Diving: Manta rays, whale sharks call Andaman’s best-kept secret home

PHUKET: The world knows of the Similan Islands and the spectacular diving that can still be had there. However, deep in southern Thailand, Hin Daeng, Hin Muang and Koh Haa are perhaps the Andaman’s best-kept diving secrets.

Located about 100 kilometers southeast of Phuket, out of reach for most day-trip operators, Hin Daeng and Hin Muang manage to avoid most international attention.

The distance leaves those in Phuket with two options: take a liveaboard… or change base camp.

Anyone with non-divers in tow really has only one option – and it turns out to be a great one.
Grab the daily morning ferry from Rassada Pier in Phuket to Koh Lanta, situate yourself in a nice boutique resort and book with Andaman Dive Adventure. The owners, manager and staff have been kicking around the island long enough to ensure some of the best diving in the region.

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Why go through the effort of taking a long weekend away from Phuket? That’s what I’ve been wanting to tell you for the last 161 words – mega fauna.

The kind of mega fauna that divers in 7mm wetsuits dream about while mindlessly doing buoyancy drills at the bottom of cold, murky lakes in Europe: giant manta rays and whale sharks.

“What you do is go down the line at Hin Muang and the manta is just sitting there. It’s about 4-5 meters [wing span],” Lee Johnson, operational manager at Andaman Dive Adventure, explains over the phone.

“Today at Hin Daeng they had four, two at the same time.”

Okay, maybe you’re crazy and the majestic grace and soul-searching eyes of a giant manta ray isn’t what you want.

“In the last four days, there have been two sightings of whale sharks at Koh Haa,” Lee says, clearly starting to rub it in.

These are, of course, the kind of comments that ruin a friendship. Last weekend, when I was diving in Koh Haa, we came up empty handed. Now, it’s hard to find a dozen “legitimate” excuses to give the boss that could put me back on Koh Lanta in the next 48 hours.

Luckily, I have time – you have time – we all have time.

“Normally, the mantas go away at about New Year. But last year, we had mantas until April. We also had a whale shark at Koh Haa for two months – it was like a resident whale shark,” Lee says.

Even if you strike out on sighting these majestic creatures – which clearly does happen – the long boat trip out to Hin Daeng (Red Rock) isn’t wasted. The site is a stunning pinnacle capped with thick groves of vibrant red, pink and purple soft corals and Hin Muang (Purple Rock – seeing the trend?) is nothing to scoff at either.

The shallows around Koh Haa, a much shorter boat ride from Koh Lanta, provide snorkelling opportunities for non-divers eager to see reef sharks, and is also home to the dive site “The Cathedral”. Surfacing within the mammoth cavern and seeing the cave walls framing the stunning sapphire-blue water glowing with tropical sunlight below, will make you forget that you came all this way for anything else – well, almost.

— Isaac Stone Simonelli

Thai Life

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