For some, being buoyantly suspended 25 meters (80 feet) below the ocean’s surface in the presence of octopus, barracudas, giant moray eels and the occasional reef shark with only a tank of oxygen strapped to their backs as a lifeline sounds like a nightmare. Others travel for days to put themselves in this situation.
Such was the case for Adam, myself and 13 other divers who rode for 3-days on a scuba diving live aboard to the Similan Islands nestled 50 kilometers off of Thailand’s western coastline.
Our Similan Islands live aboard with Wicked Diving turned out to be unlike anything Adam and I had ever done before and many of our divemates (some with more than 3,000 dives logged under their weight belts) agreed. This set of top Thailand dive sites has been revered for years for its unique granite boulder seascapes teeming with an abundance of colorful coral reefs and diverse marine life. For us neoprene-vested visitors we had the opportunity to dive nine times in beautifully clear, warm waters peppered with colorful fish, healthy reefs, macro life and the occasional large pelagic.
Embarking on our Similan Islands Live Aboard
Similan National Park
The Similan Islands consist of 11 islands off the western coast of Thailand in the Andaman sea covering an area of 70 square kilometers. The Similan National Park was established in 1982 to protect the rich marine life of nine original islands; today these islands are often referred to by number. Currently Islands 1, 2 and 3 are closed to the public to continue conservation efforts including turtle hatching programs. More recently Ko Bon and Ko Tachai were added to the Similan National Park.
Fishing has been banned within Similan National Park although fishing boats can regularly be seen anchored near the islands.
Similan National Park charges an entrance fee of 500 THB per person plus an additional 200 THB per day for scuba divers.
Sea Life While Diving Similan Islands
For three days, our live aboard exposed us to some of the choicest dive sites on offer in Thailand. While we were always hopeful for an epic whale shark or manta ray encounter, we disembarked from the boat after our nine dives content with the diversity of sea life we were able to visit including a spotted marbled ray, schools of batfish and the occasional elusive clown triggerfish.
The dive sites ranged from the well-known Elephant Head Rock and its imposing backdrop of large boulder swim-throughs and tricky currents to Three Trees which our dive team nicknamed the snapping eel dive site where we spotted no fewer than seven giant and fimbriated moray eels lurking with mouths open from rocky underpasses.
During our Bangu Bay night dive reportedly two cuttlefish slinked in unison along the ocean floor as an octopus stalked the wide-open dark waters in search of its next meal. Meanwhile our dive team spent our time torches covered swirling around in the glowing green brilliance of bioluminescence.
West of Eden showed us the best of devil and bearded scorpionfish on offer, their disguises being almost good enough to hide them from our sight were it not for their large bulging eyes and slightly parted lips. At our safety stop off the coast of Similan Island #9 a school of long finned batfish swam awkwardly overhead, their slender profiles out of proportion with the roundness of their bodies. And at Shark Fin Reef a territorial giant titan triggerfish got a little too close for comfort, swimming within a meter of my face.
Koh Bon was a personal favorite due to the stunningly dense schools of glass fish swaying with the currents over a tapestry of hard and soft corals. With the swipe of a hand we could whisk away the wall of glass fish in front of us to unveil a smiling spiny lobster or stunning marbled ray sleeping beneath a cove. And at our usual three minute safety stop while Chris, Nastja and Emile practiced their ring game a common jellyfish pulsated by barely noticing our presence.
What to Expect on Thailand Live Aboard Boats
As our first scuba diving liveaboard, we weren’t sure what to expect from our Wicked Diving Similan Islands experience. I can tell you now that we are hooked. Scuba diving via liveaboard allows you to get to some of the world’s best dive spots while eating and sleeping on the boat and meeting great people from around the world with common interests. They are also often good value for the money; you can squeeze in 3-4 dives per day and the trip price includes accommodation and meals.
Live Aboard Boat
Our trip to the Similan Islands began early evening at the Wicked Diving office in Khao Lak, Thailand. After a short shuttle ride to the pier, we found the MV Mariner awaiting us along with the crew of six led by boat Captain P Wit. The 23 meter (76 feet) long boat has three decks, the bottom used as sleeping quarters and scuba staging, the middle the mess hall and the top for fun and lounging about.
Live Aboard Diving
Over three days, we had the opportunity to dive nine sites representing some of the best underwater life that Thailand has to offer. Before every dive, we would gather on the main deck where masters Inge, Chris, Kui, Nack and Tong would walk us through the upcoming dive site using imaginative hand drawn representations on a white board and highlight the potential underwater life we might encounter.
