Aug 29th, 2009, 02:41 AM
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Still have an hour or so before I have to even think of moving from my comfy "workstation" in the Premier lounge at Changi, so I might as well start a topic for my trip report. (Changi must be the only airport where "minimum transit time" is a complete irrelevance. Who'd want that?)

I'm on my way to the Maldives, for the first time, for a six day trip through the atolls. It should be interesting. The guy who arranged it (my dive instructor) chose this time of year because it's the best time to see mantas.

So, why am I going via Singapore? Well, Thai Airways doesn't fly to Male, and Bangkok Airways only flies there a few days a week, so it was either fork out a lot of money for two extra nights in a hotel; or fly via Columbo, which didn't seem like such a good idea way back when I booked the tickets; or fly via Singapore on Singapore Airlines. Since I get miles for flying Singapore, it seemed like the best option, and I think it still worked out less than what it would have cost me if I flew Bangkok and stayed a couple of extra nights.

I doubt the boat has wi-fi, so I probably won't be able to update this report until I'm on my way back to Bangkok.
MichaelBKK is offline  
Aug 29th, 2009, 03:35 AM
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Good luck with the Mantas. 10 years of diving and I have yet to catch a sighting!
crellston is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2009, 11:15 AM
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have a fantastic time and look forward to reading the report and hearing about it on nov 25

rhkkmk is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2009, 11:30 AM
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I spent two weeks there about 8 years ago and the outer wall diving is in the top 5% of all dives in the world, most especially off Felidhoo atoll (hope you get there!). No problems with mantas!

Looking forward to your report to see how things have changed, as they undoubtedly do, hopefully even better!
NoFlyZone is offline  
Sep 6th, 2009, 06:41 AM
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Okay, just got off the boat this morning, and trying to clean out emails, etc. at the airport hotel before I get back on SIA for the trip home.

First, about SIA: I was really looking forward to it, since I've really only used them between BKK and Singapore, and always had a feeling they were a lot better than Thai. Well, I had my expectations set too high. They're efficient, but not that much better than Thai. I was especially disappointed by the video on demand system. SIA was one of the first in Asia to have it, but it seems they've never upgraded it. The Thai system on the B777 flights is much better, and allows you to select exactly which program you want, rather than making you sit through 3 sit-coms you don't want to see to get to the one you wanted. They also collect the headphones long before the plane even begins to descend (you can't listen to your MP3 player on take-off or landing either). Not that I had a bad experience with SIA; it just wasn't as good as I expected.

Now, on to the diving. I arrived in Male about 10:00 pm the night before the boat departed. I booked one night at the inexpensive Hotel Fresco for the one night. I thought someone was supposed to meet me but they didn't, so I took the water taxi from the airport to Male and then a taxi to the hotel (which did pay for the taxi). Even though it's Ramadan and things seemed a bit lively at that hour, I was too tired and just went to bed.

Next morning I met up with the others in the group, and we headed for the jetty to meet the boat - or rather one of the boats. The Sea Spirit is too big to come into the docks, so they sent their "dohney" in to pick us and our gear up. The dohney was similar in design to the water taxis and would be our dive platform for the trip. It's shallow enough to get in close to the reefs. After a quick stop at the airport to pick up the last two guests, we headed out to the Sea Spirit, which was moored a ways north of the airport, in part due to an invasion of flies around Male.

The Sea Spirit was definitely the nicest dive boat I've been on so far. There was a spacious indoor salon where dive briefings were held, and where breakfast was served each morning, as well as meals on inclement weather days, which were few. There was a covered outdoor dining area forward of the salon, where we had lunch and dinner most days. There was a very large, partially covered sun deck on top. The twin/double cabins were spacious - for a boat - with good hot water supply and fairly comfy beds. I could have wished for slightly cooler a/c, but I like it frigid when I sleep, so don't take that as a negative.

We did three dives a day, except for a fourth night dive on the last full day of diving. We started at the north end of North Male atoll, worked our way down through South Male atoll, across to North Ari, then back to North Male. Several of the dives were spectacular, but the best of all was the one dive we did on the morning of the last day on the boat. We had, curiously, worked our way back to where we did our check-out dive, which had been a little disastrous, as the currents were stronger than expected. But, we had returned here because the Sea Spirit's sister boat had informed us there were mantas on the site.

