Author Topic: Review of 5d/5n Burma Liveaboard Dive Trip with AICD (Based in Ranong, Thailand)  (Read 9318 times)

Pipefish

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My wife and I had initially planned a Similan liveaboard trip, and had chosen the Danish-operated Adaman International Dive Centre (AIDC) because

1. the AIDC web site states that the dives take place in a marine park, thus promising good coral and fish life;

2. AIDC offered a 5d/5n trip with 19 dives, more than most other companies,for 24580 THB per diver including gear and park fee, translating into a good cost per dive ratio;

3. AIDC is operating out of Ranong, which is accessible more quickly than Phuket by land from Bangkok.

Due to a case of death that occured in the closest family, we had to cancel the Similan trip. Note that AIDC does not offer any refunds, not even under these circumstances. In order not to lose our downpayment, we had the option to join their later Burma trip at an additional cost of 7420 THB per person. The AIDC website describes this as “one of the most beautiful and unchartered places in the world”.

Arrival at the Dive Shop in Ranong

We were asked to meet at the dive centre at 12pm on the day of departure, the operator explicitly wrote to us not to be late. Our bus arrived at 11.20am, and the staff told us that the boat would leave late that day, although it was unclear at what time. We filled in the liability release forms. We were never asked to show our diver certification cards.

We then had to chose our rental dive gear. We would normally have taken M-sized wetsuits, but found that the ones in the dive shop were too small. We were explained that they were "Asian sizes". There was only one L-size wetsuit in the dive shop, which did not properly fit either, but was more comfortable than the too small M. All the wetsuits were ripped at the bum (we sewed one of the big holes ourselves).

We had to spend the afternoon waiting for departure. At no point were we told the time of departure. So we were having coffees until we were finally picked up and driven to the harbour at around 3.20pm.

The Vessel

AIDC operates the MV Thai Sea, which has 2 upper deck and 6 lower deck cabins accommodating 2 people each. All are the same price, despite considerable differences in comfort. We were assigned one of the lower deck cabins directly above the engine. The cabin stank of diesel fuel, and one could actually look at the engine through cm-wide slits in the wooden boards below our mattresses. The boat was full, so we could not change to another cabin. It was not possible for us to sleep in our assigned cabin due to the bad smell and noise. We would spend the nights outside, on the upper sun deck, but the maximum time of sleep we could catch was 5 hours per night due to winds, and waves splashing on the deck. During the day, unfortunately, there was no place to retreat to for the so much needed rest between dives. We were promised to have engines and generator shut down for the nights when the boat was anchored and not moving to the next dive site, but after the first night other customers complained about the heat without the generator-powered aircon, so the generator was never swiched off again at night. We were boldly told that we could rest after our return to Ranong.

Due to problems with the gear box, the vessel broke down twice during the trip: once on the first day, and once on the day return was scheduled for. Necessary repairs and towing resulted in the trip being 2 days longer than initially planned. Sadly, there was no offer of apology from the management for this delay.

Dive Personnel

There were two Divemasters (including the AIDC owner) and one PADI instructor as underwater guides. The instructor was assigned to lead us and two other divers. On our first dive, my wife found that she required an additional weight, so we resurfaced after seconds. The instructor did not check for us and left with the other two divers. We obtained another weight from the always helpful local crew and dived independently.

Further, it became clear during the trip that the dive personnel were not very knowledgeable about the dive sites or the marine life to be found. At one point, we were told the next dive was going to be a wall dive, but merely found a sandy bottom at around 8 to 12 meters depth.

Diving in the Mergui Archipelago


The Mergui archipelago is not a marine national park. Each night one could count on average 40 fishing vessels with bright lights, apparently Thai boats fishing in Myanmar waters. Not surprisingly then, there was barely any fish life on the reefs. Rarely a school of fish to be seen. We had to focus on nudibranches and cowries - and indeed we saw quite a few of them. During some of our dives, we also heard the sounds of close-by dynamite fishing, and we found most reefs in a deplorable state, being heavily damaged (broken and dead) by the devastating dynamite explosions. The only positive aspect was the lack of coral bleaching, which is affecting many reefs in equatorial waters further south.

