Friday, April 6, 2007

Part 2: Diving - Similan Islands.

I'm completely buggered, but have to write this now before I forget all the exciting things that have happened in the last couple of days.

When I last left you, everything was going swimmingly... Then I went to try and exchange my $AUD100 into Baht, and found that all the banks closed at 3:30. So I went to an ATM and tried to withdraw money from my credit card. But it seems I don't actually know my PIN. After a good three hours of panic, and quite the Catch-22 of not having any money to make an international phonecall to Virgin, but desperately needing to speak to someone so that I could get some money, I managed to sort it out by dipping into my Euros. I hate to think about how much it cost me to convert them into Baht, but I now have more than $10 to my name and am a happy chappy.

I could go into much greater detail about my dive trip, but let's just say that it was fan-bloody-tastic. The first day was a long one - I woke up at 5:30 to be ready in time to be picked up by the mini-van from Hell (not really, but Thais really know how to work those overtaking lanes!). Once we were on the boat (it took about 4 hours to get to the main dive boat all in all), I was buddied-up with an English-Pakistani named Ferkahn, who, having been schooled at international schools all over the world, sounded American. Oh the confusion. I was in a group with Ferkahn, and a very cute older couple - a Swedish bloke named Gunnar and his very sweet young Thai wife, Som Khit. Ferkahn was only there for the day (two dives rather than four), so for most of my dives, it was just the four of us - Gunnar, Som Khit, myself and our divemaster, Thomas.

Now, it has to be said that there is something undeniably sexy about divemasters in general - tanned, athletic people who spend their days floating around with the fishes. But throw in the fact that Thomas was French, and had gorgeous curly, dark hair and you've got yourself one besotted young Aussie. I didn't mind being buddy-less one little bit.

[stalking Thomas from above]

[the view from the back of the boat on my first day]

The four of us did three dives together, and saw all kinds of amazing tropical fish - none of which I know the names of. We spent quite a bit of time bobbing up and down in the water, waiting for the dinghy to come and pick us up, and looking at the islands which surrounded us, I couldn't help thinking "wow - I'm really, really not in Australia anymore." It was just beautiful - picturesque, cliched Thailand. To make things even more exciting, while we were sitting on the boat just on dusk, a humpback whale decided to put on a small show. On my second day aboard, around eight dolphins swam alongside the boat for a good 15 minutes. And on the third day, a turtle did laps around the boat. And yes, I'm completely showing off.

The days on the South Siam III are set out so that there is one dive pre-breakfast (around 7am), another just after the speed boat full of newbies turns up (around 10am), one mid-afternoon (2ish), another afternoon dive just before sunset, and then a night dive at around 7pm. We were limited to four dives a day, and so to make my first day worthwhile, I was forced to do the night dive. It wasn't nearly as scary as I remembered it being up at the Great Barrier Reef. The most dangerous thing I encountered was the backwards roll off the dinghy, where we were supposed to go in pairs (Som Khit didn't want to come, so Gunnar and I were buddies). All of a sudden the three men sitting on my side of the boat just rolled in together, leaving me to attempt - rather unsuccessfully - to out-weigh the four men sitting on the other side of the boat in order to avoid capsize. I think it was only avoided because the two randoms on the other side (not Gunnar and Thomas) followed soon after their buddies. It ended up being a really nice dive, and I'm so glad I did it. I conquered a my fears and learned how to do a commando-roll off a rubber dinghy.

[dinghy - and check out the kid with the beanie!]

My roommate on the first night was a girl originally from Perth, but currently living in London, named Fiona. She wasn't actually diving, and had spent the previous three days just swanning around on the boat, and snorkeling once in a while. I'd go crazy watching everyone else diving and not joining in, but to each their own.

On day two, I attempted (yet again) to tick off an item from the "Must Do At Some Point In Your Life" list, and was up at the crack of dawn to take photos of the sun rising over the ocean, planning to also take photos of the sunset. Let's just say that it is still on the "Must Do" list. Damn island.



The most awkward moment on board followed soon after my early-morning photography expedition. I got chatting to Steve - an American currently serving in the military in Kuwait. The conversation could have gone sour due to any anti-war comments I might have made (but didn't). At some point - and I don't know how the conversation got there, and I sure as heck didn't know how to change the subject once it did - turned to how many times he'd hit a woman. Turns out he'd knocked out his first wife's front teeth, and his second wife had "asked him" to hit her. He then told me that he got really annoyed by the head divemaster's English accent, and that his current girlfriend - a Thai girl - annoyed him quite a bit, too. I politely tried to avoid him for the rest of the trip.

For the last dive on day two, I had to change groups as Thomas, Gunnar and Som Khit had headed back to Phuket. I was - again - buddy-less, but by now quite used to it. My new group consisted of a really sweet Thai divemaster named Pui, and two Norwegian guys - Christien and Jorgen. They turned out to be a lot of fun, and I hope to keep in contact with them.

[me, Jorgen and Christien]

The second day also heralded the arrival of the Korean Group (aka "Team Korea"). I'm not too sure whether their divemaster (who had come along with the group) spoke any English, but when the head divemaster, John, asked if he understood his directions, the Korean divemaster would nod and say "yes, yes," but then something would go a little haywire. For instance, there was the random Korean diver who got separated from his group and seemed happy to bob along with us for a while before merrily going off on his own, and the night divers who somehow ascended about 10m from their divemaster. But they were a great group of people to have on board - I've never been complimented quite as regularly ("velly beautiful") or forced (and I mean forced) to have my photo taken.

I'm trying to recall all the fish we saw, but it's nearing 11pm and, having got up at 6am and done three dives, I'm spent. Highlights (the ones I can remember right now, without having to dig out my logbook to find them): trumpetfish, clownfish, three moray eels (one named Emma who apparently took a divemaster's thumb off a few years ago), a leopard shark, and tonnes of those fancy yellow, black and white striped fish (I'm hopeless with names). I took a bunch of photos with my dodgy disposable camera, but Jorgan had a digital and will hopefully email me some photos in the next few weeks.

Oh - and I have to share this. I went to the night markets here in Phuket town (my hostel is about 1/2 a block from them), and was seemingly the only anglo there. I was determined to try something new, so went up to a fruit seller and, pointing to a fruit I didn't recognise, asked "how much?" I think she said it was called something like "da," but I'm not too sure. She insisted on giving me two of them, and refused to take my money. I got shivers, even if it is 30+ degrees outside. I know I'm such a girl, but it was just a gorgeous moment, and it's made me even happier to be here.

[markets by day]

It's off to bed for this little chooken. I will be sleeping soundly tonight, missing (and still slightly feeling) the relaxing rocking to sleep that I've had the last two nights.

[view from my cabin on the boat]

[view from my room tonight]


caz said...

you are a good little blogger! its good to have heaps of news and photos, keep us all in touch, and the best thing is you don't also have to keep a travel journal... its so efficient its crazy

un beso

Gemma said...

Hey: you should change this so people can comment without having a Google account (that's the only reason I have my blog in the first place, so blame Ian). Just go to:
Customise, then
Settings, then
and you can select whether or not you accept anonymous comments.
BTW, look at that bed on the boat! You are SOFT!

Islands Deb said...

Awesome pictures - thanks for sharing and good luck with your future adventures!