HTMS Chang is one of Thailand’s best wreck dives and along with the very fishy Alhambra Rock it’s accessible as a weekend liveaboard from Bangkok
Yellow snapper over the HTMS Chang wreck © Chris Mitchell
Diving HTMS Chang And Alhambra Rock – Dive Happy Episode 19 Show Notes
- BK Dive Crew Meetup Group – if you want to join a future trip
- The January Princess liveaboard at Rayong Dive Center – details about the boat the BK Dive Crew use
- A beautiful photo essay about diving HTMS Chang by Adam and Meghan. Gives a real sense of the size and scale of the ship
- The HTMS Chang wreck also has its own Facebook page which is regularly updated
- USS Lincoln County Wikipedia history page – the vessel’s original name before being turned over to the Thai Navy and being renamed HTMS Chang
- A nice video of Alhambra Rock, uploaded to YouTube October 2019:
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Diving HTMS Chang And Alhambra Rock – Dive Happy Episode 19 Transcript
[00:00:06] CM: Hello and welcome to Dive Happy, a podcast about finding the best scuba diving in Asia. I’m your host, Chris Mitchell, and on this episode I’m joined by Joe Guilmette, founder of the very active BK Dive Crew meet-up group here in Bangkok.
Joe, welcome back.
[00:00:21] JG: Hi, Chris. Thanks for having me.
[00:00:23] CM: You’re very welcome, mate. Now, I just wanted to talk to you this time about a special itinerary that I have never done. So I’m particularly interested in it and I feel like I’ve dived most places in Thailand. But you recently did a liveaboard trip that runs out to HTMS Chang, which is a really nice shipwreck. Can you tell me a bit more about how you got out there?
[00:00:51] JG: Yeah. This trip, I really like this trip a lot, because so often when you’re planning dive trips, you have to work around people’s work schedules, and this one is really nice because you can get off work on a Friday night, go on to a liveaboard, sleep on the liveaboard Friday night, dive Saturday and Sunday and then be home at like 7:00 at night on a Sunday. If you live in Bangkok, it’s kind of magical that you can do a liveaboard trip on a weekend without taking time off from work, and it’s really good diving.
[00:01:18] CM: Yeah, absolutely. How many times have you dived on the wreck?
[00:01:23] JG: I think I’ve done this liveaboard trip two or three times, and then usually you’ll spend one day on the wreck doing that. They have the 3-day itinerary too, but if I have a 3-day weekend, I’ll probably go somewhere else. But their 2-day itinerary, the first day is on HTMS Chang where you usually will do two or three dives on the wreck and then do a night dive an then the next day go off, dive some other sites.
[00:01:42] CM: Okay. The HTMS Chang is, well, obviously it belongs to the Thai Navy. Originally, it belongs to the US Navy and it dates from World War II, right?
[00:01:53] JG: Yeah. Yeah, it’s a nice big old ship. Nice big mast on it.
[00:01:57] CM: Yeah, from my googling around. It was actually a supply ship rather than a warship and it was a troop carrier as well, and it also served in the Korean War. The US Navy handed it over to the Thai Navy in 1962 and then it was sunk deliberately, I should add. It was sunk in –
[00:02:16] JG: Forgotten the war of Thailand from a couple of years ago.
[00:02:20] CM: Yeah, exactly. It was sunk in 2012.
[00:02:22] JG: Yeah.
[00:02:23] CM: So does it sit upright on the ocean floor?
[00:02:27] JG: Yeah, they actually somehow did a good job sinking it. It bottoms out at about 25 meters. It’s 100-meter long wreck, making it the largest wreck in Thailand and it’s like perfectly upright.
[00:02:38] CM: Wow! That is actually really big, huh?
[00:02:40] JG: Yeah. It’s massive.
[00:02:41] CM: Yeah. Has it got lots of different decks on it then? I mean, do you still have a crow’s nest on it?
[00:02:47] JG: Yeah. It’s really cool. It has like a crow’s nest coming up at the top, and the crow’s nest pops out. I think if I remember correctly, around 10 meters. You can spend the whole dive. You start off the dive and then you go dive the deck down at the bottom, pop down to the stand. Then as you’re finishing up your dive, unlike a lot of wrecks, you can spend your whole dive on the wreck as you shallow up. So you can get a full hour diving on the ship wreck.
The crow’s next is pretty meaty. It has a lot of like swim-throughs and stuff around it. It’s not just like a pole, like a steel girder mast. You can swim through it and there’s like rooms and stuff and fish all over the place. It’s fantastic. Yeah.
[00:03:19] CM: Awesome! Because obviously it’s only been down for 8 years, it’s still very recognizably a ship. There wasn’t much detrition yet.
[00:03:30] JG: Yeah, not much at all. It’s one of the like cleanest wrecks I’ve ever been on. It really hasn’t started falling apart or anything like that. It’s very recognizable. There’s like doors. Because it was intentionally sunk, they stripped out a lot of the machinery. Cut holes in it and stuff like that. There’re some very easy beginner penetrations you can do that are a lot of fun.