On-Board Service and Experience

In terms of diving, there were no detailed dive briefings: no hand sign reviews, no emergency procedures were ever recalled, no expected dive profiles and times were ever mentioned. We only found the duration of the night dives after wondering underwater why many divers were surfacing after a much shorter time than normal. There were no post-dive discussions. For night dives, we were handed one torch each, and when asking if this was considered sufficient, the instructor joked about how we would be unable to handle 5 torches. One of our lights promptly failed underwater and one of us was handed the instructor's torch. Now we had a dive guide without a light... We had one more torch in our group on the next night dive, when, funnily, two of them failed.

There were only 18 dives planned and not 19 as advertised. To do 19 dives, one had to ask for it and get up very early on the last day (which was difficult for us to agree to as we became more and more tired due to the cabin situation).

The food offered on board was overall disappointing. It consisted of a lot of pasta with some kind of sauce, rather than Thai dishes. Apart from fruit, there was little fresh food. Frequently we were served refried leftovers from previous meals. Overall junk food, as it was referred to by a fellow diver.

In the evenings, some of the Danish divers on board showed their dive videos, some of which contained scenes like forcefully pulling a distressed moray out of its hiding place, or cutting off a starfish's leg to feed a harlekin shrimp, all to the great amusement of many including the AIDC management and staff.

Return to Ranong

Having lost two days due to engine problems, we had only one day left instead of three for a relaxing time on a closeby island (and catching somesleep, which we urgently needed). Despite being less than 5 minutes drive off the way to the dive shop, AIDC refused to drop us off where we would have catched the boat for the island. Instead we had to first return to the dive centre in town and then make our own way back to catch the boat. We missed our boat as a result.

Conclusion


Too bad to be true? That's how it felt. Be warned!

Judging from our overall experience, AIDC has to be considered a very unprofessional and unfriendly company. The entire trip felt like a terrible mistake, a horrible rip-off. We hope to never experience anything similar again and would certainly not recommend diving with AIDC.


siamdivers

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Hello Pipefish, I was wondering if you could give us a little more background on what kind of research you did before you decided on this particular Mergui trip. There are quite a few operators doing these types of trips. What made you pick this operator?

aidc

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As manager for AIDC I will say that I’m very sorry that you had such a bad experience.

I will not comment everything, I will leave that to the other customers on board and former customers…
You can see our version on our blog http://www.aidcdive.com/Blog.htm
I can also recommend everybody to take a look on our Burma videos and make you own opinion about diving Burma.

However there are a few things I would like to say...

Its right if you cancel a trip less than 2 weeks before departure the full amount will be charged. We do that because we don’t have time to resell the space.
On the booking confirmation can you also see that we recommend a travel insurance that will cover your loss in cases like this.
You should normally have paid full price for the trip so I think I made you a very fair deal.

There is a simple reason why we say in our booking confirmation that you have to be here the day before or latest 12.00 the same day. Many times in Thailand the busses are planes are delayed.

When we have a technical problem it’s not funny for anybody, especially not for me. But I think we manage it very well and in a safe way (don’t forget that we were in Burma).
Everybody agreed about the delay, including you…

About our dive crew, Mischa, Carmen and myself, I don’t think you will find anybody else with more experience and passion for diving in Burma. Yes, sometimes we try new places and it can be good or less good.
You instested to dive alone with your dive master (your wife), maybe that’s why you missed all the good stuff everybody else was seeing.

About the food.. That’s the first time we have complaining about food… But maybe you are right about vegetarian food. We will try to do it better.
Normally we don’t serve fish on board, that’s my decision… And you know why! When you intersect an arm of a Sea star you will have 2 there is alive, when you eat a fish it will be dead forever.

