Christian Mietz, a German diving instructor, well known author and underwater photographer, tells about a remote and fantastic diving area in the South of Thailand.
Whenever diving enthusiasts think pleasant temperatures, sunshine and exciting experiences in a fantastic underwater world. At lease that was what I was thinking about as I winged my way from Germany to Thailand, my dive gear secure in the hold and my diving destination firmly fix in my mind.
After a relaxing transfer from Bangkok to Krabi International Airport, it wasn’t long before I was sitting in an air-conditioned minibus being whisked through glorious countryside consisting of craggy limestone cliffs with plantations of pineapples and coconuts separated by serried ranks of rubber trees.
My destination was Koh Lanta Yai, an island to the south of Krabi. I had heard it was still pristine and largely deserted. I’d also heard that the diving off the surrounding island was simply magnificent and that was exactly what was drawing me in.
I ask to be dropped off at Saladan, the quiet fishing village at the northern tip of the island. Many of the house here are constructed on stilts holding them high above the sea with narrow separating walkways serving as workplaces for fishermen to prepare the day’s catch.
A sigh indicated the way to Koh Lanta Diving Center where the friendly Thai staff showed me photos depicting the rich diversity of marine life to be found in the seas around the island. A large wall-mounted map indicated the location of the different dive spots, and there was a library of good reference boos and magazine.
The following morning I arrived at the dive center gathered my gear together from where I had stored it the day before. The dive boat, the ‘MV Choksom boon’ was fully equipped with tanks, oxygen and first aid box and there were three divemaster to attend to our needs.
As we approached Koh Ha, a groups of five small islands too small to bear any human settlement, the familiar sounds of “No decompression stop, don’t go deeper than 30 meters and return to the surface at 50 bar” ended our briefing and it was into the water!
The first dive was around island Number One. As I descended, I passed enormous rocks carpeted by red-violet soft corals and approached a vertical chimney cut through the rock.
This natural phenomenon providing a superb backdrop for a swim through. To the left three entrances lead to a fish-bowl shaped arena where a school of glassfish pass through the dancing rays of sunlight.
Another exit opened into enticing canyon, where two ringed angelfish play follow-my leader. Passing back through the narrow canyon I slowly ascend to the surface where the boat is already close by and waiting to pick us up. Over the next few days I would frequently join the dive boat and return to this small archipelago, especially after seeing two whale sharks near the surface whilst snorkeling.
A couple of days later, I had two of the dives of my trip. The open ocean sites of Hin Mueang and Hin Deang area located about fifty kilometers south of Koh Lanta, and area the deepest dive sites around. The three-hour boat journey provided the perfect opportunity for me to assemble my kit and then catch up on some sleep.
Mooring buoys have been installed in the majority of Thailand’s Marine National Parks to protect the reefs from suffering anchor damage. The buoy line at Hin Muaeng (Purple Rock) makes descending easy, especially if the current is strong. Looking around at the profusion of purple soft corals it was easy to guess show it learned its name.
Leaving one of the rocks dividing channels, I followed the vertical cliff south. The quill-like antennae of lobsters stick out beyond the soft corals; nudibranchs are in abundance and if you look very carefully, and in the right spot. harlequin ghost-pipe fish become a familiar sight.
Out in the abyss shadows are beginning to appear but fail to actually materialize into anything more solid.
Maybe tuna, mackerel, barracuda or even a long awaited whale shark I ask myself? But then my curiosity is quenched when a large manta ray appears out of the deep water and passes less than five meters away. What a great moment!
A look at my dive computer and my stomach time to return to the surface and my stomach dutifully informs me that it’s time for lunch!
After a quick dive briefing we took to the waters around Hin Deang. At low tide the rocks three highest points break the surface, at any other time they remain submerged. The rocky structure is also covered by soft corals, but this time red, hence its name in Thai which translates into ‘Red Rock’.
As I slowly moved across the reef I passed over large areas of Gorgonian and yellow tube coral where moray eels peep out of their shelters, lionfish lurk between the coral branches and pair of giant groupers slowly makes their way against the current.
At 25 Meters I spot a leopard shark resting on the coral substrate where the cliff and corals end abruptly.
On my ascent a majestic emperor angelfish throws me a stare before turning its back and swimming away.
I broke through the glistening surface and into sunshine, hoping that these reefs remain untouched so that future visitors can experience them as I did.