On 28th of March 2013 i worked on a 9 day Burma Liveaboard trip to the Mergui Archipelago on the MV DEEP ANDAMAN QUEEN. It was the first time for me to participate in a Burma liveaboard Trip that was not conducted by one of my partners Clive or Ric, who tought me everything about liveaboard diving, and so i was very curious about how this adventure would unfold, what the schedule might be, how it is to do a trip on the Deep Andaman Queen and how the dive sites changed since the last time i was there in November 2012.
MV DEEP ANDAMAN QUEEN
I was the first person to arrive at the boat even before the tourleader and the other western staff, which gave me the opportunity to have a closer look at the inside of the boat. The MV Deep Andaman Queen is a ten year old mid-range vessel with a reputable past. I was positively impressed by the size of the cabins and beds, the sundeck welcomed me with some nice furniture far better than on any other liveaboard i’ve seen before, which would be very important to me later on. The departure day went down as any other liveaboard departure i’m used to – customers, tourleader and divestaff arrived – checkin procedures – welcome briefing, first dinner and overnight cruise to the first divesite.
I knew the tourleader, Steve Leathwood, from a trip i worked in 2012. He seemed kind of happy to have me on the boat again which meant i must have left an alright impression the last time we worked together.
Steve’s first approach to the customers is, to be honest, very direct and strict when it comes to safety rules and interaction with marine life. He makes it very clear how important those things are and what’ll happen if anybody doesn’t follow the rules. This and his way of expressing it may sound a bit harsh for some customers, but i can understand this approach. In my two seasons working on a liveaboard, i’ve experienced quite some misbehaviour by customers, so i can image what Steve must have seen in his 10 years of tourleading. Once everybody proved that they will dive safely and don’t disturb marine life in any way (and are capable of diving in the given conditions), Steve shows his nice side and will become more and more friendly over the dives and everybody will see an enthusiastic, experienced tourleader who loves his job, the ocean and everything that’s living in it.
As all customers on the boat seemed to be pretty experienced and very curious about diving in Burma, Steve changed the schedule to get more dives in Burma out of this trip for us, which meant: Richlieu Rock as check dive site!
Day 1 – Richelieu Rock & Kaw Thaung – 29th March 2013
Check dive on Richelieu Rock, that’s what you want! It is considered to be one of the most advanced dive sites in Thailand, doesn’t sound like an easy dive site for a check dive – and it wasn’t. Dropping in, we found ourselves in an intermediate current with visibility around 15 meters – nothing too harsh, but for some customers it was the first dive since months and so many, myself included, weren’t really comfortable on that dive. Me and my group did 22 meters for 47 minutes, we didn’t see much of the famous Richelieu Rock marine life, but a lot of glass fish and hunting predators instead.
Dive 2 then was much better for everybody, as we all got beeing used to be back in the water, especially the more advanced customers. Also the conditions changed to be much more favourable to us, we had at least 20 meter visibility and much less current then on the first dive. At about 11:30 a.m. we set sail north to Ranong in order to leave Thailand. I personally love that cruise up the Andman coast, knowing, that there won’t be any more dives this day, enjoying the views, relax and get to know the customers.
Burma Liveaboard begins in Kaw Thaung
Immigration Procedure in Ranong went quickly, we were mored up less than an hour at the Immigration point near the Deep Sea Port at Ranong – time to use the camera!
After Thai Immigration procedures were done, we headed over to the Burmese side of the Border River in one of the most beautiful sunsets i have experienced this season, again time to take some photos!
Appraoching Kaw Thaung, the gate to the Mergui Archipelago, everybody senses the atmosphere of an adventure. Surrounding boats look more authentic and old-fashioned. Customers used words like ‘forbidden country’ and ‘closed country’ – which is a bit far from the truth to be honest, but as a crew member i didn’t want to disturb the aura of adventure and discovery amongst the customers.
The Kaw Thaung immigration procedure takes much longer than the one on the Thai side. Immigration- and border-officials boarding the boat in order to check the documents in our dining area. The slight breeze carried (literally) the smell of Burma from the small town on to the boat and the strange sound of the Burmese language everywhere creates feelings of beeing in place far from our known world.
After all immigration procedures were done, we left Kaw Thaung harbour into the night towards High Rock in the southern middle of the Mergui Archipelago on the last Burma liveaboard of this season.
How everything unfolded from there you will read in Part II of this Burma Liveaboard Trip review.