Andaman Coast

Trip Start Aug 22, 2005
Trip End Jul 17, 2006

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

The past four months had seen me come a long way overland, and I was very much looking forward to reacquainting myself with the sea, and especially getting back into diving. What better way to do this than by treating myself to a four-day liveaboard cruise around the Similan and Surin islands in the Andaman Sea, renowned as being one of the best areas for diving in the world. The trip left from Khao Lak on Thailand's west coast, a town which was hit hard by the tsunami. On the busride into town I noticed a large police patrol boat run aground about 2km from the shore - I later learned that this was the furthest inland any nautical vessel had been carried by the tidal wave. The town was obviously still reeling from its effects, and the uncleared debris reminded me of what we had seen in Mamallapuram, India. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to talk to the locals about how they were coping as the boat left that same evening, but I heard some touching stories second-hand from others on the boat.

The "safari" itinerary was gruelling, cramming 14 dives into four days, but the "dive, eat, sleep" lifestyle was one which I could definitely get used to. The other guests on the boat were mostly divemasters and instructors, which meant that very few things went unspotted. Perhaps the only biggies we didn't see were whale sharks and manta rays, but my chance would come to see one of these phenomenal creatures later. Back in Khao Lak I took a minibus to Rai Leh, a peninsular of beaches close to Krabi with Andy, my dive buddy from the boat, and Zoe, a Cambridge theology finalist and diving instructor. Zoe and I stayed on Ton Sai beach, a hangout popular with climbers, and after sleeping off the nitrous effects of the liveaboard we got in on the climbing action ourselves. Zoe had already confessed to being a regular in the London rave scene (apparently lacking in Cambridge, would you believe?), and was suitably delighted to learn of an all-night rave taking place at one of the beach bars. She managed to persuade me to dance for hours to hard house and "psy-trance", despite not being a massive fan of the genre, and also took the opportunity to show off her skills with flaming poi learned during her time on Ko Tao.

After chatting with her about her diving career, and her hobby as an underwater videographer, I realised that what I wanted most at this point in my trip was to focus my energies on something I really love. So, I headed to Ko Lanta, a large island just off the west coast of Thailand, to do a course in Emergency First Response and qualify as a Rescue Diver. The course could best be described as "serious fun" - obviously you are training to cope with situations which you hope will never occur, but you might as well enjoy learning to do so. The culmination of the course was a two-dive daytrip out on a boat, during which I had to be prepared for any recue scenario to occur at any time. For example, about twenty minutes after finishing my lunch, Erik my instructor came staggering onto the sundeck looking bewildered and mumbling that he had lost his buddy. I had to initiate a surface search to look for bubbles, don my scuba gear and bring his unconscious buddy (one of the other instructors) to the surface and back to the boat, performing rescue breathing as I dragged him. Tiring work, but I came away from the course feeling much more confident that I could handle an emergency should one arise, and ready to progress to the next stage - a Divemaster internship.

I also did a couple of fun dives at Hin Daeng and Hin Muang pinnacles, sites which had been highly recommended by other divers on the liveaboard. Despite the 7 hour return trip from Ko Lanta, the diving rivalled that of the Similans, and at the end of the second dive we were investigated by a curious Manta Ray - the first one of the year - and an awesome sight at about 5m across. The Swedish guys at Kontiki dive shop were lots of fun, and we celebrated the day's sighting over some beers at the Opium Bar, which ended up turning into a Thai teenybopper rave. By the time I was ready to leave Ko Lanta, I realised that I had been there a week!
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