April 29, 2013

Best Week Ever! (Surin & Similan Islands, Thailand)

My favorite part of a dive is when the descent is over, I'm perfectly buoyant and I take my first calm breath 20 meters down and look around at my underwater world for the next hour. For me, there's nothing else like it. Tom's favorite moment is when we're at the surface, excitement and expectation running high for the dive about to come. We look around, regulators in place, making eye contact with our group. "Is everyone ready?" we mentally ask. 'OK' signal is given by all, followed by a down-pointing thumb. And then the real fun begins. From the moment we got our PADI Open Water certification in November, 2010, I've been hooked. At least once a week, I dream about diving, and sometimes I'm even swimming along side whales. Tom had the genius idea for us to board a dive boat to explore Thailand's Surin and Similan Islands and - no surprise here - it turned out to be one of the best weeks of my life. We booked our trip with Similan Diving Safaris and, after our time in Koh Lanta (read here), we took a bus up to Khao Lak, boarded the Similan Explorer, and set sail!

Scuba Swains - Photo by Greg Stirton
For 5 days, we dove. We did 4 dives each day, including a night dive, for a total of 18 dives in 5 days. (We only did 2 dives the last day.) Because we were already doing so many dives, and because many of them were deeper than 18 meters and required some additional technical skills, we also completed our PADI Advanced Open Water certification on the boat. The entire experience was incredible. We woke up each morning, had coffee and a piece of fruit or toast, and jumped in for our first dive by 7am. When we returned to the boat, a massive breakfast awaited us. Then, for the next few hours, we would either relax on the boat deck, go ashore a deserted island to enjoy beach time or hike to a lookout, or visit remote indigenous villages. We'd return for for our second dive around 11am. When we finished, a delicious lunch would be set up on the deck. We'd have a few more hours of leisure time before our 3rd dive of the day, around 2:30. After this dive, they always had an amazing snack ready for us. Then we'd nap or sunbathe or swim around the boat until our night dive at 7pm. After that, we'd eat a big dinner, talk a bit, maybe have a few beers and then go to sleep. If you've ever dived, you know that the process of getting going can be tedious. You have to get to do the dive shop, select your equipment, check your equipment, get to the boat, get to the dive site - all before you get to dive. On a dive boat, you choose and set-up your equipment only once. For every dive after that, you're ready to go. It truly makes it an effortless experience. We can't wait to do it again.

Pelican Rock

Taken right before Tom fell backwards off the swing

Some of the highlights of our dive trip:
Dive Deck all set up and ready for us!

  • Completing our PADI Advanced Open Water certification, which included focused studying in Deep Diving, Night Diving, Peak Performance Buoyancy, Underwater Navigation, and Wreck Diving. Now, we can dive almost any recreational site!
  • The fantastic Thai crew on board. There were 3 cooks, 1 captain, 3 crew - and they were all amazing. They were always smiling, eager to help us get suited up, ready for a laugh, and put our safety at the top of their minds. I always felt comfortable with these guys. The dive crew from Similan Diving Safaris was great, too.
  • When I took my regulator out of my mouth at 25 meters and tried to talk to Tom, forgetting I was underwater. Oops
  • Visiting the Moken Village
  • Becoming more comfortable on our dives. The more comfortable we get, the more we enjoy diving. This has a lot to do with mastering our buoyancy control.
  • Richelieu Rock, one of the world's best dive sites
  • Huge octopus at Koh Chi dive site that put on a color show for us for 5-7 minutes!
  • Incredibly beautiful jellyfish on a night dive at Hin Kong. You could see tiny fish swimming inside the jelly!
  • Being inside a large school of barracuda - all of them staring at us.
  • Spotting a flying gurnard on a night dive. 
  • Flying Gurnard - Photo by Greg Stirton
  • Coming up from a night dive and being greeted near the boat by a big sea turtle who curiously swam among us until we finally got out of the water.
  • Bon Soong Wreck! This wreck is a nursery site for TONS of fish. At times, you could barely see 3 feet in front of you for all the tropical colors swirling around. It was the most amazing and overwhelmingly cool experiences I've ever had. I was giggling underwater!
  • The other divers! We were really lucky to have such a badass group of people on our boat. Five days on a boat is a long time in a confined space, and it could have been rough. But it wasn't. (Side note: out of the 15 paying divers from all over the world, 5 of us were from San Francisco!) The diving was amazing, but the experience was complete because of the people we met and the time we spent with this interesting crowd from Sweden, Spain, England, Belgium, Russia, and Italy. We had a great night out with everyone when we returned to Khao Lak. We hope to see many of these faces again.
Most of the crew!

Moken Village
Totems outside Moken Village
One of my favorite things to see on any dive are the tiny yellow boxfish. To me, they're the hummingbirds of the sea. They just don't look like they should be able to swim, but they do, despite their tiny, thin side fins and cubical shape. They're just so cute. I could watch them forever.
Hello little guy! Photo by Greg Stirton
It was awesome to have a professional photographer on the boat, and I hope you'll check out this video slideshow of some of the best photos from our week, all taken by a pro. (The video won't show up in your email feed of the post. You'll need to click here.) All the photos and the video are by Greg Stirton. (Though I did delete his music - YouTube kept blocking the video - and added my own selection of tunes. I also added a few extra photos of us at the end.) Enjoy!

Check out all of Greg Stirton's professional photos from our dive trip here (best if you want to view underwater photos). And check out all of our photos from the Surin and Similan Islands here (to see pics of life on the boat and on our side trips). A few more of our favorites are below. (I tried out Picasa's collage maker since there were so many favorites I wanted to share. What do you think? Do you like it? Or would you rather see them all full size?)

Photos by Greg Stirton

Check out all of Greg Stirton's professional photos from our dive trip here (best if you want to view underwater photos). And check out all of our photos from the Surin and Similan Islands here (to see pics of life on the boat and on our side trips). 


  1. Um where do I sign up?! Dive boat PLEASE

    1. Emily - have you ever been diving? It's amazing!

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