Open Wide and Say "Ahhh"
I’ve written about my travels in Thailand previously, and shared some of the pictures from those journeys, but for me, the beautiful diving off the west coast of Thailand, in the Andaman Sea, never gets old.
I returned for my third visit to Thailand this past January, this time traveling with my twenty-something daughter. We shared the liveaboard boat we chose (The Junk) with a dozen other divers, who came from Australia, Germany, Austria, Scotland, the U.S., and Switzerland to enjoy the adventure. The three great dive guides were French, Portuguese and Thai, and when rounded out by us two Canadians, and the excellent Thai crew, it truly was an international gathering.
Thailand has a very robust dive tourism economy, and there are a lot of boats to choose from — both day boats out of Phuket, and liveaboard vessels — so there is truly something available for every budget. Getting to Phuket is quite simple from the west coast of North America. Flights to Phuket, with easy connections in many Asian hub cities, are the way to go.
The Andaman Sea has had its share of troubles: First the tsunamis in 2004, which significantly impacted some of the shallow coral gardens, and then a major coral bleaching event a few years later. I am happy to report that although there are still large patches of damaged corals in some locations, new corals, sponges and gorgonians are sprouting up to replace them, and there are still large swathes of reef that are in good condition.
The fish life this past January was as lively as I have ever seen it in Thailand — large, swirling schools of barracuda, snappers and fusiliers, on many dives, thrilled us all. Richelieu Rock still stands out as a "top ten" world class dive site for me — colorful cascades of soft corals, huge anemone gardens, regal hard coral structures, huge shoals of fish, and so many interesting critters living on and around this epic dive site.
Koh Bon is Thailand’s infamous "manta site," but I had been pretty much skunked there, with only one murky manta sighting in several dives on previous trips. On this trip, we apparently hit the manta jackpot, seeing several distinct individuals on the three dives we did at this location. One of them was the largest I have ever seen — easily 20 feet from wingtip to wingtip. These stealth bomber-like animals are so graceful and poetic — hanging in the blue for a total of several hours while watching them soar over, under, or beside us, was a trip highlight.
So what follows is a collection of wide angle scenes from the Andaman Sea. In a future installment, I’ll focus in on some of the smaller stuff that always makes choosing a lens a quandary when diving in places like Thailand.