About service before and after the trip, we try to do everything what we can to make everybody happy and in a comfortable way. We always pickup people and deliver them to Airport, Busses, Hotel or whatever and we do it from our dive shop. We try to plan it so it’s best for everybody. It’s not only going about you.

Everybody got an apology from me after the trip, but you decided to leave before I arrived to the dive shop.

Me and my crew (and all other costumers) think it was all in all a very nice trip, but you decided to go against that from the beginning, and I can only be sorry about that.

Good luck for your future Liveaboards…

Preben Jensen

jeja26

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Sorry to hear about your experience but I for one cannot recognize the experience. I have been diving with Preben twice in the past (the last trip being in Dec 2010). There were no problems at all - pick up, hotel, equipment were as promised. Friendly and accomadating.

The trip as a whole was a great experience as I put in the thread
http://www.scubaboard.com/forums/general-asia/375336-review-5d-5n-burma-liveaboard-dive-trip-aicd-based-ranong-thailand.html#post5805889

My wife had a trial dive during the trip. Compared to the trial dive she had in Egypt she was very pleased with the competance of the instructor (very calm, experienced and competent) - to such a degree that she might take the full course.

The description of the boat is not my experience either. I have not done the Burma trip but intend to do it in the future sometime - with Preben and co.

Any vessel can have an accident I suppose - no matter how new or old. This does happen.

Once again sorry to hear your version but for my say - I cannot recognise any of it.

Pipefish

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I am glad that people are reading my review, and responding to it. I registered because I felt everybody should know about our experience.
I would like to make four points in response to the posts above.

1. AIDC claims that they cannot refund cancellations for whatever reason because they do not have time to resell the space. In fact, we were told by staff on board that the boat is rarely full, and that the trip we were on thus was an exception.

2. If the boat is not full, divers will naturally avoid the diesel smell in cabins 5 and 6 on the MV Thai Sea, and will have a much better time. However, I feel that all readers should be aware about the condition of these cabins on board, and that they will end up in one of them in case the others are occupied.

3. I did not choose to dive alone with my wife, who happens to be a divemaster. The dive instructor was assigned to us, and just left us behind on the "trial dive" due to us requiring an additional weight. This just should not happen. In fact, we would have preferred to dive as part of a group with a knowledgable dive leader.

4. Clearly, the people who work at AIDC will say they have passion for diving in Burma. As a matter of fact, however, it was the divemaster employed by AIDC who resurfaced with her group after about 10 minutes on the last day of diving because of closeby dynamite fishing. Apparently her passion for diving does not go far enough to stay in the water under such conditions, which are not exceptional judging from the state of the reefs.

Either way, I am sure some people might have a good time diving with AIDC. This however does not imply that this can be considered a professional organization, given my review above. So by all means, take the chance and dive with them if you feel lucky.

Pipefish

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To Siamdivers: Apart from what I stated in my review already, I went to obtain information by email from about 10 different liveaboards that go to the Similans. Most of them are very similar in terms of their offers. In the end, if you have not dived with any of them before, you cannot tell the difference in terms of professionalism and customer service on basis of the information they provide.
Most reviews are also not very revealing. I tried to write a detailed review of our experience, so that readers get a better idea what exactly they may be in for when diving with AIDC... The responses of those who see this operation in a more positive light are not detailed, they are simply opinions.

aidc

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Lars and Gitte ask me to put in this comment from the same trip….. Preben

When I read the comment from the Romanian couple, I could not even recognize the story. We were a group of 5 who was on the same trip.
It is true there were problems with the gear 2 times and we were delayed for the same reason. We were therefore in compensation, an extra day of diving and a private guided tour of  the port city of Myanmar. All paid by AIDC.
We were all in the same boat and with good spirits (except the Romanian couple) we all got  a really good experience. We knew that the Romanian couple stayed pretty much for themselves and were very often disputed our views. Now they write that someone close shortly had died. That  I am sorry to hear, but that  makes things clear to me . You always see the world based on your emotions. So maybe the Romanians should have chosen to postpone their travel. It makes me sorry on their behalf.

