Adventures with Miss Scuba throughout Asia - Part 3: Thailand
One month journey through Asia with destination Similan Islands. Start our trip in Hong Kong, where East meet West to ease into our Vietnam and Thailand trecking and diving trip spiced up with local markets, cooking classes, temple visits and massages.
Ten Years Worth of Changes in Thailand's Andaman Sea
The hot and humid weather of Thailand instantly cured my horrible cough I acquired in Vietnam. I loved the climate. We started our journey in Thailand at the North, in Chiang Mai, heading down to Phuket through Bangkok, where we were to meet our friends and board a liveaboard to the Similans.
Unfortunately Chiang Mai proved even more touristy than I expected, but it was still amazing to visit Buddhist temples in the jungle. We rode elephants and visited a tiger farm where they keep the last few still alive to protect them. I wanted to visit the big cats, but once we were in the cage with them I got scared and hid behind the camera, letting Hilaire pet them as I was taking pictures.
One of the craziest and most surreal thing I tried: Fish Spa. You sit on a cushioned pad and hang your feet in warm water and enjoy Dr. Fish work on your calluses. The authentic Garra Rufa fish are known for their healing. The fish gently nibble the skin to stimulate, rejuvenate and improve the overall health of your skin through natural exfoliation. I could not sit still as I am super ticklish, but most everybody in our group loved it.
In Bangkok we met our travel companions and jumped right into sight seeing. It wasn't easy to secure taxi drivers who did not want to rip us off. As in many other places, the best practice is either to agree on a price or have the taxi driver turn on the meter prior to getting into the vehicle. We were dropped off at the ferry station instead of the destination we agreed, the Palace, because apparently the yellow shirt group was demonstrating and was enormous traffic.
Once we arrived to the Grand Palace a guard informed us that the palace was closed for the next three hours and arranged us tuk tuks to visit three Buddha sculptures in the meanwhile. Of course we believed him and took off on another spontaneous adventure. After the standing Buddha we were headed to the sitting Buddha, but on the way the driver stopped at a jewelry store, a tailor and another jewelry store. In the last tailor shop he said we have to stay in for 10 minutes and look through the catalogs, because they give him money for gas. After the forth shop we refused to visit more and made sure that our next stop was the famous 150 yard long reclining Buddha at the Wat Po.
We lunched nearby the ferry dock. Everybody proved open minded to eat “street food” and luckily nobody got sick. We indulged in chicken pad thai, crab dumplings, beef stews and sipped cold Singha beer while watched people hassle in the heat.
One night we met up with a friend of mine who lives in Bangkok now with his Thai wife. We used to teach scuba in England together many moons ago. Gwynn gave us the lowdown on how in Thailand people copy everything you can think of. The fact that you can buy Cartier watch and Chanel bags did not surprise me, but that he bought a brake for his car that was a copy (and did not work while trying to stop on a hill down) did.
I booked a gourmet Thai cooking class at the Blue Elephant for our group. Our funny and charming chef demonstrated and explained step by step the Thai dishes we prepared. Each student had their own space and wok to prepare the five course meal we ate afterwards in the restaurant. We experienced the culinary techniques of Thai cuisine and cooked spring rolls, spicey massaman, put a papaya and crab salad together and completed our menu with a custard. I was full after the spring rolls.
Next stop: Phuket. Even ten years ago I did not care for the place. Now I grew to despise it. Patong is dirty and full of 60 year old guys with barely 20 year old Thai girls or katoys (lady boys). Each bar have go-go dancers standing on the tables next to a pole, but I would rather call them go-go standers as there was not much dancing involved. Hilaire described the place as “Hell on Earth” and I had to agree with him. We only stayed there because our boat to the Similan Islands was departing from the South of Thailand.
Finally, after three weeks of travel we arrived to the highly anticipated dive portion.
I used to live in Thailand teaching scuba for two years just after the Millennium. I loved diving the Andaman Sea. The warm water was filled with schools of colorful reef fish. Leopard sharks, turtles and octopus were almost guaranteed to swim by on every dive. The place I heard was even more spectacular is the far away Similan Islands National Park. I always wanted to scuba there but during my two years in Thailand did not get a chance, so my anticipation was understandable.
The dives were somewhat disappointing. I was not expecting the lack of sea life even despite of the Tsunami and the recent coral bleach. During our 14 dives I did not see any sharks, cuttle fish, whaleshark or octopus. We only encountered a turtle once as we were swimming back to our boat after a dive. I always thought that this national park is so much prettier than the waters around Phi Phi, but it was not. We even heard a dynamite bomb exploding in nearby Burma during one submersion.
On one dive we witnessed a group of divers relocating 100 sea horses that they purchased at a market in Bangkok where one can buy any living sea creature they desire. Fishing provides 40% of Thailand’s GDP, while diving “only” contributes to less than 1%, so I do not see a dramatic change in the near future when it comes to protecting and preserving the underwater life in most Asian countries.
The purple, pink and red hydro corals were still breath-takingly beautiful and most dive sites are covered with them. We saw a few manta rays in Koh Bon on one dive, but had to share it with another 200 divers in the water. Even though our dive guide made us wake up every morning at 6am to avoid the crowds it was impossible not to bump into divers from the other boats. Especially at Richelieu Rock.
Diving in Thailand started to remind me diving in Malta’s Mediterranean Sea where if you want to see a fish, you better go to the weekend market!
Our dive boat the Pawara was a really comfortable and by Thailand standards even a luxurious vessel. All an all, I had a relaxing journey. Finally had time to catch up on books and stargazed with friends at nights from the top deck or watched movies and drunk Sang Som.
Will I return to Thailand again? I used to Call Thailand home. Now, it is not “same same” anymore. I want to keep the Thailand image I once loved in my mind.