Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 248 (58)

Koh Lanta

Thursday 11th November

The early rise this morning put an abrupt end to the feeling of having once again arrived at a dreamlike paradise. I had the forethought to strip down and prepare all the underwater photography equipment last night before nodding off and so consequently, it didn’t take us long to get ready. We were told we were going to be collected by ten past seven and, sure enough, a pickup truck arrived at that time with a few hopeful divers already sitting on benches on either side of the bed of the truck. We picked up a few more on the way into town where we were dropped off at the same office we arrived at yesterday afternoon. I thought Crystal Divers on Koh Tao was great in that all we had to do was to carry our prepared bags of gear onto the boat but with this dive operator, we didn’t even have to do that. Indeed, other than strapping on the gear just before entering the water and removing it again after the dive, there is absolutely no interaction with the gear that we need to do – it’s all taken care of for us, including the switching of the BCDs and regulators after each dive. They even have a compressor on the boat to top up the tanks after each dive.

There were about eighteen divers on today’s excursion out to the islands offshore and we all sat through a dive video whilst the staff loaded the boat. It took two short truckloads to ferry all of us the hundred meters or so to the boat jetty, where we all boarded and tucked into the breakfast that was laid out for us on the upper deck. There was bread with a couple of toasters, cereals, fruit and tea & coffee – quite a nice breakfast I thought.

The waters were very calm and the boat took about an hour and a half to get to the dive site. On the way, we were given a briefing on the facilities of the boat and were introduced to our dive master, a very nice German woman as it happens who took exceeding good care of the two of us throughout the entire day.

We came here in search of clearer waters and, hopefully, better diving. We found both in abundance. I would say that the diving here is on a par with our experiences in the Red Sea in Egypt. Although we didn’t see the huge shoals of fish that we saw from time to time in the Red Sea, the visibility was excellent and the variety of marine life quite superb. Sandy did have problems submerging on the first dive and even after being given an extra three weights, she still had to dive with a small boulder in her hands to keep her from floating to the surface. She had a full-body wetsuit on and this, I think, contributed to her additional buoyancy.

I thought our dive was spectacular enough but it turns out that some of the other divers from our boat had not only seen a large octopus but two of them even saw the Holy Grail itself – a whale shark. I had a lot of fun with the Dutchman and his wife about the whale shark since they saw it, but we had the camera. It is apparently unusual to see a whale shark at this particular dive site but it’s already encouraging for us since they are much more common at the following dive sites we plan to visit over the next few days.

After the first dive, we removed our kit and had a cold lunch on the boat. The boat pulled into a shallow and secluded lagoon in between three of the small islands. Preferring much more to have a warm meal than a cold one, I spent much of the time snorkelling around the lagoon and I have to say that this was the best snorkelling I’ve yet done. The waters were not only clear but also teaming with all sorts of interesting things such as slugs, starfish, puffer fish, trumpet fish and needlefish to name but a few. I took the camera with me, but without the strobe this time, and was able to dive down a couple of meters from time to time to snap some really great shots. I was quite disappointed, in fact, to be called back to the boat so that we could move around to one side of one of the islands for our second dive of the day.

The second dive was no less spectacular than the first and, once again, we saw an abundance of new and interesting things. There is quite a high concentration of scorpion fish here. These are just about the most venomous creature lurking in the waters and are particularly well camouflaged so we have to be very much on our guard for these as we are swimming around. Our dive master took us first to a spot where a seahorse always hangs out but when we got there, there was a lionfish sitting there so I snapped a few shots of it thinking that the seahorse was not there after all. She later told us that the seahorse was there all along and was actually quite stunned that we failed to notice it. Unfortunately, none of the pictures I shot have the seahorse in the frame so we’ll just have to let that one go.

Our dive master is herself quite an accomplished underwater photographer and put me to shame when she pulled out a small selection of her photos. As luck would have it, she too has an Olympus camera similar to ours and was able to give us quite a few pointers. She showed us some features of the camera that would aid in our underwater photography efforts. She will bring her camera with her on the dive tomorrow and I will hook my strobe up to her camera housing whilst I experiment with photography without flash but with using the white balance adjustments to get the best colours and exposure. This will mean having to photograph mostly still subjects as opposed to trying to fly after moving fish all the time. I’m looking forward to digging farther into the fascinating world of underwater photography.

After two extremely successful dives, even if Sandy did initially have buoyancy problems and we never did see the whale shark, we dunked all our gear in the huge, freshwater dunk-tank on the back of the boat and the staff stripped everything down and cleared all the gear away into crates to be stowed until we arrived back at Koh Lanta. We sat and completed our logbooks and spent the remainder of the trip chatting with everyone else about what we saw, or didn’t as the case might have been.

Back at the dive resort, we sat through the already prepared DVD presentation of the entire day's worth of diving and I was totally amazed at all the things the videographer captured from the two dives. I asked her afterwards how much of the thirty minute presentation was taken from stock footage but was completely gob-smacked to learn that everything we saw on the DVD was from today’s dive. They are asking 2,500B (€48) for a completed DVD and if there is sufficient footage of the two of us over the course of the three days' worth of diving that we will be participating in whilst here, I may ask her to put together a custom presentation just for the two of us. I wouldn’t mind paying €48 from our thus far underused luxury budget for something like that.

After the presentation was complete and everybody clapped their appreciation, those of us going back to our resorts dotted around the island, were herded into the back of the truck again and off we went. The truck dropped people off in the reverse order to this morning and our first order of business after arriving back home was to quickly scan the day’s photos to see just how well they turned out. Of the two hundred and sixty photos we took between us today, about a quarter of those were deleted because of focus or exposure problems, another quarter were thrown away because they were simply boring or repeats and of those remaining, I would say we got about twenty or more really good shots, of which half are probably worth printing. All in all, this was a very good ratio of keepers to shots taken so I’m very pleased at the end of the day. I’m certainly looking forward to practicing some new underwater photography techniques tomorrow.

With two of our three, daily meals accounted for whilst on the boat, the only other expenses we have whilst we are here on the island are the nightly accommodation, any Internet time we accumulate and our main evening meal. This evening’s meal was by the beach again and I ventured tonight to try the fish. Today’s catch was Barracuda, which was very nice. Diving is tiring, it has to be said, and it wasn’t long after the magnificent sunset started to give way to the onset of the mosquitoes before we decided to call it a night, although not before I spent another couple of hours sitting on the Internet with the laptop. Tomorrow is another full day of diving for me (Sandy will remain here by the pool by the beach) so I really need to get some rest. I probably could have written double what I have about the diving today but there are only so many hours in a day and something has to give eventually. Today, I’ve elected to keep it short in favour of a good, long and peaceful sleep. I will dream of the whale shark and octopus I never saw.