A few years ago I went on a three day diving trip off of Ranong, on Thailand’s west coast, in the Andaman Sea. The Andaman Sea is part of the Indian Ocean and touches the shores of Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Burma, Malaysia and Sumatra. This is a very popular diving location due to the colourful coral and many species of tropical marine life-including whale sharks, leopard sharks and manta rays. As part of my TEFL course, I had paid for the four week course, accommodation and a job guarantee which was their full package, and because of this they threw in this diving trip for free.
I have a love-hate relationship with diving- actually to be fair I have only done it twice- but it is one of those things, for me anyway, that I never look forward to doing but once I have done it I want to go back for more. The problem is that I have terrible trouble with my ears. It is very painful to descend into the watery depths. If I don’t get rushed and can take my time I am fine, but descending too quickly and the pain is just unbearable.
We arrived in Ranong and boarded the “Sea World”- a 25 metre vessel especially equipped for these live-a-board trips. The air conditioned rooms are all located on the main deck providing sea views, sun decks and the communal “saloon” where you can relax watching TV or listening to music. The crew was fantastic, providing delicious meals for us in between dives, and looking after us while we were aboard.
We left Ranong around 9pm and more or less went straight to bed. It took about 8 or 9 hours to reach our first dive site- Koh Chi, 2km off the north east coast of Surin Nua. Imagine waking up and leaving your bunk to be greeted by a huge expanse of blue water, with no noise other than the squawking sea birds. The calm swell of the ocean as you sleepily get into your diving gear. It was rather surreal.
Koh Chi has an average of 15 metres visibility and I saw a lot of marine life- clown fish, trumpet fish, bat fish, trigger fish, puffer fish, parrot fish, moorish idol, and blue starfish. In fact, looking in my dive log, this is the site where I saw the most fish. It’s very calm and relaxed down in that other world. The fish are just hanging out, going about their daily business.
Castle Rock was our next dive and this is where it went pear-shaped for me. This was our second dive of the day at 11.00 am and I only lasted 15 minutes. Actually it was 10 minutes, the last 5 minutes was ascending. I got my diving gear on and my diving buddy told me that there was a strong current at the surface so I had to descend quickly. I tried, I really did, but I had trouble equalising and I was in so much pain. Because I was trying to descend but couldn’t, we got swept away from the dive site. I gave up and signalled to my buddy that I wanted to go up. Reaching the surface I realised my nose was bleeding, and then I started to cry. I think I was a little shaken at how easily we got swept away. Plus the fact that I don’t like giving up on anything.
Afterwards, my ears felt like they had the whole ocean in them, but I pulled myself together and decided to stay on board for the next few dives and just watch the others from a “non-nose bleed and painful ears” vantage point.
The next few dives sites- Coral Garden, South East Point, South Point and Hin Kong were all done successfully, even though the nose bleed had put me off somewhat. But it was the last dive, at Richelieu Rock, that was the most stunning, and I was so glad I didn’t sit that one out. There was a bit of a current, but it was mostly calm making the conditions perfect for diving.
Richelieu Rock is located about 200km northwest of Phuket and lies about 18km off the shore of Surin Island. It was discovered by Jacques-Yves Cousteau as a recreational scuba dive site, and it is considered to be one of Thailand’s most iconic dive sites. It is a horse-shoe shaped reef, rising 50 m from the ocean floor to just below the surface at low tide. It attracts all kinds of marine life including scorpion fish, moray eels, and groupers which I saw. Other divers have seen the occasional manta rays and whale sharks passing by as well.
The corals, as well as the fish, are beautiful, ranging in colour from red to purple. And it’s from the colours that the rock gets its name. Some say that it is named after the red robes of Cardinal Richelieu, while others say it is named after a general in the Royal Thai Navy. Either way the colours of the coral are simply stunning. I spent 50 minutes in the company of the rock and its inhabitants. And for those 50 minutes I forgot about painful ears and nose bleeds and enjoyed what I was seeing.
I never looked forward to any of these dives, but once I was down there I relaxed and started to enjoy myself. If I get the chance again I will go diving again but I am not quite ready to go out and buy my own dive equipment just yet.
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