Dive The World travel consultants have many years of experience working in the diving industry, either working on dive boats, teaching courses in dive centres or selling dive trips on-line. Our experience has taught us that the most important part of any dive trip is the people that you meet and dive with on that trip. Divers come in all shapes and sizes but often a love of the underwater world brings them together in a common understanding, no matter what the nationality or background.
Have you ever noticed how quiet a dive boat is before the first dive but how after the first dive the boat comes alive with everyone chatting about what they saw underwater. Once the talking starts divers realize that they have many other things in common too and often lasting friendships are born.
With this in mind Dive The World decided that it would be a good idea to create the Dive The World travel club where like-minded divers can come together and dive with fellow divers from around the world but leave all the organization to someone else. Anyone who has ever tried to organize a group holiday knows how hard it can be, fitting in with everyone’s wishes, arranging all the logistics, collecting monies.
Well we do that for a living. We use our experience to select the best places to dive and to get the best prices. We know the best hotels, we also know the best add-ons for the dry days and we definitely know the best spots for an after dive drink and feed.
The travel club would also be a chance for us to get out from behind our computer monitors and do the thing that we love most, go diving! We really believe that it’s important for us to do what we promote and to get out and meet the people that book diving with us. It’s not always possible of course but we always enjoy it when we do get the chance. Not only do we learn from our guests about what we can do better but we are also able to offer lots of advice and deal with any problems first hand. On our travel club trips we want our guests to know that they can always come to us first with any issues and that we will deal with them.
So the question was, where should the first travel club trip go to? Many meetings and bar stool arguments went into making that decision. Some argued for Sipadan in Malaysia, others for Fiji and some wanted to go to the Maldives, our newest destination. In the end we chose an old and reliable favourite. The Similan Islands in Thailand never fails to impress and Phuket is an area that many of us live in and know well. It’s also where we have a PADI 5 Star centre. Phuket has hundreds of hotels to choose from and plenty to do when the diving’s over.
A package was put together that included 4 nights on the Colona VI liveaboard to the Similan Islands, Koh Bon and Richelieu Rock, one day sea kayaking in Phang Nga bay, hotel accommodation at the Patong Seaview resort, airport transfers and lastly, a slap up dinner and a night on the town in Patong Beach. We put it all together at a price that would be impossible to match if booking all the individual parts separately.
By November we had a group 8 signed up. The stars of the show were:
Not everyone arrived together but we made sure that everyone was met at the airport and transferred to Dive The World to collect a welcome pack of T-shirts, caps, mugs and other little goodies. Once we had met and explained the schedule we transferred the guests to their hotels. Arriving in Asia for the first time can be daunting for some, it can also be difficult to know where to go and how much to pay for everything.
Dive The World Travel Club guests didn’t have to worry about that, it was all taken care of.
Our first adventure was the sea kayaking trip, actually called sea canoe in Thailand. Phang Nga bay is one of the world’s natural wonders. Limestone islands rise hundreds of metres out of the sea and many of them are hollow inside. The only way to enter the inner lagoons (Hong’s in Thai) is by sea kayak through gaps in the rocks. John Grey, a life long adventurer and environmentalist from Hawaii was the first to kayak around Phang Nga bay so we chose to use his experience to guide us round. He knows which caves are best on which tides (get it wrong and you could be stuck inside a hong until the tide drops again). On this day he chose a late start to hit the tides just right and to avoid all other boats.
It really was a special trip with the best food that I’ve ever had on a daytrip in Thailand. It was a long and full day but never felt rushed. We got to kayak in the hongs at night by torch and starlight which no other trips offer. Also because the Thai festival of Loi Kratong was coming in the following week we all made banana tree floats and set them adrift to bring us good fortune for the year ahead (we collected them all afterwards and disposed of them properly).
Not everyone from the travel club group made it to the sea kayaking. Roel and Tammy had the best excuse, they got married. Congratulations Mr and Mrs Willemsen! Another guest chose to skip the trip to get some dental work done. Dental work is so cheap in Phuket compared to western countries that what you save can pay for your whole holiday.
So the first time that the whole group was together was as we boarded the Colona VI the following day. It had been over a year since my last trip to the Similan Islands so I was obviously very excited to get back there and dive all the best dive sites in Thailand. Our boat for this trip, the Colona VI, is a good mid price range vessel suitable for singles or couples. We have found them to be well organized and they have built up a good reputation for customer service. We have also found in the past that Colona VI caters for a broad mix of customers and this trip was no exception with 5 nationalities of varying ages on board and roughly half couples and half single travelers.
Colona VI departs from Patong Bay, Phuket so after a boat briefing from Harley the tour leader, and once everyone was checked into their cabins; we had a light dinner and then a 6 hour crossing to the Similan Islands. This gave us all time to get to know each other over a few beers in the open air saloon but the early start planned for the following day meant that most were tucked up in bed before midnight. There was a minor panic from an Australian guest who shall remain nameless when he thought that the beer had run out but the fridge was soon re-stocked with cold tinnies.
The crossing was smooth so we awoke at 6.30am to a rising sun in the spectacularly beautiful Similan islands.
After a thorough dive briefing we were ready for our first dive at East of Eden. This is one of the most popular dive sites in the Similans and this dive did not disappoint with 40 metre visibility, a marble ray and a huge banded sea snake as the highlights. We searched for Emma, the famously friendly moray eel but she wasn’t around and we spend around 15 minutes on the huge, soft coral covered bommie that National Geographic once spent a whole week filming.
