SCUBA DIVING THE ANDAMAN SEA FROM KOH LANTA
Thailand has some of the best diving in the whole world, with the Andaman Sea being a big part in that. The Andaman Sea is on the Southern West Coast of Thailand which consists of dozens of tropical islands, crystal clear blue water, underground mountains, swim-through tunnels, vibrant coral gardens and a vast amount of sea life like whale sharks, turtles, clown fish, stingrays and leopard sharks. Popular diving locations include Koh Lipe & the Tarutao National Park, Koh Phi Phi, the Surin & Similan Islands and Koh Lanta.
You will have most likely heard of Koh Tao (on the Gulf of Thailand), the countries 'dive junkie' island, which is the place to go to complete your Open Water Qualification for cheap. I love the scuba-diving quality over on that side of the country, but there is something about the Andaman Sea that is extra special to me. I'm not sure if this is because of the dive sites themselves or if it's because of the place in my life that I'm in at the time but this was confirmed on my most recent trip to Koh Lanta.
CHOOSING THE COMPANY: 'GO DIVE' IN KOH LANTA
I had searched around and spoke to a few dive shops on the island but Go Dive stuck out to me because of how friendly and welcoming they were from the moment I turned up at their shop. Plus they had some of the cheapest prices and best selection of packages I had found. Their shop is located right in the middle of the main area, near the pier (they provide free pick up and drop off service on the day of your dive).
Along with fun-dive packages (scuba-diving day trips for those who are qualified) they also offer a range of scuba-diving courses, plus free-diving courses and snorkelling trips. I don't think there's much they don't do!
WHAT I PAID
1 Day Fun Diving - 2 Dives including all Food, Drinks, Equipment & Transfer: 3300BAHT
1 Additional Dive decided on the Day: 1000 BAHT
National Marine Park Fee: 600 BAHT
As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by a couple of the helpful staff who told me about Koh Bida, the location where they were heading to on the Wednesday (dive shops usually choose a different location to dive each day of the week). After confirming my booking, completing the forms and checking which sizes of the equipment I needed, I headed back to my hotel where I searched for videos on Koh Bida. The footage was incredible, there were reef sharks as well as stingrays and lots of beautiful colours of coral and marine life. I also checked out some videos of setting up the equipment because although I had been diving within the last year (so I didn't have to do a refresher course), I still felt the need to refresh my memory. I hated dives I had done in the past where I'd made some mistakes or forgotten parts of setting up and made to feel stupid.
At the end of the night I was prepared and ready for my 7am pick up. I looked out my GoPro and metal clip for it (it cost like a dollar and clips onto my underwater BCD jacket perfectly secure), a change of clothes, sun cream and a towel.
I was a little nervous but it was mostly excitement nerves because scuba-diving is probably my favourite solo travel activity. It's a hobby I absolutely love to do with my boyfriend and travel partner Stu but having that day apart reminds me it's still good to do stuff on your own as it gives you a chance to miss each other after seeing one another every second and it's important to keep that 'independence balance'. I can go out for the day once in a while and do my thing and he can do his and when we meet up we're buzzing and excited to share our stories and see each other again.
DIVING KOH BIDA
I absolutely love everything about scuba-diving and I always forget how much I treasure this passion of mine until I'm stepping onto a boat again with my rucksack and camera. This was the same feeling I had that morning I was picked up by the pick-up truck to head for my day of adventure.
I met my dive buddy for the day, a Thai instructor named Max. He was excited too as we did the final checks on my equipment and loaded everything onto the boat. After a briefing of the boat and introducing me to another buddy I'd be diving with, we set off and were allowed to help ourselves to breakfast in the galley.
The sun was shining, the waters were calm and we were told the visibility had been excellent lately. Max took us aside and briefed us on the plan of action once the boat had stopped. First, we would visit Koh Bida Nai and circle around the limestone rock. Some parts were meant to have strong currents so we would turn back if necessary. We went over types of tropical fish and sea life we might see including which underwater hand signals to use if we spotted any of them. (I can only remember shark, turtle and trigger fish - need to revise!)
Max had kindly set up every bit of my equipment for me (attaching my BCD jacket and breathing regulator to the oxygen tank) and all I had to do was the final checks. After one big leap from the boat into the water, we started to descend down into the Andaman Sea.
As soon as we started to gently swim around the rocky wall beneath the sea, we spotted a couple of clown fish nestled in their anemone home. It was so cool to find Nemo right at the very start! I'd never seen clown fish in the sea before, but little did I know, even more was yet to come.
Diving for me is a form of meditation and therapy. It's the only time where I am actually thinking about NOTHING but staying alive, breathing and what's in my current view. I am just so present and living in the complete moment. Time slows down, everything moves in such a soft, gentle pace. I feel as though I am in slow motion, really concentrating on moving and swimming gradually to the next spot.
