinawa Japan (there were 4 separate couples/families from there) and Europeans (3 groups of German, French, and Swiss tourists). Olga and I had the distinct honor of being the only Americans who braved the trip from America.

Crab caught on a fishing line during night dive (Tom freed it)

Since we would be making 19 dives across 5 days and nights, I decided to take the opportunity to get my Advanced Open Water certification. This means I would partake in - and be certified for - Buoyancy, Navigation, Deep Dives, Night Dives, and Wreck Dives. It also meant I had to do a lot of studying on my vacation, taking an average of one class/test a day. It was great having *everyone* on the boat available to give advice on passing the tests and advancing my skills. I also watched as they dove, trying to pick up tips and tricks from the experts.

Taking the buoyancy test (Left-Right: Dave watching, Tom instructing, Woo photographing fish)

The main reason people dive The Similan Islands is to see exotic fish. I rented a small point-and-shoot camera from the boat, and attached here are a few of the photos I took. Many of my fellow passengers have multi-thousand-dollar camera rigs that are almost as large as they are. It turned out that, when they weren't giving me tips on buoyancy or discussing their camera accessories, these passengers were quite knowledgeable about fish, and taught us all about scorpionfish, lionfish, Napoleanfish, oriental sweetlips, nudibranches, pufferfish, and all sorts of other undersea life we experienced.

Lovely photo Woo took using his fancy camera equipment :)
Please check out Olga's blog for more insight... More photos and stories coming soon!

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