It also makes me sorry that it damages AIDC reputation, which is not justified.

I think we could have had 20 dives if we wanted.
I saw no air-condition in any of the cabins.
There was a briefing before each dive (if you were present and awake) and Romanians chose to dive alone, and since  the competent diver instructors could not guide them, the Romanians obviously did not see the fantastic dive sites.
What a shame it will be if such a negative attitude is to prevent others from getting  the same good experiences the rest of us got.
Some times damages occurs to a ship, that can happen to anyone and Preben did his utmost to make everyone happy.
We had a really good atmosphere on board. But maby the Romanian couple had expectations of more luxury and service. I can only recommend that they then take a luxury ship with French chefs, etc.
We had good Thai food and for fun (some of us - customers) made the dinner in the galley, because the cook was covered in oil as he desperately helped to repair the gear. That evening we made special meal for Romanians and we did our best  with the vegetarian food. Here the Romanians also could have chosen to participate, but waited until we (who were also guests) served their food on the table and then they went to bed. They had a bed similar to the others on their deck and I have not heard others complain.
We had some great dives and the highlight for me was definitely the seven meter manta.
You are welcome to view pictures from this trip on our private web site under the gallery in the menu at http://www.hydrobia.dk.
We had a great trip and since it is the second time we were with AIDC in Myanmar and had not experienced any problems, I hope the readers will understand that the criticism in speak is  based in an unhappy personal background more than in a sincere experience.
We clearly have a desire for another fantastic diving with AIDC, Preben, Carmen, Mischa, Pong and other crew members.

Sincerely,
Gitte and Lars

Pipefish

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Gitte and Lars, two Danish divers (just like Preben, the AIDC owner) had the luxury to stay in one of the two upper deck cabins, and obviously they did not had any problems with diesel fuel smell in their cabin.

I think many would dispute the views of divers who laugh about forcefully pulling a distressed moray out of its hiding place, or breaking a leg off a sea star.

Thank you for pointing out the mistake I made when I mentioned "air-conditioning". Of course I meant the fan, which of course also only runs with generator power at night.

Gitte and Lars where diving with another divemaster, so I cannot comment on their dive briefings. Our pre-dive communication with our instructor would not have passed PADI standards.

W.r.t. the food, we did not get only pasta, but "a lot of pasta". And we did appreciate the really nice food prepared for us on the last day by another Danish diver, who served this meal to all of us, not just to my wife and myself. We thanked the other Danish diver personally for preparing such a good meal, given that the ingredients were canned food left after an all too long liveaboard nightmare.

Yes, we did go to bed early, of course. If you read my review, you would know that we had not gotten much sleep at all during this trip, and you would know why.

The death of a close family member has nothing to do with the facts that I am stating in my review, apart from that it resulted in the AIDC owner pushing us onto the already full Burma boat, despite knowing about the cabin problem. You should be ashamed of even bringing it up, Preben!

MischaAIDC

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Dear "Pipefish"
First of all I feel sorry that you are not able to see one single positive point of that dive trip.
Second I as your diveguide would have preferred that you have told me after the first dive that you need more attention under water than discussed before the trip.
The agreement was that we start the dive as a group and if you want to dive alone with your wife then you can do so. Since you "lost" my group on every dive and my two other customers "lost" me never, I cannot understand that you now complain about it. At the first dive however the fact was that we agreed that we dive as a group at least for this dive. After I did not see you down on 10m I surfaced again after minute 2 and was looking for you. But nobody was at the surface so I assumed that you are diving alone with your wife. How comes that you were not on the surface when you did not have enough weights??
In my eyes you are solely looking for reasons to make AIDC bad. I feel sorry for you.
If there are any other complains:
My name is Mischa Blattner, my Padi Number is 494963.
Kind regards
Mischa

aidc

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I will come back with some answers to some of the accusations, but we are on the way out for 5 days Burma trip and I don’t have the time now.
Will be back on April 8th.

