THAILAND GROUP TRIP
with Bluewater Travel and Eco Dive Center
WORDS AND PICTURES BY TIM YEO
Thailand is perhaps not the first destination that comes to mind for stunning underwater photography. Instead, atmospheric temples, delicious eats, balmy beaches, and young party-goers dancing by moonlight may come to mind when you think of the Southeast Asian nation. It’s true that Thailand is a coveted vacation destination for such enjoyments, but it is also renowned for world class scuba diving. The combination is hard to beat. From the beautiful soft coral gardens in Hin Muang to the mantas in Hin Daeng to the macro opportunities in Richelieu Rock, Thailand offers a little bit of everything for the underwater photographer.
Coral Gardens in Hin Muang Cockatoo Nudibranch in Richelieu Rock
The traditional Chinese Junk boat makes for unique topside pictures
This trip was a special 10-night charter to dive the best sites in the Andaman Sea. For 10 nights, we lived on an historic liveaboard boat named, The Junk. Built in 1961 in the traditional Chinese junk boat style, The Junk initially served as a cargo carrier. In 1974, the boat was made famous in the movie, The Man with the Golden Gun, starring Roger Moore as James Bond. The Junk is now one of the top liveaboards in Thailand.
This site was name “Chimneys” after the massive barrel sponges Morays out hunting at night
Large barrel sponges surrounded by soft and hard coral gardens Night dives provided an abundance of critters
After embarkation day (on Day 2) we performed our checkout dives at sites near Koh Phi Phi. The Cathedral was a highlight of the day. We entered a large 60-foot high cavern and surfaced inside an air pocket where we could take out our regs and breathe. We then headed to Koh Haa for a night dive, where many moray eels were out hunting for sustenance.
Large healthy soft coral at Hin Muang Lionfish are shot with cameras and not spears in the Andaman Sea
Day 3 saw us head down to Hin Daeng and Hin Muang. Hin Muang is a tall pinnacle completely covered in soft corals. At Hin Daeng, many of us managed to swim with large oceanic manta rays on multiple dives. At night, we gathered all the divers with UV lights and did a floro night dive.
Peacock mantis shrimp Banded coral shrimp
Inside the eye of an urchin A perfectly camouflaged broadhead flathead at Rachai Noi
On Day 4, we headed northwest to Racha Noi, which is right at the southern tip of the island of Phuket. The beautiful soft corals of the day before were replaced by large boulders with a plethora and variety of macro critters such as peacock mantis shrimps, octopi, and nudibranchs. We only completed 3 dives on Day 4, as we needed to make the long sail to the Similan Islands. For the last dive, we headed to Racha Yai where we dove a wreck that was intentionally sunk for divers.
A close encounter with a hawksbill turtle at Similan Islands Schools of barracuda were common
where there are multiple turtle sanctuaries
We hit the Similan islands on Day 5 of the trip. Similan is the Malay word for “nine” and the islands are so named because there are nine islands in the chain. We did two dives at Similan #3, moved up to Similan #5-6 and completed a night dive at Similan #7.
Night dives provided many opportunities to photograph shrimp A school of Moorish idol provide color to the reef
Day 5 was the only day that one of our dive groups saw a zebra shark—once a common sighting in the Similans. These beautiful sharks are many a photographer’s favorite subject not only because of the beautiful patterns on their bodies and their long tails, but also because they are often seen “sleeping” on the seabed. As a result, one could easily swim up to a zebra shark and take multiple photographs without it even flinching. Unfortunately, because of overfishing, these beautiful underwater creatures are now extremely rare and are only seen a few times a season. Sadly, the zebra shark we spotted was extremely skittish and kept swimming away from us.
We were able to swim with large schools of barracuda Banded sea snake
The common Blue Dragon Nudibranch Baby cuttlefish half the size of a grain of rice
We moved further north for the second day at the Similans (Day 6), which involved dives at Similan #7, 8, and 9. The Similans are renowned for some of the best diving in Thailand, and the islands definitely lived up to this reputation. There were big subjects like Napoleon wrasse, dogtooth tuna, and hawksbill turtles, as well as large schools of chevron barracuda. We were also treated to sightings of many critters like ribbon eels, nudibranchs, mantis shrimps, cockatoo waspfish, and winged pipefish.
Trevally were constantly hunting the schools of fusiliers Cuttlefish flashing their displays
Chevron barracuda cleaning station Tiger tail seahorse
We started Day 7 off by diving Similan #9 in the morning, then proceeded to head further north for a day of diving at Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. But the best dive of the trip was on Day 8 when we completed our first dive at Richelieu Rock. This site is arguably the most famous and popular diving destination in Thailand. We found out why on the morning of Day 8. With excellent visibility at over 80-feet, the pinnacle was covered in soft corals and anemones, and it supported an abundance of marine life. Large schools of fusiliers swam around the pinnacle in unison as trevally were in constant hunting mode. The barracuda seemingly watched the action. Preferring the safety of the reefs, we were treated to the unique abilities of cuttlefish and octopi to change their colors and texture. There were also seahorses, nudibranchs, and even a large Spanish dancer with a cleaner shrimp on its head.
Honeycomb moray Tiger tail seahorse
The same octopus’ camouflage on the reef and on the sand
With the conditions as they were at Richelieu, we decided to come back to Richelieu after an early morning dive at Surin. When we returned, there were a lot more people diving at Richelieu—but the site provided more marine life to satisfy the greater number of divers. The action on the rock was as hard and fast as the day before. As Day 9 wore on and the day boats thankfully returned to port, our cruise director decided to stay for a sunset dive at Richelieu—something he had not done for many seasons. It was such a pleasure to see the nighttime creatures appear at Richelieu.
Having fun raising the sails the traditional way
As the trip drew to an end, we had to start making our way back to our disembarkation port in Khao Lak. For the last day of diving, we headed back down to Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. We completed our last dive (dive #34 of the trip) in Koh Bon. We then helped the crew raise the sails for our journey back to port. The breeze was strong and we clocked a good 3 knots. When the crew invited us to “abandon ship,” more than half of us took the opportunity to jump off the boat into the warm Thai waters. As the sun set on the final day of a perfect dive vacation, we hopped into the dinghy and motored around The Junk for some absolutely stunning photo opportunities.
Jumping off the boat while underway
This Bluewater/Eco adventure was another incredible trip that involved catching up with old friends and making new dive buddies. We completed a total of 34 dives and three beach visits. The weather was wonderful and the boat provided numerous open spaces on deck to soak up the sun. The crew of The Junk were on top of their game. Our three guides were extremely experienced and cultivated a great rapport with their guests (*us). We were fed excellent Thai food three times a day and the icing on the cake was a chance to sail onboard a traditional Chinese junk boat made famous in a Bond movie. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience we shall not forget.
All-in-all it was an unforgettable trip filled with fun, friendly times and momentous memories.
HOW TO BOOK A TRIP TO Thailand
Bluewater Travel can book you on a liveaboard in Thailand for the same cost or less than booking any other way. We know the diving, liveaboards, cabins and when to go better than anyone else!
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