|We've been on numerous liveaboard dive boats
in our travels, and there's a certain similarity to
them: a rhythm of diving, eating, reading, socializing,
and sleeping that leads to days blending together as one
meanders by boat from dive site to dive site. Of course
the details vary from trip to trip, depending on the
underwater conditions and features, topside weather and
scenery, boat quality, food, crew, and other passengers.
Our five-night trip aboard the Dolphin Queen (photo 1), starting in Thailand then cruising the 800 islands of Myanmar's Mergui (Myeik) Archipelago (photo 2), didn't disappoint in any regard. The boat itself is less luxurious than some we've been on, but the cabins were comfortable enough, bathrooms sparkling, crew fun-loving while keeping things running without a hitch (photo 3), and food ... ah, authentic Thai and exceptional! Our daily schedule: light breakfast, dive, full breakfast, dive, lunch, dive, afternoon snack, dive, dinner, beer, bed. Who's to complain?
Back in 2008, we spent two weeks sailing in the Mergui Archipelago as part of our travel-year (blogs here and here), doing a bit of diving most days. We remembered pristine reefs, the most spectacular soft corals we'd seen anywhere, lots of fish, and a smattering of other sea life. The dive sites accessible by the Dolphin Queen were more varied and dramatic than those we could dive safely from our sailboat, but the overall underwater scenery was similar, along with eels, turtles, cuttlefish, octopi, sea snakes, a couple of small sharks, and the family favorite -- seahorses. Unlike in some other parts of the world, here the reefs remain healthy and colorful. As usual, Tim had a field day with underwater photography but his photos aren't ready yet; for now, Jennifer's snapshots will have to do (photos 5-10).
Just like our previous visit, we saw virtually no other diving or tourist boats. We shared the waters with the indigenous Moken "sea gypsies" who live on their boats or in small beach villages, and squid fishers (photo 4) lighting the horizon at night. We were lucky that our own boat was carrying only 11 passengers -- at its capacity of 24 it would have been a tight squeeze. We very much enjoyed having plenty of room to spread out, though it meant fewer people to get to know. Our companions were a British couple and four guys traveling on their own -- two Americans (both living abroad), a German, and a Swiss -- a typical mix for a dive boat. The dive guides were Spanish, Japanese, and American, while the captain, engineer, cook, and other crew were all Thai.
We didn't specifically choose the Dolphin Queen -- it was the only boat traveling to the Mergui Archipelago in the time-frame of our trip -- but it holds special memories for us. During our 2008 adventure, our dive tank compressor gave up toward the end of our two months of sailing. Luckily we were back in a busy diving area by then, so we would visit nearby boats hoping they could fill our tanks. The crew aboard the Dolphin Queen were particularly welcoming, not only filling our tanks, but inviting us for afternoon snack and convincing Emily to join the group for her very first night dive (blog here). We enjoyed returning as paid customers this time.
Clara got her dive certification in California to prepare for this trip, so she was the least experienced diver by a large margin, but she took to it easily. She'd also never spent extended time on a boat before, so it was an all-new experience to live aboard for nearly a week. Although she enjoyed it on balance, she wasn't complaining the two times we made short visits to terra firma.
Next: After disembarking the Dolphin Queen in Kawthaung while the other passengers return to Thailand, we'll visit the most popular areas of Myanmar: Yangon (Rangoon), Bagan, Mandalay, a short trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, and back to Yangon.