Preben
Aidc

Gerd

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Hi all, I am from germany, dive in thailand and burma since 1997 every year and have been to many liveaboards with more than 300 dives now. I don´t know why this pipefish is blaming AIDC and complaining about everything not only in this forum, maybe he is a notorious complainant or has something else in his mind only to destroy the reputation of AIDC. He should take a trip to thailand (TIT) and specially to burma as an adventure and enjoy the holiday.
I was with AIDC now 7 times on a trip and never had a bad experience. My last trip was burma march 14 to 19 and all 11 customers were happy and satiesfied, nothing to complain about. Preben, the danish manager does everything to organize a great trip, make everybody happy, sometimes it is not in his hand what happens in thailand or with the engine, The two Divemasters Carmen and Mischa have a very great passion for diving and I trust both of them to be good guides. The food on board was excellent, even a barbeque was offered, better than on other liveaboards. The atmosphäre an board was super, we had fun, talked about all the diving, read the AIDC blog and have a look at the pics at http://www.hydrobia.dk.
I must reject all what pipefish wrote and can highly recommend AIDC.
Gerd

Pipefish

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For my part, I will conclude this discussion by reiterating some of the facts that I stated in my original review, and which the replies in support of this deplorable organization failed to address specifically. Statements such as "I cannot recognise any of it" or "I must reject all what pipefish wrote" are easily made, but do not resolve any of these issues. For those who followed this discussion, here are the plain facts once again:

1. We would normally have taken M-sized wetsuits, but found that the ones in the dive shop were too small. We were explained that they were "Asian sizes". There was only one L-size wetsuit in the dive shop, which did not properly fit either, but was more comfortable than the too small M. All the wetsuits were ripped at the bum (we sewed one of the big holes ourselves).

2. AIDC operates the MV Thai Sea, which has 2 upper deck and 6 lower deck cabins accommodating 2 people each. All are the same price, despite considerable differences in comfort. We were assigned one of the lower deck cabins directly above the engine. The cabin stank of diesel fuel, and one could actually look at the engine through cm-wide slits in the wooden boards below our mattresses. The boat was full, so we could not change to another cabin. It was not possible for us to sleep in our assigned cabin due to the bad smell and noise. We would spend the nights outside, on the upper sun deck, but the maximum time of sleep we could catch was 5 hours per night due to winds, and waves splashing on the deck. During the day, unfortunately, there was no place to retreat to for the so much needed rest between dives. We were promised to have engines and generator shut down for the nights when the boat was anchored and not moving to the next dive site, but after the first night other customers complained about the heat without the generator-powered fans, so the generator was never swiched off again at night. We were boldly told that we could rest after our return to Ranong.

3. The instructor was assigned to lead us and two other divers. On our first dive, my wife found that she required an additional weight, so we resurfaced after seconds. The instructor did not check for us until he reached 10 meters depth. Although he apparently resurfaced to look for us, he failed to locate us.

4. During some of our dives, we also heard the sounds of close-by dynamite fishing, and we found most reefs in a deplorable state, being heavily damaged (broken and dead) by the devastating dynamite explosions.

5. For night dives, we were handed one torch each, and when asking if this was considered sufficient, the instructor joked about how we would be unable to handle 5 torches. One of our lights promptly failed underwater and one of us was handed the instructor's torch. Now we had a dive guide without a light... We had one more torch in our group on the next night dive, when, funnily, two of them failed.

6. In the evenings, some of the divers on board showed their dive videos, some of which contained scenes like forcefully pulling a distressed moray out of its hiding place, or cutting off a starfish's leg to feed a harlekin shrimp, all to the great amusement of many including the AIDC management and staff.

