Whale Shark encounter on a night dive
Richelieu Rock is often the very reason divers want to go on a Liveaboard to the Similans & Surin Islands, it is the dive site people most want to visit and the reason is justified. The dive site itself is breathtakingly beautiful, covered in purple soft corals, Anemones, Gorgonian Fans, Knotted fans, Sea Whips and full of life, it is easy to see why divers want to come back again and again.
No two dives are the same, and it is impossible to see everything in just 1 dive, for that reason the Scuba Explorer spends a whole day at Richelieu Rock making 3/4 dives. We have had the added pleasure of doing a night dive on Richelieu Rock, very few Liveaboards offer this due to currents, depth, customer experience or time. So of course we all jumped at the chance, kitted up and jumped in before the tour leader could change his mind.
The excitement of descending onto Richelieu Rock in the dark was apparent in all us Instructors, I don’t think the customers realised that a night dive here was not often done as they laughed at us all fighting to get in the water first. As we all descended with our torches turned on the colour of the corals light up under the artificial light, glowing in the beam it looks even more beautiful at night. The peacefulness of the Ocean at night and the fact that we were the only Liveaboard diving there made me feel utter calmness, like I was floating through space. I love night diving and this dive was definitely one to remember.
Whale Shark in the Similan Islands
Klet Kaew Wreck Dive near Phi Phi Island Thailand
When someone says Wreck dive in Thailand or Phuket, most people immediately think of the King Cruiser, probably because it’s an awesome wreck and easily accessible, but what if I told you there is an even better wreck, just as accessible, shallower, more intact, safer and just generally purpose built for penetrating & scuba diving?
Enter the Klet Kaew Wreck or due to misspelling sometimes also known as the ‘kled Gaew, klad gaew, klad Kaew’ just off of Phi Phi Ley in the Southern Andaman, right next to viking cave if you are familiar with the area. A 50 meter long 382 tonne ex Norwegian gun ship, purchased by the Thailand Royal Navy, purposefully sunk on the 19th March 2014 for scuba diving in only 24 meters of water. So Unlike the King Cruiser, you get much more bottom time and the ability to penetrate into large sections of the Klet Kaew safely because it is so new and very much intact sitting on a sandy bed at only twenty four meters deep!
I myself recently dove it and spent almost my entire bottom time exploring the inside of this magnificent ship, I spent over 40 minutes on the dive, which is rare on wreck dives, because the Klet Kaew top is actually only at 14 meters, the bottom is 24, so once you start getting low on deco time, you go up to the wheel house and captains cabin and start penetrating there instead. I also spent a long time filming a giant ball of Striped Eel Catfish that were making a home deep inside the aft of the ship, they actually blocked my intended exit and I had to look for another one, thankfully there are plenty and the spaces are quite open, so swam through a large doorway…
West of Eden is a beautiful mixture of granite boulders and coral gardens intertwined, it is part of the Similan Islands, near to Island 7. This is another deep dive site with many of the rare and interesting critters that make this location a must dive, found at depths of 25-30m. This dive site is also known for the famous ‘big green monster’ a particularly nasty thermo-cline bringing with it freezing (well 23°C) temperatures, 5m visibility and current, this does pass though and you are not in it for long.
Your dive guide will lead you along the main channel, looking in the sand for Spearing Mantis Shrimp a rather wonderful and powerful creature with spear like claws to catch their prey, on the walls for many colourful Nudibranchs and Network Pipefish or in the corals for the tiny Tiger Egg Cowrie. Also often seen on this dive site are very rare and beautiful Ribbon Eels sticking out from the sand, the black ones are juvenile in both sexes, changing to blue for the males and yellow for the females as they get older.
The picturesque coral gardens are a perfect place to end this dive, not only are they shallow they also house some fantastic fish life from Yellow Tail Fusilier to Orange Stripe Trigger fish, you may also encounter the colourful Clown Trigger fish. West of Eden offers a diverse range of marine life making it a spectacular dive and a favourite among many a diver.
Hanging out with the night critters
Elephant Head Rock is a dive site in the Similan Islands on island number 8, as with most of the dive sites in the Similans it is named after the shapes the rocks make above the water, so called as it is thought to look like the top of the head of an Elephant with its trunk coming out of the water, although it is hard to see. This dive site is a great first morning dive where you may be able to catch an early glimpse of the sleeping White Tip Reef Sharks before they are scared away by snorkelers.
A favourite amongst many dive professional of the Similan Islandss dive sites and it is easy to see why. With all the giant boulders creating excellent swim throughs, each instructor has their own route around the site. Along the way you encounter Phylidia and Chromodoris Nudibranchs, Starry Dragonet Gobies, Red Toothed Trigger fish, Trevallies, Snapper and Wrasse.
Keep an eye on the ground to see the camouflaged Sea Moth often seen in pairs walking along the floor, or under rocks to spot the shy and wonderful Octopus, if you are lucky enough to see them swimming and changing colour to the rocks it is a fantastic sight. The swim throughs are certainly the highlight of this dive presenting many photo opportunities and a great chance to test your buoyancy skills.
This is a great chance to practice your buoyancy as you swim through the gaps in the boulders, some of them a smaller than others, adding excitement to the dive. Finish the dive with the safety stop on top of the boulders where you may get another chance to see White Tip Reef Sharks or Barracuda.
