Author: Maximilian Hand - July 2008
I would like to prove to all you out there that diving around Phuket in low season (May to September) can be as good if not better than the high season. At the same time I would also like to dispel the myth that it rains non-stop during the low season. Sure we do get some heavy rain, we sometimes get strong winds and bigger waves, and it can cloud over causing our golden tans to fade. But we do also have days where we have no rain, no wind, and beautiful blazing sunshine. These latter days are more common than you would think. In diving terms we have very few days where we cannot go out at all. Let me tell you about one of those typical days in low season.
I got up early on 23rd July and drove my motorbike to the local pier at Chalong. My day always kicks into life once I get to the top of Kata hill to reveal Chalong Bay below. Wow! What a view. I could see the brilliant blue Andaman Sea (my office) awaiting me. Not only that but sunshine filled the sky with not a cloud in sight, and no flickers in the trees to indicate wind. "Perfect", I thought. How right could one turn out to be.
Down at Chalong Pier, we greeted the customers and boarded our day trip boat. Leaving the marbled covered, forty five meter high Big Buddha statue sitting comfortably on the hill top behind us we headed over the flat seas to our first dive site, Koh Doc Mai. This limestone formation soars out of the water displaying wonderful colouration from the mineral deposits within the rock. This is my personal favourite dive site around Phuket and it is underwater that I love the best.
Jumping in the clear blue sea on the east side to make the most of the morning's light, we descended down the wall. We were treated to twenty five meters visibility with minimal currents so you could see the beautiful soft coral illuminating the wall as it cascaded down to the sandy bottom. Within the cracks, crevices and corals we saw nudibranchs (my favourites), Durban dancing shrimp, lionfish, scorpion fish, an array of moray eels, butterfly fish, wrasse and angel fish to name but a few. In the blue we saw schools of passing fusiliers and even squid and crocodile needlefish over head. With one hour complete, including safety stop we surfaced.
With the boat crew eagerly waving us in we were told about a whale shark sighting ten minutes away from the island. These are the moments divers dream of. The excitement quickly spread and infected customers and crew alike. Donning our snorkeling gear we prepared to jump in whilst giving a quick briefing about our strict "no touch" policy.
With everyone in the water we eagerly looked around. Then the whale shark appeared, rising from the depths into the aqua blue waters lit up by the penetrating sunlight. You cannot buy these moments and, yes, I was screaming like an excited school girl at a "Take That" concert. The whale shark was at least five meters long and was accompanied by a mass of rainbow runners, remoras and cobias. It gracefully swam through the water busily consuming vast amounts of plankton but also sparing some time for us when curiosity got the better of it. With everyone behaving as we had briefed the whale shark rewarded us with twenty minutes of life time memories, circling around and around.
On one occasion the whale shark came from under our boat and turned directly towards me! Looking on in awe I watched as it went by like a slow moving train. It was so close. I will never forget that truly amazing experience, stopping the video and watching closely as I literally had to do a "Matrix style" move backwards to avoid its tail fin from hitting me. "Thank you, Mr Anderson"
Back on board we thought that was it as we watched it majestically swimming off. Then we saw another boat with another whale shark. We were about to go and investigate when someone on our boat said "No need, there's another one over there!" Could this be really happening? After another exhilarating twenty minutes with another Whale shark we headed off to our next dive. We encountered a further two more within close proximity of each other. Incredible! Four whale shark sightings in one day. Does it get any better than this?!?!
With everyone buzzing about their whale shark experience, we arrived at the wreck and could see it clearly from the surface. Wow! It always offers so much in the way of huge schools of fish and the magical mystic that comes with wreck diving. Descending down the mooring line we could see at least twenty meters. The bow was covered in huge schools of yellow snapper, Forster's barracuda, and different types of fusiliers.
Today, though, we could see the schools of pick handle barracuda, dogtooth tuna, and rainbow runners out in the blue. Down around the port side we saw a mixture of nudibranchs, bearded scorpion fish, and a legion of lion fish. On the stern we got to the 3 exposed toilets to find a school of banner fish and a common porcupine fish all queuing patiently. I couldn't understand personally as only one toilet was occupied with a white-eyed moray! With our decompression time running low we came up the mooring line and made a longer than normal safety stop at five meters looking for anything big that may have caught up with us from earlier. OK, now we were being greedy but can you blame us? Besides, it's always good to off gas during the dive but maybe that is why the whale shark failed to return!
After filling up on a spectacular Thai style lunch and topping up the tan, we were ready for our last dive. No matter how many times I dive this site the profusion of colour in the coral always takes my breath away. Today the penetrating sunlight gave it even more of the "WOW" factor. Due to the current picking up we stayed on the first pinnacle. There were still heaps to see. I am particularly jealous of two western clown fish who have the "penthouse" of magnificent anemones. Overhead they have a view of twenty or more white-eyed morays feeding on hapless glass fish. Beyond that they can look at the swaying giant Gorgonian fans, pink and purple soft corals and other anemones. Leaving the moray "show" and saying our "Goodbyes" to "Nemo", we headed up the reef.
There we spotted two leopard sharks swimming around the reef at a depth of nine meters. They were not bothered by us in the slightest and just carried on casually swimming around and around. Once again, as with the whale sharks. their curiosity got the better of them and they too came in for a closer look, slowly, close and then veering off at the last second. They stayed with us on our safety stop and I swear I could see tears of sadness welling up in their eyes as these strange "bubble breathing creatures" went to the surface, or was that just me knowing that this was our last dive of the day.
Back on the boat and heading home we all chatted excitedly about the amazing days diving and adventures over a fine selection of fruit, coffee, and cakes. Iain would have loved today...especially the cake! So not wanting him to miss out I kindly texted him about the day, the whale sharks, the leopard sharks, the visibility, the sunshine, and yes, even about the cakes. Initially there was a stunned silence. I thought he had fainted, but then he asked me "what type of cake was it?" No, seriously, he was a little jealous having seen his last whale shark almost 7 years ago.
So as you can see a "typical day in the low season" can turn out to be one of the best you have ever had. Sure we do not see whale sharks in Phuket every day but they have been seen frequently in and around the Phuket area for two months now. However, you can experience the great visibility, heaps of schools of fish, stunning colourful corals, amazing almost diver free dive sites, very little wind with flat seas, and let's not forget the sunshine to top up that golden tan. So come on down and see for yourself. We'll be here to welcome you. You'll recognize Iain, Oui and myself. We're the ones with the golden tans, Sharkey t-shirts, and Iain is the one with cake around his mouth!
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