7. The boat was delayed for 2 days due to engine problems. Of course this can happen. However, there was no apology from AIDC, and no offer of a compensation for lost holiday time.


jeja26

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Not quite sure what your intentions are Pipefish but I think you have made your point. You should however learn to accept that other people may have a different view and experiences than yourself, as in any other way of life. I also think that the readers of your ongoing verbal onslaught ( in at least 5 different forums under different names) can make their own decision. AIDC has existed for a number of years now and if they were as terrible as you want to make them this would have rumoured in the diving community by now.

The beauty of these forums are that anybody can have their say and be respected for that. A comparison may be Tripadvisor in the hotel world where readers can make their choice after reading several different opinions of the same hotel. The beauty of democracy and respect for opinions of others.

marob

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Pipefish,

I see you from your profile that you joined this forum the day of your first post; the same one as posted to several other websites. Presumable the sole purpose was to make your statement.

Maybe this review would have been better served as a trip review?

You do not see to have praised the dive operator for letting you transfer your booking outside of the normal terms & conditions. In most cases the customer would have to claim from their insurance for such an unfortunate personal event...

aidc

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Sorry it took some time to give a response. We are quite busy and I just came back last night from a 7 day trip.

In regard to the cabin, it’s not a crack in the floor but a hatch we have under the madras so we can inspect the tanks behind the engine. It’s true you can see light true the hatch if you take away the madras.
I just spend 7 days in the same cabin and had absolutely no problem with smell of fuel. Ok it’s noisier when the engine is running and we will try to correct that with a double wall and floor for the next season. That should also help against the smell of fuel, if any.

I trust my Dive master and Instructor 100% and we have made a comment on that before.
I have dived in Burma the last 11 years (6 years with AIDC) and never had a dive accident with our customers, so I think we can conclude that we do it in a safe way.
 
About the Starfish it’s was actually from an old video and it’s not something our divers do, but me. With over 2000 dives I did it 2 times, like it or not…
To pull out a Moray there is stocked in a hole with his head, is that a bad thing?

We paid compensation to everybody if they had extra cost because of the delay.
One group had made a hotel reservation on Phuket and we paid for 2 nights, same story as if you book a live aboard. We also paid the cost for a taxi driver because he had to take one night in Ranong.
Remember pipefish only paid 7.420,-THB including entry fee for the trip and the normal price is 37.000,-THB. I will call that a very fair deal… And it’s really not our problem that he didn’t make travel insurance for his first booking.

Preben

Pipefish

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The amount of 7.420,-THB per diver was the "upgrade" to the 5d/n Burma trip from the 5d/n Similan trip, which we had originally booked. The total cost of our liveaboard "vacation" was more than 30.000,- THB per diver.
However, given our experience, and as I have already said, I would not take this trip again even if I was paid for it.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2011, 14:42:32 UTC by Pipefish »

aidc

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The amount of 7.420,-THB per diver was the "upgrade" to the 5d/n Burma trip from the 5d/n Similan trip, which we had originally booked. The total cost of our liveaboard "vacation" was more than 30.000,- THB per diver.
However, given our experience, and as I have already said, I would not take this trip again even if I was paid for it.
Ok, again… It’s very clear in your Booking Confirmation that if you make cancellation 2 weeks or less before the trip the full amount will be charged.
I made you a very fair deal that you only had to pay 7.540,- and then you could join a Burma trip instead. In the booking Confirmation it also say that you should make a travel insurance that cover Scuba diving and it would also cover in cases like this where you have to cancel a trip.
I only gave you this deal because I wanted to help you. If you want I can put in your booking confirmation and our email conversation?
Until now I didn’t mention that you actually also canceled the Burma trip after you made the booking, because of reasons that I don’t want to put public.
It’s ok that you don’t want recommend us for anybody, but as I know it’s was your first live aboard so who will you recommend?
I guess nobody; because you will always be an unhappy customer there only can see it from one side.

Preben
AIDC

 

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