Dive number 2 was at Anita’s reef, sometimes called Barracuda point. The best part of this dive for me was watching two clown trigger fish defend their territory. Clown triggers can often be skittish and difficult to photograph but these guys were so intent on protecting their turf that they made for easy photo targets.
Dive number 3 at Beacon Beach started on the Atlantis X wreck which sank there in 2002. I last dived it in May 06 and since then the wheel house has slid over the port side into the sand. The wreck is small and worth just a quick circuit before drifting off along the reef. A solitary eagle ray was the highlight of this dive.
We moored at the southern end of Similan island number 9 and were entertained by a friendly turtle at the back of the boat which just couldn’t get enough of the bananas that we fed it.
On the night dive in the sheltered bay we bumped into this fellow again, he was easily recognized by the chunk that had been taken out of his shell. We also saw several crabs and lionfish which topped off a very good first days diving. I was impressed with the dive site selection which was well suited to the abilities of the divers on board and everyone was looking forward to the next day.
Day two started at island number 9 as after this dive we would be motoring north to Koh Bon. At the aptly named Breakfast Bend dive site we saw three more turtles plus a school of barracuda slowly swimming in circles in the clear blue.
Everyone jumped into Koh Bon with high hopes of Manta Ray sightings but it wasn’t to be on this occasion. Personally I think that the conditions were just too good to spot Mantas. Mantas like current and plankton and this dive had neither. Often Koh Bon can have ripping currents out on the tip but this time it was possible to swim right out to the tip and hover there, admiring the stunning seascape.
The same was true of the next dive at Koh Tachai pinnacle. It is almost unheard of to have no currents at this dive site but that’s exactly what we had but again no Mantas. The night dive on Koh Tachai reef was fairly uneventful except for the impromptu rave under the boat as divers used there strobes to create shapes in the dark. After the night dive we motored up to the Surin Islands to spend the night so that we would be closer to Richelieu Rock in the morning.
Richelieu Rock is a very popular dive site because it is frequently visited by Whale sharks. There are lots of reasons suggested for this however whale shark movements and particularly their mating habits are not yet that well understood. On this morning as we neared the site we were disappointed to see that, despite our early start, there were already 10 other boats there. I feared that we would be sharing the rock with more divers than fish but I had underestimated Richelieu.
It truly is an amazing dive site with so much to see. We found one yellow tiger tail seahorse at 20 metres plus octopus, cuttlefish , lionfish, scorpion fish and much more. There was no whale shark though and I wasn’t really surprised. I just thought that so many boats and divers, together with the clear water would keep the whale sharks away.
Well that just shows how little I know because after 30 minutes of the second dive a 4-5 metre whale shark cruised on by. Cue an army of stupid divers to chase after it, finning furiously against the current. Of course they couldn’t catch the gentle giant and by the time it came around again, half of those excitable fools were back on their boats, out of air. Those who had hovered patiently waiting were greeted to a second, closer fly by and a wonderful photo op.
It was decided to change the planned schedule and to do a third dive at Richelieu Rock for another chance to see the Whale shark but it wasn’t to be. After the dive a group decision was made to skip the night dive and motor all the way back to the Similan Islands for the night.
That gave me time conduct the Dive The World Scuba quiz with the chance for our guests to win about US$80 worth of scuba accessories. An example of some questions and the more humorous answers are:
Q. What ocean is the Maldives in?
A. The big wet one.
Q. What is the difference between Air and Nitrox?
A. The colour of tanks.
Q. Give an example of a Symbiotic relationship.
A. A moray eel and a cave.
It was all good fun and congratulations go to Shona, the overall winner.
The dives on the final day were at Elephant Head Rock and Shark fin reef. The 6.15 am start was too early in my opinion; I think the captain wanted to get back to Phuket early. But we had time to sleep and sunbathe on the 6 hour ride home. I much prefer sailing into Patong Bay than sailing to Tap Lamu and then having a 90 minute minibus ride to Phuket. Patong Bay is a beautiful sight to arrive at.
We disembarked from the Colona VI at about 5 pm and most divers went back to their hotels for a hot shower and then met up again at Dive The World dive shop before strolling over to a local restaurant for a farewell dinner. Dive The World organized it all and invited a few other friends along as well to make a party out of it.
Everyone was keen to meet Beef who they had all built up an email friendship with over the previous months as he had been the main organizer of the trip. After dinner things got more interesting as we took a walk around some of Patong Beach’s nightlife spots. Phuket bars are an adventure and it’s fun to go as a group.
As the night wore on people slowly slipped away to their beds, with just the hard drinkers left standing. Everyone said good night with a big smile on their face and a promise to return.
All agreed that the travel club trip had been a huge success and were already asking about where the next travel club trip will be.
Keep an eye out for the next Dive The World travel club trip to….
For more on this great diving location: Thailand Dive sites
Read more about your Similans cruise options:
Thailand Liveaboards to the Similan islands
Were you on this trip? Want to suggest where might be a good idea for the next one? Want to know if we have decided where and when to conduct the 2008 travel club? If so just call Dive The World – +66 (0)94 582 7973 / (0)83 505 7794 or you could send us an email