DIVE SITES - ANDAMAN SEA
Most of our divesites are exposed to currents of some sort. Currents, although not much appreciated by many divers, are extremely important for the development and sustainability of healthy reef eco-systems. In fact, without current our divesites would be barren and life-less! In the Andaman Sea we have to deal with a combination of tidal currents, surface currents, oceanic currents, surges and currents caused by shapes and size of reef structures. Strength and direction of current are very difficult to determine on most of our sites and actually may change during one single dive. Fortunately most of our dive sites are so-called high profile reef structures starting at or just below the surface. These reef structures provide shelter from the currents. We recommend our divers carefully listen to the dive briefings and to follow the advice of our dive crew regarding entry and exit procedures.
Distance from Phuket: 55 NM
Diving Depth: 6-40m. (20-135ft.)
Visibility: good to fabulous
Diver Level: all levels
The Similan Islands National Park is the centerpiece of all live-aboard trips in Phuket. Nowhere is the diving more varied or colorful than here. There are nine, densely wooded islands lying north to south. Each has its own name but everyone knows them simply by number. Most islands have gorgeous beaches with fine talcum powder-like sand.
The underwater scenery changes as you alternate between the east and the west side of the islands. On the east side, the diving is on sloping hard coral reefs and shallow coral gardens. Here, photographers can happily lose themselves for hours on end.
Change over to the west side and it is as if you are at a totally different location. Here, huge granite boulders stacked on top of one another create caverns and swim-throughs. Soft corals cover everything, huge gorgonian sea fans and bright yellow cup corals add to the orgy of color. Plus of course fish, fish and more fish. Few places on earth offer as much variety and enjoyment as the Similan Islands. All the reef fish are happy to pose for your camera.
Ask the dive master to show you the hideouts of some of the rarer species such as ghost pipefish, blue spotted jawfish, Andaman sweet lips, ribbon eels and nudibranchs. If you are a marine biology buff, this is the place to visit!
Some of the Similan Islands' best loved dive sites are: Elephant Head, Fantasea Reef, Morning Glory, Christmas Point, The Hide-Away and East of Eden. Though each of these locations has its own characteristics, they all share the underwater panorama that is uniquely Similan. Many divers return to the Similan Islands year after year and all agree the islands never fail to impress them. SURIN ISLANDS and RICHELIEU ROCK
Distance from Phuket: 110 NM
Distance from Similans: 50 NM
Diving Depth: 3-40 m. (10-130 ft.)
Visibility: fair to good
Diver Level: experienced divers
The Surin Islands Marine National Park lies just a few miles south of Burmese border. The five islands are closely grouped together; the main islands larger than any of the Similans and covered in verdant rainforest. A small Sea Gypsy community lives on the east coast. The diving here is mainly on fringing hard coral reefs, similar to the east side of the Similans. Two of our favorite dive sites are Ko Torinla and Turtle Ledges. Besides hawksbill turtles one can also observe juvenile tallfin batfish and a wide variety of colorful reef fishes.
Richelieu Rock lies 9 Nautical Miles east of Surin Islands. This world-class dive site is by far the best in the Surin area and justifiably known as the place to see whalesharks. We encounter more of them here than at any other location. Swimming alongside these huge fish is any diver's dream come true. Even our dive crew, which sees plenty of big fish action, is thrilled each time we come across these gentle giants of the ocean. Unfortunately numbers have been down during the last few seasons.
But Richelieu Rock has much more to offer, this rocky outcrop is covered in soft corals and seems to act like a magnet when it comes to attracting fish. We've seen every imaginable variety of fish here including the shy and, elsewhere rarely seen, shovelnose ray or guitarfish. You can spend hours observing the mating rituals of cuttlefish or photograph mantis-shrimps playing hide and seek. Watch schools of chevron barracuda and big eye jacks cruise by while thousands of colorful fusiliers swirl around the rocks. This is truly a special place.
Halfway between Similan islands and Surin islands are two islands: Ko Tachai to the west and Ko Bon to the east. Both islands are also good places for encountering large pelagics.
KO TACHAI's southeast tip is a dive site called twin peaks, two submerged pinnacles connected by a long reef. A resident school of tallfin batfish and chevron barracuda circle this site which is also a favorite with leopard sharks. Strong currents make this a good place for observing bluefin and giant trevallies as well.
KO BON's west side is a steep rock face that drops to 40 meters. At the bottom, we often find leopard sharks and blue spotted stingrays. Ko Bon is also a good sites to encounter manta rays.
The Mergui Archipelago consists of over a hundred islands and reefs. Our permission to operate in this area was granted in 1997. The gateway to the archipelago is Kawthaung (Victoria Point) on the south tip of Myanmar, a 30 minute boat trip from the Thai port of Ranong.
