Thailand Twin Centre: Part Two
After a two hour journey to the pier, we got a first glimpse of our boat – the MV Sawasdee Fasai – run by West Coast Divers. This was going to be our home for the next few nights and where we would enter the water from. What struck me straight away was the length of the boat. A long boat at 37m, it made for an extremely spacious dive deck onboard. Luckily we weren’t at maximum capacity onboard either. For the dive company this isn’t ideal but for us as divers it meant more space and less divers in the water. The boat has 15 cabins and can accommodate up to 30 guests. We came across most other liveaboards along our journey and I’d say our boat looked to be the biggest and most spacious in the area.
We set sail after a thorough briefing by the boat leader Beto and a delicious dinner prepared by the two chefs onboard. It was five hour sail during the night over relatively calm seas. We woke in the morning to stunning views over the turquoise sea that met with meticulously placed granite boulders at the island’s edge. The islands rose to a modest height but were densely covered in lush green rainforest with white-bellied sea eagles frequently seen patrolling each island. We had arrived at the stunning Similan Islands National Park for our first day of diving.
We were treated to much better visibility diving here compared to some of the sites around Phuket and Phi Phi. 25+ metres was the norm, although the odd thermocline rolling in made the dives more adventurous as they chased us through the water engulfing us in hazy water reducing the vis and the temperature drastically for a very short moment.
Again, scorpionfish were abundant during the dives here and for the first time in my diving life I also got to watch as one awkwardly bimbled along the sandy bottom. The soft coral here was just as stunning as the day diving but was more abundant as gorgonian fan corals dominated the boulders underwater creating interesting swim throughs, especially at the Elephant Head Rock site. The change of current through each turn was interesting to see but did make some of the dives more difficult on occasions. Air didn’t last as long on these dives but the adventure was cranked up a little to compensate.
After dive three we moored up in Donald Duck Bay and had the opportunity to go on the island and marvel at the beautiful white sandy beach surrounded by lush rainforest. After a short but interesting hike up granite boulders in only flip flops to a view point, we were greeted with a view where I instantly knew why this had become a protected national park. The rainforest oozed with life as the soothing sounds of birds greeted our presence and if you listened carefully the ground would talk, as small lizards and insects worked their way through the foliage. One lizard even scuttled across our path.
The coral reef was easily visible through the clear turquoise water as the colour of the sea turned a deep blue the further you looked out. I certainly felt a sense of paradise standing there in awe of Nature’s beauty. Once we returned to the boat it was time for a night dive in the bay and my favourite dive of the day. I love a night dive and after saying I was going to find a pygmy squid, it gave me great joy to catch one in my light. A little guy only about a centimetre in size that I unfortunately lost before I could get my camera focused on it. Other critters were a little more willing to be photographed though and it was an enjoyable dive.
Day Two was the start of our journey north to the islands of Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. The topside view hadn’t changed but we were here as these two islands gave us the better opportunity to hopefully get lucky with some big sightings. Manta rays and whale sharks are the stars of these islands as long as you are lucky. Unfortunately, we were the unlucky ones and they both proved elusive this time. It left me a little despondent after dive three where a ripping current at Koh Tachai Pinnacle left us suspended like waving flags on a mooring line and unfortunately didn’t deliver the whale shark we were hoping to see.
We decided to risk the current at the Pinnacle once more for the sunset dive and luckily for us it had died down and let us explore a site full of life. This dive saved the day and I didn’t let the disappointment of a whale shark being elusive get me down. I could appreciate this stunning site of granite boulders covered in soft coral and full of life surrounding them. We had fish feeding on jellyfish and a titan triggerfish let me get close and photograph it as it gorged on its feast. Then at the surface we had a beautiful white-spotted jellyfish to photograph as the sun was setting.
After a nice leisurely drift dive at the start of day three in Surin Island, it was time to head north again to the site I’d been eagerly anticipating since this trip was organised. Richelieu Rock was the destination and sure enough it didn’t disappoint as it was magnificently manic as soon as you dropped in. Schooling fish engulfed the site as small bait fish were hunted by bigger fish such as giant trevallies, big eye jacks, barracuda and more that would swarm round you as we drifted through the site. It was also the colours of the site that blew me away as soft coral dominated the pinnacles and anemones full of clownfish covered the top of the rocks like a carpet.
