Diving with Manta Rays in Thailand

The Manta Ray glides above us, then circles around. We can almost touch it as it gently lifts its wing and drifts into the void of the Andaman Sea. Its our third sighting in two dives. These waters are teeming with life, from the giant Manta Rays to small boxer shrimps and sea horses. All this has been made possible by a diving accident that dispelled Michi to the deck of the Somboon 4.

Things to cross of the bucket list

  • Diving with Manta Rays
  • Dive at the famous Richelieu Rock
  • Go wreck diving at King Cruiser

Things we would have done better in hindsight

  • Directly go on a liveaboard in the Similans
  • Stay away from the super ugly and touristy Patong, Karon and Kata Beaches (maybe do airbnb, rather than hotels)
  • Brought own fins and dive computer (its worth to to shopping at home)

Day 1, 31.03.

We take the midnight flight with spring Airlines (not recommendable due to luggage restrictions (15kg hand plus checkin), non reclinable seats and small legroom). Also they forgot to hand out the immigration cards and we had to walk back to the arrival gate. Again, we booked the hotel pickup, expensive but super convenient after an uncomfortable overnight flight. We stay in between Kata and Karon Beach at Peach Hill Hotel. Reminds me of Mallorca in the 1990s. There even is a Connor McGregor look alike staying in the hotel. Anyway, we are here for the diving.

We sleep a bit and then visit our dive shop, SSS Phuket. We meet our dive instructor Ned and head out to Kata Beach to do Michis navigation and buoyancy dive. We have a great local dinner, Sugar and Spice, and head to bed.

Day 2, 01.04.

Diving in Phuket is quite different from Malapascua. Instead of meeting at the beach, a taxi driver picks us up im the morning and brings us to a dive boat on which we sail, with ca. 50 divers onboard, towards Ko Phi Phi. We have three dives planned, at Ko Bida Nai and Ko Bida Nok, on the south end of the Ko Phi Phi atoll, and one dive at shark point. The boat is quite crowded. We dive in two groups. We dive with a super nice and experienced couple from Berlin – both medical professionals, so we are safe.

Koh Bida Nok is beautiful. We descend into schools of fusiliers so thick that we sometimes cannot see our dive group. As we head over a ridge into a camyon for our safety stop, we are greeted by a sea turtle coming up to breathe.

Koh Bida Nai is also colorful. Highlight is our first swimm-through through a 10m tunnel.

Shark Point is difficult due to strong current (also our first real current dive). I am a bit annexious. We descend fast at the zero current point at the firat pinnacle and make our way around the lee side. We cross the sandbank through the current with little difficulty. But on the back side of the second pinnacle we are blown out of the water by the current and a crazy french guy in our group the bumps into Michi.

Overall a great and exciting driving day. Michi has completed her Advanced Open Water and we feel a bit like diving with the big boys. In the evening, we eat at Sugar and Spice, again (excellent Tom Ka Gai), and try some delicious freshly made Thai ice cream.

Day 3, 02.04.

We get up very early and our pickup calls us 20min before time, at 5.40. Today is our one day trip to the Similan Islands. Its super short but we want to catch a glimpse of Thailands premiere diving spot. We drive for 2h to Kao Lak, where we take a speedboat to a Liveaboard of South Siam Divers, which is anchored at Koh Bon. As we arrive, a water tornado forms in the distance. A rare and magnificent site that disappears after a few minutes. The boat crew gives instructions and we meet Evgeni, our dive guide. We dive twice at Koh Bon, first south, then north of Manta Point. The water is christal clear and no current; “Like swimming pool” Evgeni declared with his sick russian accent. Both dives are just beautiful. Clear water and an abundance of reef fish.

But Michi has developed ear problems that started to become painful. After only two dives we hop on the speed boat and make our way back again, regretting our short time in this diving paradise.

We arrive back at Kata beach around 20.00. We pick a fish place at Taina Rd. from trio advisor but are disappointed.

Day 4, 03.04.

Michis ear problems are bad. So she decides to stay home and visit the doctor. She takes the taxi to Bangkok hospital, 20km away. The doctor diagnoses a middle ear infection in both ears and a ruptured ear drum on one side. This means, she is not allowed to fly. She gets antibiotics and ear drops.

Meanwhile, I, the bad boyfriend that i am, meet with our dive group and head out to Koh Doc Mai, the King Cruiser Wreck and Shark Point.

Koh Doc Mai is a nice wall dive with a small cave at the bottom. So i get to do my first “cave dive”.

King Cruiser is a cool dive site. Visibility is low as we do a free descend towards the wreck. We descend at the leeward side and dive through the aft cargo hold to the luvward side. In the cargo hold we see fusiliers and a reef shark sleeping in the corner. On the luv side we meet large schools of fusiliers that stand in the current. We make our way to the bow and enter the former car deck. Big parts of the wreck are caved in. With limited no decompression time we ascend and drift over the deck, back to our exit point.

Our last dive site, Shark Point, presents itself calmer today. We, again, descent at the first pinnacle but this time easily make our way around the second pinnacle. The highlight of this dive is the sea horse, tugged in the second pinnacle.

