SCUBA in Pattaya, the lowdown.

It sucks. But then, it doesn’t. It’s ok. Unless it’s not. Maybe it’s me.

Let me explain.

Before I begin, Let me lay out my experience in SCUBA and why I, in most likelihood, am a large part of the suckage, lol. I first became interested in SCUBA after a going on a vacation with my wife and daughters, and some friends. We did the SNUBA adventure at Molakini crater as well as an intro dive.
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I remember in Molakini looking down sixty feet or more in near infinite visibility and the feeling of flying. Man, I was in love with diving.

I took the Open Water Certification course and then had problems on the final swim in Monterey California. It was mildly choppy with three foot visibility and I didn’t have enough weight on the belt. I kept popping up like a cork and couldn’t get more than inverted before coming back up. After a half dozen attempts, I was pooped and called it. I was embarrassed to be holding up the class. This scene was to be repeated a couple times more, later, after getting my certification…usually starting with me saying to the dive master “I’m pretty sure I need more weight”, only to be told “nah, you’re fine” followed by me being under weighted. I finished up my final dives in Hawaii with a series of shore based dives.
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Open water certificate in hand, I teamed up with my friends to dive in Thailand. The closest diving to Bangkok is in Pattaya. Despite its reputation as a party town, there are quite a number of things to do including sport fishing, diving, zip-lines and more. The town is also becoming increasingly family friendly, with it’s many animal parks, recreational sports activities and shopping venues, like the Floating Market and the Central Festival Shopping Center.


Back to SCUBA. My friends and I chose Mermaids Scuba Diving Center, which at the time was owned and run by Steve Blumenthal. The center is well known, and trains scuba instructors as well as running dive outings. We introductory briefing was short and professional, and we put to sea. Diving off Koh Sak and Koh Larn was ok and the first trip was pretty enjoyable.

The thing is, and you’ll see from the photographs, is a high level of detritus in the water and a lack of color. There’s some bleaching of the coral, and a ton of long spine urchins. There were points where the literally wasn’t a place to put a finger down on the ocean bottom without running into an urchin. A friend of mine drifted too low and his hand down resulting in a couple broken spines in his hand. Ouch!

 

There were a few interesting corals and a nice anemone or two, but honestly, I’ve seen more snorkeling in Hawaii than I saw on the dive in Pattaya. These photos are examples of the best of what I saw on the dive. Now, the huge caveat is that I was (and still am) a fairly new diver and was working out newly learned skills just as much as I was taking photos. Speaking of photos, these were done with a Sony Cybershot T1 in a Sony underwater housing. It was a nice little point and shoot at the time, but these days, even a smartphone camera blows it away. Imagine a fairly new diver trying to keep track of the group and his dive partner, concentrating on maintaining neutral buoyancy, and trying to take photos and video at the same time and you get the idea!

I guess the high point of that dive was this anemone. It was over a foot wide and some pretty fish were nearby. Loved it. What I wished for was more density in the corals. I didn’t see “coral forests” or lush areas of soft corals or anemone. Everything thing just seemed a bit sparse.

I went diving a few times more after. Each time trying to push myself a bit more. The last time I went, I dragged an extra suitcase filled with dive gear. BC, computer, octopus, you name it.  Part of the problem for me was that going during “normal” vacation times like the summer put me right smack into rainy season. In fact, for a couple years I was able to go during the spring (March/April), the Summer (about July), and the Fall (October). Not all in the same year, but those were the periods. Part of the problem going in rainy season is that the water is choppy, sometimes much more choppy. That means no-dive days, questionable weather days, and days that will scare the pants off you.

One time, on the way back in, the water got so choppy that water got into the engine and we were dead in the water. Now dead in the water wouldn’t be so bad if we were really dead-in-the-water. If the ship was on flat water, listless, it wouldn’t be so bad, but dead in the water with the boat tossing up and down? Not fun. Not fun at all. That day we sat on the deck in our folding chairs sliding back and forth and tried not to get sick as the crew pulled the heads and dried everything out (or whatever they had to do). We ended up taking about 40 minutes to get underway again. I think it was after 20 minutes that people started sounding pretty nervous. I’m glad to say we made it back to port without any other issues.