So far, our explorations have shown that the area closest to Myanmar's shore is very scenic but has no decent diving. The middle area is more interesting. Visibility is only fair, but there is plenty of interesting marine life. Different species of sharks and stingrays as well as a good assortment of small and semi-rare creatures such as ghost pipefish and tiger tail seahorses can be spotted here. The reefs are mainly rocky with hard corals although some areas have sponges, fans and soft corals as well.
The westernmost region of the Mergui Archipelago is where the water gets deeper and clearer. This is where the sharks roam. Leopard sharks, grey reefs, white tips and sometimes spinner sharks -a wonderful variety. The underwater scenery is somewhat like a cross between the Similans and the Burma Banks. Nice big schools of jacks swirl around the rocks, stingrays rest on the seafloor nearby huge sea fans. Our favorite divesites (so far) in the Mergui Archipelago are Western Rocky, Black Rock, High Rock and Three Islets.
"Unique" is the best way to describe the Mergui Archipelago. Here you have the one thing Thailand's islands lack: good anchorage. There are hundreds of deserted coves and bays fringed with white sandy beaches. There is a bay for every boat, in any weather. The islands are covered with rain forest and mostly uninhabited. We have spotted wild boar and even heard reports of salt-water crocodiles. Very few foreigners have been here in the last 50 years. Come and explore with us! WESTERN ROCKY
Distance from Phuket: 150 NM
Distance Victoria Point: 40 NM
Diving Depth: 6-35m. (20-120ft)
Visibility: fair to good
Diver Level: experienced divers
There is no dive site quite like Western Rocky in either Thailand or Myanmar. Situated in open sea, the island has a long sloping reef on the northeast side. The other sides offer wall diving. The sand bottom starts at 30 to 35 meters and is dotted with boulders and coral heads that are covered with large fans and colorful soft corals.
Just east of the islands four small pinnacles and two large ones break the surface, while a number of submerged pinnacles are found off the south side. Western Rocky's unique features are a large tunnel that runs right through the middle of the island and a large submerged arch carved out of the limestone. With luck you get to see plenty of sharks and good schooling fish action around Western Rocky but we like it best for its fabulous macro life. You can expect many species of nudibranchs, cuttlefish, squid, porcelain crabs, moray eels, cowries and murex shells. We even often find rarities like harlequin shrimp, orangutan spider crabs and frogfish here. All in all a true world-class dive site! THREE ISLETS Distance from Phuket: 170 NM Distance from Victoria Point: 53 NM Diving Depth: 0-27m (0-90 ft) Visibility: fair to good Diver level: experienced divers Three Islets consists of one small and two large rocks, all of which rise above the surface. Each could be considered a separate site; there is no way to see them all on a single dive, or even a full day of diving. All three are perfectly suited for multilevel profiles, with thriving marine life from the bottom to the surface. Underwater, the combination of unusual topography and a tremendous variety of creatures makes this one of the best dive sites in the Mergui Archipelago. Nearly every square meter is riddled with crevices that provide shelter and holdfasts for an enormous volume of fish and invertebrate life. Long snout pipe fishes, tiger tail seahorses, cuttlefish, squid, octopi, banded sea kraits, orangutan spider crabs, nudibranchs, different moray eels, several species of shrimps and many other creatures are commonly found here. Aside from the marine life, another outstanding feature is a large canyon on the north end of the middle islet where with luck you can encounter semi-resident grey reef sharks. Past the canyon on the right you will find an opening to a tunnel that runs completely through the island and exits on the east side at about 15m. Close to the entrance of the tunnel is an area covered with bright yellow sponges and often large schools of juvenile fish. BLACK ROCK Distance from Phuket: 220 NM Distance from Victoria Point: 90 NM Diving Depth: 6-45m (20-150ft) Visibility: fair to excellent Diver level: experienced divers The bare rocky outcrop of Black Rock may not be so spectacular above the surface but is underwater truly a divers paradise with marine life studded from just below the waterline to way down deep. It is another superb site with a tremendous amount of macro life including a large variety of nudibranchs, crabs and shrimps, spindle cowries, filament wrasse and moray eels. We often encounter big schools of snapper, jacks and barracudas here swirling just off the reef. Leopard sharks, marble rays, wahoo, white tip reef sharks, spotted eagle rays and even manta rays are frequently cruising along the reef as well. BURMA BANKS Distance from Phuket: 130 NM Distance from Victoria Point: 90 NM Diving Depth: 15-35m (45-120 ft) Visibility: good to crystal clear Diver level: experienced divers The Burma Banks are a series of completely submerged seamounts. The shallowest Bank tops out at 15 meters from the surface and the surrounding ocean floor is over 400 meters deep. The Banks do not offer much in the form of pretty coral reefs but are one of our best shark dives thanks to a small population of silvertip and tawny nurse sharks. Diving here is exciting to say the least. We first explored this area in 1990 and we continued diving there until 1995 when the Burmese authorities informed us we were no longer welcome. The Burma Banks are well offshore in international waters, but they are still within the 200-mile Myanmar Exclusive Economic Zone. As the Burmese considered our activities there of a commercial nature they felt we should not dive there without their official permission. In 1997 we finally received this permission and we can now visit the Burma Banks during any Ocean Rover cruise that includes Myanmar.
