This article will take approx. 10 minutes of your life, and it is filled with great stories and warm memories from a year spent travelling across much of Thailand, visiting new places and meeting great people. If you're looking for a quick summary it would go something like; Bryde's Whale, discovering incredible local macro marine life, getting ravaged by a storm in Similans, watching corals spawn, best whale shark encounter of my life, exploring South Andaman and finally diving the incredible HTMS Chang Wreck. OR you could go watch the videos in the article for a summary!
March :: Chumphon Marine Park
Perhaps the best kept secret in Thailand to people not from Thailand is just how good the diving is at Chumphon Marine Park! Not to be confused with the dive site Chumphon Pinnacle at Koh Tao, the marine park is located along the coast of Chumphon in the Gulf of Thailand. I've visited before and even done some diving but never seen any of the top dive sites.
I travelled over on the night boat from Koh Tao and when I arrived I simply walked all my dive gear 50 meters down the pier to Bulan, my boat for the next few days. I had to walk across the brand new Stella to get to it (I later explore Koh Chang aboard this beauty), but it was still dark and I was too sleepy to notice the details.
At sunrise we start to pull out of the harbor to pick up the other guests from a nearby beach resort. My friends Fong & Money join along with Pipe, a close friend of Fong who is since referred to as the dolphin trainer.
Pipe is a busy lawyer from Bangkok who had never been diving before. He showed up to his discover scuba dive with one of those sleeveless wetsuit vests that you see trainers at sea world use, hence Fong was quick to give him a new nickname!
We do our first dive at this small shallow island with very nice coral growth. As we come up and move the boat to the next dive site someone spots what appears to be 2 whales in the distance. With the size it can only be Bryde's whales. These giants can reach up to 13-15 meters and visit the northern Gulf of Thailand seasonally to feed and possibly mate and give birth.
After grabbing a few quick shots with a zoom lens I jump in the dingy with my travel companions and my camera. For 20+ minutes we follow the whales, trying to predict where they will surface next. We get pretty close a couple of times, with the whales surfacing right by the boat. Sadly they are generally quite spooked by both boats and people. We try repeatedly to enter the water to get a look at them, but it's quite difficult. They are very fast swimmers.
Finally I get a nice look at one swimming directly below the dingy. I estimate size at 8-10 meters. Sadly I wasn't able to get much of a shot but what I saw with my eyes is one of my favorite moments of the year. It was an awe-inspiring experience to finally see a large whale this close underwater!
On our next dive we were diving the HTMS Prab, sister wreck of the more famous HTMS Sattakut at Koh Tao. I have to say I much prefer the Prab! It sits far shallower and has accumulated more coral growth and marine life than the Sattakut has.
We got attacked on this dive, more so than ever before. Yes you probably guessed it, Titan Triggerfish. We had arrived during their mating season and they were basically all going mental. I got attacked on the wreck itself, then we swam off to explore a nearby island and I got one of the funniest memories of the year; Fong and Money swimming towards me in desperation being chased by a Titan. Money comes over to me and Fong decides to sacrifice himself and swims off with the Titan following suit. I realized then I should have told him that fast swimming isn't the way of making them calm down.
After realizing Fong wasn't coming back me and Money begin a safety stop when another Titan comes up to nibble at my fins. He was luckily far more calm then the others, but it didn't stop Money from having a mild panic attack!
Finally back on the surface we meet up with Fong on the boat who informs us the Titan stayed on him for like 10 minutes. I couldn't stop laughing.
Final dive of the day and guess what, another Titan attack. This time while I'm filming a Hawksbill Turtle! Fortunately I got some good shots for ID the turtle with a local Turtle conservation group, and I got to name it! So now Yim-Yim is swimming the seas waiting to be photographed again.
Next day we are joined by Nancy & Jack while Pipe returns early to Bangkok to get back to work. Visiting deeper dive sites this day we venture further in the park to some outlying islands. Great deep dive sites and a full day without being attacked, although I have to say we were more observant and did our best to avoid them.
All in all a great visit to the park and I plan to be back for some more diving here soon!
February – October :: Muck Diving Koh Tao
Back in February I joined some friends on a muck diving trip around Koh Tao. I wasn't a very avid macro shooter at the time, it was very occasional that I would go out with my macro setup. This became a regular thing for me pretty quick, with up to 3 days a week spent exploring our local muck habitats.
The group of people that would join on these adventures were also incredible. Professional and amateur photographers & videographers, dive instructors and fun divers that heard about what we were doing would all come join to see what it was all about. For some it's just a one day thing. For others, it's an addiction. I fall into the latter category.
It was all being organized by our fearless leader Elaine, who quickly saw the potential and started Muck Diving Koh Tao. Thanks to her we've had the pleasure of enjoying so many incredible dives this year!
I have to say it was really incredible getting more into macro shooting and the muck habitat in general, seeing the seasonal changes and what effects it had on marine life & conditions at various spots around the island.
We had an incredible time of seeing animals very rare to both Koh Tao and Thailand. We've had sea horses, sea moths, frogfish, blue-ringed octopus and more species of nudis than I can count.