[00:03:50] CM: Awesome! How has the visibility been over the different trips you’ve done? Is it been fairly consistent or does it vary wildly?
[00:03:56] JG: It varies pretty wildly. There’s usually the times I’ve been on it and from what I hear is pretty common. There’s a thermocline, like a layer of poor viz that goes up and down. Similar to the wreck in Koh Tao. When I was there, the deck was kind of submerged in this kind of milky viz, which is kind of like spooky and fun, scaring everybody’s fins as you’re kicking along. Then as you shallow up into the mast area, it’s just crystal clear with schooling fish and stuff like that. Very sparkly, like deep blue that you want to see in a dive site. It’s pretty nice.
[00:04:28] CM: Yeah. How deep is the thermocline then? You’re saying the thermocline is over essentially the main deck area.
[00:04:36] JG: It moves. Yeah. Sometimes the main deck is in that nice viz. The thermocline goes from around like maybe like 20 meters up to like 15 or so. It moves up and down depending on your luck.
[00:04:48] CM: Right. If you were taking photos, if you got lucky, you might be able to swim up to the bow and then get a shot looking back along the main deck and get all of the bulkhead and the crow’s nest in.
[00:05:00] JG: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you would need 100 meter viz for that. But you could get a nice shot of a portion of the wreck.
[00:05:11] CM: You mentioned about the fish life. There’s always a joy to this like when a wreck has been put down, an artificial reef, and the fish are actually attracted to it, because a lot of the time, particularly in Thailand, it’s gone down and then like the fish are like, “Yeah, so what.” Does it have regular big schools of fish around it?
[00:05:29] JG: Yeah. I mean, on the mast especially, there’s just everything you’d expect to see on a nice healthy Thai reef, bat fish. If we get lucky, the great barracuda comes by. Yeah, all the usual suspects. Because it is like so sparkly when you’re lucky, like it’s just really impressive.
[00:05:46] CM: How’s the coral life? Has much coral taken hold of it yet or is it all still fairly –
[00:05:50] JG: No. It’s a new wreck. So there’s not a ton of coral and stuff on there. I mean, there’re a lot of like barnacles and urchins and stuff like that, but it hasn’t been – It’s not like the [inaudible 00:06:02] near Bangkok, where is just like covered in coral. It’s not like that. It’s very much a boat with some stuff growing on it.
[00:06:11] CM: Beautifully put. You said obviously that the Thai authorities did a really good job of cleaning the boat and cutting holes in it and stuff. Is it possible to penetrate the wreck?
[00:06:23] JG: Yeah, and there’s actually a variety of a penetrations you can do, all the way from advanced wreck diving where you’re laying a line and going really deep into the wreck with like stage tanks and stuff like that, all the way up to taking people with just their deep cert into an open top. There’s a giant cargo hole where they cut the hole out of the top or maybe it was already open or whatever, but the end of the story is that there is a giant hole in the top so you can drop into that and then swim around and there comes a light. Yeah, it’s really nice.
[00:06:51] CM: Yeah, that sounds gorgeous. I think when we’re talking about it before we started recording, you said you spent like three dives on the wreck including a night dive. Is that right?
[00:07:01] JG: That’s correct. Yeah.
[00:07:02] CM: It sounds like it’s big enough and it has enough levels that it would easily entertain you for three dives. It’s not going to get boring.
[00:07:09] JG: Yeah. That’s usually what I like to do with a good dive site. I would much rather do even on a site where that’s small, I’d much rather do three good dives on that same dive site over and over again, than like do one dive on the good site and then do two other sites that are pretty mediocre, just so I could do a different dive. It’s the same way with the Chang. The wreck is so good. You could do a whole weekend of diving on this trip, all seven dives just on the Chang, and it will be amazing.
[00:07:36] CM: Awesome! Yeah. I meant to ask that, a night dive. I mean, that must be pretty spectacular as well and also quite spooky being on the wreck.
[00:07:47] JG: You don’t actually do a night dive on the wreck. You do a night dive – Generally they’ll do it, the itinerary for the January Princess, run out of Rayong Dive Center, the liveaboard I was on, they do theirs on Blueberry Hill. Standard site. It’s just kind of mucky shallow. Can’t keep yourself from the trouble. Some critters out running around. It’s a good dive site. It’s a good night dive. It’s nothing super special though, but it is nice to do a night dive.
[00:08:11] CM: Okay. On the second day of this fantastic weekend, don’t have to skip any work time trip. On the second day, you go to this other site called Alhambra Rock, right?
[00:08:22] JG: Yeah, Alhambra Rock. On Friday night, you leave Bangkok. You sleep on the liveaboard and then it steams all the way to Koh Chang to the HTMS Chang. You dive there. Then on the Saturday night, it steams over to Alhambra Rock and then you wake up in the morning and dive on the Alhambra Rock and do usually about three dives there.
Alhambra Rock is a really nice dive site. It’s open water, open ocean pinnacle. Tops out at around 10 meters, if I remember right. It bottoms out of kind of 25 or something like this. It’s not super deep. Okay. Two main pinnacles and then off another like maybe 100 meters away, maybe 200 meters away, there’s another smaller pinnacle. Plenty of opportunity. Just like the Chang, you could spend the whole weekend diving here. Very, very nice dive sites, very healthy reef.