The rocky islets and karsts of the Ang Thong Marine Park are often compared to similar outcroppings found in the Andaman Sea's, Phang Nga Bay. Only, Ang Thong has the advantage! Quite simply, you can dive there! Two of the best sites, Koh Wao & Hin Nippon are both popular destinations with their shallow caves and swim-throughs adorned with colorful soft corals. Amongst the reef life are Black banded sea kraits, Hawsbill and Green sea turtles, Emporer and Blue ringed angelfish and a wealth of invertebrates. There is also some good pelagic interaction as Giant barracudas home in to feed on Short bodied mackerel, one of the trade marks of these waters. By the way, Dwarf minke whales often breach the waters surface, so keep your eyes peeled!
Punctuating the waters between the islands of the Samui Archipelago is a solitary rocky outcrop, above the surface its nothing special, but that's not why we go there! The rocky facade continues downwards, vertically downwards, in fact, to below 33m. Some other equally impressive submerged pinnacles also fringe sail Rock. One special feature here is a natural 'chimney' cut into the main rock, the entrance is found around twenty metres below the surface, its exit at a shallower twelve; with enough space and light inside for divers to pass through and explore. Sail Rock is considered the best place in the Gulf for seeing sharks and other large animals. Our trips have been meticulously planned during the Gulf of Thailand's Whale shark and Manta ray season; a couple of very welcome buddy's to any dive! The neighboring Samran Pinnacles are too, similar in their magnificence, which doubles the attraction of pelagic hunters, drawn in by a myriad of reef creatures on which to feed.
Ever since we first started going to 'Turtle Island' in 1984, the laid back feel with its cheap and cheerful accommodation was just beginning to attract divers the world over. Now it's an International divers destination. Not only are we visiting a broader spectrum of dive sites than those on offer as day trips, we will also be first to arrive and last to leave at the popular ones! For instance, the carpets of sea anemones and diversity of tiny critters on the rocky faces of Chumphon Pinnacles, along with the enormous groupers, schooling barracudas and, particularly between the months of April and October, a countless number of Whale shark encounters. Divers at South West Pinnacles often have many a tale to tell of how they searched for the solid brass junk anchor sunk in the surrounding sands. Green Rock offers a labyrinth of swim-throughs, tunnels and caverns where turtles and rays often take refuge, White Rock's triggerfish, barracudas and reef sharks often add a little extra excitement to the dive. These are just a handful of the local sites, what lies beyond only our divers will know!
The remoteness of our final destinations ensures that they are not on everyone's itinerary, the first site has been dived albeit infrequently, the second gives trips a certain exploratory feel!
To give an idea of their structure, Koh Losin is the reef source for the whole of the Samui Archipelago, this means that all the coral reefs in the area began their life at this island. However, not all varieties are strong enough to cover such a great distance before they form into reefs, or coral communities. The result of this is a much higher representation and wider diversity of coral species being found locally, and of course this reflects on the associated reef life as well! The few divers that have already enjoyed these sites experienced encounters with Whale and reef sharks, Manta and Eagle rays, turtles and even Bow-mouthed guitarfish! The reefs feature great specimens of hard corals, in mounds, shelves and terraces; table corals extend out well beyond three metres. The waters here are generally the clearest you will find anywhere in Thai waters, just the right ingredient for all those splendid vistas!
Koh Kra is named after the Loggerhead turtle (Tao Kra) , which were once abundant in the local waters; nowadays this is one of very few places in Thailand where they can still be seen. The seascape here primarily consists of a main Islet with huge coral bombies dominating an area of scattered rocks and boulders patrolled by numerous white and black tip reef sharks . Marine fishery department and Royal Thai Navy regularly monitor the island, which ensure healthy specimens and diverse marine life.
The Ocean Rover and her crew are ready, willing and eager to explore this exciting area, and are the first and only boat ever to offer such a combination and diversity of destinations. The high level of comfort and service onboard makes the cruises a 'must do' and as you will see, not just once!