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Thailand diving

by Jack Jackson

Reproduced from in focus 32 (May, 1989)

Thailand

The recent introduction of direct international flights to Phuket Island is got to increase the popularity of Thailand as a destination for UK divers. Visas are not required for less than 15 days stay and English is widely spoken.

Local operators quote a diving season of mid-October until May, but in recent years the monsoon has dragged on into November and by April it is getting very hot, So December through until March is the best time. to go.

Several international diving operators work out of Patang beach and have modern diving equipment for hire. The diving around Phuket island is somewhat spoilt by the local tin mining industry; so live-aboard cruises to the Similan and Surin islands have more appeal to the serious; diver.

The Similan islands, 56 miles north west of Phuket. are usually reached overnight, taking around 11 hours cruising. There are 9 islands, uninhabited apart from occasional tourists, all having spectaclar reef formations and clean, empty white beaches, against a backdrorp of tropical rain forest,

Despite their Marine Park status, the Similans are heavily fished commercially. Many of the better open water dive site have large fiih traps in situ, which not only spoil the diving, but, as happened to us, can be very dangerous if you are diving on such a site when a large fishing vessel turns up and proceeds to cruise back and forth over you, trailing a large hook in the hopes of finding its fish trap.

The result of this fishing is that inshore pelagic fish are almost non existent, but the corals and smaller marine life, on which the larger fish would normally feed, are prolific.

The underwater scenery is granite cliffs, boulders and canyons littered with sea fans, soft corals, black corals, whip corals, hard corals, and brown, yellow and green featherstars. Visibility is generally good but strong currents often make photography difficult.

For underwater photographers and less energetic divers, the sheltered bays have good visibility, little current and prolific growth of stag corals sheltering smaller fish. plus a multitude of sea urchins and starfish with occasional sightings of turtles and sea snakes.

A further overnight cruise to the north, near to the Burmese border, lie the Surin islands; even more heavily fished commercially, despite being a Marine Park, The Surin islands are very similar to the Similan islands above and below water, but less visited by dive boats. Thev have the added attraction of a colony of Sea Gypsies (a dark skinned fishing race, related to the Andaman Islanders far to the west).

Thailand diving is not in the same class as the Red Sea. but prices are falling fast. The Thai people are outstandingly friendly and enjoy giving good service. Food, beer and quality hotels are cheap. You get that unmistakable taste of the Orient. Bangkok, the world's capital of cheap fake designer fashion, is only one hour's flight away, if you wish to treat the love in your life. If you like to combine your diving holiday with above water attractions, Thailand is now a cheaper alternative to the Caribbean.

Footnote

I elected to use the South East Asia Yacht Charter Co Ltd, and its trimaran 'Wanderlust', because it was English and Australian managed. In the event this turned out to be a mistake. Before departure I was promised: long and short wave radio, radar, satellite navigation, depth sounder, Nagrafax weather printout, autopilot, television, video and stereo system. luxury cabins, two compressors, Honda generator for battery charging and plenty of freshwater for washing cameras. Of these only one compressor, the radar, depth sounder and the Captain's own 'Walkman' turned out to be available. The luxury cabins were only berths and those in single berths had to put up with some of those in doubles walking through their 'luxury private cabin' area to reach their own berth! The lack of charging facilities severely limited underwater photography. The freshwater, for washing equipment, was only changed once in the whole trip, so we had the inevitable equipment seizure due to salt build-up.

The local dive master was not in tune with underwater photographers and despite the fact that we had chartered the complete vessel, made little effort to give us the type of dive sites we required.

The boat had its boarding ladder next to the propeller, making diver pick-up dangerous, as we could not anchor on most dive sites. An inflatable was available, but its use to pick up divers in the water was refused, except when the dive master himself had to be rescued from a rip current. In the event of a boat accident (and we cruised mostly at night), the inflatable was too small for the size of the group and no life rafts existed.

When I complained about all this on my return to Patong, the English manager said, and I quote, 'l am amazed that you have the temerity to complain about my organisation and dive master'.

There are several good dive operators In Patong, who have been around for nearly ten years, On my experience, the South East Asia Yacht Company is best avoided.


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