Print version diving in Burma and Thailand (approx. 2 pages)

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Our trip to Burma

During my vacations in spring 1999 my divebuddy Broschi and I dived extensively in the Mergui - archipelago in Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand (Surin and Similan islands, Koh Lanta). The Megui Archipelago is a group of some 800 uninhabited islands in the Andaman Sea. Unfortunately the weather during our two weeks on the liveaboard Colona II was not very good. The sky was overcast and it rained several times. The sea was very choppy, so that we couldn't sail to the Burma Banks, Black Rock and other outlying dive sites. This was of course somewhat of a disappointment. We tried twice, to take course out to there, but had to return to more sheltered places. Actually during this time a diveboat sunk in Thailands Surin islands because of the rough sea and the navy had to rescue the divers. As a result we didn't see any mantas, whalesharks etc.

This part of Burma is very nice, because there are so few dive operators. Diving in Burma has only been open since 1997 so the area is operated mainly from Phuket based liveaboards. Except on two dives we were always the only scuba divers around. The ship would anchor in unspoiled bays - clean beaches with no other footprints than our own. Stars in the sky during the night, murmuring of waves and the noise from insects at the beach. We saw hornbill birds, monitor lizards ....... and sandflies!

My favorite dive sites around Burma and Thailand

Colona Rock: we did a total of four dives here, first because it is a sheltered place but mainly because it is just great!! You dive at the narrow part of the rock. There are two tunnels that connect the two bays. One is more like a covered canyon, the other a very narrow underpass (don't get stuck!) with lobsters living underneath.

As we jumped into the water here, we landed in the middle of a school of squids preying on small fusiliers. When we looked around more, there were two cuttlefish just mating, they were positioned face to face and entwined their tentacles. The four divers around didn't bother them at all, they kept at it for about 5 minutes. Further on we saw two of the rare Devil Scorpionfishes (very similar to stonefishes but they have a distinctive humpback). We then saw a gray reef ray, moray eels, nudibranchs, a sea snake and lots more .... also plenty of small jellyfish, when we surfaced, specially in my face!

On another dive Broschi found a beautiful yellow seahorse. It was small but extremely conspicuous, no other yellow animal around. Only on a later dive did we realize, that some of the tubecorals around the dive site will sprout yellow tentacles during dusk and night. We figured, these would be a perfect camouflage for our seahorse.

Cúpola (Italian for dome) lies somewhere, only the crew of Colona II knows. It is a very special place. You enter through a underwater passage and exit in a huge cavern. I believe, the roof is about 20 meter high with about 3 openings to the air, one large enough to climb down. Some trails of plants were growing down into the cave and some birds swooped in and out.

This cavern is used by a type of sea swallow (Collocalia esculenta) for nesting. Those nests consists of the saliva of the birds, mixed with bits of plants and some feathers. The saliva hardens when exposed to air. When cooked the nest soften and separate and look like bean thread noodles. The Chinese believe them to be a medicinal food that imparts sexual vigor! So of course they are hideously expensive (prices of about 2000 US dollars per kilo were quoted to us).

During harvest time, this cavern is guarded by armed men from the sea gypsies. When we arrived, there were only 3 men living inside the cave on a rack made with bamboo. We came up close to the underwater passage and paddled slowly to the rack. We greeted them, then looked around. All over the cave long bamboo poles were wedged so it is possible to climb up to the nesting areas just under the roof. I have no idea, how they climb up, it looked very dangerous to me! They also had two small boats in the cave, so I think during low tide there must be a small passage out of the cave.

We dived back through the tunnel, where we encountered a large jellyfish, that had drifted there from outside. The dive on the outside was nothing special, because visibility was quite bad.

Surin and Similan islands: The Surin islands lie in the north towards Burma. The Similan islands, which are nine small islands, are closer to Phuket and some dive operators based north of Phuket even offer day trips there. Otherwise they are mainly reached by liveaboards.
Virtually uninhabited, the Surin and Similand islands offer spectacular dives on beautiful coral reefs and steep rocks. The Similan islands are part of the Mu Koh Similan Marine National Park. Generally the eastern side of the islands is easier to dive and the western side more current swept.

Richelieu Rock (Thailand): This rock lies southeast of the Surin islands. It is only visible during low tide. We were the first on site and we made a dive before breakfast. The water was clear and the light special. Around 27m we encountered a large school of mackerels. The rock is nicely covered in soft corals and a few gorgonian fans. This is supposed to be a good place for whalesharks, but we didn't see any.

The big (or should I say "small") surprise were a pair of harlequin shrimps, I found in a wall. These shrimps are nearly always found in pairs. They are about 5cm, white with orange spots with a blue rim. I had never seen them before and was very excited! Aczually several years after (2002) I heard from y former dive guide, that these pair of shrimps was always at a known place on the wall. He showed me a photo and I recognized "my" shrimp, because one of them had lost one of it large pincers!

Thailand: Koh Lanta and Phi Phi island

My favorite dive sites around Ko Lanta

I read just recently (January 2003) in the internet, that Hin Muang and Hin Daeng, were damaged when dynamite from an illegal and unidentified fishing boat blasted two underwater rocks, each as large as a football field and as tall as a 100 story building. Ask at the dive center for details. Here my report on these beautiful dive sites:

Hin Mouang (purple rock) lies only about 500 meter apart from Hin Daeng out in the open ocean, a submerged rock, several pillars which drop down to ca. 70m. The rock is covered with soft corals and lots of anemones at the very top.

We were lucky enough to get into the water just before a group of Japanese arrived in a speedboat from Phuket. Sometime during the dive we heard the insisting beep of a hammerhead-whistle from the diveguide and later we could observe their safety stop procedure: the diveguide frantically diving up and down the buoyline, the divers hang there like flags in the wind. One diver was actually diving in streetpants and a yellow rainjacket!!

We had a very interesting dive. We encountered a large jellyfish, that was being eaten by five scribbled filefish (ca. 1m) and an assortment of other reeffish. Actually, while they took some bites out of the jellyfish we also think, that they tried to catch some of the small fish (juvenile mackerels) that live inside the jellyfish. We were able to come up close to a meter and observe. Some time later the current pushed the jellyfish away from the rocks and the attacking fish let it go.

Hin Daeng (red rock) is visible at low tide. Steep drop downs with some plateaus. A very nice dive site. Boulders covered with soft coral, anemones, hard coral. Large schools of mackerels, snappers, fusiliers. Coral heads covered with glasfish, small cleaner shrimps and hingebeak shrimps hidden underneath.

Koh Ha Yai: This dive was a beautiful surprise for us. Here you find a system of underwater caves. First there is a large cave at 16m, about 30m deep. Then we dived through another entrance into a double-cave-system and surfaced in a small cavern, stalactites hanging down from the low ceiling, a special light coming from underneath from the cave entrance. I noticed, that my mask was fogging up, but when I took it off , I realized, that it wasn't my mask, but the air in the cave was fogging and clearing with the rise and lowering of the water in the cave. Magic....!

My divebuddy Broschi is a physicist and mathematician and explained it to us: There is a certain amount of water in the air. Under pressure (raising of the water level) more water can be dissolved in air. When the water level is lowered, this water is released back into the air as fog (= small water droplets). Sounds familiar from your first dive course? (Henry's law).

King Cruiser wreck: This is a new dive site. A ferry sunk to the northeast of Phi Phi island (nobody died) and can be visited now. Its about 3 years old and completely covered with oysters. The wreck lies at a good depth (max 32m at the screw) and such, that it is easy to orient. There are plenty of covered passages and swim throughs.

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