Diving Thailand’s Andaman Sea, by day and night time

Ko Kradan, a distant island in Thailand’s Andaman Sea, is house to a handful of small resorts. Picture for The Washington Submit by Erin E. Williams

Bobbing within the inky Andaman Sea miles from the Thai shoreline, I watched a crescent moon emerge as twilight deepened. I turned on my flashlight, peered at my husband, Andrew, and made probably the most acceptable assertion for such circumstances:

“Large white rabbits are fluffy.”

No bunnies have been floating with us; this ridiculous phrase is an important mnemonic for the 5 steps of a dive buddy security test.

Happy with one another’s buoyancy, weight, releases and air, we gave one another the ultimate OK and descended into the void beneath our fins. The moon disappeared, then the lights from the boat pale as we dropped right into a world the place darkness swallows the coral, fish and sea outdoors flashlight beams.

The Similan Islands are one of many world’s most well-known diving locations. The protected waters, within the Andaman Sea about 40 miles from Thailand’s west coast, comprise plentiful marine life together with vibrant reefs and bigger pelagic animals that dwell within the open sea, and we had two days to discover all of it.

The overnighter was a part of an impartial journey to the Andaman, the place we used our superior scuba certification to dive 11 instances in three nationwide parks: Mu Ko Lanta, Hat Chao Mai and Mu Ko Similan, the final mendacity west of resort villages ravaged by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

On a drizzly November morning, Andrew and I departed on a speedboat from a dive store on Ko Lanta, an Andaman island about 45 miles southeast of Phuket.

4 dive staffers and 9 different divers joined us on the hour-long trip to Ko Rok Nok, certainly one of Thailand’s high dive websites. The island and its sister isle, Ko Rok Nai, reside inside 51-square-mile Mu Ko Lanta Nationwide Park. Aside from the rangers who keep on Ko Rok Nai, the 2 islands are uninhabited.

From the again of the boat, I watched Ko Lanta’s jungle-clad hills disappear. Flying fish leaped from our wake and crashed again into the water.

“Do not forget to look into the deep blue,” our information Non stated as we pulled on our moist fits, reminding us to observe for the occasional Manta Ray and whale shark. “And for those who look right into a barrel sponge, you would possibly see a shock,” he added cryptically.

A dive boat floats below Ko Waen’s jungle-clad cliffs. A reef and marine caves lie underwater. Picture for The Washington Submit by Erin E. Williams

I had final scuba dived greater than a 12 months earlier than, so plunging underwater felt a bit unfamiliar. However on our first dive, I lasted about an hour; due to the nice and cozy water and mild present, I did not devour a lot air. I lazily drifted previous colourful sea slugs clinging to rocks, clownfish nestled in anemones and lionfish patrolling their territories with spikes protruding like porcupines.

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“The water was so clear, I felt like I used to be flying,” Andrew stated as we floated on the floor.

For lunch, we disembarked on a powdery white seaside on the slim channel that runs between Ko Rok Nok and Ko Rok Nai. We ate inexperienced curry the place hermit crabs left crisscrossed tracks within the sand.

Again below on our second dive, I scanned the open water abutting the reef. A faint form emerged, rising extra distinct because it approached. A sea turtle – one which swam so shut that I noticed every of the scales on its face. From a coral just like a barrel sponge, with a three-foot opening, my shock glared at me indignantly: an enormous moray curled up like a snake.

Our subsequent Mu Ko Lanta Nationwide Park tour was land-based. Andrew and I rented a motorized scooter to achieve park headquarters on the southern tip of Ko Lanta. Abandoning the managed avenue chaos of beachy vacationer areas, we puttered alongside the more and more jungled roads close to the park. Dipping down a precipitous hill, we swerved round monkeys that refused to maneuver from the middle of the highway.

Thailand has practically 150 nationwide parks. In 1990, Mu Ko Lanta Nationwide Park grew to become its 62nd. Within the park’s primary headquarters constructing I browsed academic shows, together with a disconcerting assortment of plastic rubbish that had washed up on seashores. We lounged on a lighthouse-crowned seaside, walked a small part of coastal trails that wind by way of the rainforest and watched monkeys having fun with the view the place the jungle met the ocean.

Three days later, Andrew and I boarded a speedboat to Ko Kradan, a serene, jungled island that homes a half-dozen small, off-the-grid resorts.

An extended-tail boat carrying our information Word, the captain and three divers from Italy and Germany picked us up from the seaside in entrance of our resort. The group made room for us within the conventional Southeast Asian vessel that resembles a large gondola with a protracted, propeller-tipped shaft.

I counted three dozen islands dotting the horizon on our approach to Ko Waen, a close-by islet that’s a part of Hat Chao Mai Nationwide Park, which encompasses practically 90 sq. miles in Thailand’s southwestern nook.

Our long-tail boat plowed by way of the water like a heavy picket toboggan. Throughout our pre-dive briefing, Word identified a first-aid equipment – “in case you get bitten by a shark,” he joked – earlier than warning everybody that touching any marine life is harmful for each divers and the delicate ecosystem.

Dive gear sits prepared on a ship within the Similan Islands. Picture for The Washington Submit by Erin E. Williams

We stopped below Ko Waen’s rocky cliffs that shot straight up from the ocean. I sat on the aspect of the boat and somersaulted backward into the water. There have been no sharks, however I discovered a (practically) completely camouflaged pink stonefish resting on the coral. It had a comically grouchy face, however stonefish – the world’s most venomous – are not any joke.

