M.V. PHILKADE: 18th - 28th February 2007

“Here everybody had the opportunity to snorkel with at least 25 black tip reef sharks in the shallow water of only 1-2 meters, along with giant sea clams on show. With their echoes of happiness bouncing off the walls it was a sign of the perfect ending to a wonderful trip.”

Our journey began on the evening of the 18th February at Ao Chalong in Phuket. Onboard there were 13 guests from, Australia, England, France, Hong Kong, Italy, USA and Vietnam. After the boat briefing the guests where shown to their cabins where they had an opportunity to unpack before dinner was served in the saloon. After dinner the guests relaxed on the fly bridge and in the saloon chatting about there diving stories, and watching the evenings movie before going to bed eager for the next 10 days diving.

On the morning of the 19th the guest received there early morning wake up call at 6:30 to rise with a light breakfast and a fantastic sunrise before listing to the main dive briefing. Shortly after the customers was then allocated their dive masters and started to set up the diving equipment. The first dive of the day was made on the dive site Honeymoon Bay where the customers had a chance to settle back into their diving habits and check out all of there equipment. Descending into the shallow water of the site with 25-meter visibility we instantly came across the usual local reef fish such as lionfish, parrotfish, and schools of fusiliers which complemented the colours of the reef, 15 minutes into the dive the divers came across a large Jenkins whip ray that was resting on the white sandy bottom, shortly after a resident napoleon wrasse came cruising by, to end a good 60-minute dive. A large buffet style breakfast was awaiting the guest for when they got out of the water served with fresh coffee, tea and fruit juice. Dive two was on the highly recommended site of Anita’s reef. Once the briefing was given and then guests proceeded to the large dive deck to get ready. Whilst descending into the water everyone realized that dive was going to be a very good drift dive, so with effortless movement each dive group cruised along the reef encountering marine life such as rays, schools of tuna and goat fish, and the delightful garden eels playing in the current catching there morning food. The current then proceeded to move the divers to the fantastic boulder formation of the dive where we encountered two wonderful mating ghost pipefish. A buffet style lunch was again awaiting the guests along with a two-hour surface interval, so everybody to catch up on some sunbathing and sleep. For dive three the guest were briefed on the dive site known as Hide Away Bay, where to they got to dive a hard coral reef consisting of banded sea snakes, cuttle fish, and a wide variety of nudibranchs. After the dive afternoon tea and cakes were served in the saloon. After a small sleep the guests of Philkade was then invited to participate in the afternoon walk on island four also known as Koh Miang, where they enjoyed the jungle walk and got to see the national park headquarters. Upon returning back to the boat they were briefed on the night dive. The divers once again descended into the water to find a great the treasures of the Chinese statues, which were placed along the reef for Chinese New Year, which brought to life some moray eels hunting along with crabs and lobsters and octopus. The Similans evening was now a light with the stars with a good days diving done the guests sat down to a large three-course meal freshly prepared by the head chef of M.V Philkade. In all a perfect way to start the holiday.

On day two the guests awoke to the calm waters of the Similans. As the dive briefing was underway the boat cruised to island 7 where we made our first dive of the day on the famous East of Eden. The stunning reef was made even better by the fact that we had visibility for as far as the eye could see. As we made our way along the colourful reef we encountered a variety of rare species, the first being the ever shy ribbon eel, who was hiding under one of the many gorgonian see fans found on the reef. As we came to the large sand patch we were met by the resident moray eel known as Scarface, after she had swam around us all and realized that we didn’t have any food to give her she made her way along the reef in search of something more interesting. We also spotted on the dive the very rare seamoth and a black frogfish. Dive two was made on Elephant Head Rock; the dive sites interesting swim thorough and stunning backdrops make the site one of the most unique in the Similans. Whilst we were making our way around the site we came across some large and juvenile white tip reef sharks and large schools of trivially hunting in the current. As another great lunch was being served in the saloon we headed north to Island 8 where our third dive of the day was to be made which was also an underwater treasure hunt. The dive site is known as Atlantis Wreck and before the guests went into the water they were given 13 clues to presents that had been hidden around the wreck, one of which was a 3000 baht gift. After all the presents had been found and the reef was explored, M.V Philkade continued her journey to the famous Donald Duck Bay on island 8, here the guests once again ventured onto the Island for an afternoon walk to the top of the huge granite rock formations for the amazing view of the similans. The last dive of the day was made as a dusk dive on the island of Koh Bangu also known as island nine. On the dive we encountered a wide variety of fish and shellfish that were enjoying there evening hunt with the sun light disappearing. The evening meal was a celebration meal for one of the divemasters birthday, where every one enjoyed some good food, wine and music to finish another great day in the similans.

