We arrived in Phuket, Thailand, after nineteen hours of flying spread over three days and four airports. Though Ann grew up across the Halong Bay from Vietnam, this is the first visit to Southeast Asia proper for both of us, and we were welcomed by the unmistakable heat and humidity of the sub-tropics. It’s 2am but we were not quite finished traveling yet. At the airport exit we scanned for someone holding up a sign for our names, and after a nail-biting hour, our anxiety growing as waves of travelers arrived and left, finally espied our driver. We hopped on and sped towards our bungalow in Khao Lak.

We were here to embark upon a three-day liveaboard trip with Wicked Diving. October being the low season, there seemed to be more dive outfits in town than there were people, and Wicked, a small company with a huge focus on “ecological responsibility,” came with enthusiastic endorsements from our friends as well as Tripadvisor. 

The schedule was ambitious, a total of nine dives over two and half days (3-4-2). Our divemaster briefed us on the naming conventions of the granite outcrops making up the Similan archipelago: a rock plus a tree makes an island, which are numbered 1 through 9 going from south to north.

We started our first full day early in the sheltered waters of Hide Away Bay between Island #5 and 6, and around seventy feet down we were met with a small school of Kuhl’s rays, their comically prominent eyes judging our graceless kicks. Checkout dive out of the way, the 5DM2 and GoPro are coming down with us! 

A few differences between here and Bonaire:

  1. It’s weird to see lionfish here basking in their rightful lairs, and no one with the urge to spearfish them.
  2. Trumpetfishes, those multicolored, funny looking regulars of the Caribbean, are a celebrated sight in the Andaman.
  3. The extent of coral bleaching here is palpable and painful to behold. Nevertheless there are species of baby corals flourishing in the rubbles of their predecessors.
  4. The profusion of fish! Oh god, so many fish that I’ve given up all hope of trying to identify them.

Highlights of the dive trip:

  • Unexpected sighting of manta sent everybody running amok. Snorkeling gears were donned, speedboat was launched. Here they call them flappy pandas.
  • Most of the Similan Islands were granite rocks (plus the requisite trees), but Koh Bon, which lies just north, is a sedimentary rock island. We thought we’d seen enough awesomeness, but this was just beyond spectacular.
  • Night dive was fun but a little scary. Chewie acquired a new scar face from a jellyfish attack (Ann got to laugh this time). And Ann got her octopus stuck in a staghorn coral and found herself entangled underwater for the first time. Tuck away your shit.
  • Dive briefings were awesome. Easily the most artistically inclined group of divemasters we’ve met.
  • The crew confiscated our shoes before boarding and returned them after the trip. For three days our feet were liberated. When’s the last time that’s happened?
  • Swimthroughs underneath boulders, being carried by strong currents. Tiring but very rewarding.
  • Thai food aboard! Hearty meals and snacks in between every dive. Captain’s wife turned out to be a great chef. Eat-dive-eat and repeat. I could get used to this.

The granite rockscapes are an incredible sight and quite fun to swim through:

There were also forests of corals, of all shapes and sizes:

We even witnessed some hunting action with a school of blue-fin trevallies and the occasional tuna:

And colorful nudibranches and christmastree worms and god knows what else lurks in the coral crannies.

We survived our first liveaboard, thanks to the intrepid divemasters Inge, Kui, Deaw, and others.

We spent our last off-gassing day wandering the streets of Khao Lak getting massages and eating more. Everywhere smelled of lemongrass. Love it!

Videos and more photos coming in Part II … later.

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