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Thailand Holiday: Similan Islands, Tonsai

You went scuba diving in the Similan Islands National Park off the coast of Phuket from a live-aboard boat for four days. After you stayed in Tonsai Bay for some deep water solo climbing, ocean canoeing and relaxing.

Similan Islands, Phuket

You had arrived in Phuket Town the night before and immediately booked a three-day trip to the Similan Islands on a liveaboard. Phuket Town wasn't particularly bad, nor was it especially nice. It was a long way away from any beach, and just wasn't representative of Phuket Island on the whole. At 6am you were picked up along with a Russian bloke and driven north back past the airport. Why did you come to Phuket Town again?

Getting a bleefing Diving at about 20m
Getting a bleefing, and diving at about 20m

It took an hour and a half to reach the liveaboard in the Similan Island National Park by speedboat. The diving started straight after the bliefing, where the dude said to keep a rook out for stinglays, mantalays and morlay eerls. Your dive master was Josh, a bearded long-haired Thai dude who lived six to eight months at sea at a time. He wore a diving balaclava to keep his hair under control — a bit odd for 30°C water. There was a team on board to organise all of the equipment, so you only had to turn air on, suit up, rinse mask and jump into the ocean. It was warm enough to go without a wetsuit, although most opted for one.

A Lionfish Lots of fish and Feather Star
Lionfish, lots of small fish and a Feather Star

Down below there were a lot of small colourful fish and nice coral. It was a bit too early in the season for bigger things like manta rays and whale sharks to swim past unfortunately. On the other hand, there were also less tourists since the boat had gone out two weeks earlier than normal due to good conditions. Overall, it was a good time to visit the Similan Islands.

Back on board you met some other divers. There was a Russian, an obnoxious Russian/German family who were loud and smoked a lot, some very giggly Korean girls, some Japanese guys and French-Carribean-African bloke currently from South Sudan named Omar. You had lunch with a Pipsi (Est Cola) — Thailand's take on Pepsi, actually from the once-original factory — and dived again.

Tropical tree swing Getting a bright/trashy idea
A tropical tree swing, and getting a bright/trashy idea

After dive #2 everyone caught the small speedboat across to Simian No.X (they're numbered) and walled along the beach. The otherwise beautiful sands were littered with bits of plastic and lengths of rope, washed ashore from the boats; it was a bit sad. Some ropes and driftwood had been tied to trees to make swings, while pieces of coral were hung up like Xmas decorations. You met a shy hermit crab, walked a bit and then went back to the boat for dive #3. The night dive later that evening was fun but uneventful. Most fish seemed to be sleeping.

So far seasickness hadn't been an issue onboard. You wanted to keep it that way, so took every opportunity to rest and take naps. Life on a liveaboard quickly set into the pattern: dive, snack, nap, repeat; which was fine for you. The trick to avoid seasickness seemed to be trying not to understand the rocking motion, but to go with the flow. It helped that the boat mored in the islands' sheltered waters and wasn't swaying much anyway.

Your cabin on the live-aboard Downstairs diving equipment
Your cabin on the live-aboard, and the lower deck diving area

Dinner was a mix of simple, tasty Thai foods. You felt quite spoilt to be sent scuba diving, given drinks and snacks all day, take naps and having nothing to organise. So far you'd discovered that the green drinks tasted toxic, red hyperactive, orange ok, and the clear one passable as lemonade. That night you had a beer while watching stars on the top deck. Quite the luxurious trip! Your cabin was at the front of the middle deck: a small room with a tiny shelf, double bed and AC.

Day two began with a 6am wake up knock at the door, followed by "bliefing! bliefing!" and a 6:50am dive. It was amazing! You hovered at 12m to survey the sea floor with about 50m clarity, then dove to depths of about 30m to explore. The water was warm and it was surprisingly refreshing to begin the day underwater.

Jumping from the boat Napping on the middle deck
Diving and napping were repeated all day

Back up top you had a rinse in one of the boat's all-in-one cubicles (toilet, shower, sink), and then went for bleckfast. The ship's toaster was slow but made smiley faces and pictures of coffee. The boat set a course for Ko Bon Island, leaving you to recline on a bench on the upper deck while Meike sun baked on the roof.

Both dive #6 and #7 were amazing, between which the speedboat arrived with another Russian bloke and some Chinese guys. Most people onboard departed for the mainland, leaving the four of you — Meike, Omar, new Russian bloke and yourself — to chat about diving under ice in Syberia catching crabs, while the boat headed back to Similan. Dive #8 was another world-class spot. That evening your mored together with the boat's sister ship as the clouds rolled in.

A swarm of Batfish Two Clownfish in an anemone
A swarm of Batfish, and two Clownfish in an anemone

The boat started moving before dawn after the rainy seas became rough. Wake again at 6am for a bliefing with a cup of water and a biscuit, and then do a morning dive. It is a very efficient system diving from a liveaboard. Saw stinglays during dive #9, had breakfast and napped before dive #10. The speedboat arrived and you did the last dive at Chinese Wall. The Bliefing guy explained there was a current, and your dive master would decide if you could swim through it or just stay below the wall. You travelled at 10m for a long time seeing nothing until arriving at some huge boulders. The dive traversed and ducked under the massive rocks, following small fish and a few huge fan corals.

