I regret to say that my overland adventure is currently taking a brief sebatical. I flew from Siem Reap to Phuket (from which I took a taxi to Khao Lak) and I will be flying (today) to Singapore and tomorrow to India. Then overland adventure for a long, long time (I hope!).
I figured that I had a short time in Southern Thailand due to my added days at various points along my itinerary, so I might as well experience the best diving I can. This lead my to Khao Lak (thanks to Ashley's suggestion), the gateway to the Similian Islands (among others). I met Keith on the plane and he wanted to get is Open Water Diving certification, so the two of us shopped for courses together and ended up with Big Blue Diving, which offered a 3-day course (one day in the classroom and pool and the next two days on a live-aboard boat).
A small head/chest cold was my only concern and it prevented me from descending on my first dive, so I had myself a small snorkeling adventure and scared the ___ out of my instructor, because she couldn't find me as I'd lost track of time. My next dives went smoothly. The fish were terrific (snappers galore, pufferfish, etc., squid (amazing creatures), boxer shrimp, huge sea aenemone and urchins) and the fan-like branch corals on several dives were incredible. The visibility was excellent (often 20-25 meters). The second day on my fourth Open Water dive, we saw a manta ray. Some divers have done thousands of dives and never seen one, but in the Similian Islands these are not uncommon. The creature was incredibly graceful and gave the impression of an alien spacecraft gliding through the deep. I decided to stay one final day and went straight into the advanced course for night diving. This was certainly an unforgettable experience (bioluminescence, solitude, and the threat of hidden corals), but with mask issues, I wasn't entirely happy on this dive. The next day, we were gliding through narrow passages between the classic Similian Island weathered granite boulders and then looking down at the tops of the same boulders with strands of marine plants growing on them...the variety of the dive made Christmas Point my favorite dive. Today, I let my blood decompress (nitrogen levels return to normal) and I walked along the beach before we headed to the market and cooked ourselves a feast with the Thai lady working at the hotel. I didn't think it was possible to spend ~$20 per person on a home-cooked meal in Thailand, but we proved that theory wrong (eating 3 king prawns a person, alongside pork steaks, pasta, and spicy Thai dip). I'm still in a food coma!