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INTRODUCTION

The following trip report covers a 10 day stay at Phuket, Thailand in August and September 2012 where my wife and I conducted four days diving with Sea Bees Diving. Sea Bees is located in Chalong Bay on the island of Phuket in Thailand. It’s a German owned and run dive centre and is a friendly and extremely professional operator.

Phone: +66 76 381 765

E-mail: [email protected]
Web site: http://www.sea-bees.com

TRAVEL

We travelled to Thailand with Travel bag ( www.travelbag.co.uk ) who got us a great 2 week package holiday deal. We flew to Phuket with Thai Airways out of Heathrow via Bangkok. We chose Thai Airways as they did have a reasonable excess baggage allowance, approx $120 for 23 kg (return), which would have allowed us to take our own kit. However, around a month prior to travelling, Thai Airways changed this policy to an exorbitant $55 per kg of excess baggage and didn’t inform us of the change. Fortunately, after double checking the excess baggage on the morning of flying, we spotted the change and left our diving kit behind. Slightly annoying. Apart from that, Thai Airways were ok - good value, decent service on board and good checking in procedures. We were a couple kgs over in our hold baggage and no one raised an eyebrow. If you do use Thai Airways, check their excess baggage policy prior to travel and investigate joining their loyalty scheme. I have since been informed that members get excess baggage benefits. We had a 2 night stop over in Bangkok on the way out. If you get time, I would recommend visiting the city. Iit’s a great place and we had a cracking couple of days. Once in Phuket, the communications are good. There are plenty of reasonable taxis and transfers available if they are not included in your package. The drive down to Chalong is about an hour depending on traffic and do be aware that rush hour in Phuket can be heavy in both the evenings and mornings. Our hotel was around 45 mins away from Chalong Bay (see below) and Sea Bees picked us up every morning and dropped us off every evening.

WEATHER


We travelled in August and September which is the beginning of the rainy season and also the beginning of the off season. The weather was mixed. Out of 14 days, we had about 5 days which were overcast and rainy. One day was spectacularly rainy. However, 75 % of the days were 30 - 35[SUP]o[/SUP]C, with sun and cloud and varying between still and a stiff breeze. Protection from the sun is still essential at this time of year. The maximum water temperature was between 28 and 30[SUP]o[/SUP]C with no noticeable thermocline above 30 m. I was fine in a short wetsuit but my wife, who gets cold quickly, dived in a short wetsuit with waist coat and hood which she loves! There was a mixture of preferences on the dives. Most people were in short wetsuits but there were a few full wetsuits and some in just shorts and rash vest.

OUR DIVING EXPERIENCE


I am a BSAC Ocean Diver with 145 dives and my wife is a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver with 90 dives. The dive locations, conditions and the dive centre were perfect for us. The dive sites were not too challenging in terms of depth or currents - perfect for leisurely holiday diving. More importantly, they were all thoroughly enjoyable. Apart from the first day, the conditions were favourable with good weather and little swell. On our first day, the sail to the dive sites, around 1.5 hrs, was a little rough with the waves / swell being around 4m top to bottom. The boat, see below, handled it well and the staff gave out sea sickness tablets fee of charge. The dive centre staff were very patient, friendly and great guides. All was spot on for recreational divers such as ourselves.