Richelieu Rock is also a great site for macro spotting but beware of the current as on some occasions it can be difficult for macro photography as you can’t take it slow exploring the reef. Then even if you do spot a macro wonder, it’s hard to stop and compose the shot without sucking the air out of your tank too quick. Luckily for me the last dive of my trip provided calmer currents and an opportunity to photograph a stunning ornate ghost pipefish, along with a peacock mantis shrimp, some nudibranch, dancing shrimp, and a white-eyed moray. Unfortunately I missed out on a harlequin shrimp that someone else on our boat spotted. A critter that still remains elusive for me. A good reason to do a few dives at this site and experience it all including a change in current. Another word of warning at this site is not to get too close and put your hand down. I’ve never saw so many scorpion fish in one place before.
It was unfortunately time to head back to shore but on the morning of day four there was the opportunity for a couple of last dives before the trip ended. The dive site was BoonSoong Wreck, only an hour and a half from the marina. Unfortunately for my group we were all flying back at midnight that same night and after careful consideration decided after a hectic schedule of diving we would reluctantly miss this dive.
We heard from the others who dived it that the visibility wasn’t great at all but it is a great site to see honeycomb moray eels and one was spotted hunting along the wreck. Different species of nudibranch are also common here and the talk was of finding some along the way. A shame we couldn’t add the extra dive but the swarms of jellyfish at the surface kept me entertained as I gazed across the ocean.
I must admit I was at first left a little underwhelmed by the diving here and it was saved by the stunning Richelieu Rock site. However, on reflection, I feel that was my own fault in building up my expectations too much and telling myself I was going to see a whale shark, a manta, a zebra (leopard) shark and guitarfish. This was very naive of me considering the experiences I’ve already had diving around the world. This is nature and in most circumstances we can’t guarantee what’s going to happen, and that is what’s great about diving and keeps bringing us back underwater, the anticipation of what we may find.
I know that all these big exotic marine animals can be found here as I’ve seen photos of them from people diving the Similan Islands itinerary. Some were even seen by other dive groups on our boat, such as a zebra shark and feeding eagle ray. However, I was only diving here for three days so I’d have to be incredibly lucky to get all of them. This is a destination where you travel knowing that you are going to be surrounded by stunning topside views and the diving is going to be great fun no matter what happens. You have a great chance of hitting the jackpot with some unusual sightings and its all in the mindset how you see it. I’d certainly recommend a trip here, you never know what you might find! A word of warning though, the currents can get a little interesting.
Sean’s trip was organised by The Scuba Place. For more information and to book call +44 (0)207 644 8252, email email@example.com or visit www.comedivewithus.co.uk.
Philippines Fun-Size: Critters and macro life
Guest Blog By Cath Bates
Instructor and Sales Consultant Cath, from Dive Worldwide, gives a rundown of some of the top areas for macro life in the Visayas region of the Philippines.
The volcanic and tectonic activity around the western Pacific Ocean has formed a nutrient-rich environment for some of the strangest marine critters to call their homes.
The Visayas region is within the central part of the Philippines – a colony of islands that are very easy to get around, with Luzon and Mindoro to the North, and Mindanao to the South. Although many divers rave about this being Big Fish Country (thanks to the thresher sharks of Malapascua and the whale sharks of Oslob and Donsol), it is also a macro diver’s paradise.
The diversity within this area of the Coral Triangle means that within a few days you can go from diving steep walls, being cushioned by sea grass beds, hovering over sandy plateaus, or getting lost amongst hard coral heads, to suddenly being cuddled by lush, fluffy coral colonies.
Pygmy Seahorses, Mandarin Fish and more in Bohol and Anda
Anda (on the eastern side of Bohol) has a coastline that is 15 kilometres of incredible biodiversity. Dive sites are between 5 and 45 minutes away from your resort house reef. Seahorse Point and Pygmy House dive sites are home to Pygmy seahorses that balance delicately on their bendy sea fan hosts. No bigger than 2.7 centimetres in length, the pink Bargibanti and yellowish Denise are protected by the Pygmy Seahorse Code of Conduct, displayed in all good dive centres.
The island of Bohol also has nudibranchs on steroids and carpet flatworms patterned with psychedelia that would make even the most open-minded hippy have a weird trip! Night dives reveal sea pens, swimming crabs, sand eels and egg cowrie.
At dusk you can enjoy the Mandarin fish courtship dance. This is a flamboyant event with two of the most colourful fish in the sea, whose names come from the dress of the Imperial Chinese Mandarin. The female Mandarin fish is joined at the pelvic fin by a male that she has deemed worthy of her attention. At rocket speed, they swim from their rubble or staghorn coral habitat high up in the water column to release hundreds of eggs and sperm.
