Monday, April 16, 2007

Diving around and about

I dove the Grotto again yesterday. The Grotto is still just about my favorite on the planet. It is more unique with those contrasts between light and dark than most anywhere else, and so much can be explored here. Those steps are rough, though. I'm still in pain.
I moved to Saipan in large part for the ability to dive whenever I wanted to. In year one and now in year four I've done fair bit of diving. I almost bit it at the Grotto in year one, which didn't spook me on diving, but it spooked me on the Grotto. Crossing that rock still scares the shit out of me. I have a very healthy respect for the dangers of that place, as everyone should, but doesn't. I've seen some people standing around with waves crashing and generally oblivious to the danger. I found this island by coming here on a dive vacation from Korea and was told there was a large demand for English teachers. I contemplated if I could live in such a small place "for a year," decided yes, and here I am four years later. I'd probably be out here for the longer haul if I could buy a house and the government wasn't so "fly by night," but it isn't and that isn't the purpose of this post.

Since I got certified in 2001, I've been diving in the following places in order of dive trip: Cheju Island Korea (Open Water), Boracay Philippines (Advanced Open Water), Phuket Thailand, Koh Tao Thailand, Saipan CNMI, Puerto Gallera Philippines, Palawan Philippines, Palau, Gili Trawangan Indonesia and Bohol Philippines. I have a real interest in doing a liveaboard on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia one day and another trip to Palau before I leave this area. Eventually I'd like to dive the Red Sea as well, which would allow me to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx and all that stuff everyone should see.

Cheju Island is between Korea and Japan. It is the Korean honeymoon spot. I'd never even been snorkeling at this point, let alone diving, and then I did my first dive here. I thought it was amazing, but anything would have been amazing on dive one. The first dive is like the first sexual experience: awkward, nerve wracking, amazing and very short with that little voice saying, "everyone should know about this, wow." I doubt this is a must see spot for serious divers, but is good if you are in Korea.

Boracay, Philippines. This place has a great beach, good restaurants and a cool atmosphere overall. I just went for like the fourth time a few weeks ago. The diving here is fairly lame, but it is a great place to learn to dive because the water is warm, clear and there is no current. This is not a place for experienced divers. I did a drift dive that was cool, and there is a deep dive called Yap Bak or Yap Yak or something like that, which is ok.

Phuket is a bit of a tourist hell along the main tourist areas with the relentless commercial assault, but there is really no place like Thailand. There are lots of cool day trips to take to caves, elephant rides and ancient cave drawings. It is legitimately gorgeous here, the food is great and the diving is spectacular. The diving is also not cheap for Thailand, or anywhere else, as you have to go out pretty far to get to the good spots, but there is tons to see here. I dove with Sunrise Divers and recommend them.

Koh Tao has a great reputation for diving, and I thought it was pretty good, but not great. You get there by ferry from the Koh Samui area, and it is a small island with a good vibe, good food and good, but not great diving. The whole focus is on diving here, unlike nearby Koh Phangan, the stoner "full moon party" island. The diving is cheap, though. $20 bucks with gear when I was there. It doesn't have the commercial assault so evident elsewhere and the bungalows are like $5 per night. There is no power during the day for the most part, but everyone is out diving anyway.

Saipan, CNMI. We are lucky to have such great visibility here, but it certainly appears to me that the coral is getting bleached out. I watched the Mike Tripp video and this was especially evident. The Grotto is still a staggering dive, and I like Naftan and Ice Cream as well. I'd like to do Bonzai when the time is right, but I've never done so thus far. I wish I could do more boat dives here without breaking the bank. I only spent more money on diving in Palau than Saipan -- at least when I came here as a tourist. It's good here, but not amazing. I'm eager to dive Rota as well, but have not thus far.

Puerto Gallera, Philippines was utterly lame in my view. I was not there during optimal season (Christmas), which I'm sure is a factor, but it was cold, poor visibility and generally seedy. This is the closest dive resort to Manila, but was not a place I'd return to at all.

Palawan, Phillipines on the other hand was a great place. This is a great place to dive WWII wrecks. It is a lot like Chuuk for a fraction of the cost -- maybe $25 or so. In terms of natural beauty this place is great. The town of Coron is pretty loud and polluted and not very memorable. I got a referral from a buddy for Discovery Divers and I'd recommend them highly. This is a place I'd visit again for sure. The visibilty isn't much here because they have pearl farms in the water, but the water is so nutrient rich that it is just so full of life.

I suppose it has all been said about Palau, so I won't add much more other than it doesn't disappoint even with all the buildup and expectation. They have everything in Palau: wrecks, caves, drift dives (most of them). big fish, weird fish and it is just a staggering place to visit with a great vibe. I dove with Sam's, and while it wasn't cheap, it was first class all the way. I dove with Keith Santillo specifically, who was about the best dive master I've ever encountered. He worked with Sam's at the time, and he might be independent now, not sure. Blue Corner is completely amazing -- one of the great experiences of my life. I was there when a typhoon recently hit Yap, so conditions weren't optimal, but it was still a good trip.

Gili Trawangan is this cool little hangout near Bali on nieghboring Lombok. It is a party island with at best ok diving. The currents there are strong, the viz limited and there was nothing about the one dive I did there that was memorable, which is why it was only one dive. I've heard there are places in the Bali area, Lovina I believe, that are pretty good, but I never made it there. I wouldn't go to Gili T for the diving.

Bohol, Philippines has some damn good diving. There are lots of small little critters around and about and very good visibility. They have lots of walls that are worth checking out, and the dives are between 25 and 35.


Brad said...

Hey Jeff, glad to see your post on the dive experiences. How often do you go diving on Saipan and how much does it cost you?

I just came back from a short (3 1/2 day) vacation there and I dove the Grotto and Lau Lau. I went through Speedy Turtle, and Alex was pretty cool. Diving costs more on Saipan than my experiences on Boracay, Koh Chang, Jeju, or Pattaya...but those places are about as cheap as you can get I guess.

Alex said if you're a local and have your own gear you just pay $5 for a tank fill and go out yourself.

I'm hoping to move there within the next year for the same I can dive dive dive. Do you have your own gear? What do you have? I'm starting my shopping list....need suggestions.


Bev said...

Palawan, Phlippines is Beautiful!! We should have a bloggers meetup underwater =)

Jeffrey C. Turbitt said...

People are constantly leaving island, so you can pick up gear easily. For sure dives, a tank rental is about all you need if you have gear.

Brad said...

Have you made it to all the island's dive sites? How often do you go?
What's your all time favorite dive?
I just tried the Grotto last weekend when I was there and it was awesome. Other than that...I had some good dives while I was visiting Koh Chang, Thailand.

But I need to move to Saipan so I can dive the Grotto over and over and over. I need more experience and Saipan seems like a good place to work on my skills.

John Som said...

Great write up. I am not sure of the best dive site. My best is the Similan islands

I just loved the clear water and as for Koh Tachai and Richelieu rock are the best I have ever had. So I know places like this are amazing too. I can just think that first dives in these places make a lasting impression. Plus also all these locations have good days and great days so this plays a big part in what foems everyone opinion.