SEA BEES DIVING

We selected Sea Bees as it was recommended by our hotel, had a very professional website with impressive conent and it had excellent reviews on Trip Advisor ( http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g1389361-d1225227-Reviews-Sea_Bees_Diving_Chalong-Chalong_Phuket.html ). We emailed them prior to arrival giving our experience and the dates of the days we would like to dive. This worked well and ensured that they were expecting us. The good thing about their programme is that they try to stay to the same dive programme each week (weather dependant). This was great for us as we could plan which sites we wanted to dive and then coordinate it with the other attractions and we wanted to visit elsewhere on the island. Our day of diving began by being picked up by Sea Bees at 0815 or 0715 depending on the day’s diving and were driven the 40 min to the dive centre. Once at the dive centre, we picked up other divers and then drove the 300m to Chalong Harbour, down a 600m jetty and unloaded onto the boat. As we were hiring all the kit, we found our kit neatly stowed in a box under the seats with our names clearly marked. There were numbered tags on each piece of kit that we hired wiuth the numbers noted on the box. This was a great system which meant that you couldn’t get regs and wetsuits mixed up with others’. There was also a beach towel for you to use (numbered of course) and a bottle of water which could be refilled at the boats’ water fountain free of charge. An excellent idea to keep you hydrated throughout the day. We then set up our regs, BCD and cylinder, checked it was all working and then went onto the deck for a coffee.
The diving is conducted on ‘Aragon’ - a large a 100 ft (ish) live aboard boat with three decks above the surface. Its an excellent boat which is modern, is in an excellent state and is clean and comfortable. It has a spacious kitting up deck with room for at least 20 divers, their boxes, cylinders and plenty of room for drying suits. There are also 2 x toilets, 4 x fresh water showers, 2 x rinse tubs and an entry / exit platform with 2 x ladders into the water. Its one of the most spacious kitting decks I have been on. The first deck has space for your dry bag, toilet, sun deck, kitchen and tables. The second deck has a bar, tables for eating and another sun deck. it’s a cracking boat. The cabins, for its short live aboard trips, are located below the kitting up deck. The boat sets off around 0900 / 0800 hrs and from then on, each day of the week is different. We returned at around 1700, 1930 or 2030 depending on how many dives were conducted and whether or not there were night dives. On the sail out there is breakfast and in between dives there is lunch, fruit or biscuits, free tea and coffee and a cash bar. The breakfast is simple but tasty bread, fried egg, bacon, sausages and tomatoes. The lunch is an excellent mix of Thai meat and stir fry with rice or noodles and was gorgeous. I really had to hold back on eating too much!



The kitting up deck on Aragon

The dives are all led by Sea Bees Dive Masters. The Dive Masters were all very professional and friendly and there are a mix of Dive Masters who speak different languages including English and German. There was good use of sketch maps and buddy procedures and had signals were covered comprehensively. The only thing I missed was a comprehensive safety brief at the beginning of the day. I had to ask where the oxygen was and the location of life rafts. However, although not briefed, the diving and sailing safety procedures were followed and correctly conducted. All the staff were friendly, professional and extremely helpful. Whilst kitting up, they didn’t crowd you and try to do everything for you (like sometimes experienced in the Red Sea), but they did dive in and offer help if they saw you having problems. I didn’t see much of the Dive Centre in Chalong Bay so I cant comment on the facilities there. The hire kit was a little old and basic but it all worked ok with no real problems and I felt very confident with it all. The boat does have NITROX facilities. On our first dive, our log books and BSAC / PADI membership cards were all inspected thoroughly and questions asked. This always fills me with confidence before we start. Overall, the cost of the diving here is a little expensive, compared to other places in Thailand, but the service is excellent, facilities very good and the food is excellent. For two of us doing a three day / 9 dive package each with full kit hire, on a boat with food, tea and coffee, cyclinders and air, it cost us a little over £500.



The clear and simple sketch maps used for briefing each dive

THE DIVING

Day 1

Lucy Reef, Bay 3, Racha Yai.
Racha Yai is one of the larger islands and has a number of sheltered bays which attracts a good number of diveing, snorkelling and day trip boats. Our first dive of the holiday was a fairly straight forward sand and reef dive down to 22m. It was not all that interesting but a great way to ease back into diving. The visibility was good at around 20m. The dive was sand with rocky outcrops, two artificial reefs and an interesting scientific experiment to look at measuring the growth of hard coral (I think). There was some good life on this dive. Highlights included a gorgeous cuttlefish, a large moray eel out of its hole, great brightly coloured file fish and shoaling barracuda.



Cuttlefish at Racha Yai.


Bay 1, Racha Yai.
The second and final dive of the day was another straight forward, more interesting sand, reef and wreck dive down to 20m with visibility up to around 25m. The wreck sat at around 22m with its upper deck at around 18m. It was an old diving boat, purposefully sunk and has easy swim throughs and penetrations. Again, some nice life on this one with highlights including cuttlefish, a great scorpian fish on the wreck and large lionfish.



Bay 1, Racha Yai


Day 2


Koh Dok Mai.

Koh Dok Mai is a small volcanic island thusting out of the sea providing you with breathtaking views when entering the water and surfacing. The sheer cliff bearing down on you when you look up from the water is pretty awesome. The first dive of the day was an interesting wall dive down to 22m. The visability was disappointing at around 5 - 10m but this was due to the time of year and time within the tide table that we dived. We caught the time right though and once down, there was little current. There was not a huge amount of hard coral on the wall but there were some great soft corals, sponges and some huge sea fans (around 2 - 3m across in one case). The life was also good with highlights being brightly coloured reef cod, black and white banded shrimps, juvenile moray eels, and some great trunk fish, butterfly fish and Moorish idols.

