Co-written by Steve Wilson and Tina Somsith
Fancying yourself a world traveler comes with certain expectations. To always be seeking out something new, and find some unexplored thrill. It is this tenant in mind that causes me some confusion when I have a desire to go back to the familiar. Somewhere I enjoyed in the past, and want to recreate in some way. It feels weak. Leave the past where it is, and seek out something new! However, I feel this trip is as much a 'vacation' as it is a travel trip. So weak or not, I decided to take us back to an old favorite of mine and book a live aboard dive trip in Khao Lak, Thailand.
On my adventure back in 2015, I ended up doing 4 different liveaboards from here with the lovely Sea Dragon Dive shop. For those that don't know, a liveaboard consists of living consecutive days on a 3 deck, spacious dive boat, sailing to remote dive locations only reachable by a longer boat trip. We had booked a 3 day, 3 night trip which would allow me to get 9 dives in. I know what many of you are thinking, Tina got her dive certification! Nope, but she is awesome and willing to tag along as a passenger while I scratch my dive itch. Don't worry she won't be suffering too much getting to see the remote Surin Islands and snorkeling in world class coral reefs :).
It was a long day to get to Khao Lak. 3 short flights with medium length layovers, but the day passed uneventfully. It was surreal to be back in Thailand where Tina and I had met 2.5 years ago. All the familiar spots were still there, I guess where would they have gone? It's strange to see that the world was still revolving as usual without you. Khao Lak is a lovely little strip next to the beach on the west coast of Thailand. It manages to hide away from the younger back packer party scene and maintains a quaint, peaceful charm without being too boring.
The first couple days we checked into the dive shop and chilled at the beach over drinks and massages. I had to do a refresher dive as it had been a while since I'd been in the water. This gave Tina some space to go roam about on her own. It was a peaceful, relaxing period before heading out on the boat.
Tina: While Steve was doing his refresher dives, I knew that I was going to be stuck on a boat for 3 days with potentially nothing to do. I decided to download all my work that could be done off line as I was told there would be little to no internet service. I also downloaded Oprah Winfrey's book, "The Wisdom of Sundays". I then decided to walk the strip hoping to find a "thum cart". This street food cart offers a variety of ways in which one can order their "thum". The base of "thum" is a protein and/or veggies and/or noodles smashed together in a mortar with fish sauce, lime, chili peppers and the occasional bah dak (fermented fish). My heart was set on thum papaya, but when I saw another lady order thum mi-mama (raman), I had to do the same. It was so good, I should've ordered two!
We convened at the dive shop in the evening, and got acquainted with with the group that would share the trip. It was a smaller group than on previous trips, only 10 of a max 20 guests. We had been unable to secure a private cabin due to the late booking, but lucky us, we had the entire dorm section to ourselves :). I was thrilled to see a couple old friends still working the trips, and they remembered me as well. A nice mini "home coming" feeling. After a short drive and a rundown of the boat functions, we were in bed and roaring out to sea for the first day.
6:30 am came quickly after some sketchy sleep. The boat had to drive all night on choppy waters to get to our first dive site and it made for a bumpy sleep. Oh well, just had to get up, grab a coffee and jump in the water. Day 1 would include 4 total dives, which doesn't leave too much time for anything else. The diving was fantastic as usual, taking us to great sites in the Similan/Surin island region. This area has enormous amounts of live coral and different fish, and sea life of all types.
Between dives the group would eat delicious fresh Thai and western food prepared by the chef that lives on the boat, with the other fabulous crew that keeps things running smoothly. Tina was a tad queasy, but managed to enjoy the day, chilling on the boat, and getting to know the other guests. It's great after traveling on our own, to have some new faces to talk to. The long first day ends with a night dive, and then a couple beers to decompress before hitting the sack.
Tina: Tad is an understatement. I was asking myself what the hell I got myself into predicting that I'll will be puking my insides out for the next 3 days. However, after the dramamine kicked in, I started to feel somewhat normal again. I decided to be more preemptive with the dramamine so I took them right when I got up and again right before dinner. It really helped stabilize me through the end of the trip.
Day 2 proceeds much the same, except we had the option to head over to a remote beach on one of the islands we were docked near. Tina was eager to get off the boat for a bit, so along with 4 others, we headed to shore. Mu Ko Surin Islands are a national park, and offer a small restaurant and rent out pre-staged tents on the beach for anybody wishing to stay on the island. We decided to break out the drone and finally put it to use for some unique footage. My first time flying it, I quickly became accustomed to the first person shooter video game controls and managed to get some good video. Or did I? Woops, we forgot to press record :(. Try again later...
