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Anemone Fish

ISSUE 4 ARCHIVE - THAILAND

Stephen Gamble

After the longest flight I have ever taken we landed in Bangkok, a shopper's paradise of an airport. The transfer to Phuket only took about an hour and, to my relief, all luggage and camera equipment made the same journey.

As the door to Phuket airport opened "BANG!" the heat and humidity hit us – knew I should have worn shorts! Within a few minutes of looking at all the taxi boards being held up we were spotted by our driver who quickly put us in a wonderfully air conditioned luxury minibus whisking us off to Chalong Bay through brightly lit neon streets full of hustle and bustle.
Scuba Trust
Whaleshark Arriving at the Shanti Lodge, we entered a different world. Greeted by a slice of paradise, hidden from the main road by an abundance of greenery, were locallymade ornate wooden huts connected by small paths with a tranquil fountain trickling into a pool.

After a short rest and a much needed shower we were greeted by one of World Wide Dive & Sail's Owner / Manager, Mark Shandur and his fiancé Hanako Watanabe in the bar. They took us to a lovely sea front restaurant for dinner and then to a great bar for quite a few well deserved beers.
Grouper The next day Mark collected us from the Shanti Lodge, graciously took us shopping for last minute essentials and dropped us off at the Lighthouse restaurant on the seafront whilst he took our luggage to the yacht. Here we met the rest of our sailing companions. To my surprise there were two professional photographers Casey Mahaney and Tony Karacsonyi coming with us (yeah free training and boy do I ask a lot of questions).

After a lot of introductions, golf cart type shuttles would take us along the extremely long pier to our home for the next ten days.
Reef Jewellery
Probably snapper or something Wow!! What a Yacht!! Standing with her sails tall against the distant islands and pearl green sea, we saw the brilliant white of the 34 metre Sampai Jumpa Lagi, newly named the SY Siren. An amazing yacht built by Frank and his father. She has seven sails, an expansive leisure deck, ten luxury cabins, full air conditioning throughout, water skiing and wake boarding, laundry service and its own Yacht Boutique. Never having done a long live aboard before I was a tad apprehensive but my fears were quickly dissolved after being introduced to all the crew, dive masters and instructors alike. One big family, even Franks mother and father were aboard, as it was only the Siren's fifth trip.
The cabins were as elegant as the brochure that I had carried around with me for the past six months, showing off to all and sunder. Perfectly laid out in dark wood with three cots, plenty of storage space, en suite bathroom and each had brand new Vista PC workstations for downloading and burning photographs. Best of all was your own fully adjustable air con.

The saloon had an enormous 42" flat screen TV, cocktail bar, huge sofas and lots of chairs to lounge around in. The dining area set aft in a horseshoe shape was great for getting to know people whilst the spectacular views of the West coast of Thailand passed us by.

Never having been to Thailand before I was uncertain about the food! Boy was I wrong!! Every meal was a banquet, absolutely delicious. Three times a day with snacks, cakes etc after every dive. I actually put on weight even with all the diving!

Only being a qualified diver for 14 months, I haven't seen much of the underwater world outside of British Waters, but have dived in the Maldives, Red Sea, the Mediterranean and South Africa.

Well, I can honestly say this was the best diving I have ever done in terms of location, topography and diversity of sea life.

We were split into two small groups and ferried to and from dive sites by two high powered zodiacs with excellent skippers. They could spot an SMB instantly and have you easily on board in thirty seconds. The dives themselves were awesome – thirty five in total, from the islands around Koh Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, Phuket to The Similan Islands.

I managed to see and log hundreds of different species of fish, including: a Whale Shark, Manta Ray, Leopard Sharks, Sea Horses, Turtles, Ghost Pipefish, Banded Sea Snakes, Moray Eels, Jacks, Harlequin shrimps, schools of Barracuda, Jellyfish, Stone fish and Frog fish, together with sea fans, jewel box urchins, soft corals and giant bommies in abundance.

Every dive site was different. Frank and his crew gave very good briefings before every dive. They knew what to look out for and best of all, where to find it (a total photographer's paradise for macro, wide angle and fisheye). The dives were very relaxed, aimed at letting you enjoy the dives themselves, taking time to see all the glorious sites and not charging around set points as I have encountered many times before.

The last night aboard we had a small party and barbecue, reflecting over the amazing sights and experiences we had enjoyed. Docking back at Chalong was quite saddening for us all. Truth be told, we could have all stayed on board and never got off. We had transport waiting for us to take us to our Hotel, The Mangosteen. An excellent five star luxury hotel and spa with pools, masseuses and fabulous bungalows with enormous rooms with Jacuzzis, all set in a tropical garden paradise.
Halcyon Eclipse Infinity
To sum it all up, this trip was amazing. I completed my hundredth dive, my first night dive, my first cave dive and saw my first Manta and seahorse with the help of Frank and his crew. I cannot recommend Worldwide Dive & Sail more. The yacht is excellent with a crew fabulous. I have never felt more relaxed and welcome anywhere. Put it this way, I'm going again this year, 2008, to Komodo, The Andamans and The Best of Thailand!

Stephen Gamble traveled with Worldwide Dive and Sail.

Nearest recompression chambers Badalveda Diving Medicine Center
Bangkok Phuket Hospital
Tel: +66 76 254 425

Hyperbaric Services (Thailand) – Phuket
Tel: +66 76 342 518

Bangkok Hospital
Tel: +66 23 103 101
Dive Worldwide PNG

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