Jane and I arrived at Baan Suay Guesthouse, Karon Beach , Phuket, a few days before Christmas 2008, on the first leg of our Thailand adventure. We were eager to dive in Thailand having been encouraged by the dive tales of our good friend Max, known from our dive club back home in England . Ever since Max left the cold shores of the UK to embark on his new career as a dive instructor in Thailand, he has periodically bombarded us with emails enthusing about the marine life, the people, his adventures and Singha beer (not necessarily in that order).
Baan Suay guesthouse Karon had been recommended by both Max and Iain (of Sharkey Scuba), who also arranged the reservations, and fulfilled everything that was promised. Immediately we were made to feel at home by Daniel and Supporn, and loved the relaxed atmosphere and friendliness of everyone. This, we were to find, would be a recurrent theme throughout Thailand. Iain visited us in the evening to "meet and greet" and to confirm arrangements for our Similans liveaboard trip commencing the following day.
Our five day/four night trip to the Similan islands (arranged by Sharkey) was to be aboard the French-owned Le Mahe, a boat with great "character" we were pleased to discover. After a two hour transfer from Karon to port, Le Mahe set off for the Similan Islands, with offerings for the gods of garlands and food placed at the bow as well as the lighting of a string of firecrackers.
Our crew of Thais, three French dive guides and an assortment of other nationalities within the "guest list", made for a real multi-national trip - nine nationalities in total! We all got on very well and mused that if the whole world dived together it would be a much better place. One benefit from our point of view was that the common language was English, a good thing as our Korean, Japanese, etc are not up to much!
We had four days of superb diving, the pinnacle, literally, being Richelieu Rock, a truly stunning dive site. I have dived in many parts of the world and seen much of the marine life on my "must see" list, except a whale shark. Yes, for the third time in my life I missed one by a few minutes! Max, who had been there the previous day, had had two sightings (possibly the same whale shark) on two separate dives.
During this short trip, although our photography skills did not improve, our logs note a huge variety of marine life, including healthy hard and soft corals, anemones, huge sea fans, stone and scorpion fish, several species of groupers, surgeon and butterfly fish, wrasse, snapper, puffer, box and banner, tang, angel, pipe and needlefish - to name but a few. Larger pelagic life was less visible, but we had many sightings of dog-toothed tuna and trevallies. In addition, we were treated to the spectacle of seeing one huge black barracuda having its parasites plucked delicately (and probably cautiously!) from its wide open jaws, at a cleaning station. At some sites there was evidence of damage to hard coral; suggested reasons included dynamite fishing (marine reserves have now been instated) or the result of the tsunami. However, these are certainly not an excuse to give the islands a miss.
We concluded that Le Mahe was a good choice: reasonably priced yet providing excellent food and guides, and being tolerably comfortable, my only gripe being the noisy generator which we were soon too tired to notice much anyway. (Editor's note: the generator is generally switched off at night now and the engine room has just had sound-proofing padding added). Usually I would bring my own equipment but on this occasion, due to plans to travel inland and north later, we decided to hire kit from Sharkey Scuba. This was a good decision as the kit was excellent (nearly new) and didn't punch a hole in our budget.
We returned to Baan Suay on Christmas Eve, having thoroughly enjoyed the trip. It wasn't to end here though! Again Iain popped round, this time with Max, for the obligatory Singha and de-brief, and also to confirm arrangements for the next day, Christmas Day, which proved to be a Sharkey Scuba jamboree.
Many of Oui's (Oui being Iain's delightful wife) extended family and other "guests" would be diving Siam and Bungalow Bay at the local island of Racha Yai from a day boat out of Chalong, returning in the afternoon. Jane's particular highlight of these relatively shallow, easy dives was being encircled by a large shoal of small barracuda. Scorpion, lion and goat fish, a snake eel, spotted ray, mantis shrimps, nudibranchs and even some underwater elephant(!) sculptures kept her snapping. Still not happy with the results, she decided to resort to landscapes for a while. Later we would all reconvene with the rest of the Sharkey visitors for a "Thai" Christmas dinner. This was a wonderful day, quite different but all the more memorable for it.
Our final dive trip was to Anemone Reef and Shark Point in Phuket. As promised these were two excellent dives, aptly named. The visibility was significantly less than the Similan Islands but still better than we are used to at home - but unfortunately no sharks! We left for Chiang Mai the following day, having enjoyed ourselves so much that we even considered returning for a quick dip after our inland adventures.
Thank you to Iain, Oui and Max for making our stay so enjoyable and including us in your Christmas celebrations. We hope to return soon!