The third leg of our adventure took us to Thailand and Myanmar. The Similan Islands, the Mergui Archipelago...can it get any better than this?
From Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia to Phuket, Thailand was a short hop via Kuala Lumpur on Malaysian Airlines and Silk Air. Arriving in Phuket, we were met by the FantaSea Divers representative and driven (one hour) to our hotel in Patong Beach. When Tropical Adventures went bankrupt, they had our deposit money and booked us into the Sea, Sand, and Surf Guest House at a rate of $160 a night. During high season a room only costs $40 so we were ripped off. The rooms were okay but the roaches were big!
The next morning we set out to contact the Ocean Rover and find out what time we would be able to board the boat. After several aborted phone calls and a visit to an empty store front, I remembered the internet and found an internet café where I was able to get a phone number that worked. They had recently moved their office and the boat to the new pier at Chalong Harbor, an hours drive from Patong. Anyway, we made arrangements to be picked up that evening and arrived at the FantaSea office to fill out paperwork and fork over the $130 visa fee to enter Myanmar. After dinner we were taken out to the end of the pier by bus and then out to the boat by dinghy (lowest tide of the year).
The Ocean Rover is only a year old and is a fantastic boat. It was built by its crew and is well laid out for diving. The cabins are very large with en suite heads/showers. The cabins are air conditioned with individual controls. There is plenty of room on the dive deck for equipment and cameras. The crew was so attentive to our needs that I only touched my gear to put it on and take it off. They even rinsed the gear and took it up to dry at the end of the trip. No nitrox available on the OR but it is in the plans for the future.
The cruise director is Mark Strickland who wrote the Lonely Planet book on diving in Thailand. He is also an expert photographer and excellent source of information. The other DM is Staf who doubles as a videographer. The rest of the crew are all Thai nationals; quiet but wonderful.
We dove the Similan Islands in Thailand and the Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar. The dives were mostly on bommies and in the current. About half of the dives were from dinghies and the others from the dive deck of the OC. We enjoyed fantastic visibility in the Similans and acceptable vis in Myanmar. The water was a comfortable 80 - 82 degrees.
The only large animal encounters were a few gray and whitetip reef sharks, a couple of zebra sharks, and two dives with seven manta rays in Myanmar. Schooling jacks, barracuda, snappers, fusiliers, anthias, etc. were found on nearly every dive. We were also shown many smaller creatures such as nudibranchs, harlequin pipefish, a stonefish, porcelain crab, mantis shrimp, tigertail seahorse, a pygmy seahorse!, etc. The lionfish were so common that we started to ignore them!
Ko Tachai (Twin Peaks) 72' for 56 minutes. Water temp = 80 degrees, vis = 100 feet for a while! Incredible. We jumped in early in the morning and descended onto a huge bommie with a flat top. The water was crystal clear and it was feeding time at the zoo! The jacks and tuna were flying through vast schools of baitfish, scattering them in rapid bursts of action. Then I looked over the edge and noticed a brown cloud!? What the heck is that? Then I realized that a cold upwelling was being swept up out of the deep over the bommie. When the cloud reached us, the water temp dropped at least ten degrees and the vis dropped to a few feet. By swimming up, we were able to stay clear of the cloud. The schools of baitfish were feeding on the front of the up welling taking advantage of the nutrients and plankton.
Black Rock, Myanmar. 90' for 60 minutes. Water temp = 80 degrees F, vis was ~75 feet. Black Rock is an island in the Mergui Archipelago. This was a dinghy dive and we all did our back rolls into the water at the same time. We decided to do a circumnavigation of the island. Deborah spotted a big zebra shark swimming in a big figure eight pattern below us on the wall. After watching him for a while we continued along the wall and looked at the soft corals, sleeping puffers, lionfish, and a hermit crab with blue and white stripped legs. Then they started coming! There be mantas here, Captain! At least seven different mantas, sometimes one, sometimes two or three, entertained us by swimming over, under and around us for thirty minutes. When we ran out of bottom time, we did our safety stops and were picked up by the dinghy. While getting into the dinghy, a manta breached a few feet away and then did it again as if to say he was sorry we couldn't stay longer.
One note: While underwater in Myanmar, we frequently heard the explosions from dynamite fishing, one explosion was very close and very loud! It's too bad that this practice will destroy the habitat for future generations of fish.
Diving in Thailand and Myanmar is fantastic and the Ocean Rover is a wonderful boat. Save your pennies.
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