Koh Tachai Pinnacle (or Twin Peaks) is known for its impressive boulders, beautiful coral gardens and crazy currents, this makes it one of the most exciting dives on the Similan Islands liveaboard cruise. You descend down the buoy line on the east side of the pinnacle, using your arms to pull you down the rope as the current takes the rest of your body forcing you horizontal, make sure to hold onto your mask if you turn around to look behind you else the current can take it. Once down your dive guide will find ways around the pinnacle hiding you from the currents, weaving in and out of the massive granite boulders. The currents not only make for an interesting dive, they also bring with them the big fish which make this site a must to dive.
Schools of Long-fin Bat fish hang around nonplussed by the divers around them, huge schools of circling Barracuda on top of this pinnacle make a beautiful photo opportunity as you look up at them silhouetted in the light of the sun through the ocean ceiling. Giant Trevally, Tuna and Napoleon Wrasse are frequent here. As well as the graceful Manta Ray magically swimming back and forth, it is such an amazing sight that you will want to make more than one dive here.
The beautiful coral gardens on the north side of the pinnacle have some hidden wonders in them, Ornate Ghost Pipefish, Hawksbill Turtles, Sea Snakes, Devil Scorpion fish to name but a few. Explore the powerful granite boulders or the colourful corals, or just hang in the current holding onto the tops of the rock waiting for Mantas to pass you by, whatever dive you do you will love Koh Tachai Pinnacle.
This Island offers a few different dive sites, the most impressive and most dived is the Koh Bon West ridge, this is a known Manta Ray cleaning station and the main reason people want to do this dive. The ridge comes down from the island under the water to depths of 40m and is covered in table corals, soft corals and plate coral. The visibility here is normally 20/30m but on a good day can go to 40+m and is simply stunning.
You tend to descend near the wall on the South side of the island where current is lax and swim along to the ridge, taking in many sites as you go, schools of Yellow Back Fusilier, Big Eyed Snapper, Oriental Sweetlips, the fish life here is extremely diverse and there is plenty to see. Always make sure you keep a look out into the blue to catch a glimpse of the Manta Rays swimming magically past you. At times you can have up to 5 Manta Rays playfully gliding around the divers as they hang in the water, no really this happens a lot, these beautiful creatures put on an amazing show some days for us, even the mythical rarely seen Black Manta has been spotted here.
There can sometimes be a strong current that changes direction as you swim over the ridge, you will encounter many other divers hanging onto the top of the rock waiting for the Manta Rays coming to get cleaned. Look out for Octopus hiding in the cracks of the rock, Clarks Anemone fish in their homes, Moray Eels in the corals, and Nudibranchs of all types and colour. This makes a fantastic early morning dive and if you are lucky enough to see a Manta a wonderful way to start the day. More than 1 dive is needed on this site to take everything in, it really is a must do dive on the Similan Islands cruise.
The other site occasionally dived here is the Koh Bon Pinnacle, this is a deep dive so is often the early morning dive. The top of the pinnacle is 18m and goes to 45m on one side, 30m on the other. This is set apart from the island itself and can have strong currents, for this reason your dive guide doesn’t hang on the surface too long descending straight down onto the pinnacle taking in the mass of yellow soft corals covering it, it is a spectacular sight.
Look out for the Shrimps, Moray Eels, Octopus and even a grumpy looking Stone fish camouflaged on the top. After 15 minutes or so swimming around the pinnacle you can make your way to the reef on the North west side of the island, always looking for Manta Rays and White Tip Reef Sharks as you go.
Whale Shark on Richelieu roc
Be sure to hold your regulator in your mouth when you first dive Richelieu Rock as your jaw drops open at the sheer beauty of it. This dive site is part of the Surin National Marine Park, although it is set apart from the islands in the middle of the Andaman ocean.
Only the first 1 meter of Richelieu Rock breaks the surface at low tide, it was discovered by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the dive site is so named from the shape, it is said to resemble Cardinal Richelieu’s collar as a series of pinnacles form a horse shoe shape under the water. The stunning array of colours will leave you breathless as you descend into a vision of purple corals, surrounded by all manner of marine life imaginable.
This dive site offers a vast range of pelagic life, you will be swimming through huge schools of Snapper, Trevally, Barracuda, Fusilier, looking for Seahorses, Pipefish of every kind, an abundance of all types of shrimp and Moray Eels including the rare and incredibly beautiful Harlequin shrimp. But the main attractions of this dive site are the Whale Sharks that visit the area regularly.
Being shy creatures they do not like to be chased, but hang in the water and wait and they will reward you by swimming up nice and close, back and forth, coming close to you for as long as your air will last. As they are most regularly seen at depths of 5m this definitely makes for one spectacular safety stop.
There is a buoy on the south east pinnacle; this is used as reference point to descend by. Each dive is different, your dive guide may spend the first dive exploring deep on the east side to find the Tiger Tail Seahorses, then take you up around the north pinnacle to shallower depths looking for Durban Dancing shrimp, Banded Boxer shrimp, Moray Eels and the rare Tomato Anemone fish seen swimming in the colourful anemones at the top of the pinnacle.
Your following dives may explore the west side, or in the middle of the horseshoe looking upside down under rocks for the shy and wonderful Harlequin shrimp, whichever way around you go always remember to look up into the blue for the Whale Sharks. 1, 2 or even 3 dives in a day are not enough for this Surin dive site, there is so much to take in, so much to encounter, it is the most talked about dive site on a Similans Liveaboard cruise for a reason, just come and see for yourself why it’s one of the worlds and definitely Thailand’s top dive site.