On the morning of day three the first dive was a site known as North Point, we began the dive by descending onto a small pinnacle, but strong currents forced us back onto the main reef, where we made our way around its giant boulder formations and some fantastic swim throughs, here we came across a free swimming leopard shark and hawksbill turtles which were feeding from the main staghorn reef. Amongst the rock formations we also found the ever-elusive giant frogfish. With reports coming in of manta rays we proceeded north to Koh Bon. On our first dive as we made our way along the wall we came across a large octopus trying his best to camouflage with the surrounding coral. Only two members of the group were able to spot a Manta Ray as it flew over the large staghorn garden on the northern side of the ridge. It was decided by the guests onboard to make a second dive on the site to see if we could all spot a Manta, but it was not meant to be, instead we encountered large schools of golden pilot jacks and emperor snappers hanging out in the blue, waiting for their next unsuspecting meal. The rest of the afternoon was spent cruising north to Koh Tachai where we were to make our Dusk Dive. As we made our way to the sandy bottom the first thing that we came across was a baby leopard shark resting on the sand, he appeared completely unfazed by our presence and even allowed us to lie next to him and take some pictures. For the rest of the dive we watched as the reef came alive with fish trying to find good hiding spots before the nocturnal hunters came out to feed. After the dive another well-prepared meal was served on the aft wheelhouse deck. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing on the fly bridge making wishes on the shooting stars that passed by overhead.

On our last day in Thailand we headed north to Richelieu Rock. We made our first dive just as the sun was rising to ensure that we had the dive site to ourselves. With the visibility getting clearer and the fish life more active with every passing minute the dive just got better and better. The first things that we encountered on the dive were the two resident seahorses, one of which (the male) was still heavily pregnant. As we came around one of the rocks we came face to face with a great barracuda who decided that he really liked the guests who had cameras and began to follow them so that his picture could be taken, it was very funny to watch but I don’t think that the people with cameras found it to amusing. Just before the end of the dive we were also able to see the resident nurse shark as he was hiding in his hole. After a big breakfast and a two hour surface interval we descended back onto Richelieu with our sights set on finding a clown frog fish that we had been told about, we were not disappointed as it was the first thing that we came across, with it bright yellow body and red spots it makes for a truly unique creature. As we made our way into shallower water one of the divemasters spotted the familiar outline of a seahorse hiding amongst some soft coral. As we began our ascent to the safety stop we were surprised by a group a squid coming out of the blue and making there way into the shallow crevices of the site. After completing our safety stop we checked out of Thai waters and headed for the boarder of Myanmar. After a final debrief all of the guests grouped together for the farewell trip photo before disembarking the boat with good memories packed away along with their dive equipment. Of the thirteen guests on the Thailand trip seven continued on to Myanmar, with a short cruise across the water we entered Burmese water. Once immigration had been completed we cruised in the moonlit waters of the Mergui Archipelago.

On the morning of the 23rd we anchored onto the dive site known as High Rock, which was surrounded with mokan gypsies fishing for their morning breakfast. After the dive briefing the guests descended for their first dive into Burmese waters. Upon entering we immediately came across a huge school of cheveron barracuda cruising in the sunrays. As we were hovering above the sandy floor looking at the wide variety of nudibranchs a curious crocodile fish came out of hiding. We also came across a ghost pipefish, blotched fantail whip ray and octopus. On the safety stop we found a frog fish resting inside a sponge coral. The dive was over way to quickly as 60 minutes was not long enough. After breakfast M.V Philkade headed further north to a dive site called In Through The Outdoor, this is where the boat anchored for the next three dives. Dive one took us inside the cave where we met by a 2 meter blotched fantail whip ray. At the exit of the cave there was a school of around 1000 skip jack barracuda circling around. Hitting the reef side of the site the coral was in full bloom housing a number of different species of eels, such as white eyed, leopard and zebra. Once onboard lunch was served and we spent the next two hours watching a movie before the next dive. This time on the dive we did the wall side of the site. With its thirty meter drop of it houses some small little critters ideal for photographers and slow paced divers. As the dives were so good in the day time we decided to bring the night dive forward to a nice early dusk dive, so we could have chance to see the site changing into its deceiving dark form. Encountering cuttle fish and squid hunting was the main attraction of the dive.

