Thailand - Similan and Surin Islands

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derekcs
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Re: Thailand - Similan and Surin Islands

Post by derekcs » Sun Apr 14, 2019 8:12 pm

jmartel wrote:Nice photos, Derek. Yours are better than that person's instagram you linked, especially the second one.


Ha. Thank you. She was actually there teaching a student the basics and more keyed in on getting the mantas, turtles, and whale shark.
All underwater photographs of mine are posted at http://www.dereksinger.com
@dereksingerphotography on Instagram

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Gdog
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Re: Thailand - Similan and Surin Islands

Post by Gdog » Sun Apr 14, 2019 7:09 pm

Derek, great photos! Fantastic! My favorite is probably the harlequin shrimp. Great shots man!

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jmartel
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Re: Thailand - Similan and Surin Islands

Post by jmartel » Sun Apr 14, 2019 5:52 pm

Nice photos, Derek. Yours are better than that person's instagram you linked, especially the second one.

derekcs wrote:From what I was told, there are a number of dive shops in China giving out fake certifications and not really teaching students. It's something that's popped up and exploded in the last 5-10 years.


That's how it was for us in Palau last year. I wanted chinese divers literally get towed around with a waterskiing rope by DM's or had a DM steering them by the tank valve and swimming them around. I remember being at German Channel and seeing a dust cloud approaching, only for the group of above to appear and scare off all the Mantas.

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derekcs
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Re: Thailand - Similan and Surin Islands

Post by derekcs » Sun Apr 14, 2019 3:37 pm

60south wrote:The Bad:

Some of the reefs, especially in the southern Similans, show signs of coral bleaching, and there are many areas that are still devastated from the 2004 tsunami. User derekcs mentions East of Eden; this site was our first on the trip and it was a wasteland of damage. I didn't understand why we were even diving there. Funny how two people can go to the same site and see things totally different. Perhaps there are different sites in the area to visit?


I misspoke. They actually took us slightly north of East of Eden. They referred to it, in fact, as "North of Eden." But they kept talking about East of Eden so I conflated them.

60south wrote:The Ugly:

Crowds, crowds, crowds. Large liveaboards, including my own, would pull up to a site and disgorge dozens of divers at the same time. Visibility was typically 30-50 ft., and on one dive in the Similans I counted 36 divers within my field of vision (and this is at the end of the diving season, apparently it's much worse at other times of the year). I spent a lot of the dives just trying to avoid being kicked. Frankly, I didn't enjoy most of the diving because of the underwater traffic jams.

The Thais recognize that there is a problem and have limited the number of divers in the Similans to 500 per day. The problem is, the cattle boats don't seem to coordinate with each other, and many can end up at the same site at the same time. IMO, 500 is still far too many.

Where are the divers coming from? Apparently China. The majority of the divers were Chinese, and there was considerable grousing among the dive guides about their skills (or lack thereof) and their general disregard for the reefs and animals. I won't repeat the guides' comments here, but I did witness it myself. Places like Shark Point at Krabi no longer have sharks because of the over-use and abuse. There's lots of Russians in way-overgrown-Patong now, too, but most don't seem to be divers -- other than the few Russian tech divers I saw taking a class. Most of the remaining divers are Europeans. Americans are still kind of a novelty, then and now.


There were a number of dive boats at every site we went to, but our boat really tried to time dives to avoid the worst crowds. I had that overcrowded experience in Australia and ended up not enjoying the trip all that much as a result.

From what I was told, there are a number of dive shops in China giving out fake certifications and not really teaching students. It's something that's popped up and exploded in the last 5-10 years.
All underwater photographs of mine are posted at http://www.dereksinger.com
@dereksingerphotography on Instagram

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60south
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Re: Thailand - Similan and Surin Islands

Post by 60south » Sun Apr 14, 2019 12:16 pm

Great photos!

I just returned from diving the Similans, Richelieu, and Koh Phi Phi last week with the Manta 8 liveaboard; you beat me to the Thailand review! Sadly, my review is not so positive.

Background: I dove the same areas 23 years ago so I was interested in seeing what has changed since then...

The Good:

Thailand, and the diving community there, have made significant efforts to clean up trash in the water. For instance, things like one-use plastic bottles are no longer allowed in the Similans. I noticed the difference; there was very little floating trash. Still a few fishing nets snagged on rocks and wrecks, but nothing alarming.

Richelieu Rock and the northern Similans are still just as good as back in the day! The quantity and variety of life is amazing. I was very happy to see this. Some of the islands and sites within a day-trip of Phuket (Koh Doc Mai, Koh Phi Phi Lay, and Koh Bida Noc) were, IMO, as good or better than many of the Similan Islands, and surprisingly less crowded. I dove these areas with Aussie Divers out of Phuket, who bent over backwards to make sure we had a good time. It was in these areas where we saw mantas and black tip sharks, just to name a few.

The Bad:

Some of the reefs, especially in the southern Similans, show signs of coral bleaching, and there are many areas that are still devastated from the 2004 tsunami. User derekcs mentions East of Eden; this site was our first on the trip and it was a wasteland of damage. I didn't understand why we were even diving there. Funny how two people can go to the same site and see things totally different. Perhaps there are different sites in the area to visit?

The Ugly:

Crowds, crowds, crowds. Large liveaboards, including my own, would pull up to a site and disgorge dozens of divers at the same time. Visibility was typically 30-50 ft., and on one dive in the Similans I counted 36 divers within my field of vision (and this is at the end of the diving season, apparently it's much worse at other times of the year). I spent a lot of the dives just trying to avoid being kicked. Frankly, I didn't enjoy most of the diving because of the underwater traffic jams.

