Trip Report Phuket Day Trip Diving Report During Covid March 2021

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JonnieB

Contributor
Messages
302
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76
Location
Pattaya, Thailand
# of dives
200 - 499
For some background, I'm a long time resident of Thailand (Pattaya) and decided to avail myself of the once in a lifetime chance to visit and have Phuket almost all to myself and to dive the local day sites with a very minimum of other divers splashing about. The fact that hotel rates are 50-80 percent off normal high season prices is an added incentive. (Example: The Accor Aviva Resort in Karon Beach, where I just spent a week, normally goes for between 8000-10,000 baht per nite. I paid a little over 1000. Of 300 rooms, the bellboy said 18-20 were occupied on any given nite. The economic devastation on the west side of Phuket is almost indescribable...on the 3 kilometer stretch of Karon beachfront, only a few of the dozens of hotels are open and I counted exactly 3 restaurants open out of the dozens along the beachfront. The devastation is the same in Karon town, Kata, and Patong...80-90% of businesses are closed. I couldn't find a single dive shop open, out of the dozens there before Covid, in Patong. Many appear to be out of business for good.) So come March 1st, I packed up my car with diving gear and hit the road. The plan was to drive from Pattaya to Phuket, with an already booked 3 nite stay at the Centara Hua Hin Resort and another 1 nite stay in Chumporn. From Chumporn, it is an easy 6 hour drive to Phuket. My plan is to stay for 2-3 months (or longer) and dive; with surface intervals for eating, beach bumming, and some Thai massages.

The 13 hour drive to Phuket was easy and uneventful...with the highways throughout being in good condition. The plentiful service stations all along the route, with their plentiful Cafe Amazon's, 7-Elevens, and tidy bathrooms makes long distance driving in Thailand a breeze. For my first week in Phuket, I based myself in, where else, Chalong Bay, at the Arch 39 Hotel, along the shoreline just a stones throw away from the Chalong pier (where all the dive boats depart from). The current rate at Arch 39 is about $20 per nite (normally $75-$100). For my second week, I moved over to the aforementioned Aviva for 5 nites. As I write, I'm now staying my third week at a place called the Chalong Chalet Resort, which is just up the road from Dive Supply on the hill overlooking Chalong Bay. I have a private villa for 1000 baht a nite. This is a bit of a spooky place because parts of this extensive resort are completely shutdown and I could be the only one staying here at present. In any case, I have a large villa on a hillside overlooking Chalong Bay maybe all to myself for the princely sum of around $30 a nite. The reason for all the hotel hopping is because of the cheap rates, I am staying a week at multiple 4-5 start hotels and Air BnBs during my stay. A couple more of my best finds are a new 4 BR 4BA pool villa in the hills above Chalong for $35 a nite and a pool access room with breakfast at the Patong Merlin for $30. I also have a return stay booked at the Arch 39. To put it mildly, it's hard to pay more than $25-$35 a nite for accommodation right now in Phuket.

So on to the diving. It's a good thing hotel nites are cheap right now because to do a lot of diving, one has to be here a long time. In normal times, maybe there are two dozen or more operators taking their boats out per day, but now it's maybe 2-4 (and that's on weekends). During the week, it appears 1-2 boats are going out. I've chosen to dive with my long time shop here, Seabees, and currently they are only going out on weekends and Thai holidays...if they have a certain minimum of divers on board. Lucky for me, I have been able to dive with them for two weekends in a row for a total of 9 dives during my 11 days on the island. This is my impression of the diving so far and what we have seen.

Weekend One...

Racha Yai

Our first day out was two dives at Racha Yai Island...at Bungalow Bay and Bungalow Bay Southside. The conditions were sunny and the water was calm. Unfortunately visibility was low at about 5 meters or so. Both of these sites might as well be called Porcupine Point for the number of porcupine and puffer fish that were about. The odd moray eel was seen as well as a galloping turtle. Over all, nothing to rave about and I'd give them a 2 out of 5 stars.

Shark Point & Phi-Phi Islands

Sunday was a three dive day, with the first dive at Shark Point and the second and third at the Bida Islands of Phi-Phi National Marine Park. Again it was sunny and the seas were calm, with 10-15 meters of visibility at Shark Point and up to 20m at the Phi-Phi islands. Shark point is a very pretty reef covered in colorful soft corals and it is especially so when the light of a clear day is streaming down through the water. It's like the heavens are looking down and smiling on you. There were a couple schools of Big Eye barracuda rolled-up in balls and and huge schools of yellow fossils. The eponymous varieties of puffer-fish were seen, as well as some squid. Over at Bida Nok, another beautiful site, we were again surrounded by huge schools of fossils and spied some spiny lobsters in the reef crevices. On Bida Nai, there are many huge barrel sponges, many varieties of soft and hard coral, anemones with resident clown fish of several varieties and the pairs of Porcelain crabs. Large Emperor Angelfish, a Blue Spotted stingray, and scorpion fish were also seen.

Weekend Two...

