I traveled alone for this liveaboard experience with WC Divers which had quite a history and many good reviews. I can only say this: Too many of you are easily impressed.....
While the boat and thai crew were satisfactory (cabins are cleaned, comfortable, food is ok etc), the diving and the dive guides left much to be desired.
The Diving - The Similans were a big disappointment. Generally when you dive with current, you expect to see quite a lot, especially pelagics, rays, sharks, large schools etc. There was hardly anything. This is evident from the video taken by the videographer (at THB3000, a little too rich for me). The video, though high quality, often had to focus on the divers rather than the marine life, because there was so little of it. Local operators in Khao Lak explained to me that there is a lot of illegal fishing in the marine park and that is the main reason for the disappearance of the larger species, and the general decline of the marine ecosystem. The only site worth diving is Richelieu, which remains quite well preserved. Good coral and fish species, and somewhat comparable to other well-known sites in Malaysia/Indonesia/Philippines, otherwise to be very honest, I've seen more in 1 dive in other places compared to 14 dives on this trip. To be fair, if you are into underwater formations, this trip will please because the topography is quite impressive, but if you're fighting a current, you don't have much energy to look at it.
The Dive Guides - They were not particularly friendly with the exception of the only asian, Cam. They didn't mingle much with the guests, which were comments by others on the trip. I actually don't mind this, what bothered me was the way the dives were conducted. We were reminded that Diving is an extreme sport (DUH!), but that the dive co has a reputation and a high regard for safety. I didn't find this to be completely true. Here are some examples:
55 yr old diver who hasn't dived in some years, struggled at the Koh Bon West Ridge, a dive well known for strong currents. Diver gave the guide the not OK sign, Guide did not properly assess the diver's physical/mental state and continued the dive to the exit point (in very very strong current).
Same guide, on another dive (I believe it was a Richelieu); we were given instructions to alert the guide at air=70bar. The diver (a lady) was banging on her tank while the group was fighting the current to get back to the exit line, 200 divers on the site were all looking at the group but the guide kept swimming ahead. In strong current, the diver made it back with only 20 bar
The above 2 cases reflect the obsession that WC Divers have to make it to the exit point every single time! No effort is made to escape or swim with current. At some sites (Bon/Tachai/Richelieu), it seems like that's all we did. Current is a natural phenomenon that all divers expect, but usually or rather in my experience, good guides plan the route so that you dive with the current and exit wherever makes sense, or when divers start to get tired/low on air. It makes for enjoyable relaxed diving, with the guide showing guests the different marine life. WC Guides just brought us to entry, took us for a swim and then made us get to the exit. There was hardly any time given to just poke around and spot the marine life. Sure it was safe, but it wasn't much fun.
One last experience took the cake. On the last day at a wreck dive (muck bottom, 10m viz at best) close to Khao Lak, I was truly appalled with what happened in my group. We were ascending along a mooring line from 15m depth when I had reverse block in my ear. After clearing my block, I looked up the line and the entire group (including the guide had disappeared). I didn't panic as I had maybe 70bar left, and I calmly did a swimming safety stop up to around 5m when I found the group hanging onto another line (I spotted 3 when we were dropping in, and guessed they must have moved). When I asked the guide why he left me behind, his response was that I had been following behind the whole time. Had I been less confident or calm in my situation, or if I was low on air, or couldn't ascend in time, I could have been in real trouble.
I've decided to leave this review after much consideration because I do hope the crew of the Pawara are not adversely affected. They depend on business to eke out a living, but I urge WC Divers to take a good hard look at themselves and try to improve. Until then, my sincere advice to would-be customers is - try someplace else.
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