OK here we go again, October 2010, three of us this time: myself, brother-in-law Stu, and cousin Andy. This is the first time Andy has been to Phuket, and in the interim period of this trip and writing this article he's been back again, and yes we've already booked to return back to Phuket again in October 2011. So what's it all about that pulls you to return? Try the sun kissed tropical beaches, the cool Singha beer, the gentle people of Phuket, the feeling of ease and all your stresses free-flowing away. Scuba diving plays a big part of Phuket, but it's got a lot more than this to offer, and more of that later.
This year we fancied mixing diving with socialising, tripping and stress relieving, so a more relaxed holiday was asked for, and sure enough this we got. Our first dives were at Racha Yai and Racha Noi islands, two bay dives. We hit the end of the monsoon season so expected the water to be a little choppy and it was. However, in the bays the water was flat. Andy, as a non-diver, went snorkelling in the calm waters whilst the rest of us submerged into 28 degrees of blissful delight.
The diversity had changed from vibrant hard Staghorn coral to a profusion of soft corals due to the recent water temperature rising. Along with the soft corals came that gorgeous fish the whole world loves, and probably the most "attempted to photograph" fish - I say that because the little critter never stays still. Yes, you've guessed it, (Nemo) a clown fish, or to you fish spotters a Western Clown Fish. Now these little critters come not only in bright orange, black and white, but a host of other colours: black and white; black, white and orange; orange and white. OK, sounds like the spam theme in Monty Python, but we call these Anemone fish, and they all fall under the Damselfish Family, or for you real hardy fish spotters, the Pomacentridae family! OK, that's all the Latin I am going to write.
Let's get to the soft corals. These came in reds, pinks and bright whites, and if this hit's your mark you've got to visit Anemone Reef, a garden full of soft coral, not too deep and a photographer's delight. So ensure your batteries are charged before dropping onto this beautiful underwater garden. Usually this dive site falls into the same category as "Shark Point", another soft coral garden full of vibrant colours, and a chance to spot the Leopard Shark, so save some space on the memory chip.
I did say I would write about the other side of diving, so one day we rode on elephants. Sorry, but this did not rock my boat so back to diving! Over the next few days we spread our diving out to take advantage of rest and play. We dived Koh Doc Mai - to some this is the ultimate dive, a wall dive, full of the unexpected, but you have to search for them, and sometimes looking out to the blue, if you're lucky, whale sharks and dolphins can be seen.
For all you cold water divers in England that are braver than me you've got to try this place out. Gone is the bulky dry suit, or the 15mm wet suit. Gone is the hot mug of tea to warm you up. Gone is the bacon butty... and forget about the uncomfortable rig you have to balance your bum on! Now in comes a gorgeous dive boat, boat boys to pamper your every need, toilets, sometimes two, showers, ice cool soft drinks - OK a cup of tea if you must - fresh picked fruit, loads of space to move, maybe sunbathe, have a sleep, breakfast, lunch, evening meal, or after the last dive have a chilled beer or two on the way home whilst watching the sun set. Well, what are you waiting for? I'll see you there!
OK, some more non diving issues. Having grabbed a taxi we went to visit the Phuket Big Buddha. This overlooks Chalong Harbour and is a must to visit. The scale is absolutely mind blowing - its huge and can be seen a long way out to sea. This is still under construction and you can donate towards it by purchasing the right to write your name on one of the tiles yet to placed onto it. Just outside Chalong on the way back to Kata we dropped off at the Shooting Range. Here you can fire a host of weapons for as long as you can afford! Next to this is the Go-kart track, and just up the road the famous Green Man English pub, all worthy of a visit.
The hotels, guesthouses and bungalows are a fraction of the price here in the UK so expect a lot more for your money. Private dive guides for the whole day are less than a night out for most of you, and the guide can be shared by the group. Meals - well you must try the roadside ones, for a couple of quid you can feed yourself stupid!
The shopping, if this rocks your boat, should only be attempted by those who like it. On all accounts do not let your partner force you into this. Shopping can be very dangerous and it makes keen divers fall asleep or get bored so it should only be attempted by the very hardy. I gave it ten minutes of my holiday, and that should suffice most divers. If you must shop for dive equipment, tell your guide, Iain, to do it for you and he'll send the missus (Oui) out, saving you time to do another dive. Now that's hospitality!
OK, so what's for me this year? Well after over 200+ dives at long last I am going for my PADI Rescue Diver in Phuket. Why? Well it's not just about diving is it? We all know how confident we are in getting ourselves out of trouble but sometimes we need help, and if every diver takes this course the whole diving scenario will be a lot safer. So at my ripe old age of 56, well nearly 57, here goes. Visit this site again next year and read my story about it.
To find out more about Sharkey Scuba, read the customer reports in Trip Advisor. Don't just take my word for it. Sharkey Scuba is a truly great dive company!
N.B. Photos by Nigel Pirie. All photos in this article were taken during Nigel's trip.