Thursday, October 18, 2012

PATHUM WAN: 01 - Diving with Sharks

As one of the items on my 30 Before 30 list, this reunion with my shark buddies was bound to happen, and where better to do it than in Bangkok. Located at the basement of Siam Paragon, Siam Ocean World is said to be the largest aquarium in Asia, but having been to many ocean parks before, I was more interested in their shark dive program.

You book your session online and pay via PayPal or credit card. I think a wire transfer option is also available. There are three different programs based on your diving experience. I ended up purchasing the most expensive one which was for beginners because I do not have a diving license. The pricing might seem steep, but if you do further research online you will discover that it is relatively cheaper than the rest of the world, which is why people choose to do it here.

Once you complete the online booking, Popeye will send you an e-mail. He is the resident PADI accredited instructor in the facility. You would eventually find out that he originally hails from California, but has been in the kingdom for more than a decade already. He will send you some detailed instructions regarding the schedules and what to bring.

You could choose to dive in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Go to Siam Paragon at the designated time with a photo ID that you would show to the Shark Dive counter which is just right next to the souvenir shop, right after the entrance with the giant octopus and penguins that never run out of tourists posing for pictures. Once the counter lady identifies you, she will ask you to sign a questionnaire slash waiver asking questions about certain illnesses that you might have or have had. She then gives you your locker key, swimming trunks, and a towel. The swimming attire is included in the package. You can bring it home afterwards, but it is not the same case for the towel.

You will then be guided to the backroom where the shark tank is. The area is surprisingly small. It is also where they do the glass bottom boat tour. You meet Popeye and he chooses a diving suit for you, asks you to take a shower before you suit up, and meet him again for the quick lecture. About what? Well, diving of course! You might want to pay close attention, miss some details and your life might depend on it.

He gives you a rundown of the equipment, from the oxygen tank's o-ring all the way to the manual inflator for the vest. Let us leave the details to when you are about to do your dive as that is part of the package anyway, and I am no PADI instructor. To cut the long story short, you fall forward or backwards towards the tank after that half an hour of lecture. No jumping or diving. The last thing you want to do is land on a shark.

The dive does not take two hours. Valuable tip? Breathe through your mouth. Always. Leave your nose out of this. Your nose only enters the picture when you need to get rid of pressure building up in your ears. I guess what I did not like about the dive was how Popeye was always behind me, just nudging me on which direction to go. I guess the reason is to make it feel as though you were there by yourself and so that he could easily watch you and get you out of trouble when needed be.

The sharkies were snobbish at best, like they had their own world where you simply do not exist. What makes them menacing, though, is the sinister grin that they just could not wipe off their faces, giving you a good glimpse of their sharp teeth. But could we really blame them for being born that way? Oh well, thanks to Jaws, they will always have a notorious reputation. There was one time when I was head to head with one of them sharkies. You know what it did? It yielded and gave me right of way. In a way, if dolphins are comparable to dogs for being such insufferable KSPs, sharks would be like cats. Independent. Snobs.

You can buy a CD for an extra 500 baht. You have to tell them at the counter as it is not part of the package and the payment is separate. It contains around 70 photos and less than ten video clips. The staff who does the coverage would be outside the tank, along with the tourists. The shots are okay though. The glass is clear anyway. The video clips are also quite cool.

Oh, yes. That. Since you are also in the tank, you would be the de facto mascot for the day. Kids and their parents would be waving at you and taking your picture as though you were part of the wildlife inside that tank, similar to a manta ray or a colorful seaweed. You can opt to snob them. Besides, the sharkies do that all the time, but could you really let those kids down? Bottom line: now you know how it feels to be on display in a large tank of water. For a few hours, at least.

Was the experience worth it? I would say yes, although I was a bit shaken after it ended, which I found weird. Perhaps it was the cold water or just the lack of exercise prior to the activity. Looking back, it was not that life changing but definitely not boring either. I guess it serves as a good introduction to the deep blue sea if you decide to play with bigger sharks that do not live in tanks in the near future. What to do after, then? Shop, dummy. You are at Siam Paragon after all. Doh.

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