Tina: Okay, so it was my fault I forgot to press record, even after Steve explicitly asked me if I pressed record. Haha. For some reason, flying the drone makes me nervously forgetful. Don't worry, I won't be piloting an airplane anytime soon.
One of the fellow divers, Dom, wasn't able to equalize on the first day, so he had to return to the boat, hopefully to be able to try again. Total bummer for him but it was nice for me to have someone to talk to. I was thinking I'd be able to "hang out" with the boat crew and immerse myself in conversation with them. Unfortunately, I was only able to pick up every 10 words or so (and that was from hearing them speaking amongst themselves). They're from the southern part of Thailand where the dialect is different from the city, which made it even more difficult for me to pick up.
It was Day 2 and Fi, one of the dive masters, asked if I wanted to snorkel as we'll be in one of the most beautiful snorkeling spots in Thailand (if not the world). I was very hesitant because I can't swim and didn't want to die out in the waters of Thailand and not see my family ever again. So no, my mind was made up. Dom, who had been bored out of his mind hated the fact that he's missing out on such gorgeous waters, decided he was going to snorkel. Okay, arm twisted, I'll go - as long as I have a life jacket on me! After practicing my breathing above water, I decided to go for it. Holy smokes! This quote came to mind as I was floating aimlessly in the water "a comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there". I did it, I managed to get out of my comfort zone and it was all worth it. To see the vibrant, multicoloured corals and diverse sea life through my own lens was so entrancing (pictures do it no justice)!
After the last dive of the day, the Sea Dragon crew puts together a nice BBQ, and provides there own concoction, the dragon slayer. Actually quite a tasty mixed drink. The evening was quite fun, having some drinks with all the other guests and crew, and getting to know each other a bit better. Nothing too wild though, as we had to awake early once again for the final day of diving.
Before dinner we did get ambitious and break out the drone again. We had a tight take off and landing zone, but it seemed fine after our breach practice. We did press record and capture some stunning sunset footage of the boat, and the islands. However, when it was time to bring her in for a landing, things did not go smoothly. There was a small area to land, and as I began landing procedures, whereby the drone returns to the control location automatically, the drone dipped, and suddenly plummeted down two flights of stairs onto the lower deck of the boat! Whoops :-| ! Luckily nobody was hurt, even with one of the propellers firmly jammed into the stairs. Likewise, the drone (Dravko is the name), was also no worse for wear, minus a set of cheap plastic propellers. Nothing to see here folks...
The last day would include two dives, at the legendary Richelieu Rock. Regularly rated in the top 10 dive sites on earth, it is obvious why once you get in the water. Words don't do it justice, so let's just say, if you dive, come here. It's truly remarkable. Tina managed to get in the water again for a snorkel, with her snorkel buddy Dom. This was great though as it gave herthe confidence to get in the water and overcome her fear of breathing while submerged. I'll have her diving before you know it!
Tina: it was a huge milestone for me to snorkel in open waters like this. I've snorkeled in Mexico and Hawaii before but did not have a great experience and thought snorkeling was for the birds. Another fear stomped! I plan to take my new love for the sea life to the next level and get my diving certificate in 2018! Oh, and I managed to finished Oprah's book but only got in 15 minutes of actual work.
We had one last lunch after the last dive, and the boat booked it for shore. It was a 3 hour ride back to dock, and we were all feeling a bit tuckered out. We squeezed in a van for a 1.5 hour drive to the dive shop as some rain rolled in to greet us. We bade farewell to our new and old friends, and I promised to return again someday for more great adventures.
That evening we had a special guest join us at our hotel. My old roommate Audrey from Vancouver was randomly in Thailand so we managed to meet up. We had some drinks and tried to shake off our sea legs while catching up. We had another day and half before we were to fly out to Cambodia. It passed in the familiar relaxing style. Eating delicious Thai food, having some cold beverages, and enjoying the company of friends.
But as we've stated before all good things must come to an end.... Audrey and crew were heading in our direction so we shared a comfy van to take us to the airport and deliver them to more beach time. The sun had set once again on wonderful Thailand and all it's great food and massages!