A last minute decision to join White Manta on their first Thailand season was well worth the trip. Initially I wanted to join the Hin Muang & Hin Daeng but end up continuing to Similan, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock trip as well.
For the first trip to Hin Muang & Hin Daeng, White Manta depart and return to Chalong Bay where they start their Similan trip. It was a back-to-back trip so not much time wasted in between the 2 trips.
Phi Phi Island
First day diving started around Phi Phi Islands of Koh Bida Nai and Koh Bida Nok, which I gathered to be the most popular dive sites in Phi Phi. The dive sites around Phi Phi mainly consisted of wall covered with soft coral, caves, caverns, rock formation covered by soft corals and swim-throughs. At Koh Haa ĖYai, thereís an interesting site called The Cathedral, a shallow cavern where you can actually swim to the surface from inside the cave. A number of rocks and hard coral scattered all around the sandy area. The marine life here are mainly big school of rainbow runners, fusilier, trevally, yellowtail barracudas snappers and the usual reef residents.
Hin Muang & Hin Daeng
This is what Iím here for Ė diving the not-so-popular Hin Muang & Hin Daeng. All divers that had been both to Similans and Hin Muang & Hin Daeng claimed these are the best dive sites in South Andaman, comparable to the renowned Richelieu Rock.
We did one dive in Hin Muang and two dives in Hin Daeng and I have to agree, these are the best sites I have dived in Thailand. These two are submerged reef out in the open sea Ė Hin Muang means purple rock and Hin Daeng means red rock. As the names suggest, the outcrops are cover with purple and red soft corals respectively. They are both long rock rock with a several pinnacles which stretch down to 30m. Both are stunning but I personally prefer Hin Daeng (red rock) because I thought itís more dramatic and of course I prefer red over purple. These sites are known for its diversity of marine life that includes whale shark and manta, which I didn't have a privilege to see.
There are big schools of fish in every direction, particularly the fusilier. Other includes rainbow runner, jackfish, batfish, wrasse and so much more. Macro life is also impressive with nudibranchs, popcorn shrimp, harlequin shrimp and so forth. For photographer, these two sites are wide-angle haven. I could have spent another 2 days if I can. I will definitely visit Hin Muang and Hin Daeng again.
Koh Haa Neua
The third day we dive another famous dive site in Koh Haa ĖNeua a.k.a. The Chimney. Itís similar to the first day but the highlight of this site is the chimney-like narrow vertical hole that exit at the 6m. It also feature a wall covered with soft corals and but marine life is not as impressive. Our second dive was at the two pinnacles at Shark Point while the last at Koh Doc Mai. Visibility was only about 10-15m that day due to the heavy downpour the night before. Both these sites have good variety of macro but I wasn't feeling to comfortable due to the underwater surge that day.
On this trip, the monsoon appears not completely over yet and there were swells throughout the entire trip. Surge is always present underwater and I understand that some favourite sites have to be skipped due to the unfavourable weather conditions. Itís not much of an issue on the stable steel hull White Manta but it gets rather uncomfortable underwater.
First day of diving at island no. 5 was rather forgettable due to the unavoidable change of dive sites. There was a storm earlier that night and the sea was still choppy. Itís heartbreaking to see the reefs around these sites where evidences of El Nino still exists. The reefs are mostly dead in the shallow; especially beyond 10 meters but it get better at depth. There are big sea fans and corals after we past the 10 meters depth and of course more life. Still, with the waves and surge, visibility wasnít the best.
On the second day, we did two dives at Koh Bon and it was a definitely a better dives. We spotted a friendly manta ray on the second dive and that put a smile on everyoneís face. The coral here, particularly the hard corals are still healthy and there are still soft corals that decorate the walls. The site is filled with schooling rainbow runners, fussiller, sweetlips, snappers, gazillion glassfish and a few bumpheads. Itís definitely a must to dive in Koh Bon if you are in Similan. The third dive was at the beautiful Tachai pinnacle. Huge rock formations with an astonishing landscape glittered with beautiful coral garden. There are large schools of batfish, barracuda, trevallies and snappers, bannerfish and the rare oceanic triggerfish.
The highlight of this second leg would be the world-renowned Richelieu Rock. Itís everyone favourite dive site and itís easy to see why this is Thailand best. The limestone formation of Richelieu Rock hosts a spectacular array of schooling fish and beautiful soft corals jostling against the wall. The diversity of marine life here are staggering with large and small critters can be found at various points. In a single dive, we see groupers, barracuda, fussiller, trevally, rainbow runners, and different type of moray eel, cuttlefish mating, harlequin shrimp etc. It's a pity that we can only do two dives; I would have easily spent two days here.
The last day we dive Koh Bon again and then off to MV Seachart wreck for the last dive. Itís a fascinating wreck, intact and with the cargo still aboard. A huge amount of marine life has already settled on this wreck. There is a big school of rainbow runners, school of batfish, barracuda, octopus and many others.
Overall, itís been a good trip and Iím so glad I joined both the trip. As always, met some really cool people onboard and put on a few kilos. The new Thai chef onboard White Manta is to be blamed. If you have not been on a White Manta since last August, go now and be prepare for non-stop feasting.
Here's some photos on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.865968483448421&type=1&l=c5355f8374