Under the Sea
I took the 1030 bus to Phuket and arrived at the Phuket City bus station somewhere around 4. I fended off the irritating taxi drivers and set out in search of a place to stay. I gave some thought to finding a real luxury resort, but decided to save the money for scubering.
I first stopped at the On-On Hotel, which was recommended as a great bargain by my guidebook. I checked out the rooms and they didn’t seem all that much of an improvement over Ranong, so I passed. Tired and footsore (damned Chacos!!) I happened upon the Nana Chart Mansion, by some miracle of navigation. It was an ultra clean western-style hotel. I took a $6.25 room and boy did it FEEL like a luxury resort compared to the $2 dive in Ranong.
I took a shower (still cold water, but at least with some water pressure) and felt completely revitalized. With more energy and different shoes I set out to rustle up some grub. Now Phuket is a tropical playground… and a black hole for your wallet… and though Phuket City is away from the beach its no exception. Restaurants abound, but it took me over an hour to find what I was looking for. And the longer I walked, the more I began determined to have one hell of a steak and a really fancy restaurant. I succeeded. $25 to Salvatore’s for bruschetta, spaghetti and best of all STEAK! This dinner (and the cool Italian restaurant setting).. made me so inordinately happy that I didn’t care that $25 is a day’s budget.
The next day I just hung around Phuket City, but most importantly I didn’t have to eat any rice. :0 Actually, most importantly I found a tour agency where I could compromise my wish to go dive on the Similan Islands w/o having to spend $400 for a typical 4 day cruise. Instead I opted for the 2 day, $200 option. To hell with the budget. The next morning I was picked up before the crack of dawn at 6am. We then drove around for 2 more hours slowly winding our way to the pier and picking up other passengers from their luxury hotels. So what if they have hot water? I’m not jealous. At the pier they stuck stickers to our chests and put us on a speed boat for the Similan Islands National Marine Park. The Similans are a group of 9 beautiful, untouched, tropical islands and are one of the world’s best diving destinations, and I would soon see why.
From the speedboat they transferred a few of us to a liveaboard boat for our first 2 dives. Later we’d move again to a bigger, newer, nicer boat to spend the night. The first dive was awesome… the viz here was so crystal clear even down to 30m below, it was like we weren’t even underwater. The fish and corals were so brilliantly colored and I saw my first SHARK!!! I had to fight down my Hollywood-instilled paranoia, but after that it was quite cool. After the dive, and in keeping with the dive-eat, dive-eat schedule, we had lunch. Surprisingly good Thai food. In spite of the rice I was quite pleased with all the food on this trip. They obviously recognized the need to make the food more farang-friendly by leaving out those extra chillies. The second dive was not nearly as exciting as the divemaster thought it would be cool to lead us out into mid-water above sand… well away from the corals and the fishes. I don’t know what he was thinking. Afterwards, I chatted with the other divers until the speedboat came to pick up the day-trippers. That left Simon and me to eat the afternoon snack by ourselves. Mwhaha.
Eventually a rubber dinghy came to pick us up and transfer us over to the bigger boat. Gilly gave us the run down and admonished us not to be like some of the dumb schmucks who come through and break off pieces of coral and try to pocket living conchs. Then Chris played some tunes on his guitar to while away the time until my night dive. is repertoire was great… lots of classic rock tunes that I have missed hearing. Thai pop just doesn’t do it for me. Anyway, that evening’s night dive was great. I was able to see so much more than I ever could on my Koh Tao night dives. We found 2 lobsters!! But, National Park regs said I couldn’t eat them. Blast. Then of couse, we had dinner… After dinner, they put on Lord of the Rings 3, but that was torturous enough the first time and there was no way I was going to sit through it again, so I went to my cabin to write in my diary and try to get some sleep.
Sleep proved somewhat elusive… as the cabin bunks were quite narrow. No rolling over, but at least I fit in them ok, lengthwise. As a 6’6″ Aussie, Simon didn’t fit into his. I woke up at 615 and since I had to be up at 645 to get ready for the 7am dive, I decided against trying to go back to sleep and instead headed for the sun deck to watch the sun rise. We were anchored in a less than perfect place, but the sun rising over Similan Island was nonetheless awesome. Standing on the deck, sea breeze in your face and the sun coming up over the horizon…. these are the type of things that just make you glad to be alive and where you are. The morning dive was then equally awesome. We saw FIVE leopard SHARKS!! I’m sure there were other beautiful fishes around too, but none of us could remember them since we were all so excited about the sharks. Our divemaster kept trying to get them to swim by dangling a weight in the sand in front of them (since they were sleeping on the bottom) and all I could think was, “dude! they’re sharks! lets not go pissing them off!”
The second dive was cool, but difficult to recall since the first dive was still so fresh in our heads and b/c the 3rd dive of the day was awesome too. We were worried about going too deep again (decompression sickness), so after checking out my first wreck, my buddy and I floated along at about 15m to be on the safe side. No one needs nitrogen bubbles in the blood stream. A quick shower and Sharon, Anya and myself were reluctantly deposited back on the speedboat and whisked back to land. None of us wanted to leave. I took a good 4.5 hours for me to get back to the Nana Chart. I didn’t have decompression sickness, but I damned sure was hungry! I hunted around and stopped at the first place I found… a Chinese seafood place. I ordered steamed shrimp in garlic oil. They were good, but there was only 3 of them!!! Like a big viking can be satisfied with 3 shrimps!? Yeah right. So I headed over to Swensons where “everyday is sundae” and had a chocolate sundae. That really hit the spot.
By Helga – Jan, 2004
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