Above: A cuttlefish we saw on our adventure. The ruffly part around the fish are in constant motion and they look like some kind of sci-fi alien species. This photo, and the rest of the underwater photos in this post, were taken by Tom Ozanne at arewedreaming.com
Off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea lie the Similan Islands. The clear waters, unique underwater rock formations, expansive coral reefs, and diverse aquatic life frequently lands the area on top ten lists of the worlds best dive sites. Going into the holiday season, Kelsi and I knew that it would probably be one of the times that homesickness would strike the hardest. The best way we could avoid it, we figured, was to make sure that we had planned really engaging activities. So on Thanksgiving we found ourselves on our first liveaboard scuba diving trip at the Similan Islands, our first scuba diving after our certification course.
The Similan Islands are far enough off the coast of Thailand that a single day diving trip would be a half day boat ride out, a dive, then a half day boat ride back. A better experience is to book a berth on a liveaboard dive boat. We booked a cabin on a boat full of divers (and master dive guides) that would travel for four days and nights, taking us through the various dive sites of the Similans. We had four dives a day as scheduled on our dive board:
Our boat, the Dolphin Queen, was home to about 15 divers (European, Australian, American) plus 6 Thai crew and 5 dive guides. It had three levels, with cabins, kitchen, bathrooms, and dive platform on the bottom, communal area and helm in the middle, and an expansive sun deck on top. Kelsi and I really lucked out in that we were given a free upgrade from the shared dorm space we had booked to a private cabin, which gave us not only privacy but some highly desired elbow room after we saw the bunk rooms we had avoided.
Each day began at about 6:15am with a sunrise briefing for our first dive. The head guide talks about the geography of the site, how deep to go, current conditions, and what fish and corals to look for. Then in groups of 3-5 we went downstairs to the dive platform, suited up in all our gear, made final checks of our equipment, and jump in for a dive lasting 35-50 minutes. After each dive, Kelsi would rush up onto the main deck to identify all the species we had just encountered from the on board fish book library, researching with more energy and enthusiasm than almost anyone else on board and entering her finds into our dive log books. The rest of our time was filled with reading, photographing the sunsets, and watching the flying fish glide for astounding distances over the blue waters.
Heading into this trip we were still slightly nervous about whether we would be comfortable enough diving to make our liveaboard experience enjoyable rather than continuously rattling. Fortunately, from almost the beginning of our very first dive, we were instantly comfortable and also thrilled at the substantially improved visibility (which means you can see stuff better and orient yourself more easily) and variety of marine life compared to what we had seen in the Philippines. Yes, we now officially really really love diving.
The two "big ticket" (but tricky to encounter) creatures to spot while diving in Thailand are whale sharks and manta rays. We were lucky enough to encounter the latter, which swam about 10 meters below us. It wasn't until I saw one in the water did I realize that they were about the size of pickup trucks. It was the first thing we encountered in the ocean that was big enough that I felt it could have accidentally ran over me and not even notice. (Of course it didn't come that close to us... there was never any reason to fear.)
At Richelieu Rock, we were also very fortunate to see lots of pharaoh cuttlefish mating. Cuttlefish in the wild are absolutely incredible; they look like an weird cross between an octopus and a clothing iron with a skirt of glowing blue flagellum around their oversized heads.
Kelsi's new #1 favorite fish is the spotted yellow boxfish, most of which are no bigger than a pinky finger. They look like someone inflated an origame box and attached some comically small fins to the sides and tail. Although these creatures look like the least aerodynamic outcome of the evolution has ever produced, the boxfish are actually very quick and zoom adorably around the corals of the Andaman Seas.
Some of my favorites included jellyfish, barracuda, and the trumpetfish.
It's hard to put into words how awesome it is to be swimming among the fish. The photos show something like a nature documentary, which it was, but it was much more than that, too. We are probably done diving until we make it to Central America, but we know that we'll go diving again.