90 nautical miles west of the burmese shore, one lonely boat drifts on the open sea. Daylight breaks. Then sounds the battle cry “Diving! Diving!”. We laid anchor on the Burma banks, a largely unexplored diving paradise. The sharks await us below. We could not be more excited. These are the adventures of the dive boat Smiling seahorse with the mission to dive where no diver dove before…
Note: At this point, underwaterfotos are unedited. There are pictures missing for this travel section. Enjoy reading the draft.
14.03. With a heavy heart, we say good bye to Bangkok. 38€ per person gets us on a flight to Ranong (premium seats, mind you). Why? Ranong is a small (~16k people) province capital close to Myanmar. People come here for two reasons: visa runs to Myanmar and to get to the islands.
Its really hot and we are starting to dread Myanmar. Its a relaxed day as there is exactly nothing to see in Ranong (except, of course, the recently rebuild palace). For some reason, we get fresh eggs as welcome present. Bon apetite.
We spent an uneventful evening eating at the Farm House and visiting the Ranong Governors Mansion (from outside).
15.03. Today is “launch day”. We meet at The Smiling Seahorse office at 11:00 to do formalities. We wait at the Farm House for the team to finish preparation. At 15:30, we drive to the harbour for Thai emmigration and from there onwsad to the dock. After a short boat ride we reach Kwauthong, where Myanmar border officials come on board for immigration. After we are cleared, the boat heads north east, while we get comfortable on board. We enjoy the sunset and dinner before going to bed. First night on the boat is ok.
16.03. “Diving! Diving!” We have been waiting for this wakeup call. Although it comes very early (6:00). Extensive dive briefing for the first day. The Danish guide on the boat gives the short summary “follow me and don’t die”.
First dive is High Rock, a small rock with a single tree on it. 40min at 21m. Visibility is bad but we see a sea horse and boxer shrimp.
Second dive (after a beacon (~1 metric ton) and egg breakfast) is Dragon Rock. Again, green soup and a lot of current. We see some small stuff.
Afternoon dive is at Rock Head. Again green soup and current. We see (the first of many) blue dragon nudibranche and a moray.
Night Dive finally is a great dive at Swiss Cheese Bay. Deep, at 20m we see Pygmea Squid, a glowing jelly fish, a textile cone shell, a hermit crab and Tiger Cowries).
On the second night, we sleep much better.
17.03. Over night, we sailed north to Black Rock. We will do three dives at this site.
On the morning dive, we are welcomed by the “unusual” green soup with current. We dive on the North side and see schooling Jackfish, Fusiliers and Travaleys, as well as Baracudas and Scorpion fish.
Second dive is one of the best dives We meet a Marbel Ray, a giant Broadclub Cuttlefish, Tiger Cowries, as well as a frenzy of Moon Wrasses eating the eggs of a Sergen Major Fish.
On the third dive, visibility is worse. We see a Marbel Ray, Scorpion Fish, giant Giant Moray and a school of Jackfish.
Night dive is less spectacular but we see a Hermit Crab, Tiger Cowries, Morays and Nudibranches.
18.03. Back south east in search of some blue water. However, we are out of luck. At Submarine we see harlequin shrimp and nudibranches, but meet current, again.
The second dive at infamous Shark Cave yields a White Tip Reef Shark and a rare Tomatoe Anemone Fish, as well as a Blue Dragon. We also see some Cuttlefish in the distance as well as Duran Dancer Shrimps.
The third dive of the day, at Square Rock turns the mood. Marbel Ray, a Black Seahorse, a Yellow Frogfish and two Harlequin Shrimp make for a good dive.
We are rewarded with a beach break. The archipelago is still largely untouched and we are alone on an endless, beautiful beach.
But break is over, quickly, as we want to go night diving at Submarine. Its rather a sunset dive. We are in the water by 18:15, this time with better command of the current. A Blue Spitted Stingray rests in the sand, while two small Stingrays dash about. We find a big Broadclub Cuttlefish, which patiently lets me take pictures. In a cavern, we see two translucent Ghost Pipefish. Finally, we also find a Yellow Banded Moray and a Stone Crab.
Night is BBQ night. The crew cooks an awesome BBQ. There is a lot of Rum and Beer, while we sail way South West towards the infamous Burma Banks.
19.03. It takes a bit longer for the divers to get ready in the morning. However, the view is worth it: Nothing but the blue water of the Andaman Sea. No land, no boats. These are the Burma Banks.
At 7:15 we plunge into the deep blue and crystal clear waterd and sink to 26m. We have no oarticular place to go, so we gently drift across the moon-like landscape. A school of Yellowback Fusiliers circle us during the entire dive. We see our first Nurse Shark as well as a large school of Morish Idols.
The second dive at Heckfort Bank follows the same schema. Dive, drift, see a sleeping Nurse Shark and go back up.
