Barely a month after the fateful tsunami plowed its way through the Southeast Asian region, I found myself thoughtfully contemplating the squalor of dive paraphernalia artfully strewn across the floor, while I ram and pummel my bags into submission.
Friends either pleaded with and badgered me not to go, or held on to their stomachs in bursts of great belly laughs; but I was resolute. Yes, it is my personal duty to ensure the economic survival of the beleaguered natives of the Andaman shoreline with my tourist currency…. and besides, I so totally have to try out my new fins!
I’m headed out for a three-day liveaboard departing from the little known province of Trang in South Thailand. Though just next to Krabi, this province had suffered a mere fraction of the devastation that had been wrecked on its neighbors. Not only was Trang situated further down south so as to have escaped the full fury of the tragic waves, it’s local geographical distinction of possessing a shallow sea helped to deflect the waves from their potential too. I might look it, but I generally try not to be that foolish!
Our journey this time would take us to highlights of the local sea, all quite magnificent on their own rights, but the real climax of the show, at least for me, would be when we move into the deeper waters bordering Krabi, where two unassuming pinnacles sit. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Hin Daeng and Hin Muang.
These two stony protrusions, respectively translated as Red Rock and Purple Rock, surge their way from the sea floor over 40 meters below to break the surface of the sea with their craggy tips, the last lonely outpost for sea birds for several nautical miles.
Hin Daeng consists of 3 small rocks just breaking the surface. Underwater the reef features a dramatic drop-off as the wall reaches a depth of over 50 meters and is a favorites among divers due to its variety of marine life including manta rays.
Only a small distance away lies one of the most beautiful submerged.
reefs in the Kingdom, Hin Muang. This reef, the size of a football field, is completely covered with anemones and soft corals, and offers the same variety of marine life as Hin Daeng with the chance to see manta rays, gray reef sharks and leopard sharks along with a great range of tropical fish.
Hin Daeng and Hin Muang’s beautiful underwater landscapes, coupled with a wealth of marine life including, manta rays, gray reef sharks and whale sharks, offer some of the more spectacular diving in all of Thailand.
Spiraling Hin Deang, clouds of baby fish frantically flit and dart their way around us, determined to keep up with the rest of school despite our dastardly intrusion. Triggers dash from crevice to crevice, unexpectedly shy in our presence; butterflies dreamily pirouette and preen amongst the coral formations like debutantes preparing for their first ball. Minute shrimps scurry hysterically for their stony abodes while their larger neighbors hunch phlegmatically for photo sessions.
Fascinating as all reef life can be, our main purpose in coming was to catch a glimpse of that immense yet tacit giant, the manta ray. Around the pinnacles, there are various up welling that brings forth the mainstay of any manta’s diet: plankton. This means constantly swiveling between watching the reef, looking out to the open sea, swinging back to watch the reef, turning to check the open sea… you get the general idea. It was probably the best workout that my neck ever got
And very thankful I am for that workout; after just about 10 minutes of slowly unscrewing my head from my torso, a shadow loomed in the distance, so faint at first that I can’t be sure I was actually looking at the animal of my dreams, or suffering from some gradual degenerative optical disease. As the distinctive silhouette of the unfurled mouth flaps and trapezoid body slowly materialized into view, I placed an unresponsive palm to my mouth to find that my jaw did the cartoon strip thing: it literally dropped.
Frenetically trying to stuff the regulator back into my oral orifice, squawking like a depraved chicken, and energetically flapping my arms, I gracefully beckoned the group to enjoy the sight of one of the most remarkable creatures to emerge from the deep. Nonchalantly twirling in the water column, the manta is the doyenne of style and refinement, capturing spare minimalism as it weaves through the blue delicately, with the minimum of effort and maximum of elegance. With a fluid motion of its wings, it swirls past us, sending the more overwhelmed divers careening into each other, stunned into a dazed euphoria. For a full 17 minutes, the manta circled around us, lingering within touching distance but inclining away whenever one of us stretched out a bemused hand, coyly declining to play tag.
Mesmerized, we abandoned all pretence of examining the rest of the site, and basically just bobbled about, agog at the magnificence of the manta. Even until this century, very little is known about manta rays besides their basic biology. Though presumed to live about 25 years, its life history remains pretty much a mystery so there is precious little to understand about manta dynamics, their significance from an ecological or even scientific standpoint. For the time being, I am content with the modest ambition just to observe this astounding elasmobranch in the wild.
As the gauge needle nudged its way into the red zone, I was shaken from my reverie, and finally put my superb new fins to use, leaving our underwater ballerina to perform another solo for the next batch of lucky divers.
By the way my superb new fins have been officially elevated to the status of being my lucky fins, and in case you were interested, I was using Mares Avanti Planas, with their unique three channel design while gamboling with mantas. So should the grateful manufacturers decide to reward my firm endorsement with, say, new lines of equipment, or even plain wads of cash, let the record state that I am prepared to accept it.
When to Visit
From November to April is the area’s dry season. You can expect an average temperature of 30 C or
89 F, sunny weather and calm seas most of this time. The rainy season lasts from May through October. There are many sunny days throughout the rainy season and showers last normally little more than 2-3 hours. Expect temperatures like in the dry season and sometimes rough seas during this time.
For international travelers: Trang is about 100km from Phuket which has an international airport with direct flights to Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong and beyond. Between November and April there are charter flights to many european cities as well.
Local travelers: there are direct flights from Bangkok to Trang as well as trains and buses.