Then we would descend in two waves to the dive deck to get our wetsuits on and ready our equipment. Each diver was responsible for checking his or her equipment but P Jew, Dang and Kai Tong did most of the heavy lifting to make sure we were ready for our jump. After a giant stride off the back of the boat we would descend in our dive teams of three or four along with our dive master. Adam and I dove with an awesome French/Slovenian couple Emile and Nastja and American dive master and comedian Chris.
After the dive we would congregate on the main deck (waiting for another round of delicious food) to brag about the amazing fish and reef life we saw that day. Surprisingly, the snorkeler of the group Tya often emerged from her swim having seen some of the largest fish including sharks, turtles and a manta.
Live Aboard Food
Master chefs P Da and P Lek made sure our stomachs were full throughout the day. After emerging from every dive, we would be alerted with the ringing of a bell that a new thai dish or snack was ready for us up on the main deck. Most of the cuisine was thai, ranging from delicious coconut based soups with mushrooms and peppers to massaman and panang curries and mango sticky rice. Vegetarians had their own separate set of food to plate from. No fish was served on the trip; Wicked Diving is committed to responsible and sustainable sourcing so if they can’t verify where it’s being fished from we don’t eat it.
We used reusuable water bottles throughout the day to stay hydrated and had access to a fully stocked honesty bar with beers, sodas and juices if we wanted to purchase other refreshments.
Live Aboard Fun
Our time between dives was spent swinging from hammocks and slouching in bean bag chairs on the MV Mariner’s upper deck while enjoying the company of our new liveaboard friends. There were lots of stories to exchange amongst this diverse group of divers hailing from all corners of the globe including Australia, Belgium, England, France, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Thailand and the United States. At night we engaged in a friendly game of pictionary where our drawing skills were put to the test by Inge’s word stumpers like Avatar and falafel.
Live Aboard Accommodations
Our two-person cabin was situated on the lower deck; it was a simply furnished room with a set of bunk beds, a fan and some storage space. As much as you may want one of these beds to sleep two people they don’t – believe me, we tried.
Wicked Diving Responsible Business Practice
One of the factors that drew us to Wicked Diving above other dive shops based in Khao Lak was its commitment to ethical diving and responsible business practices. We love supporting organizations who actually live and breathe a triple bottom line ethos of people, planet and profit.
For the planet, Wicked Diving has instituted a low impact policy. From the no chemical biodegradable soaps and shampoos on the boat to the reusable water bottles and recycling campaign, their environmental conservatism focus was obvious throughout our liveaboard experience. Under the water we had a strict no touch policy to ensure that we were leaving the reefs in the same condition in which we found them. We even got to help them live out their environmental commitment by spending a late afternoon on one of the Similan Islands picking up trash.
For people, Wicked Diving gives back 2% of its revenues to the local communities in which they work, investing in projects with local orphanages and teaching kids how to swim and respect the ocean. One ongoing project I thought was especially cool was training local Burmese and Thai to become divemasters and hiring them on through an internship program as liveaboard staff.
How to Get to Similan Islands
The Similan Islands are most easily accessed from Khao Lak in Thailand’s Phang Nga Province (though they can be reached from Phuket and Ko Lanta as well). You can get to Khao Lak by bus or taxi from the Phuket International Airport (HKT, 1-1.5 hours drive) or Krabi International Airport (KBV, 2.5-3 hours drive).
The boat ride from Khao Lak to the Similan Islands takes three hours each way. Scuba diving shops offer both liveaboards as well as day trips to the Similan Islands.
If You Go: Similan Islands Live Aboard Logistics
What: The Similan Islands have long been regarded as a top world dive site thanks to their colorful kaleidoscope of corals, unique boulder landscapes and the occasional spotting of whale sharks and manta rays. The number of dive sites in one concentrated area makes the Similans a perfect scuba diving live aboard destination.
Where: Similan liveaboard tours commence from Khao Lak, a 1.5-hour drive from Phuket or 3-hour drive to Krabi.
When: Timing is key for this particular Thailand liveaboard as the Similan National Park closes between 16th May and 31st October of every year due to adverse weather conditions. An ideal time to visit the Similan Islands is during the drier months of December to April when the waters are crystal clear.
Cost: US$585 per person (plus 1,100 THB Similan National Park entrance fees)
Want to read more about our Similan liveaboard experience? Check out our guest post on the Wicked Diving blog.
Our 3-day / 3-night Similan Islands Live Aboard was provided by Wicked Diving (+66 85 795 2221, [email protected]). As you consider your options for scuba diving Thailand make sure to reach out to the friendly team in Khao Lak for more information about their Similan liveaboards.