Dive three: Listen and repeat. This time at Rainbow Reef. Only this time, we strike big: We find a Leopard Shark sleeping in the sand. As I am already low on air, I let Julian do the close ups. Another diver gies for a kamikaze run, but eventually, we make it back, safely. The Leopard Sgark is the star, but we also find Red Fire Goby (Red Dart Fish), which live in pairs, as well as a Porcupine Fish, a big Blue Spotted Puffer, Baracudas and many more.
Sunset dive is for the sharks. We have sailed to Roe Reef, an uncharted dive site, which we aim to explore. We descend into a dynamite bomb site. Broke corals everywhere. We start at 30m and work our way up the bank. We see two nurse sharks, one sleeping, one hunting, as well as the pervasive schools of Fusiliers and Traveleys, and Baracudas.
This night, we fall asleep quite early.
20.03. Roe Bank awaits us in the morning for another fantastic shark dive. We drift across the bank, from the slope at 30m all the way to the other side. Along with the usual suspects, we see five Nurse Sharks out and about, as well as a rarw Honeycombed Moray.
We have one more dive at Roe Bank. Same same but with Turtle. Honeycombed Moray, two Nurse Sharks; on our way up, we neet a giant Hawkbill Turtle going down. Gentle and majestic.
Its time to say goodbye to Roe Reef but we have two more dives on the Banks ahead of us. They call the bank “The Smiling Seahorse Reef”. Similar do Roe Reef, its drift diving, only with less stuff. A Honeycombed Moray and a Nurse Shark are the highlights on the dive.
In between dives, the Myanmar Tourist Official onboard prepares a Burmese meal of spicy tea leaves with sides of dried shrimp, penuts and unpealed garlic. Very tasty. With good breath, we go on the sunset dive. Its a very relaxing drift dive. A bit uneventful, with an Octupus and a juvenile Trumpet Fish. I find a discarted weight pocket
21.03. Over night, we have sailed east towards the Western Rockies. First dive is at Sea Fan Forrest. Negative entry. We manage quite well to get shelter behind the pinacle. However, one girl gets washed away by the current; Julian follows. We wait a while and go up (note to self: check depth befor deploying SMB; the line on this one was a bit to short).
We regroup on the boat and dive again. This tiem, we descend into the sea fan forrest. We see Mangis Shrimp and a juvenile Angelfish as well as a Blue Dragon. The Sea Fan Garden is quite beautiful with big fan corals.
he second dive at Western Roky is fun: Tunnel under the Island! We go down to 26m and enter a hugh cathedral, whi h turns into a tunnel. There are two exits, of which we want to take the right. However, a Hawkbill Turtle lies in the middle of the exit. As I swim above the turle, it gets up and we jointly leave the cave. Nice.
Third dive is at Eagles Nest. The site is a large underwater pinacle with two rocks abo e the surface. Again, its negative entry time. Its a beautiful slope of corals with many really giant Giant Morays. Fighting the current I almost hit one with my head, had Michi not warned me. The Buddy System works. Its Michis last dive as her ears are getting worse (although being very good, comparatively).
Night dive is something special, indeed. We dive the tunnel under Western Rocky – without any light. We dive in close to the entrance of the cavern. As we go in, its pitch black. But plankton iluminates on every movement in a sparkle of light. Tapping on the ground creates a circle of light. Its awesome. However, instead of turning left into the tunnel, for of us go straight into the wall and try to squeze in a small hole in the wall. Already, we are completely lost. Finally, I see somebody waiting on the ground. However, I have no clue if I am already on the outside or not. Somebody motions me forward. Again, completely lost, I tap on the ground with the chopstick the gave me as reef stick. After a while, I see a light signal. However, it is not our guide but a fellow diver. Together, we find the right exit and make it through. At the exit, we turn right and follow our earlier dive route: right shoulder along the crack and up and out. A very nice adventure and a very special dive. Back on the boat, we count our cuts and bruises. Luckily, nobody got stung by anything, got bitten by a turtle or cut by corals.
Although its the final night on the boat, we drink an anchor beer and go to bed.
22.03. Finaly “Divin, diving!” of the trip. This morning we dive at Vulcano. Its an Island with a heart shaped lagoon, which sees a lot of visitors. We are early and alone. With rising tide the current pushes into the lagoon, making it impossible to swim (our guide, “Captain Current” strikes again. We fight our way back out and dive right sholder through the familiar green soup. Its a good day to practice macro photography. Still, we see a turtle, a Marbel Ray and a banded sea snake.
After breakfast and packing, we make a final stop at a lagoon for swimming. Water is beautiful and we even see a Bald Eagle circling over the rocky peaks.
Finally, we head back towards Kwauthong. At the dock, we go to the Smiling Bar, close to the harbor, for a final beer with The Smiling Seahorse Team (Franck, Julian, Sophie and Tom). An hour later, our passports come back from the immigration bureau and its time to say our final goodbye.
We hire a formula 1 Tuk Tuk racer to our hotel.