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Again aboard, we ate lunch and took turns cannonballing off the aspect of the boat.

As I descended for the second dive, supersized colleges of fish parted like a river working round rocks. We swam single-file by way of a cave, our flashlights illuminating rocky outcroppings. I squeezed by way of the exit and seemed up alongside a wall of coral that rose 40 toes to the floor. Animals inhabited each nook and cranny.

The night time earlier than departing for our Similan Islands keep, Andrew and I slept in Khao Lak, a coastal resort village about 45 miles north of Phuket. Most of the lodges, eating places and outlets are new, constructed in the course of the space’s restoration from the tsunami’s devastation. A number of sobering reminders embrace a police boat that washed up far inland, a memorial and some museums.

Our tuk-tuk driver deposited us at a tiny, non-public museum. We joined a half-dozen Europeans watching a collection of tourist-shot cellphone movies that chronicled the disaster that killed a couple of quarter-million individuals in a number of nations.

“My husband was swept out with the third wave,” a Thai museum worker stated as she helped me pinpoint our resort on a wall map that outlined the tsunami’s inland attain.

My eyes started to effectively up with tears, and I might solely stammer how sorry I used to be.

“Oh no, he is high quality,” she stated. “Ultimately he made it again to shore and met me. That is him proper there.” She pointed to a person puttering round within the nook of the room.

Andrew and I have been silent in the course of the stroll again to our resort.

The subsequent morning, we boarded a motorboat at a marina close to Khao Lak and rode 90 minutes to Mu Ko Similan Nationwide Park, the place we transferred to our dive boat, the South Siam 3.

A captain steers his dive boat away from Ko Waen, an islet in Hat Chao Mai Nationwide Park. Picture for The Washington Submit by Erin E. Williams

Established in 1982, the park encompasses 54 sq. miles, together with the Similan archipelago and greater than 25 dive websites. Phuket and Khao Lak scuba outlets supply day journeys and longer liveaboards to starting and superior divers.

Our 100-foot boat slept 28 individuals, however solely 12 friends joined the principally Thai crew. We have been seven overnighters and 5 day-trippers who would head again to shore after the primary two dives. Our daybook was full of 4 dives with our German information Martina. The next day, we might dive three extra instances earlier than returning to the mainland.

We entered the water at Ko Bangu (additionally known as Island 9), the principle archipelago’s northern level. As we dropped into the water, the reef beneath grew to become completely clear, an oasis in a sea of sand.

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A whole lot of backyard eels rose like reeds from the ocean ground, snapping backward into their burrows as I handed. A foot-long, Technicolor mantis shrimp waved its claws on a coral pinnacle. An octopus modified colours as I approached, maybe aggravated that its hidy-hole beneath a rock wasn’t fooling anyone.

For the remainder of our day, we settled right into a typical dive-boat rhythm: dive, eat, repeat, with an occasional snooze on the highest deck after I tore myself away from the curry and infinite view of island, sea and sky.

Our night time dive started at sundown. Andrew and I accomplished our security test and sank 10, 20, 30, 40 toes. Close to the underside, the darkness was whole. I swept my flashlight round, illuminating eerie coral and ghostly creatures that stared at me incredulously earlier than darting away.

Enormous tuna flashed out and in of my beam. A sleeping boxfish draped like a noodle over a coral department. A hovering cuttlefish jetted away after I pointed it out to my divemates.

We turned off our flashlights, suspended in full darkness. I wiggled my fingers in entrance of my face. Tiny silver explosions trailed my fingers: glowing phytoplankton. I heard a loud grinding as boulders jostled one another within the underwater present.

“Look ahead to orange reflections,” Martina had stated throughout our briefing. I educated my gentle on the reef. Dozens of lights – eye shine from shrimp and lobsters – winked at me.

Behind my face masks, I winked again.

IF YOU GO:

WHERE TO STAY

– Moonlight Unique Bay Resort

69 Moo 8, Klong Tob, Ko Lanta

011-66-75-662-590

moonlight-resort.com

Beachfront resort with swimming swimming pools, a restaurant and bar. Therapeutic massage and yoga can be found. Rooms from about $86.

– Sevenseas Resort

221 Moo 2, Ko Kradan

011-66-82-490-2442

sevenseasresorts.com

Boat-accessible resort on a small, quiet island. Has a swimming pool, restaurant, bar and spa. Rooms from about $14, together with breakfast.

– The Leaf on the Sands

40 Moo 6, Kukkak, Takuapa

011-66-76-428-842

theleafresort.com/onthesands

Finances resort in Khao Lak, with a pool and restaurant. Rooms from about $111, together with breakfast.

WHAT TO DO

– Dive and Calm down

223 Moo 2, Saladan, Ko Lanta

011-66-84-842-2191

diveandrelax.com

A PADI five-star dive store providing snorkeling, dive courses and journeys with small teams. Two-tank day journeys from about $99 per particular person, together with lunch.

– Professional Scuba Diving Service

Sevenseas Resort

011-66-81-476-9913

proscubadivingservice.com

Dive store with two places providing courses and dive journeys. Two-tank day journeys from about $91 per particular person.

– Dawn Divers

269/24 Patak Rd., Karon Seaside, Phuket

011-66-76-398-040

sunrise-divers.com

A PADI five-star dive store providing courses, day and in a single day dive journeys and longer liveaboards to the Similan Islands and different locations. Two-tank day journeys from about $176 per particular person. Seven-tank in a single day journeys from $43 per particular person, together with meals.

INFORMATION

– dnp.go.th/index_eng.asp