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Phuket, Thailand

by Tony Aylmer

Reproduced from in focus 15 (April 1986)

Thailand

I last visited Thailand in 1980, and whilst its seldom a wise practice to revisit after an indecent interval, I had many happy memories and felt the risk was worthwhile.

The joyful perusal of countless brochures, and helpful advice from our local travel agent, revealed that only 'Beachcomber' alias 'Speedbird' were able to tailor a sensible package deal which included staying at the Phuket Island Resort Hotel.

Members should understand that the air fare to Thailand is highly competitive and, at bucket shop prices, is around the same as the cost of going to Florida. The actual cost is around £0.05p per mile, It is fourteen hours flying time, but it is an encouraging thought that the overall cost of living is a good deal cheaper than Florida. There are other pluses. Thailand has, in my opinion, a great deal more going for it than most of the Far East, and at the right time of year, the certainty of good weather.

The service in most of the better hotels is outstanding. They really enjoy making your stay a happy one. Not without reason is Thailand known as the *Land of Smiles'. Where else would you find a young almond eyed, beautifully dressed, smiling girl, pouring out chilled beer, whilst kneeling beside your chair?

There are two tourist centres with diving establishments in Thailand, at least two well known ones, Pattaya and Phuket. Pattaya is a two hour bus ride from Bangkok, whilst Phuket, lying almost in Malaysia, is one hour flying time from Bangkok. You can bus it, but its a twelve hour trip.

Pattaya is not for everyone. Its a popular watering hole, and whilst the diving can be excellent, crowded beaches, particularly at weekends, can have their disadvantages. Phuket on the other hand, has some truly outstanding beaches. There are half a dozen three to four star hotels on the island, but tourism, other than in Phuket town, is not obtrusive, It also has some excellent diving.

There are diving operators working from Patong Beach, a tourist honeypot, and live-on-board cruises are organised by 'Fantasea Divers'. There is a PADI training facility 'Submarine Divers' working out of Kata, Karon Beach, who advertise daily diving trips and 4~7 day tours to the famous Similan Islands, However, from previous experience, I chose to remain faithful to the Poseidon Nemrod Diving Centre at the Phuket Island Resort Hotel where I stayed.

The diving is run by Klaus and Marita Orlik. They ran the Benidorm operation during our summer, and from November to the following April the dive school in Phuket. Both Klaus and Marita speak good English, are superb guides, and above all, are keen and sympathetic photographers. Apart from their very considerable diving experience, they are backed up by two dive boats, the smaller being approximately 12m long, and four compressors, together with some thirty sets of hire equipment. You would be wise to take your own DV and ABLJ, and protective clothing against the coral.

The waters immediately around Phuket are green, and the diving norm is to motor to one of the many offshore islands and dive in the blue water. The Orlik's run two-day trips to Phi Phi Island, where apart from some splendid diving, you can visit a cave from which is culled the ingredients of bird's nest soup. If you were ever tempted to try this Chinese delicacy, a trip to this cave will most certainly reorientate your views. The Similan Islands are also superb. They are unihabited and infrequently visited, other than by fishermen and divers. Its a nine hour sailing, usually departing after dinner and returning two days later.

The daily trips are all-day, two-dive trips, There are numerous dive sites off the larger islands of Raja Noi and Raja Jai in the south, and to the east the virtual sea mounts of Bin Hmusang and Doc Mai provide many rolls of suitable film subjects. The water visibility varies (doesn't it everywhere?) from 5 metres after a week's blow, to 50 metres two days later. My 'subjects' varied from a lovely three metre fan coral to a pic of three mature crayfish occupying the same rock ledge. Shark are frequently seen, but seldom when one is armed with the correct lens to photograph them.

A good deal of motoring is required to reach the better sites, but this is not reflected in the costs. If you are on holiday with diving as your main purpose, the time taken becomes a pleasure and not a nuisance. Plenty of trips are organised for non-divers by the major hotels, cars and motor cycles can be hired, and there are numerous taxis to take you to the restaurants at night. Phuket is notorious for its seafood, You will need a visa if staying more than 15 days. Credit cards are accepted In most places. The voltage is 220V.

If you are not too impoverished, or support the view that you can't take it with you, I heartily recommend you give Phuket a try.


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