Out-of-this-world Shrimps, Crabs and Lobsters in Moalboal
The Tanon Strait connects the Visayan Sea to the Bohol Sea. This is where you will find the island of Moalboal (meaning bubbling water). Best known for the dramatic drop offs of Pescador island and local sardine baitball, Moalboal also has a vast array of macro dive sites.
At Copton Point, Peacock mantis shrimps scuttle about, changing direction the way Austin Powers drives his luggage cart, and Kasai Wall’s hairy orangutan crabs duck and dive in bubble anemone like they are in a child’s ball pool. Masters of disguise, the crinoid shrimp and squat lobster cling motionless to their spikey homes, avoiding being dive-bombed by hungry reef fish.
At Fish Feeding (where they don’t of course feed the fish) Tozuma shrimp and Xeno crabs adorn whip corals like bosses, and punkish candy crabs decorate themselves with broccoli coral hats.
Masters of camouflage in Dumaguete/Dauin
Negros Island has the Sulu Sea to the west and Cebu to the East. This is a mountainous province, and Negros Oriental’s capital city Dumaguete is known as the “City of Gentle People”. There is a narrow channel between it and the island of Cebu, as well as the deep Negros trench. Such topography can only mean good things for divers! The Dauin coastline boasts some of the best critter diving in the region.
At Secret Corner in octopus season (October to December) you can expect to see blue ring, Mototi, wonderpus and algae octopus crawling stealth-like over the sand. These are camouflage masters who occasionally flash colour and cut some textured shapes to warn or to decorate. You may even be lucky enough to witness mating within this period.
During Frogfish February you can see all the usual suspects like painted, hairy and sargassum as well as pin-head sized juveniles. The Atmosphere Resort and Spa house reef has a vibrant yellow guy who has even been filmed for television!
Shaun the Sheep is a loveable name given to the Costasiella kuroshimae sea slug. Not much bigger than a grain of sand, the likeness to a certain plasticine animation is uncanny. They graze on a leaf-like algae, containing chlorophyll, and are otherwise known as the “sap-sucking” sea slug because of this. Take a magnifying glass with you to catch a better glimpse of these cute creatures.
Colourful Critters in Malapascua
Famous for its larger “shoals”, Malapascua also has some exquisite reefs and seamounts that are teeming with macro life. Along the white sandy coastline are hidden muck sites that many pelagic-lovers wouldn’t even know were there. Even on the shipwrecks around Malapascua, you can find the world of the tiny: shrimp patrolling the holds, schooling glassfish shielding gangways and bright mauve Hypselodoris laying their egg skirts.
The pinnacle known as Bugtong Bato is home to various types of frogfish, nudis and carpet anemone, keeping crabs and anemone shrimp safe from the current.
Chocolate island, to the south-west in the Visayan Sea, is a popular night dive location where double-snouted spindle cowrie, flatworms and banded boxer shrimp clock in for the night shift on a background of pulsating soft corals.
Gato Island is a grassy seamount poking out of the sea 45 minutes north-west of Malapascua. The island is well known for its swim-throughs and overhangs where you can expect to find Pharaoh cuttlefish, thorny seahorse and broad-banded pipefish. It also sounds like a cake, which is a winning formula for most divers!
Diving holidays for macro, muck and critter lovers
Below are some inspirational trip ideas from the Dive Worldwide website for getting to the best macro meccas in the Philippines. Not all the dive sites are beautiful to the eye at first glance, like muck and rubble, but what lies within them are some of the most vibrant and fascinating creatures you ever did see!
Discover the Visayas
This popular itinerary includes dives in Malapascua, Monad Shoal and the Moalboal peninsula.
Access some of the best diving locations in the Philippines by liveaboard, including Dauin, Balicasag, Pescador and Malapascua.
Island Hopping Dive Safari
A stress-free diving adventure exploring stunning islands in the Visayas. An excellent choice for viewing macro life and pelagics.
Magic Dive Experience
Experience the magic of the Philippines! This trip combines two dedicated dive resorts in the Visayas – expect superb reefs, turtles, and exceptional macro life.
Dive Into Luxury
A luxury island-hopping itinerary, spending five nights in two of the Visaya region’s finest dive resorts – Atmosphere Resort & Spa and Amun Ini.
