Rediscovering Our Love of the Magical Underwater World

We fell in love with scuba diving on our first dive.

We were a few metres under the sea off the coast of India’s remote Andaman Islands and had just finished our training exercises when we came across a turtle. He hovered calmly, chewing away at the coral, entirely unconcerned with our presence, before turning and swimming away, unaware that he had provided us with some of the most magical minutes of our lives.

We were hooked.

We ended up diving 20 times around the world on our year long trip in 2008, but we haven’t had the opportunity since then and had almost forgotten how much we loved exploring the underwater world.

On Koh Lanta in Thailand’s Andaman Sea we were determined to get back under the water despite being terrified that we’d completely forgotten how to dive. Maybe it would all come back to us but that’s not something we wanted to risk finding out in the ocean 18 metres below the surface.

We needed some help.

Scubafish are one of the most respected dive operators on the island and were conveniently located near our villa at Kantiang Bay. First impressions were good—groups are no bigger than four people per dive master and, not only do they warn against feeding fish or touching anything underwater, but they actively engage in conservation projects like releasing clownfish and organising underwater clean up events.

So we booked a refresher dive with them.

We were used to diving with basic dive operators, where we have to set up our own gear and lug it out to the boat (and diving gear is heavy!). The boats themselves were invariably small and we usually had to enter the water by throwing ourselves backwards over the side. We’d also had some negative experiences with dive masters that we didn’t feel confident with and who engaged in unethical practices.

There was none of that here. Scubafish are by far the most professional diving operator we have dived with.

Their medium sized boat is big enough to have a toilet and plenty of space to spread out. They take care of everything for you and their prices include all that you might need for a good day’s diving—dive gear, pick up/drop off at your hotel, water and soft drinks, a chocolate croissant breakfast, lunch, and towels.

We were the only two in our group with our dive instructor Sara. On the boat out to the dive site she gave us a short quiz to refresh our knowledge, went through setting up our gear, and briefed us on the dive. We covered the exercises we’d be doing and, more importantly, looked at photos of the fish we might see. By this point we were rather nervous but her reassuring manner gave us confidence.

When we arrived at the Koh Haa dive site it couldn’t have been more inviting – crystal clear turquoise water surrounded by craggy limestone islands.

Koh Haa By Natasha Lambelin

Photo by Natasha Lambelin.

Getting ready for the dive

Getting ready for the dive. Photo by Natasha Lambelin.

We geared up, staggered clumsily under the weight to the end of the boat (there is no elegant way to walk in flippers) and stepped in. Soon we were going under and trying not to freak out at the unnatural feeling of breathing underwater.

Sara guided us to a sandy patch and we knelt down to begin our refresher exercises: testing our buoyancy; removing and recovering our regulator (yes, our air source!); and allowing water to enter our mask so we could practice clearing it. It was all going so well until that last one. For some reason I just couldn’t get the water out.

After a few attempts I had a minor panic, and like a newbie diver my first instinct was to get to the surface. Sara kept me calm though and talked me through it (which was an impressive feat underwater). All along she was supportive and encouraging – giving us high fives when we successfully completed a task.

It didn’t take long to finish the exercises and soon we were on to the fun part – exploring Koh Haa’s lagoon. The visibility was incredible—more than 30 metres—and there was lots to see.

By-Natasha-Lambelin

Photo by Natasha Lambelin.

During the exercises we were focused on the act of diving, all too conscious of the most unnerving fact we were breathing underwater, but when we swam around our focus shifted to the otherworldly place we were now a part of. At that point, it was easy to relax and enjoy the ride.

We saw thousands of fish – small and large, of all colours. From Nemo the clownfish, to the cute puffy porcupine fish, hundreds of angelfish, and powderblue surgeonfish. We also saw a two metre long sea snake and a moray eel poking out of its coral hideaway.

Porcupine fish by Natasha Lambelin

Photo by Natasha Lambelin.

One of the many highlights was swimming through a school of dozens of silvery barracuda and watching in amazement as they began to circle us.

By-Natasha-Lambelin

Photo by Natasha Lambelin

Dive 2

Diving is hungry work. After the first dive, we took a break for a hot lunch aboard the boat.

There are a number of dive sites at Koh Haa so it was a short trip around the corner for our next one at Haa 1, which as it turned out was even better than our first.

By-Natasha-Lambelin

Photo by Natasha Lambelin.

By-Natasha-Lambelin

Photo by Natasha Lambelin.

We swam along a giant wall of coral, a kaleidoscope of colour, with deep blue sea on one side and an underwater garden teeming with life on the other. Thousands of colourful fish swam through the delicate purple and white soft coral. We saw grumpy titan triggerfish, shimmering green and blue as they munched on coral; stripy orange clownfish staying close to their protective anemone; black, yellow and white striped moorish idols slicing through the water, its fin trailing elegantly behind; and the cute spotted boxfish puffing up its tiny yellow body and swimming with minute, entirely insufficient looking fins.