We also had a lot of truly tiny macro subjects and I've been impressed with the sharp eyes of many of our regular muck divers! It kind of becomes a motivational factor if you miss something but you realize other people can spot it. Hence you try to improve not just your composition & lighting but also your skills spotting all these tiny critters. It's a lot of fun!
I ended up spending a total of 39 days muck diving this year, which was just really great. I have a plan to edit a nice documentary from these dives, but I reckon I'm about half way there at this point. So much yet to see of both known and unknown species!
March :: Similan Marine Park
A couple of weeks after I got back from Chumphon Marine Park I was off again to Similans with the same crew from Chumphon minus Pipe. It was a shorter trip with only 3 days of diving, and weather really wasn't on our side.
The first few days were great and we all enjoyed the great visibility and waters of the Similans.
I had a couple of underwater video lights that I was reviewing, and it was quite a bit of fun experimenting with red filter + ambient light filters.
Got lucky on the first day and had a beautiful Eagle Ray buzz us on Koh Bon Pinnacle. On day 2 the weather kicked up and I got to experience some reasonably strong down currents at Richelieu Rock for the first time.
Down currents can be very dangerous at deeper dive sites, and Richelieu is not that deep. It can also be quite confusing at first, exhaling bubbles and watching them go down instead of up. But it wasn't strong enough to be a real problem and we finished our dives without issues.
Third day was not great. We knew bad weather was on its way, and we had about 7 hours of crossing open seas before we could get to port. After a morning dive we started the wavy journey. Waves were hitting the boat from the side, causing it to move a lot. While others fell ill I slept through most of it.
This marked the last dive trip to Similans for the season. I was returning to Koh Tao next with the best local season awaiting me, April-May.
April :: Coral Spawning Koh Tao
You can't talk about best time of the year on Koh Tao without mentioning coral spawning!
I returned to Koh Tao from Similan at 6am and had a million things to do before meeting up with Kirsty that evening to hopefully get to shoot some spawning. She runs New Heaven Reef Conservation Program (RCP for short), an incredible local conservation center that is involved with so much more than coral spawning. Although it's my favorite!
After a full day of running errands and servicing equipment I was already beat when I showed up! So tired after the day and all the travelling the day before.
But there was a chance of coral spawning! A year or so prior I had gotten some incredible spawning footage in wide & medium shots, now it was time for macro.
Alex was there and together with Kirsty and her students we set out to the setting sun. Kirsty sent a few students out to scout the various coral species for signs of spawning while the rest enjoyed the sunset and prepared the gear.
Shooting macro shots of coral spawning in the shallows is far more of a challenge then expected. Especially when there was no safe spots to set up the tripod legs. But I got away with it and ended up with a few nice shots in the end. Mission accomplished!
May :: Whale Shark Koh Tao
You just know it's going to be a good day when the boat is full of camera equipment.
A few of the muck divers had heard the dive conditions out at Southwest Pinnacle was quite amazing and decided to switch over from macro to wide to go check it out. Master Divers decided to throw together a trip and off we went.
The weather didn't look great and we literally had to pass through a storm with close lightning strikes to even get to the dive site! But when Liz shouted whale shark as soon as she hit the water, we knew we were in for a treat. Stunning conditions and no other boats around! The overcast conditions didn't really put a damper on the day, I kind of like overcast diffused light for shooting sometimes.
This whale shark was so amazing. It was quite large at approx. 5 meters long and it was not at all scared of us. In fact it kept coming in towards us and all we could do was keep shooting and not get hit by it!
At the end of the first dive another boat pulls up and all of a sudden there's a lot more bubbles. We surface, do our surface interval and as soon as we see SMB's on the surface we gear up and head down again for another peaceful solo dive with this absolute stunner.
2 private whale shark dives isn't common around here, and for me it's truly a great day to remember.
October :: Chef's Table
Food, wine & scuba (not in that order) was on the menu when we headed out for 4 days of diving South Andaman aboard Deep Andaman Queen, the same boat I visited Similans with earlier in the year.
Myself, Fong, Nancy & Jack was out again while sadly Money had to work. I was also excited to dive more with Nan...Patricka! Who had done some underwater video training with me earlier in the year.
I was very excited about seeing some new dive sites and visiting some old favorites. We we're scheduled to visit Koh Racha Yai & Noi and Koh Haa, all new places for me to visit. There was also a full day planned at Hin Daeng/Hin Muang, some of my favorite dive sites in the country.
The Chef part of the trip was equally exciting. We were lucky to be served incredible food by a very talented team of chefs who joined us for the entire trip.
First day we spent exploring Koh Racha Yai & Noi. There was some truly beautiful dive sites with a nice wreck dive at the end of the day. The following day we dove Hin Daeng/Hin Muang for 2 dives until a storm blew in and we ended up doing the final dive of the day at Koh Haa.
Here we would also stay for days 3 & 4, exploring the various dive sites around the island. It's a great place to dive with some very nice coral coverage in certain areas. The marine life is also impressive. We had a couple of ghost pipefishes, turtles, sea snakes, pharaoh cuttlefish and more!
November :: Koh Chang
My final trip of the year was to Koh Chang, famous for the wreck HTMS Chang. I actually did an entire separate article on this trip which you can find here.
I hope 2021 was a good year for you and that you had some great diving. Let's see what 2022 has in store. Happy diving!