If you are interested in any of these trips, please get in touch with the friendly team of travel consultants and diving experts at Dive Worldwide or call 01962 302 087. You can also subscribe to Dive Worldwide’s regular enewsletter.
Five best places to find Big Fish in the Philippines
Guest Blog by Phil North
Divemaster Phil North, from Dive Worldwide shares his five best spots to find Big Fish in the Philippines.
If diving with the ocean’s giants is on your bucket list, the Philippines is the perfect destination. Whale sharks, striped barracudas, turtles, hammerheads, manta rays, dugongs, and even 2-metre-long Napoleon wrasse can be found here.
The Philippines is in the Coral Triangle – the most biodiverse coral reef on the planet – so its waters are bursting with marine life, including large pelagics, sponges, and over 2,500 species of fish.
So where should you visit to see the biggest and most exciting species? There are over 7,000 islands in the archipelago and several world-class diving sites to choose from, so read Dive Worldwide’s guide to discover the best diving spots for big fish encounters in the Philippines.
Outstanding marine biodiversity and reef sharks
If you’re after an abundance of big fish, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tubbataha will not disappoint.
The dive season runs from March to June, with a chance to see a spectacular range of species, including tiger shark, hammerhead, leopard shark, grey reef shark, nurse shark, manta, marble and eagle ray, whale shark, barracuda, tuna, hawksbill and green turtle, and dolphins.
Tubbataha is the largest marine protected area in the Philippines and offers superb diving opportunities. It is located 150 kilometres from Palawan in the Sulu Sea, so you will need a liveaboard to access these world-class dive sites.
Recommended dive trip:
When to go: April – June
Shark Encounters – rare thresher sharks
Shark enthusiasts will love this world-famous diving location.
Monad Shoal, also known as Shark Point, is the only place in the world where rare thresher sharks can be seen daily.
This iconic, but usually shy, species gets its name from the distinctive tail which it uses like a whip when hunting. Here, you can encounter thresher sharks as they are swimming around the cleaning stations in the shallow reefs. You may also find white-tip, black-tip, bamboo, and nurse sharks in these waters.
With beautiful coral gardens and white sands to rival Boracay, Malapascua is a popular destination for divers and holiday-makers alike.
Recommended dive trips:
Big Fish Tour
When to go: November – April (but possible all year)
When to go: April – June
Sharks & Reefs
When to go: All year round
World’s largest rays and fish
Bicol – Donsol and Ticao Island
These popular diving destinations are frequent haunts of the world’s biggest ray and fish species – the oceanic manta ray and the whale shark.
The Manta Bowl dive site, in Ticao Pass, is famous for its manta ray population and for being one of the best diving sites in the Philippines.
Whale sharks migrate to Donsol between late November and May, which is the best time to enjoy close encounters. Although whale sharks can exceed 15 metres long, they are gentle giants that filter-feed on plankton, krill, and small plants.
Big Fish Tour
When to go: November – April (but possible all year)
Reef sharks, hammerheads and schools of pelagic fish
Apo Reef is one of the most celebrated dive sites in the Philippines and an excellent place to find sharks or other big pelagics. Hammerheads are one of the top attractions in these waters, but black and whitetip sharks, and even occasionally thresher sharks visit here. You can also expect to encounter other large species like groupers, tuna, eagle and manta rays, large trevally, turtles and, if you are lucky, dolphins.
Club Paradise Resort – offering daily dive trips to Apo Reef
When to go: anytime
When to go: April – December
Barracuda, turtles and dugong
North of Palawan – Coron
We know, not all these species are technically fish, but they are impressively large pelagics.
Dugong, also known as sea cows, were even thought to have inspired sailor’s stories about mermaids! This near-mythical marine mammal is listed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List, but you may be lucky enough to spot one on an eco-tourism dive in Coron.
At Barracuda Lake, you can look out for the legendary giant barracuda (though even the regular ones can be over a metre long). This is also a great location for viewing green and hawksbill turtles.
Dive Coron Bay on Sangat Island (also excellent for wreck diving)
When to go: October – June
When to go: April – December
Top choice for big fish encounters:
Big Fish Tour
This underwater safari visits some of the best sites for whale shark, thresher shark, and manta ray encounters. The two-week tour includes up to 14 diverse and exciting dives, with stays at relaxing tropical beachfront resorts.
Find out more
Get in touch with the friendly Dive Worldwide team for first-hand advice on your next diving holiday to the Philippines. They offer a superb range of resort and liveaboard options. Visit the website, send an enquiry, or call the expert team on 01962 302087.