The last time I went diving in Pattaya we went out on the water. I started loading up weight and the dive master told me “Stop, that’s plenty”. I explained to her that every single time I went diving, the dive master has always been off and I’ve been under weighted. “Don’t worry”, she said (here we go again!), “I’ll bring a couple extra in case you need it”. I figured at least she’ll have some! So we get out to the little island.  It’s choppy. We’re talking 4 – 6 foot swells and we’re bobbing like corks. Guess what? YEP! I’m under weighted. The dive instructor pulls my quick dump pouch, as I’m wearing my own fancy bc with quick dump pouches and she tries to add weight to them. Instead, we’re bounced by a swell and she loses her grip dropping my dump pouch into the deep. Down it goes and I roll to one side, as now I’m less than half weighted and all on one side. Inflating my bc  a bit to stay higher in the water, she dived below to find the drop pouch. A couple minutes later she surfaced. No luck. In the meantime, my dive partner (it was just the three of us) had lost precious dive time and I was feeling terrible. To an extent it’s my fault, I feel, as I figure, if I wasn’t there, the poor guy would be halfway through his dive. On the other hand, I followed the directions of my dive master. That leaves me just frustrated.

We’ve been in the water for quite a while now, and I can not dive. It’s physically impossible. I’m bobbing around, canted about 45 degrees to one side and the swells seem to bury us in a moment, where all we can see is water and then pops us back up again. We’re drifting a bit close to the little island, so we have to swim, pushing back against the waves. The dive instructor decides to just get me back on the boat, but the boat has pulled way off a few hundred yards and dropped anchor. This presents a bit of a problem, as they can’t hear her whistle nor do they see her waving. I begin to worry, and at the same time start feeling the effects of being a human cork.

For the first time in my life, I feel like I might not come out of the water alive.

We’ve been bobbing for probably 20 minutes and it feels like it’s been forever. The waves keep picking up higher and you can sense the stress and anger from the dive instructor as she realizes that for some reason no one on the boat seems to be watching the dive area. Finally she pops her safety sausage. Six feet of red-orange plastic fills, then is held straight up. After a time, the dive instructor exclaimed with relief “They’ve seen us!”. Unfortunately, they now have to send someone down to untie the anchor rope and fire up the engine. It’s a little while before they finally get to us.

By the time we’re out of the water, I’m seasick, exhausted, and really pissed off. I’m pissed off at everything. Myself for feeling/being so helpless and being an awful diver, the boat for not keeping an eye on us, the dive master for dropping my weight pouch. I’m also pissed because I realize that I dragged that BC all the way across the world and it’s done for the trip. More than anything else, though, is I’m tired and just want to crash. I collapse on a deck chair and try to chill, closing my eyes and putting my brain in neutral for a while. It helps, a little bit. The first dive comes to an end and the ship heads off to location two. I throw up twice en route, then feel better, having emptied my stomach. The second spot is a bit calmer. It’s more sheltered so the waves are just lapping here around the boat. The large surges have gone. I’m asked if I want to snorkel while the group is diving. Not wanting to totally waste the trip, I go for it. I really don’t see anything, but it’s good to get in the water.

Diving off of Pattaya. For me? I’ve had a good trip, and a few bad ones. But on the best trip, I really didn’t see much. Snorkeling in Hawaii, for me, has been better. From what my friends show me places like Palawan and Sipidan, even Thialand near Krabi just seem to be so much better. Is it just me? Is my memory of what lies under the water colored by the bad experiences I’ve had? It’s hard for me to tell. I am not sure I can completely objectively separate those experiences. I’ll try to wrap up all those thoughts into as fair a summary as I can, though.

Good:

Pattaya is good to work out dive skills.
Pattaya is close to Bangkok and it’s a drivable distance, good for people who don’t want to add another flight to their itinerary.
Pattaya is a good place to get used to boat diving, and the boats are large enough. Meals are served and gear is good, if you’re with a good dive operator.
There’s plenty to do during non-dive time, whether you want to sit back with a beer on the beach while getting a pedicure and foot massage, or ride quad cycles  or fish.

Bad:

Sea life is not as dense as in other dive areas, or at least that’s how it seemed to me.
Lots of detritus and during rainy season, very cloudy until you get way, way out there.

I’d love your input. What do you think? Does diving there compared to other places suck? Is it just because I’m not a super experienced diver? Was I unlucky? Is there a ton more life in February than in the months I went? let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Diving's done - Pattaya, Thailand