The Downside of Diving Phi Phi

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

No matter how many times I walk into situations staying open to experience whatever happens, when I least expect it, I step into a situation where I wasn’t paying any attention to how high my expectations were…and experience the crash…I know it’s common, we all do it.

This time I felt the let down on the second day of my recent dive trip to Phi Phi Island. After such a solid and positive experience on the Similan Islands live aboard I was excited to sign up for a two day trip to Phi Phi to dive the infamous sites there, Shark Point, Bida Nik & Bida Nai. It was a short two day boat trip that included four dives on your way to Phi Phi, a nice stay overnight at a hotel so you can explore the bars for an evening and then three dives the next day on the way back. It was a no brainer, sounded perfect.

The trip started out on a high note when I sat next to a really nice Australian couple about my age on the ride to the boat. Then, Tom, one of the handsome dive guides from the Similan trip jumped in the car. Things were feeling good. My expectations were high…the usual signal to relax… The boat was nice, the trip was really well organized and the rental equipment was good. There was really nothing about the crew, or the dive company or anything that could be controlled that made this a “less than average” experience. Tom was my guide again and he had his camera and we goofed around and got silly sometimes. That was all a plus.

Our first two dives at Shark Point and Koh Bida Nik the visibility was ok, not great. No one can control that, it’s simply Mother Nature so you make the best of it. We saw a few sting rays’, snapper and clown fish. It seemed amazing; unfortunately, I couldn’t see too far in front of me. Koh Bida Nik was the same, shaded batfish, scorpion fish, lion fish, puffer fish with juveniles, coronet fish and titan trigger fish. I still couldn’t see too far in front of me but there was so much life around me it was amazing. The highlight of the day was when we were on the boat during a rest period and a huge school of dolphins came right near the boat for about 20 minutes jumping in and out of the water. It was great to watch.

I digress, because I was talking about getting caught up in my expectations. By the third dive there was no visibility and the current was strong. It was a workout. I put on a smile, did the dive, and saw a moorish idol and various parrot fish but I couldn’t see them unless they swam right into me. I thought about this as I was resting after. I’m still a beginner and thought about passing on the last dive, it was going to be a night dive, and I knew there was no visibility. I’m listening to that inner voice more and more, while keeping a beginners mind. I didn’t want to miss out on anything; even though I knew when I got out of the water I could barely see anything. Why do we do that? Why is that fear of missing out so strong at the most obvious moments?

I did the night dive at Palong Bay with Tom and he was safe and very cautious. He knows the site really well. When we finished our decent we could barely see. We had our flash lights; I could see Tom if he was 2 -3 feet in front of me and that was it. Everyone else looked the same to me in wet suits. Tom was wearing bright shorts and a shirt and that’s the only way I could follow him and only if I was shining my light right on him. I had gotten into the habit of staying close to him (and kicking him in the head regularly) and this time I was so close that when he spotted a couple of sea horses I could see them immediately from his flashlight.  He knew where to find them and took our group to them as soon as we descended. I saw them right away knew the others would want to see them. For some reason people get really excited about seeing seahorses, I don’t really, and we had just seen some earlier in the day and taken pictures. So I backed off and floated above letting others in my group come in closer because the visibility was so bad. Suddenly we were descended on by a whole different group of divers. Because we couldn’t see anything it felt like they came from out of nowhere. One minute I’m floating quietly, the next these two women are treading water on top of me, kicking me and having absolutely no control over their buoyancy or anything else. Everyone in my group was backing off to get away from them and they were following Tom’s light to the see the seahorse. It was a total cluster fuck. Once I backed off I lost Tom’s light, there were what felt like hundreds of other divers all around me, everyone looked the same and I had no idea what direction I was facing because I couldn’t see anything. Not everyone was trying to see what we were looking at; it was just way too crowded down there. Suddenly it felt like there were tons of dive groups. It was chaos. Long story short, one of these girls stepped on a sea horse and crushed it trying to see the other one. Once we came up for air Tom told us she saw her smash it with her fin and he didn’t know what happened after that because he was too busy shoving people away with his hands so they couldn’t get any closer. He was pissed off when we got out of the water and the rest of us were just confused. It was so crowded down there and we couldn’t see 2 feet in front of us; total diver chaos. I didn’t know about the seahorse smashing until we got back on the boat. It turns out these girls were on our boat with their own dive guide. It sort of killed the day for me. I learned about the down side of diving, especially in crowed areas at night.

We ended up on Phi Phi Island and went to a bar for a beer. Phi Phi felt like a tourist trap to me after that. A bunch of bars, restaurants, hotels and the usual tourist hawkers. I’m sure on a different day with my peeps it would be fun. The next day the visibility was ok, not great, but we had fun. I had experienced my first lesson in overcrowded dive sites and how important it is to pay attention to everything around you when you are 15 meters underwater and not destroy the life down there. It’s a reminder about keeping my expectations in check and paying attention to everything around me. At the end of the trip, once again, Tom had some awesome photos. The photos below are courtesy of Tom Booth.

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth