Review of 5d/5n Burma Liveaboard Dive Trip with AICD (Based in Ranong, Thailand)

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Guitarfish

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My wife and I had initially planned a Similan liveaboard trip, and had chosen the Danish-operated Adaman International Dive Centre (AIDC) because
1. the AIDC web site states that the dives take place in a marine park, thus promising good coral and fish life;
2. AIDC offered a 5d/5n trip with 19 dives, more than most other companies,for 24580 THB per diver including gear and park fee, translating into a good cost per dive ratio;
3. AIDC is operating out of Ranong, which is accessible more quickly than Phuket by land from Bangkok.
Due to a case of death that occured in the closest family, we had to cancel the Similan trip. Note that AIDC does not offer any refunds, not even under these circumstances. In order not to lose our downpayment, we had the option to join their later Burma trip at an additional cost of 7420 THB per person. The AIDC website describes this as “one of the most beautiful and unchartered places in the world”.

Arrival at the Dive Shop in Ranong

We were asked to meet at the dive centre at 12pm on the day of departure, the operator explicitly wrote to us not to be late. Our bus arrived at 11.20am, and the staff told us that the boat would leave late that day, although it was unclear at what time. We filled in the liability release forms. We were never asked to show our diver certification cards.
We then had to chose our rental dive gear. We would normally have taken M-sized wetsuits, but found that the ones in the dive shop were too small. We were explained that they were "Asian sizes". There was only one L-size wetsuit in the dive shop, which did not properly fit either, but was more comfortable than the too small M. All the wetsuits were ripped at the bum (we sewed one of the big holes ourselves).
We had to spend the afternoon waiting for departure. At no point were we told the time of departure. So we were having coffees until we were finally picked up and driven to the harbour at around 3.20pm.

The Vessel

AIDC operates the MV Thai Sea, which has 2 upper deck and 6 lower deck cabins accommodating 2 people each. All are the same price, despite considerable differences in comfort. We were assigned one of the lower deck cabins directly above the engine. The cabin stank of diesel fuel, and one could actually look at the engine through cm-wide slits in the wooden boards below our mattresses. The boat was full, so we could not change to another cabin. It was not possible for us to sleep in our assigned cabin due to the bad smell and noise. We would spend the nights outside, on the upper sun deck, but the maximum time of sleep we could catch was 5 hours per night due to winds, and waves splashing on the deck. During the day, unfortunately, there was no place to retreat to for the so much needed rest between dives. We were promised to have engines and generator shut down for the nights when the boat was anchored and not moving to the next dive site, but after the first night other customers complained about the heat without the generator-powered aircon, so the generator was never swiched off again at night. We were boldly told that we could rest after our return to Ranong.
Due to problems with the gear box, the vessel broke down twice during the trip: once on the first day, and once on the day return was scheduled for. Necessary repairs and towing resulted in the trip being 2 days longer than initially planned. Sadly, there was no offer of apology from the management for this delay.

Dive Personnel
There were two Divemasters (including the AIDC owner) and one PADI instructor as underwater guides. The instructor was assigned to lead us and two other divers. On our first dive, my wife found that she required an additional weight, so we resurfaced after seconds. The instructor did not check for us and left with the other two divers. We obtained another weight from the always helpful local crew and dived independently.
Further, it became clear during the trip that the dive personnel were not very knowledgeable about the dive sites or the marine life to be found. At one point, we were told the next dive was going to be a wall dive, but merely found a sandy bottom at around 8 to 12 meters depth.

Diving in the Mergui Archipelago
The Mergui archipelago is not a marine national park. Each night one could count on average 40 fishing vessels with bright lights, apparently Thai boats fishing in Myanmar waters. Not surprisingly then, there was barely any fish life on the reefs. Rarely a school of fish to be seen. We had to focus on nudibranches and cowries - and indeed we saw quite a few of them. During some of our dives, we also heard the sounds of close-by dynamite fishing, and we found most reefs in a deplorable state, being heavily damaged (broken and dead) by the devastating dynamite explosions. The only positive aspect was the lack of coral bleaching, which is affecting many reefs in equatorial waters further south.

On-Board Service and Experience
In terms of diving, there were no detailed dive briefings: no hand sign reviews, no emergency procedures were ever recalled, no expected dive profiles and times were ever mentioned. We only found the duration of the night dives after wondering underwater why many divers were surfacing after a much shorter time than normal. There were no post-dive discussions. For night dives, we were handed one torch each, and when asking if this was considered sufficient, the instructor joked about how we would be unable to handle 5 torches. One of our lights promptly failed underwater and one of us was handed the instructor's torch. Now we had a dive guide without a light... We had one more torch in our group on the next night dive, when, funnily, two of them failed.
There were only 18 dives planned and not 19 as advertised. To do 19 dives, one had to ask for it and get up very early on the last day (which was difficult for us to agree to as we became more and more tired due to the cabin situation).
The food offered on board was overall disappointing. It consisted of a lot of pasta with some kind of sauce, rather than Thai dishes. Apart from fruit, there was little fresh food. Frequently we were served refried leftovers from previous meals. Overall junk food, as it was referred to by a fellow diver.
In the evenings, some of the Danish divers on board showed their dive videos, some of which contained scenes like forcefully pulling a distressed moray out of its hiding place, or cutting off a starfish's leg to feed a harlekin shrimp, all to the great amusement of many including the AIDC management and staff.

Return to Ranong

Having lost two days due to engine problems, we had only one day left instead of three for a relaxing time on a closeby island (and catching somesleep, which we urgently needed). Despite being less than 5 minutes drive off the way to the dive shop, AIDC refused to drop us off where we would have catched the boat for the island. Instead we had to first return to the dive centre in town and then make our own way back to catch the boat. We missed our boat as a result.

Conclusion

Too bad to be true? That's how it felt. Be warned!
Judging from our overall experience, AIDC has to be considered a very unprofessional and unfriendly company. The entire trip felt like a terrible mistake, a horrible rip-off. We hope to never experience anything similar again and would certainly not recommend diving with AIDC.
 

Shasta_man

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Without knowing how that price rates, you certainly describe a hideous experience. You could see the engine through the slats?! Yes, certainly words can't do that justice.

Etc, etc. Sorry to hear about that.
 

BigJeff

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Sorry to hear you had such a poor experience, I've dived in Myanmar a few times and have to agree it would benefit from some protection from overfishing.

It also looks like you found the reason for the good cost per dive ratio.
 

Guitarfish

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Well, it still translates to over 200 USD per person per day of diving, but thanks for your comment.

Had we known what we were in for, we would not have gone if they payed us for it... In retrospect, it was dangerous to dive under the conditions provided to us by this company.
 

Zippsy

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I sympathize with you. I would feel cheated as well. I think Jeff's comment may have been made tongue in cheek, but it is valid. Good safe diving from proper live-aboard is not cheap. When you said "translating into a good cost to dive ratio", you likely were thinking only of the low cost. If the cost is so low, they have to be cutting expenses someplace because boats owners have a profit motive. A real "good" ratio is one that cuts the cost, as well as the inevitable related services that you feel you can do without.

It sounds like you got stuck with a huge amount less than expected - less than anyone should ever expect.
 

Bowmouth

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After reading your post I had a look at AIDC's website (Andaman International Dive Center - Ranong, Thailand - Scuba Diving Liveaboard to Burma and Thailand) and noticed that they are boldly claiming the following:
"We guarantee that you will enjoy your diving experience with us. Our motto is that diving should be Safe, Fun and Friendly. We aim to offer our customers the most professional and personal service in the area."

I think you should send AIDC your trip report and find out what this "guarantee" entitles you to.

I was unfortunately unable to find any Mergui Archipelago dive site descriptions on their website but they do talk about encounters with whales, dolphins, sharks and false killer whales. Although there is still a fairly good chance to see the odd shark in the Mergui Archipelago I do not think that this area should be advertised as a "big animal" destination because the big animals are simply not there anymore.

There's one other puzzling statement regarding drift diving and a promise to go diving in dark caves in Myanmar: "We will visit underwater pinnacles, wander around underwater plateaus, go deep, drift dive with the current, enter dark caves and go into swim-troughs.

My 2 questions are:
Is there any form of drift diving against the current?
How safe and fun will it be to go diving in dark caves with AIDC?
 

Aidc

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As manager for AIDC I will say that I’m very sorry that you had such a bad experience.

I will not comment everything, I will leave that to the other customers on board and former customers…
You can see our version on our blog AIDC Blog
I can also recommend everybody to take a look on our Burma videos and make you own opinion about diving Burma.

However there are a few things I would like to say...

Its right if you cancel a trip less than 2 weeks before departure the full amount will be charged. We do that because we don’t have time to resell the space.
On the booking confirmation can you also see that we recommend a travel insurance that will cover your loss in cases like this.
You should normally have paid full price for the trip so I think I made you a very fair deal.

There is a simple reason why we say in our booking confirmation that you have to be here the day before or latest 12.00 the same day. Many times in Thailand the busses are planes are delayed.

When we have a technical problem it’s not funny for anybody, especially not for me. But I think we manage it very well and in a safe way (don’t forget that we were in Burma).
Everybody agreed about the delay, including you…

About our dive crew, Mischa, Carmen and myself, I don’t think you will find anybody else with more experience and passion for diving in Burma. Yes, sometimes we try new places and it can be good or less good.
You instested to dive alone with your dive master (your wife), maybe that’s why you missed all the good stuff everybody else was seeing.

About the food.. That’s the first time we have complaining about food… But maybe you are right about vegetarian food. We will try to do it better.
Normally we don’t serve fish on board, that’s my decision… And you know why! When you intersect an arm of a Sea star you will have 2 there is alive, when you eat a fish it will be dead forever.

About service before and after the trip, we try to do everything what we can to make everybody happy and in a comfortable way. We always pickup people and deliver them to Airport, Busses, Hotel or whatever and we do it from our dive shop. We try to plan it so it’s best for everybody. It’s not only going about you.

Everybody got an apology from me after the trip, but you decided to leave before I arrived to the dive shop.

Me and my crew (and all other costumers) think it was all in all a very nice trip, but you decided to go against that from the beginning, and I can only be sorry about that.

Good luck for your future Liveaboards…

Preben Jensen
 

jeja26

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Sorry to hear about your experience but I for one cannot recognize the experience. I have been diving with Preben twice in the past (the last trip being in Dec 2010). There were no problems at all - pick up, hotel, equipment were as promised. Friendly and accomadating.

The trip as a whole was a great experience as I put in the thread
http://www.scubaboard.com/forums/ge...p-aicd-based-ranong-thailand.html#post5805889

My wife had a trial dive during the trip. Compared to the trial dive she had in Egypt she was very pleased with the competance of the instructor (very calm, experienced and competent) - to such a degree that she might take the full course.

The description of the boat is not my experience either. I have not done the Burma trip but intend to do it in the future sometime - with Preben and co.

Any vessel can have an accident I suppose - no matter how new or old. This does happen.

Once again sorry to hear your version but for my say - I cannot recognise any of it.
 

Guitarfish

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I am glad that people are reading my review, and responding to it. I registered because I felt everybody should know about our experience.
I would like to make four points in response to the posts above.

1. AIDC claims that they cannot refund cancellations for whatever reason because they do not have time to resell the space. In fact, we were told by staff on board that the boat is rarely full, and that the trip we were on thus was an exception.

2. If the boat is not full, divers will naturally avoid the diesel smell in cabins 5 and 6 on the MV Thai Sea, and will have a much better time. However, I feel that all readers should be aware about the condition of these cabins on board, and that they will end up in one of them in case the others are occupied.

3. I did not choose to dive alone with my wife, who happens to be a divemaster. The dive instructor was assigned to us, and just left us behind on the "trial dive" due to us requiring an additional weight. This just should not happen. In fact, we would have preferred to dive as part of a group with a knowledgable dive leader.

4. Clearly, the people who work at AIDC will say they have passion for diving in Burma. As a matter of fact, however, it was the divemaster employed by AIDC who resurfaced with her group after about 10 minutes on the last day of diving because of closeby dynamite fishing. Apparently her passion for diving does not go far enough to stay in the water under such conditions, which are not exceptional judging from the state of the reefs.

Either way, I am sure some people might have a good time diving with AIDC. This however does not imply that this can be considered a professional organization, given my review above. So by all means, take the chance and dive with them if you feel lucky.
 

Deefstes

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I always find it interesting to read threads like this, especially those in which the operator also takes the time to post.

Guitarfish, I'm very sorry to hear of your unpleasant experience. If I paid good money to be on a liveaboard with conditions as you describe, I'd have been livid. We just returned from Thailand where we were on a liveaboard in the Similans with South Siam Divers and I have nothing but praise for them. But in a way we were just lucky. When you book a liveaboard you only have what you can find on their website, other websites and the recommendation of other divers to base your opinion on. It's only once you're on the boat that you really know what it is like. For this reason I get very upset with operators who sell one thing and give you something else.

Aidc, thank you for taking the time to respond in this thread. I'd have to be honest though that your response, so far, hasn't really restored your image as a professional organisation, at least not in my opinion.

Would you mind answering a few simple questions?

1. Do you consider it acceptable that someone is required to sleep in a cabin from where the diesel engine is visible through the floor boards and which smells of diesel fumes?

2. Do you consider it acceptable that a DM continues a dive with half of the dive group missing? From what I understand the DM either knew that the two divers surfaced for extra weights but decided to leave them behind and continue the dive or the DM didn't know what happened to them and decided to continue the dive. Both scenarios sound ludicrous to me.

3. Do you consider it acceptable for a diver in your group to sever a starfish's leg? From your response it sounded like you do.

4. Under what sort of conditions would you consider offering some sort of compensation to your customers? I'm just wondering about stuff like cabins with slits in the floor that opens up to the engine room and a vessel breaking down such that the customers lose 2 days of their holiday. I would find it hard to convince myself (or others) to dive with an operator that does not consider those conditions to be grounds for compensating their customers with more than just a verbal apology.
 
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