Saturday, February 4, 2012

Similans Diving

Look, look, look! I got a picture of Honeymoon Bay in the Similan Islands where Suki sorely tempts Michael in UNBROKEN CONNECTION.

At first, I didn't think we'd get close enough to get a shot of it because our boat anchored around the backside of the island and then we were supposed to go on to another island for the second dive. But, to my surprise, the boat moved into a gorgeous spot called, "Hide-Away," off Islands #5 in the Similan chain--and I had this perfect view of Honeymoon Bay. I didn't actually get to put my toes in the sand and take closeups, but at least I got to see it. The bay is much smaller than I'd imagined. In fact, the whole chain is much smaller and closer together than I'd imagined. 

Okay, I'm getting way ahead of my tale. If you'll bear with me, I'll switch to travelogue again and take you along with me for the day through the photos I managed to snap between dives. 

The day started out climbing into the favorite mode of transportation in Khoa Lak--a small pickup truck with benches seats fitted up in back. All the local taxis are like this, too. It gets windy driving along and sometimes the exhaust fumes from the truck and the traffic are nauseating, so I wore my sea bands to keep from getting motion sick. Worked great.

This is the dock in Tap Lamu. It's still as icky as when I visited here before I wrote UNBROKEN CONNECTION. That time we didn't dive because it was off season. The big difference was people. Tons of people everywhere--heading to the boats, waiting for boats, getting in and out of vans and taxis. Mostly Europeans. This area is popular with Germans and has lots of service in German.

Here's the boat we spent the day on. We'd booked on a brand new, big speed boat that was supposed to get us out to the islands in just over and hour. They'd promised us lunch on the beach--Honeymoon Bay for sure. But they had mechanical problems, and we ended up on what divers call a big "cattle boat."

It took two and a half hours to cruise out to the Similans on this big boat. Even though it was a big, slow boat with forty people--many of them snorkelers--on it, it was organized well and the dive staff took pains to give us a good day of divers. The temperature out on the water was just perfect. Not too hot, but warm enough. Nice breeze. Flat seas. And the open air deck had enough shade and wasn't crowded. Turned out to be a great day after all.

First sight of the Similans. This was Island Number 8. There are nine islands. They are smaller and closer together than I thought.

Getting closer! We were eager to arrive and dive.

Look close. Through the window you can see the Thai captain and crew. I learned all the captains are Thai. I had Michael working on his captain's license--which he probably couldn't do here because it would all be in Thai! (Don't tell anyone, okay?)

This  is Island #4 where we dove!

Here I am after our first dive. I wish I had underwater pictures. It was beautiful. We pulled in close to this beach--Princess Bay--to pick up the snorkelers. Isn't the water gorgeous?

This is Hideaway Bay where we had lunch. It was so pretty. The water is so blue. The spots you see are coral formations on the ocean floor. The rocky shore in the back ground is Island #5. 

This tiny pile of boulders is Island #6. We dove around underwater boulders--very cool. 

Our boat's dingy. Can you imagine Michael, Claude, Suki et al zooming around in it?

This is full shot of Island #5. Yup, that's the entire island. There are no hotels or restaurants in the Similans. It's a national park. You can camp on the beach, but there are no facilities. 

I took about 130 pictures--lots of them of the water. It's kind of intoxicating to look at it.

Another shot of Island #4 and Honeymoon Bay. Islands 4, 5, and 6 are right close together.  The park closes down in May when the monsoon season starts and doesn't open again until November. January/February is the high season. Perfect escape for winter-weary Europeans. We dove with an older German gentlemen who spends three months every winter here. He and his wife rent a bungalow at a green resort in Khoa Lak. 
During the monsoon season, huge storms sweep down off the Indian Ocean and batter the Similans. They hit the backside of Island #4. The park is closed, but fishing boats sneak out here and ride out the storms protected in Honeymoon Bay. They fish when the seas are calm enough. It's not unusual for there to be 18-20 foot seas on the passage between Thailand's coast and the islands.

Close-up of the boulders on Island 5. The tropical jungle green is intense--so different from the desert back home.  One interesting facts I learned talking to one of the dive masters on the boat--a guy from South Africa who'd spent years in Thailand, is there are two million more women in Thailand than men. That's why it's so easy for all the Western men who come here to hook up with Thai girlfriends. 

As soon as we were out of the water from our second dive, the boat chugged off  back to Tap Lamu. The sun was setting by the time we arrived. They served us yummy banana pancakes and fruit as we went to get our blood sugar back up post-dive. We had time to chill and relax. 

Coming back into Tap Lamu. 

This is the fishing fleet harbored at Tap Lamu. Our guides told us there is very little controls on fishing in Thailand. Most of Asia is like that. It's a huge industry and very valuable to the local economy. Not good news for divers--or the fish. 

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