Anchoring the boat near one of the many small Similan Islands
Anchoring the boat near one of the many small Similan Islands

You took the speedboat back to Khao Lak and a minibus to the backpackers, where you were met by the overenthuastic Thai girl at reception again. You immediately made bookings to Au Nang, away from Phuket Town. Checking the map made it obvious how silly it had been to stay there — so far and away from everything else on your trip. Still, it enabled the diving so whatever.

Ton Sai Beach, Krabi

The "shuttle to Krabi" you booked ended up being a lift round the corner to the bus depo and being dumped unceremoniously onto the next ride out. At least it got you closer to the beach. From Krabi you squished into an open back taxi and drove to Ao Nang. On the way the heavens opened; you were pleased you bags were waterproof. From Ao Nang you spent an hour with a Thai "boat boat" bloke, waiting for him to fill his longboat. Some cheap German backpackers joined, and even started calling "boat boat" with him from the curb. Before the tide went too far our he took you the ten minutes round the corner to Tonsai Bay. Finally, a beach!

Arrival by longboat in Tonsai Bay
Arrival by longboat in Tonsai Bay

The resort on the southern end of the beach was quite nice. It mostly catered to the mid-budget tourist, while the backpacker climbers stayed in 150 Baht a night shantys in the hills with no electricity or water. Your bungalo (with running water) was a bargain since it was still low season, but the electricity was only turned on between 5pm and 9am. One Jamacian sounding bloke pointed out that you "no need electricity mon', you have beach!" He had a point.

Beachcrab digging a hole Enjoying a coconut
Beachcrab digging a hole, and enjoying a coconut

Everyone gathered on the sand to climb the impressive staligtight-decorated limestone cliffs, swim in the sea or basejump from the impressive limestone cliffs. You met your bungalo neighbour as he was drying his parachute after an unplanned water landing. The cliffs looked too small for that kinda stuff but he was still there a few days later, still alive. There would have been few climbing routes under a 7a the whole length of the coast. It was a climbers paradise. You walked down through the bamboo forest to Railay Beach and had a coconut near sundown, then walked back through the water.

Going ocean canoeing At a shady beach Rocky islands near the coast A Blue-banded Sea Krait snake
Going ocean canoeing, a shady beach, rocky islands, and a Blue-banded Sea Krait snake

After a lazy start — well deserved after all those early morning diving bliefings — you hired a sea kayak and went paddling for the day. The plan was to find some deep water solo climbing locations along the coast. First you headed north towards Au Nang, where the cliffs were quite sharp but easy to scale providing you avoided the cacti. You paddled on and under a huge overhang, where several rope slings were attached to staligtights; climbing was obviously possible here... for some people. You paddled back south past Tonsai and Railay to the biggest rock columns jutting up form the ocean. Making a loop of both islands you saw lots of interesting rock shapes, a colourful snake and some grey herons. After a full day at sea you slept quite well.

Cheap accommodation in the hills behind the resorts Huge leaves
Cheaper accommodation in the hills behind the resort, and huge leaves

Day three on Tonsai beach was relaxing. You did some snorkeling, but with all the longboats churning up the water everything was covered in silt. In the afternoon you walked through the jungle behind the two beaches. There were about a hundred 'resorts' along the path in various states of dilapidation and ten billion mosquitoes. This was where to stay for under 150 Baht a night. You walked back past the head, offering to carry Meike past the three meters of deep water to avoid more jungle paths.

Longboats at sunset Glowing green horizon
Longboats at sunset, and glowing green horizon

As usual in cheap countries, small change is far more valuable than large notes because no bastard has any. At least the washing service claimed to have no change; they were being real dicks about it. That evening you watched a small cat playing with a crab, wondering who would bite first.

Deep water solo jump Deep water solo cliff climing
Deep water solo cliff jumping and climbing

You went kayaking again on day four of your beach bumming stay. This time you paddled towards the smaller pinicle past Railay beach to attempt some more serious DWS climbing. The rock was described online to be climbable up to about 16m, and the water to have ample depth to take the jump. You found a good spot and took turns climbing and jumping. It was a lot of fun! Near the 10m mark the damn rock was bolted. Climbers go everywhere it seemed.

Hanging from a staligtight The cliffs above the resort
Hanging from a staligtight, and the cliffs above the resort

You explored the cliffs along the coast on the way back, discovering a crevice into which you could moar the kayak and go on foot. Inside there were caves with white staligtights and staligmights. Neat!

That evening you chatted to an unemployed German backpacker who as on the road for seven months. He looked stoned and admitted he hadn't washed in a while. You suggested he go and jump into the ocean.