Thailand - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 268 (78)

Khao Lak

Wednesday 1st December

Strangely, for me at least, I fell asleep before eight o’clock yesterday evening and we both managed to remain in deep slumber right the way through to around eight this morning. I guess we must have been a lot more tired than either of us realised. Either way, we awoke this morning refreshed and raring to go.

If I had to mark this hotel down for anything, it would be the lame breakfast that is included in the price of the room. Instead of the previous buffet style breakfast, this time it was a-la-cart but otherwise still the same offering. One of my pet peeves is freezing cold and thus rock solid butter that is often served at restaurants with bread or toast. Just why they can’t take a few of those little packets of butter out of the fridge each morning so that it’s nice and malleable for their patrons is quite beyond me.

Before heading over to the dive centre this morning, we popped into the local supermarket up the road to get some provisions for my lunch. Lunch is actually included in the cost of the dive excursion but nothing they had on their very limited menu seemed like it was going to agree with me so I thought it best to not take the risk and just take something along instead. I bought a packet of crisps, a half a loaf of sliced bread, some packaged sliced ham and some small packets of butter from one of the refrigerators, which would no doubt be perfectly spreadable by lunchtime.

The supermarket is where I said goodbye to Sandy, who had a full day of relaxing to look forward to whilst I explored the first of two wrecks we had planned for the next couple of days. Including myself and two dive masters, there were just nine divers on our dive run this morning to the wreck at Thai Muang. I made sure to point out that I was taking an underwater camera and that I would be going quite slowly. Fortunately, one of the dive masters is a big fan of Nudibranches (a sort of small and often very colourful sea slug of which there are literally hundreds of different varieties) and he was happy to take myself and a couple of other slow divers with him to explore the wreck in slow motion.

Once everybody was assembled and all the gear was organised, we boarded our converted pick-up truck taxi for the fifteen-minute ride over to the dock where a large long-tail boat was waiting to take us out into the open waters. We’ve seen many of these long-tail boats moving around the waters off Thailand’s two beautiful coastlines but this was the first time that I’d been on one. Our boat today was quite a large one and was very stable in the water but I was still quite annoyed with myself when we arrived at the dock only to realise that I had forgotten to take a seasickness tablet. To make matters worse, Sandy had emptied the day-pack that I brought with me to make room for the camera equipment and my lunch pack and so my reserve stash of tablets was also no longer there. With the memories of being so violently ill with nausea and vomiting at Sodwana Bay in South Africa and Pompano Beach in Florida now etched permanently into my psyche, I was seriously contemplating aborting the trip on the boat this morning. Fortunately, Sea Dragon never leave the dive centre without an extremely well stocked medical kit and so when I told my dive master of my dilemma, he was able to give me seasick tablet from their stash. It was a different kind of seasick tablet to the ones that we know and trust so I was still a little anxious about just how well it was going to work. With little choice other than to abort the entire trip, however, I took the tablet and hoped for the best.

Once the gear and all the divers were loaded, one of the two dive masters took a head count and we were off. The water was relatively calm but the huge V6 engine mounted on the end of the propeller arm made an enormous racket such that we could barely hear each other talk. The Thai’s like it this way. Apparently, noise scares away the evil spirits so the more noise the better. My group’s dive master and I were the only non-German speakers on the boat with the rest all coming from Austria, Switzerland or Germany. The trip out to the wreck site, just a Kilometre or so from shore a bit farther south, lasted all of a half hour or so. We were the only boat there when we arrived and were lucky to be joined shortly thereafter by just one other boat, which only had three divers aboard. Some of the dive sites here in Thailand are so popular that they are swarming with dive boats and this can make some of the dive sites seem quite crowded at times.

The Thai Muang wreck is just a few years old. All wrecks attract an abundance of marine life, which is what makes them so appealing to divers to begin with, and this one is no exception but the wreck is too young to sport a great deal of corals just yet. The wreck that we will be diving at tomorrow is a much older and more established one and will have a lot more corals – but probably also a lot more divers churning up the poor visibility too. The visibility here was very clear down to about ten meters but started to get a bit murkier down to its ultimate depth of about twenty-two meters. It was like swimming through fish soup at times with dozens of schools of fish moving around the wreck. Not only was there an abundance of all the regulars in these waters such as lionfish, scorpion fish, puffer fish and so on, but there were also plenty of leopard sharks moving around too. I counted at least four on the first dive alone and managed to even touch one as it gracefully glided past me. Several of the lionfish were swimming around in the open and even though I maintained a respectable and safe distance from their lethal spines, I managed to zoom in enough to get some truly spectacular close-ups of several of them. All in all, I was extremely pleased with the dive from a photography perspective. During the mandatory hour and a half surface interval back on the boat, I made up my own sandwiches. I was glad to have chosen this option, as it seemed like nobody else on the boat actually got what he or she had ordered.