Racha Island Bay 3

The second weekend of diving was 2 days of 2 dive diving at the Racha Islands and the King Cruiser wreck. Again conditions were ideal with sunny skies and very good visibility of 20 meters plus. This dive would turn out to be the highlight of the nine so far. As there have been only 6-8 divers on any given day, the dive groups have been very small...and due to my advanced certifications and diving experience, I was paired one to one with Marita, one of the pioneers of scuba diving in Phuket. (They say she has over 45,000 dives over a 50 year career.) This side is basically a sloping sandy bottom that starts out shallow and goes to maybe 40 meters or so. There are many concrete beam squares scattered about to create artificial reefs and fish habitats. Marita took me down immediately to a depth of around 31 meters and a particular concrete square, where she proceeded point out one very large stone fish down on the sand and two more smaller ones nestled up on the concrete trusses. A very large moral eel was also present. As we assended from the deep up the sand bottom, we spotted a sea snake and a couple blue spotted rays. The sand slopes also have patches of garden eels poking up from the sand, where we also spotted a Marble Eel in the open moving from one hiding spot to another. Overall this was a very enjoyable dive. On the next dive at Bay 1, there is a large wooden wreck to be explored. On the sandy area, we spotted a stick ghost pipefish.

King Cruiser Wreck (Nee Shark Point and Anemone Reef)

The first of the Sunday dives was to be on the King Cruiser wreck. However, due to the very rough sea conditions, the dive was changed to Shark Point (again). Of course, these things can't be helped and it was really too choppy for more inexperienced divers to decend down a mooring line in such conditions. Marita and I did make it all around Shark Points 1, 2, and 3 but no Leopard shark to be seen. It was again a very pretty dive with moderate currents. A couple new finds from the previous outing the day before were a beautiful Golden moray eel and groups of 3-5 huge Chevron Baraccuda lurking about around the bottom of the reef.

Anemone Reef

The second dive of the day (and last of the nine of this TR) was Anemone Reef. An anemone covered pinnacle that is also usually a very pretty and productive dive. This one was no exception. There were several moral eels and pairs of White-Eye morays on the pinnacle, as well as a flatworm and a sea snake. After searching the pinnacle for awhile, and fighting some very strong currents, we hit the jackpot, a Leopard Shark resting peacefully on the sandy bottom. So there were none at Shark Point but we did see one here. The soft corals gardens here and anemone covered pinnacle plus the shark made this another great dive, despite the strong currents this day.

Conclusion
 

Centrals

Contributor
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Location
Hong Kong
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Great.

Anyone who is looking for a long and quiet or almost exclusive holiday now, should consider Phuket!
The only issue is the initial 2 wks quarantine and the necessary paper work for the visa.

I hope Thailand and HK can set up a travel bubble in few months time since both places have already started the vaccination program.

This coming winter is NOT a fantasy!!!!
 

JonnieB

Contributor
Messages
302
Reaction score
76
Location
Pattaya, Thailand
# of dives
200 - 499
20210320_091303.jpg 20210320_091313.jpg
Karon Beach, Phuket

Karon Beach at 9 a.m. this morning...maybe a dozen people along 3 kilometers of beach!
 

JonnieB

Contributor
Messages
302
Reaction score
76
Location
Pattaya, Thailand
# of dives
200 - 499
Great.

Anyone who is looking for a long and quiet or almost exclusive holiday now, should consider Phuket!
The only issue is the initial 2 wks quarantine and the necessary paper work for the visa.

I hope Thailand and HK can set up a travel bubble in few months time since both places have already started the vaccination program.

This coming winter is NOT a fantasy!!!!
Thailand is considering 10 day or even 7 day quarantines for people who have been vaccinated. Also, the hotel quarantines have become more relaxed in that you're no longer confined to the room after 3 days but are free to roam around the hotel/resort and use its facilities freely. By October 1, they hope to remove all quarantine requirements.
 

Centrals

Contributor
Messages
10,868
Reaction score
4,123
Location
Hong Kong
# of dives
Thailand is considering 10 day or even 7 day quarantines for people who have been vaccinated. Also, the hotel quarantines have become more relaxed in that you're no longer confined to the room after 3 days but are free to roam around the hotel/resort and use its facilities freely. By October 1, they hope to remove all quarantine requirements.
Good to know that.

My motto at the moment is:
Keep the expectation to the absolute minimum!

What else can I do other than wait and see?
The travel bubble between HK and Singapore was pulled before it was implemented because of new surge of infection in HK.
 

JonnieB

Contributor
Messages
302
Reaction score
76
Location
Pattaya, Thailand
# of dives
200 - 499
Good to know that.

My motto at the moment is:
Keep the expectation to the absolute minimum!

What else can I do other than wait and see?
The travel bubble between HK and Singapore was pulled before it was implemented because of new surge of infection in HK.
There was a lot of talk about "travel bubbles" early on in the pandemic but I don't think any ever materialized (maybe Oz and Kiwiland...not sure). But the whole concept was rather impractical...travel spreads the virus; just have to until most people are immune either through a vaccine shot or natural immunity, and then travel can open up.
 
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