Book Review: Thailand’s Underwater World

December 16, 2011

Just in time for Christmas comes this beautiful coffee-table book highlighting the wonders of Thailand’s oceans and reefs. With photos by Jez Tryner and text by Chris Mitchell, Thailand’s Underwater World is educational as well as beautiful. As a matter of full disclosure, I should point out that I’ve known Chris for a few years, and have dived with him.

The eye-popping photographs in this book are what will get you hooked. Jez Tryner seems to have an uncanny ability to get up close and personal with the often skittish denizens of the deep.

Chris Mitchell’s text is readable while conveying a lot of useful information about each of the species covered. The handy information boxes at the end of each section will probably mean this book will become a fixture in most school libraries, but if you’ve dived or snorkeled around Thailand, you’ll almost certainly want this memento of what you’ve seen in your own home.


Filed under: News — Michael @ 9:41 am

SELECTED Thai Dive Sites Closed

January 22, 2011

You may have read already that Thailand was closing some dive sites, but there has been a fair amount of misleading reports on the nature of the closure. Some reports would lead you to believe that all dive sites in destinations like the Similans have been closed but this is incorrect. Only a few selected sites in each destination have been made off limits, for a total of 18 in all. In the Similans, for example, only East of Eden and Ao Fai Wab have been closed. Other closed sites include six sites in the Surin islands and Koh Maprao in Chumphon.

The sites are being closed due to coral bleaching, which of course has almost nothing to do with divers and everything to do with global warming, but with a coral loss estimated at around 90%, it was felt that something had to be done to reduce the stress on the coral. The sites will be closed for the remainder of this season, which in the Andaman runs to the end of April, when most dive operations cease anyway for the monsoon. The sites will be re-evaluated before the beginning of the next season in October.

For full details, the Bangkok Post has a good map of all the closed sites.

Filed under: News — Michael @ 9:58 pm

Where to Learn Scuba Diving in Southeast Asia

June 30, 2010

"Friends are coming to visit in [some month] and want to learn to dive. Where to go?" I’ve fielded this question a few times now on Twitter, and it’s a question I’ve wished I could give an answer to that was longer than 140 characters, so it seemed like a good idea to jot down a few observations on the subject. You can learn diving just about anywhere there is ocean access around the region, but I’ve narrowed the list down to three options. They all have their own advantages and disadvantages, which I’ve highlighted in my descriptions.

Reef scenery
The reef scenery at Bunaken – why most people want to learn to dive.

Before we get to the topic of where to learn to dive, it might be a good idea to first discuss whether or not this is really a good idea, for you. Learning to dive from any reputable dive shop will take four or five days, and involves a fair bit of reading, written tests and other activities that might be a little too much like being back in school. If you only have a two or three week holiday, do you really want to spend a good chunk of it leaning to dive? It all depends on you. Some people like learning new things while on vacation, others prefer to maximize their down-time in the sun. If the amount of time it takes to learn to dive is going to make a big dent in your plans, it might be better to learn at home before arriving in the region.

The other general factor in your decision regarding where to learn to dive, is when you’ll be doing it. Most of the major dive destinations in the region like to advertise that they can be enjoyed year round, but the truth is that there are times when conditions are not ideal. You want to learn to dive in the best weather, both to ensure you have an easy time, as well as to have an enjoyable experience that you’ll want to continue with. Therefore, I’ve highlighted below when the best times for each destination is.

Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao is perhaps the most obvious choice. I’ve heard that Thailand accounts for something like 25% of all the Dive Master and Dive Instructor certifications in the world, and it seems that Koh Tao contributes a major proportion to that number. For people just learning to dive, this means there are lots of dive shops to choose from, and a wide range of accommodations as well as restaurants, bars and other services. The downside is that Koh Tao can be a little too popular. Some wags suggest that the only creatures you’ll see in the waters around the island are other divers. That may be a little too harsh, but I would rate the diving at the other two options as ‘better’ than what you’ll experience immediately around Koh Tao. There are some really great dive sites in the sea some distance from Koh Tao, but these are generally for experienced divers.

When to go: The season for Koh Tao is fairly long, which is one of the reasons for its popularity. The months to avoid are October to January.

Tioman Island, Malaysia

Tioman is my "dark horse" candidate for a good place to learn scuba diving. It is very popular as a weekend diving destination for people from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, with direct flights there from both cities. But it isn’t quite as popular as Koh Tao, and instead has a very relaxed atmosphere. Many of the dive resorts have their own "house reefs" where they take beginning divers, which makes things very easy by eliminating external issues like dealing with boats from the learning experience. Once you’ve got the basics down, there are a lot of easy and very enjoyable dives within a 10 to 20 minute boat ride. There’s a nice variety of sea life, such as turtles, sharks, squids and many kinds of fish, although not in great abundance. The downside to Tioman – which some might consider an upside – is that there aren’t a huge variety of restaurants or nightlife on offer. Depending on which resort you’re staying at, you may be stuck there for most of your stay.

When to go: Tioman is at its best from March to October.

Bunaken, Indonesia

If the time of year weren’t an issue, Bunaken would probably be my top choice for a destination to learn to dive. The tiny island just off the northern tip of Sulawesi in Indonesia has some of the best diving you can find, with a huge abundance of sea life on view. Conditions are generally calm, although currents can be strong on some sites. Your dive instructors will take you to the easier sites to start with. You’re almost assured to have experiences on your first few dive that will get you hooked on the sport. The downside, if there is one, is that most of the dive resorts around Bunaken are more or less self-contained. You won’t find much in the way of independent restaurants or night life outside of the resorts.

When to go: Bunaken is best from May to October, with the summer months of July and August being ideal.

Filed under: Learning to Dive — Michael @ 11:53 am
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