In the evening we debate. But as Michi would risk severe damage to her non-ruptured ear, it is an easy decision not to fly. We spend the evening organizing sick notes, new flights (springs sickness policy is impossibly to fulfill for us, because they need original paper documents before the flight time), and holiday extension for me. As I have established myself as bad boyfriend, already, I decide to drag Michi on a Liveaboard for 3 days. We book the last two spots (one diver one non-diver) with South Siam Divers to go to the famous Richelieu Rock. Awesome… for me…

At night, we go to dinner at Mom Tri’s Villa Royal. We have a wonderful view over the sea. We share the grilled fish platter and a nice wine and have a very enjoyable evening.

Day 5, 04.04.

Today we have booked a trip to “James Bond Island”, the island made famous by the movie “The man.with the golden gun”. The island is situated in the Phang Nga National Park. We take drive north and take a tour boat to the national park. The park is impressive, with its islands with vertical rock faces. First, we go canoeing through caves. The caves are impressive but we pass through them and enter a lost world, two lagoons, surrounded by massive cliffs, with monkeys living on the rocks. On the second island, we go canoeing, again. We pass through a large lagoon with a giant vertical stone needle. Finally, James Bond Island is the least impressive site we see. Its a small rock needle on touristy island. We do not visit the floating city, not sure why. Next time we would ask for it, explicitly.

In the evening, we have to organize a lot, wash clothes, buy snacks, buy a towel and tooth brushes, pack, etc. We have dinner at Taina Road, unspectacular but better than last time.

Day 6, 05.04.

Today is the day. We know the drill. Leave at 6 from the hotel and take the speedboat from Kao Lak. We board the Liveaboard again at Koh Bon. I meet my dive guide Jon and dive partner Pete. Awesome team.

The dive drill is the same. This time, visibility is worse as the current is back. That’s what we want. And we are right. 20min into the dive we see it. A giant shadow approaches from the east. A giant Manta Ray gracefully glides through the water. Amazing. Shortly after, a second one. Both a bit in the distance, but still, we are lucky. For Jon its the first Manta in four weeks.

On the second dive it does not take long until we hear signalling noises. The Manta comes from behind and.does a beautiful circle, an arms length away from us. The only word is majestic. We sight two more Mantas on the dive before we ascend for our safety stop. Suddenly, Pete starts to signal wildly. A giant Manta dives right below us, a fee meters away, as well as a second one – the guides estimate it to 4m in size – on the bottom below. We are totally exhilarated.

This time, we are part if the cool group that gets to stay on board after the second dive. We take cabin on the lower deck as the ship sets sail for Ko Tachai.

In the afternoon, we dive at Tachai Pinnacle. Tachai is a big dome with a flat granit top. Its got lot of life, moray eels, shrimp, lobster, etc.

We anchor at Ko Tachai and do a night dive at Tachai Bay. Its my first night dive and its great. The water is calm and we are engulfed by blackness, only.our torches cutting through the darkness. We see sleeping lion fish and groupers until we end the dive after the planned 30min.

Day 7, 06.04.

By popular vote, we decide to do 3 instead of the planned 2 dives at Richelieu Rock. And, oh boy, is it worth it. Richelieu Rock is a singular 50m high, horseshoe shaped rock, which was discovered by Jacques Cousteau. It is incredibly full of live including schools of millions of small fish, Fusiliers, Snappers, Napoleon fish, Barracudas, Travallis, Scorpion Fish, Anemone Fish, Boxer Shrimps, Nudibranchs,  and many more. We also see a cool sea horse, ghost fish and mantis shrimp, as well as beautiful soft and hard corals. Although we do not see a whale shark, it is absolutely incredible.

After three dives, we leave, sadly and make our way back to Tachai Pinnacle for the last dive of the day. After the dive, we relax on the boat and enjoy the evening. The moon shows an aurora. I have never seen this before.

Day 8, 07.04.

Already our last day on the Liveaboard. Today, we actually dive at the Similan Islands, themselves.

First dive is Deep Six. We are greeted by Titan Trigger fish that start to build their nests, biting coral and throwing rocks. Deep Six has a lot of swim throughs and Jon finds us the narrowest one.

While we wait for the speedboats to arrive, we visit the island. The beaches are incredibly white and beautiful. The forests are full of life (mainly mosquitoes, but we also see flying foxes and a hermit crab, searching for the sea).

Second dive is Anita’s Reef. We start the dive out in the deep and see a lot of garden eels and two moray eels, as well as nudibranches and, very cool, a mantis shrimp. But highlight of this dive are two sting rays.

Third and last dive of this trip is West of Eden. Now turtles but plenty of Groupers, Trigger Fish and Parrotfish.

The speedboat ride home is very very bumpy and wet, as we drive through a heavy summer rain. The drive home is uneventful and we arrive back our new hotel (Sugar Marina Resort Fashion) after eight. A main feature of the hotel is that they had no running water during our entire stay and no plan B (naturally, they also refused to compensate us).

We have dinner at the Boathouse on Kata Beach. We take the menu with free flow rose wine. There is a great Jazz band playing and Michi even joins them for one song.

Day 9, 08.04.

Task of today is to get the doctors go-ahed for Michis flight home. We are back at Bangkok hospital (a first class and tremendously well organized facility). Luckily, the infections are gone and we can travel. We relax a bit at the beach, have parrot fish for lunch and have a final drink at the Ska Bar at Kata Beach before we go to the airport. A thunderstorm delays our departure by 4h to 3.30; we catch some sleep at the airport. We fortunately have the remaining Sunday to rest.

Michis ruptured ear drum for the medically interested.

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