Yellow boxfish by Natasha Lambelin

Photo by Natasha Lambelin.

The big-ticket items are always fun, but there is just as much beauty in the small things. Sara encouraged us to stop, be still and look in one place to discover tiny hidden creatures like the vibrant nudibranch and bright blue sea slugs.

The Chimney by Natasha Lambelin

Photo by Natasha Lambelin.

The highlight of our second dive was swimming through a narrow cavern called The Chimney. We entered the dark cave, pitch black at first but as we swam up through the passageway and looked up, the entrance was illuminated by light, glowing blue and with the silhouettes of hundreds of fish above us.

By-Natasha-Lambelin-9

Simon leaving The Chimney. Photo by Natasha Lambelin.

When we travel we seek the exotic, for experiences different from what we know. You can’t really get more different than life under the sea and we highly recommend giving diving a try—it’s a whole new way of exploring a place.

All photos are by Natasha Lambelin from Liquid Lense, the underwater photography specialists who offer photos of your dive and courses where you can learn to take your own dive photos.

Thanks to Sara and all the wonderful folks at Scubafish, who provided us with this excellent day’s diving.

Trail Wallet

Have you tried diving? Leave a comment and let us know about your experiences.

30 thoughts on Rediscovering Our Love of the Magical Underwater World

  1. Awesome photos! Great thing about diving is you get to see aspects of our world, perspectives, and creatures that you can’t see above the water. Gives you a greater appreciation for how big our world is!

    I’ve done some snorkeling but have yet to do a dive. These pics are very motivating though! :)

    • It really is a whole other world down there. We love snorkelling too but diving is something else – we’d definitely recommend you give it a try.

  2. I have never been diving, but it is the one thing I am determined to try on our RTW trip. I went snorkeling for the first time a year ago when I visited Puerto Rico and I absolutely loved it… and as lucky enough to have a turtle encounter as well! I have always loved to swim, so I can only imagine how magical it must feel to be so far below the waves in a completely new little world. And the photos you got from your dive are amazing! What a wonderful souvenir!

    • We definitely recommend it. As you are going to Asia you’ll have loads of opportunities to learn. Thailand is always a good option and we also did an affordable Advanced diving course on Perhentian Besar in Malaysia. We found it gave our RTW trip some focus.

  3. I Really enjoy this blog.
    Such a beautiful collection of photos and well written entries.
    You have definitely inspired me to travel the world, especially in unique locations out of my comfort zone.
    This blog is fun, quirky, eye catching and simple to follow.
    Your blog appeals to such a broad range of people, of all ages.
    A great read!

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  5. I love scuba diving, but I also had had a few year break when I returned to diving last year, I did a few basic exercises with the diver master, but in the end it all came back quickly. And I still definitely plan on doing a lot more diving ;)

    You had amazing views with your dive guys!

    • We were happy that it all came back quickly too. It was a great dive site to start with – the visibility makes all the difference.

  6. I tried to get my dive certification a few years ago, but I have sinus issues and it just didn’t work out. I’d love to be able to see all those fish that you can’t see while snorkeling, but diving kind of freaks me out now, not sure if I’d do it even if my sinus issues got fixed. I’ll just admire awesome fish pictures from people like you, and I’ll stick to snorkeling!

  7. Beautiful photos! We had a similar experience – we started off snorkelling and realized that we should probably take the plunge and try diving. We got certified last summer and fell in love with it! We did a total of 59 dives each just that summer in French Polynesia, Fiji and Australia! After that, it was pretty tough to transition back to normal life far from diving opportunities. Can’t wait to go again soon…

    • Wow that must have been a great summer! We only got to do one dive in Fiji as Simon got an ear infection but the one we did was incredible – we’ve never seen such colourful coral.

    • Natasha did take some amazing shots and it’s great that divers can get a record of their dive afterwards. We would definitely recommend diving and the swimming isn’t very hard with fins and an inflated jacket.

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  9. I was never the type of person who is brave enough to give the underwater world a chance to explore, maybe because I was afraid of what lies beneath the sea. I’ve tried snorkeling during my island hoping in Thailand, but I only lasted for 5 minutes. But after reading your beautiful review on the underwater world and what excellent pictures you’ve taken, this has definitely motivate me to give snorkeling another go. I really enjoy reading your blog, excellent writing, fun to read and easy to follow. Your blog definitely encourages me to travel around the world. Good job Erin.

    • That’s great to hear! Glad you are going to give snorkelling another go. It can feel strange but you will get used to it. We find focusing on the fish rather than the weird feeling of breathing underwater helps. Good luck!

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