As we swam on around Koh Bida Nai we came across the largest school of fish I'd ever seen. Hundreds of school-fish snappers hovered almost motionless until we got closer and they would dart together as one circling us, creating a perfect silver wall.
We spent time within the live tunnel of fish, just observing and appreciating the moment, before swimming through smoothly, letting the fish break away. As we swam further round the island, I could feel the current pulling me back. I had struggled with my buoyancy in the past and started to feel nervous I'd lose control. My breathing began to pick up and I pushed and pushed to swim and fight the strong current.
Diving is all about breathing. As soon as your breathing picks up speed, you will start to move erratically and can even jolt all over the place. In order to keep your balance, you must breath calmly and slowly. As u breath in, your lungs fill up with air so you raise yourself up, then as you breath out you can feel yourself gently being released back down. I can navigate my way around the underwater gardens of rocks and coral life by practising this breath movement. This is why I feel diving is a form of meditation, because you concentrate on nothing else but your breathing. I am never so aware as I am under the water. I focus on each breath and feel how my body moves with it. My air began to get low as we resisted the current more and more. As my air got lower, I began to rise up to the surface completely outwith my control because I was a lot lighter than before. Max pulled me down and put an extra weight into my BCD. I managed to hold steady onto rope from an anchor and keep my movements calm as we did our safety stop.
Back onto the boat, we took off everything and set it up again for the next dive. We snacked on fruit and drank lots of water as you're using so much energy under the sea than you realise, you have to eat and drink loads throughout the day. Our next dive was onto another part of Koh Bida, Koh Bida Nok. There wouldn't be so much current this time and the visibility would be even clearer.
This dive was the best one yet. I don't think I had ever seen so many tropical and colourful fish in one place. From giant bat-fish, to dotted butterfly-fish and bright anemone-fish hiding in their underwater world. There was lion-fish, puffer-fish and porcupine-fish to lizard-fish hiding in the sand with their babies. So many different shiny colours, it was beautiful. Vibrant starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers lay between the vivid coral gardens. The water was so clear - glistening blue and turquoise colours shimmered as the sun glowed from above. The light caught the bodies of the fish, sparkling colours of pink, orange, yellow, green and purple as they swam around me. We explored their home, following the rocks and coral as they broke away making paths.
We swam to the sand of the sea bed and quickly caught sight of a stingray moving so gracefully, barely touching the sand beneath him. As we moved on we managed to see a stripey sea snake and other fish hunting for food beneath the ground. I managed to get up quite close to take a video but heard stories back on the boat of people getting bitten by them so will be more careful next time.
I was so happy with my buoyancy and movement, I finally felt as though I was in complete control and had figured it all out. As we got back to the boat, Max assured me that I did great. He was very encouraging and calm in comparison to some other instructors I've had that knocked my confidence.
Our last dive was optional. We could go down a third time if we wished or could stay on the boat and relax. The previous dive had only enhanced my passion and adrenaline even more so of course I said yes to the final dive. After an amazing Thai buffet lunch we made our way down to set up our equipment.
Max and I, then another group of 3 Thai's made our way down near the sea bed at Hin Bida, our last dive location. The visibility wasn't the best but in the distance I thought I could see a reef shark. Max turned to me and started doing the shark signal, I couldn't believe it when I was saw at least two swimming in the distance. As we swam more it began to get a little clearer and there again was lots of different fish like yellow and black banner-fish and pointy pick-handle barracuda's. We swam further to the sea floor then Max suddenly told me to stop. I floated there patiently, wondering what it was. He pointed to the sea bed and gestured me to come forward and follow him. It was a huge leopard shark! Lying on the sand chilling out. One of the photographers got quite close to take a photo and it looked like the shark was starting to wake up, he opened his mouth like a yawn and stared at us. We managed to watch him a while longer before he got up and swam away so quickly.
It's amazing how we're not the superior race in the ocean. Everything can out-swim us and the environment is not alien to them. We're merely the visitor in their underwater world watching in awe as they hunt, feed or live in their own habitat. I love how they race us and dart through us, unafraid to get up close and stare us in the eye.
Over 70% of our earth is covered in water. I find it so fascinating what's down there waiting to be explored. If you're thinking about diving, just get out and do it! It's not scary at all, it feels more normal than being above the sea level as your survival instincts are out in full force and you're more aware of your breathing than ever.
The perfect day came to an end and we started to make our way back onto the boat. I sat with my buddies and filled in my log book and we looked at the pictures of fish to spot which ones we had seen down beneath the sea. We got to snack on doughnuts and I drank more water and tea until we had nearly reached Koh Lanta. What a day, I felt alive and free and couldn't wait to get back to fill in Stu of all I'd seen and experienced. I said goodbye to the team after settling my bill then headed to meet Stu for dinner.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my most recent fun-dives - I would recommend Koh Lanta in a heartbeat, it's cheaper than other popular places on the Andaman Sea and they head to areas near Koh Phi Phi as well as Koh Lanta.