On the early morning of day two we traveled six hours to the most northern part of the trip which was Black Rock, here we was greeted with perfect flat seas along with 20 meter visibility. Descending into the deep waters we instantly came across a huge octopus standing large on a rock proving to us that it was his territory, along with 5 white tip sharks and a free swimming blotched fantail whip ray, the dive was topped of with a sighting of a 3 meter bull shark of into the blue, which was the topic of conversation over breakfast. The currents had picked up for dive two cruising along the reef we spotted two grey reef sharks with cobias attached, and once again white tip sharks. In the shallows of the site we saw nudibranchs and porcelain crabs filtering food from the fast moving current. With the currents getting stronger the decision was decided by everyone to skip the night dive and just do one more day dive on the site. The sharks had headed deeper but we were able to see octopus, cuttle fish and some very large lobster. With the anchor up we cruised south with the guests enjoying some white wine and sashimi as the sun went down.

Day three again blessed the boat with flat seas our first dive was on North Twin plateau; the dive began with a deep descent down to 32 meters. With all the guests on our special nitrox package they could now get the benefits of this amazing dive site, which include some of the best topography that Burma has to offer. Weaving in-between the sea fans we came across a 2-meter leopard shark resting on the bottom. Above him a school of barracuda was merging with a school of giant snapper, which was a site for any wide-angle photographer, ascending into the shallows an octopus was on show before we returned back to the boat for breakfast. The second dive site was on the island itself North Twin Reef is a site that offers everything to divers. With its big rock formation it is easy to get shelter from any current and to enjoy the dive, 20 minutes into the dive a free-swimming leopard shark came cruising by to display the amazing movement of its tail. As the dive progressed it was to everyone’s amazement that from the blue water a 4-meter whale shark came cruising by before heading south back into the blue. At lunch everyone talked happily about our lucky find and as they enjoyed another great meal. Dive three was on the island of south twin. The sites hard coral reef is a great pace to find different fish life we were even luck enough to see squid in the middle of a mating ritual and laying eggs. With the guests deciding to skip the night dive, dinner was served early before the evening movie was on show.

Exploration day was on us and we decided to explore some of the inland islands of the Mergui Archipelago, the first dive site produced vary poor visibility but was fantastic for critter hunting, it was a really good muck dive with plenty of nudibranchs on show. For dive two we descended down on to another a few meters away from the first site. The visibility was still poor but we encountered some rays, pipefish and even a species of snail that was thought to be endemic to the Maldives. After lunch we choose a dive site named North Rock, here we descended down onto a reef and straight onto a 2 meter black tip reef shark and schooling chevron barracudas. The reef was full of life with schooling fusiliers and unicorn fish. Matting cuttle fish was also displaying their colours above the vibrant colours of the mating nudibranchs and flat worms. Instead of a night dive the guests were given the opportunity to visit the Myanmar Andaman Resort where they had a chance to relax and unwind with a few cocktails whilst looking out onto the beautifully calm waters of the Archipelago and witness another amazing sunset.

Over night we cruised to our next dive site for the following day, which was to be Sea Fan Forest. The dive site is exactly as the name describes with some the largest gorgonian sea fans to be seen in the world. The masses of fans make the site a great attraction for the large pelagic’s and the schools of rainbow runners always keep you guessing as to what else is out there. On the dive we encountered two free-swimming leopard sharks, along with a cruising 2-meter white tip shifting between the sea fans. Western rocky was our next location for the day. As breakfast was served we anchored up along side the vertical rock formation. After the final dive briefing we descend down and through the rocky archway and made our way through the cave also known as lobster cave. Making our way along the cave the divers were shown the lobsters all over the ceiling and walls, before exiting through one of the tunnels which led us back into the blue water and onto to the other side of the dive site. Upon exiting we were greeted by a large school of barracudas and golden pilot jacks. At the very end we came across cuttle fish mating, it was a perfect dive to end the diving part of the trip. The final surprise of the trip was to a secret island only known to the Philkade staff. Here the island with no obvious entrance is still a secret to the local people. The guests boarded the zodiac were taken into a perfect lagoon with green backdrops descending down to the clear waters edge. Here everybody had the opportunity to snorkel with at least 25 black tip reef sharks in the shallow water of only??1-2 meters, along with giant sea clams on show. With their echoes of happiness bouncing off the walls it was a sign of the perfect ending to a wonderful trip. As Philkade cruised into the sunset on her way back to Kaw Thaung the guests enjoyed drinks on the fly bridge as well as a beautifully prepared barbeque on the aft wheelhouse deck, with cook’s famous apple pie as dessert.