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Bjorn, Mika and Reef Fish have all made suggestions regarding possible
venues in Asia, but have overlooked what, to my way of thinking, is a vital
aspect of any destination!  ie.  The ready availability of local beer/rice
whisky and its potable qualities!  (In my humble experience that only
excludes Laos!)  :-)
 
I like Bjorn's idea of
>1. A live-aboard trip to the Similan Islands and Burma. Likely cost
>$700/person plus gear for 4 days' diving
 
But it does rather limit the attendees to 'hard-core' divers and doesn't
allow for non-diving partners.
 
At first glance I was rather taken with Mika's suggestion ...
 
>An alternative might be a Sipadan-Labuan combination trip with an option to
>dive Kota Kinabalu for a few days for those with more time (personally I'm
>a big fan of the diving in KK, as there is no end to the unusual things you
>can find there just poking around in the sand). Also a great place to "get
>used" to the water again for those that don't dive all the time. (More
>costly than the Thailand option, though).
 
... but the last sentence sent a shiver through my wallet!  :-)
 
Then I thought about Bali/Lombock.  (But I'd probably wind up with braided
hair!) :-)
 
What about North Sulawesi?  Land-based with quick access to some -
apparently - excellent and, (I'm going to hate myself for saying this!),
'pristine' diving!
 
And some exciting marine life!  (The following drifted my way from one of
the operators there!)
 
>In September 1998, newspapers and magazines the world over heralded the
discovery of a previously unknown population of coelacanth fishes within the
famous Bunaken National Park in North Sulawesi. Previously thought to exist
only in the tiny Comoros archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, this
"living fossil" surprised scientists and laymen alike by turning up in
fishermen's nets off the picturesque volcanic island of Manado Tua, over
10,000 km from the Comoros! Although coelacanths have been around for a
whopping 400 million years (older than the dinosaurs), recent scientific
surveys have shown that this prehistoric species is now in danger of
extinction. The new population in North Sulawesi provides hope that
coelacanths are actually much more widespread than originally thought. The
creature's inaccessible habitat (they live in volcanic caves at 100-200 m
depth) means that divers won't be able to swim with them, but plans are in
the works for submersible expeditions to further study this population and
estimate its size. Contingent upon the success of these expeditions, further
plans call for a public coelacanth information center in Manado, as well as
the possibility of real-time video displays from special video cameras
installed at the entrance of the deep caves where the creatures live. "Old
Fourlegs", as the coelacanth is popularly known, fits in well with the other
exotic wildlife of North Sulawesi (ranging from spectral tarsiers to hairy
frogfish!) and provides further proof that this area lies in the epicenter
of bio-diversity for our planet.<
 
Anyway!  I've always wanted to have an up-close look at an underwater
volcano!  :-)
 
Strike