We dived down to a well known 'cleaning station' where the mantas come to have their spa treatments, and sure enough, within minutes three mantas were zooming around us in an incredible ballet of swirling movements. Apparently, there were actually two groups, one of three mantas and one of two. Each time one group would 'fly' off into the blue, another group would come, then the others would return. I spent almost an hour on the bottom watching the show, and hated to leave, but an hour is the maximum dive time in the Maldives, so we had to surface. Here's a sneak peak of my pics:

The food on the Sea Spirit was fantastic. The chef was Sri Lankan - the only non-Maldivian on the crew aside from Cindy the dive guide. He had an amazing repertoire, from fish & chips to Chinese, to Indian/Sri Lankan curries; and even a spicy Maldivian tuna salad which was popular for breakfast. The dive guide Cindy was great - gave good briefings, watched out for people, had good conversations in the evening. Every 'event' was celebrated - from my 50th dive to another passenger's 200th.

The boat dropped us off at the airport this morning, but most of us don't have flights out until late this evening. The Male airport hotel seems to be almost exclusively set up for this kind of situation, with a whole range of options with & without rooms. I opted for a $25 package which got me use of the luggage storage, shower with a locker, and drinks.

Much as I loved the diving experience here, I'm not sure if I'll be back any time soon. There's a lot of places closer to home that I haven't dived yet, and this was a rather pricey trip compared to them. The 'signature' over-water villas of the Maldives look lovely, but I just can't imagine myself spending a week in them, with nothing to do but swim and watch the sunset (maybe a sign I'm getting old).

More when I have the pictures sorted and posted.
MichaelBKK is offline  
Sep 6th, 2009, 07:35 AM
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Great report and fantastic photo. What was teh condition of the reef? I had heard that there was a lot of bleaching as a result of El Nino a few years back.
crellston is offline  
Sep 6th, 2009, 08:17 AM
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Some reef tops were noticeably lacking in much mature hard corals, which Cindy did say was due to a bad El Nino, but they were far from barren, and quite a few table corals (which are fast growing) had grown to healthy sizes. In some places, there were quite spectacular anemone 'gardens' - with lots of clownfish in residence (can't get enough of the little guys). The steep outer reefs looked quite healthy, and the soft corals at Trixie's Cave were amazing, especially at night.
MichaelBKK is offline  
Sep 6th, 2009, 10:44 AM
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Thanks michael. Great photo. We're flying SIA twice in the next year. We enjoyed our previous flights with them. We'll see. See you in November.
Gpanda is offline  
Sep 6th, 2009, 12:30 PM
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>>>First, about SIA: I was really looking forward to it<<<

(Oh, yes, each and every SQ flight! (Personal/professional reasons, to be sure.)

Now, many thanks for the posts/pic and, well, too bad that particular SQ flight didn't quite ring all your bells. (You're not alone, and this is a shocking fodor's confession from this life-long SIA loyalist/promoter : once, flying SQ J, SIN-NRT, the precious Girl did not return my business suit jacket before we disembarked! My Japanese businessman seatmate was 'in the same boat' and rather 'steamed', but I didn't care; it was SIA, 'someone else' was paying, and would (and did) gladly do it again (over and over.)

Re 'entertainment deficiencies' flying SIA : consider small bose headphones and a rather 'full-on' ipod and mac laptop. Worked for me for some time.

(And, don't hesitate to write SIA, informing 'them' of your less than complete satisfaction. Acknowledgment or not, some do get through to the 'very top'.)

Keep up the good work and various web and twit sites, and do hope you continue to consider SQ -- thank you.

macintosh (robert)

... gentle hostess, in your sarong ...
AskOksena is offline  
Sep 7th, 2009, 01:38 AM
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Michael we're going to do some diving during our vacation in Thailand in October. We are planning on (tentatively) Khao Lak as our location and wondered if you know whether we'll be able to dive the Similans during late October. We see that the park doesn't officially open until November but don't know if that means operators won't go out there for day trips. What do you think?
kittymac is offline  
Sep 7th, 2009, 06:06 AM
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I did the Similans on a live-aboard in late October last year. The trip out was awful, but we had pretty good weather for most of the dive days. Day trip operators use speed boats, and so whether or not they can go out depends entirely on the weather. Speed boats need flat seas. Also note that even with a speed boat, it takes a couple of hours to reach the Similans from Khao Lak.
MichaelBKK is offline  
Sep 7th, 2009, 09:51 AM
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Michael... we thought of you, as we saw on CNN, from Estonia, that there was a typhoon in the Maldives. Hopefully you did not get in to all of that. See you in Nov ..k
kmkrnn is offline  
Sep 7th, 2009, 01:53 PM
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waiting for the bulk of the pics...
rhkkmk is offline  
Sep 11th, 2009, 11:22 PM
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laartista is offline  

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