The Thais recognize that there is a problem and have limited the number of divers in the Similans to 500 per day. The problem is, the cattle boats don't seem to coordinate with each other, and many can end up at the same site at the same time. IMO, 500 is still far too many.

Where are the divers coming from? Apparently China. The majority of the divers were Chinese, and there was considerable grousing among the dive guides about their skills (or lack thereof) and their general disregard for the reefs and animals. I won't repeat the guides' comments here, but I did witness it myself. Places like Shark Point at Krabi no longer have sharks because of the over-use and abuse. There's lots of Russians in way-overgrown-Patong now, too, but most don't seem to be divers -- other than the few Russian tech divers I saw taking a class. Most of the remaining divers are Europeans. Americans are still kind of a novelty, then and now.

If you're in Thailand, my recommendation is to find a smaller, intimate boat (like derekcs did), pray that it isn't overloaded, and go see Richelieu Rock before it, too, is gone. Maybe take a day trip to Koh Phi Phi Lay and Koh Bida Noc, that was fun. But I wouldn't fly all that way again myself, if only because of the overcrowding. :-(

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YellowEye
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Re: Thailand - Similan and Surin Islands

Post by YellowEye » Sun Apr 14, 2019 9:22 am

Very awesome Derek! Love those first two photos especially, but they're all great!
Glad you had a great trip!

And free soda??? Not even god's pocket has that! And you're not complaining about Pepsi, so yay!

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derekcs
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Thailand - Similan and Surin Islands

Post by derekcs » Sat Apr 13, 2019 9:01 pm

Recently spent a week on The Junk liveaboard off of Phuket, Thailand. We spent 5 days diving in the Similan and Surin Islands in the Andaman Sea.

The diving, at its best, was really spectacular. Richelieu Rock is the highlight of the trip. We spent 1 day out of 5 there. It's covered in a rainbow of soft corals, cup corals, and fans, reminiscent of the best of God's Pocket, and the density of fish was just amazing. Schools of "glass fish" (silversides, I think) so thick you couldn't see 5-10' ahead of you. Lots and lots of groupers, fusiliers, anthias, snappers, trevally, triggerfish, unicorn shrimp. It was sensory overload, true to the divemaster's warning in the briefing. There was a mated pair of pharaoh cuttlefish we ran into. Saw a couple harlequin shrimp and several peacock mantis shrimp. An ornate ghost pipefish. We also saw a whale shark pup (~3m long), but our group was far away from it. The other group (we were diving 2 groups of 4) got way closer.

Other days, we saw some turtles and giant oceanic mantas. Again, I was often shooting something else when they popped up. And I had my macro lens on when others were snorkeling with a couple turtles. While not Richelieu Rock-level, the other reefs are still very colorful and lively. Some dives were average tropical dives, but some were still very cool. There was one dive site (Similan Koh Pay-yu East of Eden) that supposedly almost got labeled a UNESCO World Heritage Site before a bleaching event that was just so dense with plate coral that there was nowhere you could settle down to the bottom to get a low angle shot of a critter. Saw every color of ribbon eel (juvenile, male, female). Lots of those shrimpgobies. Several kinds of moray eels, giant clams, emperor, regal, and yellow-mask angels, powder blue surgeonfish, blue spotted stingrays, pink whiprays, schools of barracuda, several banded sea kraits, lots of nudibranchs (mostly phyllidia), parrotfish. The crown-of-thorns starfish were purple with black spines that had red tips. I missed the couple humphead wrasse that were spotted. I have to go back through the ID books and list off what I saw because I simply couldn't get photos of everything.

Water temperatures were consistently 85-87F, but on nearly every dive, there were random thermoclines throughout. Made seeing what the divemaster was pointing out really hard. Visibility early on was not great, 30-50', but cleared out to standard tropical 80-100' the last few days. Manageable current on most dives. Procedure was to backroll off the RIB, follow the divemaster for up to 60 minutes, someone deploy an SMB during the safety stop (they provide them), pop up, and let the RIB pick you up.

Accommodation wise, I am glad I chose the week I did. There were 8 of us when they take groups of up to 16, 17. So those of us by ourselves had no problem getting cabins to ourselves. 8 felt like a comfortable fit. My cabin would have been very awkward to share with a stranger. The food was good. They usually served both Western and Thai dishes for each meal. Nothing much in the way of dessert, which was fine. Free soda! And you could grab beer or wine whenever and just mark it down on a sheet to pay up later. I appreciated the dive schedule: dive, breakfast, dive, lunch, dive, snack, dinner, night dive. Spaced out to give time to change into dry clothes and warm up between dives. Staff was friendly and solid. 4 people helping you in and out between the RIB and the big boat. Dives were only a minute or two ride away. Very flat water the entire week. My divemaster tried to give me a heads up whether to go wide-angle or macro for each dive. Nitrox available for something like $20/day. It was a very good experience all around.

I also got the sense that I was one of few Americans to make my way through. I know it's not

For pictures of the whale shark and mantas, check out the Instagram account run by the pro photographer who was also on the boat that week.

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For those that care, I spent most of the trip alternating between my 15mm fisheye+1.4x teleconverter and my 105mm macro. Did not get a lot of use out of my diopter. There were some things small enough to warrant using a diopter (the blue dragon comes to mind), but current and having to follow the divemaster didn't really allow for it. The 60mm lens was just too wide, even for the fish portraits. If I had to do it again, I might go with a 16-35mm lens for much of the trip, good for the mantas and turtles and triggerfish and coral scapes.
All underwater photographs of mine are posted at http://www.dereksinger.com
@dereksingerphotography on Instagram

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