[00:09:05] CM: Awesome! How is the vision in general on the rock?
[00:09:08] JG: It depends. Usually it’s pretty good, but I have gotten there where it was not super good. It is Thailand. We do get bad viz coming through, really like milky, green stuff that’s really good for the reef and really bad for us to see. Yeah. But that said, the dive site, the reef is very healthy. When the bad viz comes in, it’s still a good dive, because you can just get low and there’s a lot of nooties and there’s lots of interesting little critters in the reef. Even with bad viz, it’s still a good dive.
[00:09:38] CM: Yeah, it’s interesting. Actually, you said the reef is healthy, because this, and I guess maybe as well with the wreck, is that they are somehow protected or fisherman are not going there. Because that’s usually what messes it up.
[00:09:50] JG: They are not protected. These are not in a national park and there are – You’ll regularly encounter fishing traps. Usually you’ll encounter the skeleton of a fishing trap that has been gutted by divers. The fisherman have learned to dump their traps off the rock where divers don’t go.
[00:10:11] CM: They continuous war.
[00:10:12] JG: Yeah. I think if anything, the divers themselves are protecting their Alhambra Rock more than anything else. Yeah, there is definitely active fishing on here. In fact, the last time I was out there, one of the day boats was diving Alhambra Rock and the captain of the boat was fishing off the side as divers were gearing up, which I found pretty funny.
[00:10:32] CM: Yes. It’s very much live and let live here, isn’t it? When I was googling around, because I’ve never dived Alhambra Rock and I had actually never even heard of it until you told me about it. I found a couple of really nice videos and there were some huge schools of barracuda and yellow snapper there. Have you seen those?
[00:10:51] JG: Yeah. It’s a really healthy reef. You see like juvenile barracuda and juvenile fusilier, massive, massive schools of big fusilier and snapper and barracuda flying around. Also, great barracuda and stuff like that. You have the whole ecosystem. Yeah, it’s really impressive. Very fishy dive site. The fusilier particularly, because they’re just everywhere and you can swim into them like a bait ball and just full field of vision is just fusilier.
[00:11:15] CM: They tend to be there pretty much all the time then?
[00:11:18] JG: Every dive. Yeah, I haven’t been diving Alhambra Rock and not seen fusilier.
[00:11:21] CM: Wow! That’s superb. I mean, that’s a really nice contrast as well to the wreck.
[00:11:25] JG: Yeah. I mean, especially when it’s a weekend trip. That’s what blows my mind of this trip.
[00:11:29] CM: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you would be hard pressed to do anywhere that sort of thing, going straight out of a major city. Get two dive sites there and be back home for Sunday evening.
[00:11:38] JG: Yeah, it’s a three-hour drive from Bangkok and you’re back in time for dinner. It’s crazy.
[00:11:43] CM: That is absolutely fantastic. Joe, thank you so much for explaining that to us, and this is a trip that I would definitely love to do myself.
[00:11:51] JG: Yeah, I can’t wait to go back. It’s a lot of fun. The boat itself is really nice too.
[00:11:55] CM: Is it? The January Princess?
[00:11:56] JG: Yeah, it’s recently remodeled and it’s almost like [inaudible 00:11:59] style liveaboard. Two-person beds and they have some private bathrooms. Then Saturday night for dinner, they have – I’ve never seen on a dive boat, they do this shabu-shabu. Every table has little like shabu-shabu burner and then you’re like – Everybody is all eating together and having fun. It’s a great way to get out of the water and spend the weekend. It’s a surprisingly good liveaboard.
[00:12:19] CM: Right. That belongs to the Rayong Dive Center?
[00:12:22] JG: That is correct, yeah. They have a day boat that runs as well. They do two dives on Alhambra Rock.
[00:12:25] CM: Wow! Would they be running through the low season if they could?
[00:12:31] JG: Rayong — Alhambra Rock specifically. They tend to get a lot of big winds throughout the summer. Starting from around mid-May until the fall, they usually don’t run the trips. They can run them in June, but you can get big winds coming through and it gets all sketchy getting back on the boat.
[00:12:47] CM: Okay. But they typically run it during the gulf season, right? The reverse of [inaudible 00:12:52] season, or do they run whole way through the year apart from –
[00:12:56] JG: They run up the whole way through the year except – They stop running it from June, July, August, something like that, and they pick it up usually around September.
[00:13:04] CM: Okay. Awesome. That’s so great. Thank you so much, Joe.
[00:13:08] JG: Thank you, Chris.
[00:13:10] CM: Thanks very much for listening to the Dive Happy Podcast. You can see the show notes for this episode and browse all the other episodes at divehappy.com/podcast. You can also sign up for the Dive Happy newsletter so you get notified when the next episode comes out. Sign up at divehappy.com/podcast. I pinky promise I won’t spam you and finally if you enjoyed the podcast, please tell other divers about it.
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