I had the most amazing four-day four-night trip in the Andaman Sea diving my way through all sorts of boulder fields and sea life. I hope to do this trip again with everyone I know that loves boats and diving. It was an incredible experience and not too expensive.
I recently became a booking agent for the Manta Queen Fleet in Thailand. Their fleet of boats are constantly going out for trips, from mid-October through mid-May. They cater to every level of diver and also snorkelers. My two friends and I could not have been on a better boat. The Manta Queen 3 had some amazing staff and the other divers on board were so entertaining. The first few hours were a bit intimidating; all new people, environment, and experience. Then slowly but surely people started to talk and find so many things in common and stories to share. It also helped that we had inappropriate Geoff on our trip who teased everyone and had stories and jokes for days.
This boat is set up to allow for many social gathering spots but has enough space that anyone can find a peaceful area for reading or just quiet contemplation. The upper deck is half shaded and the front half has hammocks in the sun. The next level down was where we enjoyed all of our many delicious meals and gathered for dive briefings as well. In front of the dining area is the “saloon” which is a nice air-conditioned slightly darker area with couches to lounge in and watch TV if you wanted. In front of the “saloon” are a few guest cabins and the captain’s quarters. Below this level is the dive deck and holds most of the other guest cabins as well as four shared bathrooms, complete with showers.
The dive deck is designed to easily hold all of the guest and staffs equipment. Everything was neatly stowed and organized with a compressor for all of the dive tanks including Nitrox. Our entry into the water was a long stride off the back deck that spanned the width of the boat. It was quite the site when the “school bell” rang and all of us jumped one right after the other like a race had just begun. The diving, however, was far from a race. My group, led by our dive instructor Michael, was relaxed and just slowly enjoyed every bit of scenery we could.
The first night we all met at the dive shop and checked in. This is where we added courses or nitrox tanks or 15L tanks for those air suckers. We gathered individual equipment and paid any leftover balances. After acquiring some supplies, mostly snacks and alcohol for some, we were herded into one large bus with all our equipment and luggage stacked perfectly in the middle between the two long sitting benches. When we arrived at the pier we were asked to remove our shoes and they would be returned to us at the end of the dive trip, many customers were wary of this part, however, it is safer on these boats with no shoes to avoid slipping and other mishaps. On the boat we gathered in the galley for a boat briefing, followed by cabin assignments, equipment setup, and dinner. For me, this first gathering was just a buzz of excitement.
The wake-up call the second day was about 6 AM, during the night our boat captain drove us to our first destination. We did four dives a day for three days and three dives on the last day, obviously because we had to get back to land. Our days consisted of a dive briefing first thing in the morning, followed by dive one. After our first deep dive, we then boarded the boat to find breakfast made and had about a two-hour surface interval. Next, dive briefing number two and our second dive of the day commenced. Upon surfacing we again would have about two hours for snacks, coffee, naps, and books. Dive three briefing and dive, followed by another two or so hours on the boat and lunch. The last dive of the day dive four briefing and dive and then we all got into dry clothes and had dinner. It is literally as their logo says Dive Eat Sleep Repeat.
We had amazing dives, seeing things I haven’t seen before like many octopuses, and things I would like to see again like a Thorny seahorse. We had boulder diving with swim-throughs and diving with so many different corals and fish you couldn’t concentrate on anything because of the explosion of life. Some of what we saw consisted of many Scorpionfish, different types of Eels, Boxfish (my favorite), Nudibranch, Lionfish, Anemonefish (Nemo), Unicornfish, Barracuda; very large and small, and a few Rays. I also have to mention the Crustaceans; many species of shrimp, huge lobsters, and of course all sorts of crabs. Some dive sites were better than others but it is perfectly understandable.
There was a huge Tsunami in 2004 that wiped out a lot of marine life in the Andaman Sea. This, followed by several years of high water temperatures leading to coral bleaching has made it a somewhat less abundant area. The corals and fish, however, are making a comeback but it will be quite a few years before it is full throttle again.
What I liked about diving the Similan Islands and the Surin Islands is that they are National Parks, which means they are protected. Many areas abundant in marine life tend to be overtaken with fishing and diving leaving nothing to explore in their wake. We had a few dives where we ran into quite a few divers on the same site but that is to be expected. There are limited numbers of divers per year that can visit these areas and so even though it felt like sometimes there were too many of us, I am glad there are restrictions otherwise that area would be bombarded with too many divers, simply because of its vast beauty.
The time spent on the surface was also entertaining. I met many new “diving buddies”, ate incredible food, and had a lot of laughs throughout. It felt like going to summer camp as a kid or a retreat as an adult. Meeting people with the same interests as you from all over the globe sharing one amazing boat trip was pure ecstasy. The one hesitation going on a boat for any length of time with a group of people, 40 or so, is that there will be people you absolutely do not like. I’m sure a few of us annoyed some of the others, but everyone I encountered was full of smiles, joy and a willingness to open our experience up to each other. We were blessed with a really good group of people and I think everyone had a lot of fun.
The last day was a bit surreal. The four days had gone by so fast! A few of us tried to hold on to our last bit of scuba trip extravaganza and spent a night living it up in Khaolak. The next day, though, everyone had to go his or her separate ways. I am truly hoping to plan some reunion dive trips with some of my new friends. I also hope to do many many more liveaboard trips in the future, Dive, Eat, Sleep, Repeat….what else could you want in life?