The three other divers on the one other long-tail kept their surface interval between their first and second dive to just one hour. Neither of the two dive masters on our boat felt this was a good idea. There are two main safety concerns with diving. One is the availability of air to breath whilst under water and the other is the amount of nitrogen your body absorbs when under pressure. There are very strict procedures that we adhere to to ensure that we don’t run out of air and drown, such as signalling to the dive master when we reach a certain level of air remaining in our tanks so that he or she can decide when it is time to terminate the dive. This is straightforward enough but dealing with the other main concern of excess nitrogen in our bodies is a little more complex. With too much nitrogen in your system, your body can experience decompression sickness when surfacing – the benz. When your body decompresses too quickly, the nitrogen in your system forms bubbles and these bubbles can get into your blood and joins, which in turn causes severe cramps and pain. The only cure for this is to place your body back under pressure and this means an evacuation to the closest decompression chamber. Once your body is slowly relieved of the pressure of being under water, the nitrogen in your system slowly escapes naturally over time and this is why it is critically important to have a sufficiently long enough surface interval between dives. Diving too deep, too frequently or without allowing enough time between dives can lead to a dangerous build-up of excess nitrogen. We are certified under PADI as Advanced Open Water divers. As Such, all our dives are carried out within what’s called the ‘no decompression limits’. In other words, our dives are carried out in such a way that we should always be able to make an emergency ascent to the surface without the need to stop for decompression to allow excess nitrogen in our bodies to escape. We stay within the no decompression limits by not diving too deep for too long and by maintaining sufficient surface intervals between dives. Exceeding these no decompression limits would mean that we would need to ascend to a certain depth and then stay there for a while to allow the nitrogen to slowly escape from our bodies – otherwise, we risk getting ‘bent’.

The second dive was more of the same and certainly no less spectacular. The visibility was a little worse than the first dive but this was mostly due to the silt being churned up by ourselves on the first dive. I was a bit better with my air consumption by the second dive and managed a respectable forty-one minutes of bottom time. For some reason, however, I kept having problems with my mask flooding and it wasn’t until I was back on the boat again that I remembered that I hadn’t shaved off my moustache recently and it was now starting to get quite long again. I must not forget to trim it this evening.

With the head count complete and everyone buzzing with tales of what they saw, our boat driver fired up the noisy V6 and we set off back to the dock. Back at base, I watched a DVD compilation of underwater videography that is often on display in the dive centre and undertook to take one of these DVDs away with us when the time comes to leave. They are charging just 1,500B (€28,85) for a compilation of the videographers very best footage from around the Similan Islands over the past year.

During the ride back, my dive master was telling me of another dive sight not far from where we dived the Thai Muang wreck today. There is a local reef here near Khao Lak which plays host to a wide variety of Nudibranches. The fact that it is in less than ten metre deep water means that the standard tank of air will last a whole lot longer (you use more air the deeper you go) with the added bonus of there being very much more light which, in turn, is great news for the photography. Even though it is another 1,800B (€34,61) per person, we still have another free day to play with before our live-aboard commences so I signed us up for this excursion too. Being a Nudibranch enthusiast, my dive master was also glad for the opportunity to dive this site and I may even allow him to play with the underwater camera for a while too.

I collected Sandy back at the hotel and we set off in search of a large steak dinner. We found it at the same place we ate at yesterday and enjoyed the most wonderful spread of meat and potatoes with a banana split for desert. We’re still very much in the ‘damn the expense’ frame of mind and so I barely paid attention to the 1,140B (€21,93) bill. After dinner, we wandered around the markets of Khao Lak and it suddenly hit us that we have thus far not picked up anything by means of a souvenir to help us remember our time here in Thailand. To set this straight, we picked up a few things that took our fancy. Along with the things we picked up in Cambodia, we are now well and truly in need of sending another parcel back home again.