Koh Bida Nai.

Koh Bida Nai was another rock similar to Koh Dok Mai which provided a great dive with sand, rock outcrops and small walls. The dive went down to 19m, had good visibility at 15 - 20m and a significant current which was hard work at times although the guide selected a good route which meant we swam with the current most of the time. On this dive, there was much more hard coral and we saw a fantastic 8ft (ish) leopard shark, with remoras, lying on the sand. Awesome.



Me behind the leopard shark at Koh Bida Nai


Turtle Rocks, Phi Phi Island.
Phi Phi Island is a larger island where the movie ‘The Beach’ was filmed. We moored off the said beach for lunch. it’s a beautiful location. Turtle Rocks provided a great wall and reef dive down to 14m for our last dive of the day. The visibility was disappointing again, at 10m, but still good enough for an enjoyable dive. The highlight was seeing a huge green turtle with a juvenile. The turtle was fairly tame and let us observe it from a short distance as it chomped on sponges on the reef. Awesome. The guide told us they see turtles at this spot around 60% of the time. We also saw more massive sea fans, a cracking peacock mantis shrimp, very lively sea cucumbers and a black and white ringed sea snake.



The green sea turtle at Turtle Rocks



'The Beach' at Phi Phi Island


Day 3


Shark Point.

Shark Point is a shallow reef with a pinnacle on the way to Phi Phi Island. The dive was a nice reef dive down to 20m and we experienced visibility of around 15m. The current here was significant which lead us to use a little more air than normal but, again, the Dive Master planned the dive well and we went with the current for most of the dive. The highlight of the dive was 2 x gorgeous sea horses sheltering in some large sea fans. They were bright green and around 7 - 8 cm in length. Absolutely gorgeous. There was also a large porcupine fish, brightly coloured file fish, lion fish and some cracking barrel and vase sponges.

Koh Dok Mai.
A different dive off the same rock from Day 2. It was another wall dive down to 20m with decent visibility of 12 - 20m and only a slight current. Highlights of the dive included 3 x juvenile moray eels swimming together out of their holes, 5 blue spotted rays buried under the sand which took off directly in front of me and scared the sh*t out of me, another gorgeous green turtle and some shoaling trumpet fish. A good dive.

Koh Bida Nok.
The day’s third dive took us off Koh Dok Mai’s sister rock. It was another nice wall dive down to 16m with a significant current for us to deal with again. The visibility, although generally good, was a mix from 5 to 20m. It was a cracking dive with two great highlights. The first was another 8 - 10 ft leopard shark resting on the sand. The second was a large football sized octopus in a hole flashing through black, white and red. He wasn’t happy to see us and was really rearing up out of his hole at us.

Koh Dok Mai East - night dive.
A great night dive along a wall. We went down to 20m and experienced no significant current and good vis out to the range of our torches. We saw lots of life with highlights including some great brightly coloured nudibranchs, durban dancing shrimps, peacock dancing shrimps, coral banded shrimps, moray eels and lots of fish trying to get their heads down in holes. We hired torches from Sea Bees and they were good quality, metal torches with an excellent beam.

ACCOMODATION


We stayed in the Cape Panwa Hotel in Cape Panwa. It is around 40 min from the dive centre at Chalong Bay. We chose it because we had a great deal from Travelbag and its comfortable, quiet and relaxing. See my review on Trip Advisor at:

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g1182846-d587262-r139481265-Cape_Panwa_Hotel-Cape_Panwa_Phuket.html

In general its spacious, has great food and rooms, a great pool and private beach and is quiet and relaxing.

SUMMARY


In summary, See Beas is a swept up, extremely professional, friendly place with good facilities and is ideal for beginners and the inexperienced. The boat ‘Aragon’ is a great boat which is spacious, clean and has great facilities. The diving was straight forward, fun, slightly challenging in places and with some great sea life. Sea Bees is a top class operator and I would thoroughly recommend them.

Chris Prior

BSAC Ocean Diver

[email protected]

6 Sep 12

 

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Brings back many a happy memory and happy endings:D
 
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