Similan Islands Liveaboard Diving Trip
After having caught the scuba diving bug, I knew that I wanted to do some more diving while I was still in Thailand. A few of my instructors had mentioned that the Similan Islands, located in the Andaman Sea, had the best diving in all of Thailand. I did a bit of research on these trips, and I was able to find a trip that fit my price range, with Sea Dragon! The trip I chose was geared more to the “backpacker”, as it offered no-frills meals and accommodation. Meals would consist of local Thai curries, while lodging was in dorm style. This contrasts with the usual gourmet meals and private cabins that some companies offer, but the scuba diving (most important factor), would remain the same!
While Similan Islands Liveaboard Diving Trips can last for up to a week and over 20 dives, I decided to do a 3 day/9 dive trip. The Similan Islands are a chain of 9 islands located off of the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. They are considered to be a Marine National Park, and the diving season is restricted to 6 months of year to ensure the wildlife is not adversely harmed. The Similan Islands name is coined due to there being 9 islands in total, derived from the Malay word “sembilan”, meaning “nine”. Only two of the islands have accommodation options (#4 and #8). Thus, a majority of the potential visitors to the National Park are either passengers on liveaboards or day trippers on speed boats.
The afternoon before the first day of the trip, I went to the dive shop to get my equipment fitted and complete the necessary paperwork. Here I found out that there would only be 2 other customers, and that we had just barely reached the minimum needed to run the trip. The boat is designed to hold a maximum of 8 customers. If there would only be 2 of us, it would have been canceled! The two divemasters were Dear from Thailand, and Lars from Sweden, and the two other customers’ names were Michael and Stuart, both from England. Our dive schedule would be as follows:
Day 1: Drive out to the Similan Islands, about 5 hours from the Khao Lak port
2 afternoon dives at Koh Bon, a site near the Similan Islands
Night Dive off of the Similan Islands
2 morning dives and 2 afternoon dives off of the Similan Islands
2 morning dives off of the Similan Islands and then returning back to the port
We left Khao Lak early in the morning, around 7am. Our boat, the Nangnuan, was simple, but adequate for its purposes. The main deck had the engine and crew room, a small galley, toilet, eating area, and equipment station. The top deck had a small sun deck and mattresses that served as our beds. Michael, Stuart, and I spent the first few hours of the trip chatting and getting to know each other, as well as sharing in our excitement of the dives to come.
We reached Koh Bon shortly after lunch, and after a short dive briefing, we began our first dive. As we began our descent, I was floored on how great the visibility was! The water was a crystal clear blue, and we could see 20-30 meters away! There was an abundance of sealife clustered at the Koh Bon dive site, which is a large rocky ridge that reaches a depth of about 30 meters. There were so many different things occurring at once that it was hard to know what to focus on. We began to swim around the large rock, keeping close to it as there was a relatively strong current. I really enjoyed being able to dive for fun instead of being focused on learning and developing new skills like on my previous dives. I brought along my go pro to try my luck in securing some decent underwater photos, not an easy task at all.
Highlights of the first 2 dives at Koh Bon included a huge school of Emperor fish, Napoleon Wrasse, and a banded sea snake. During our dive briefing, Lars and Dear told us that if we were lucky, we might even see some manta rays, as they are known to frequent the area during mating season. Manta rays are curious by nature, and are especially attracted to the bubbles that scuba divers exhale. They are known to even make repeat laps of the area, doubling back on purpose to investigate further. During our first dive when we were pretty deep down, we saw one briefly pass over us but unfortunately it did not linger nor return. When we were doing our mandatory safety stop at 5 meters near the end of our second dive (to prevent decompression sickness), a huge manta ray slowly swam past us, flapping its large fins. It was a very surreal moment to say the least. Lars then banged on his tank to get our attention to turn around. Another one was swimming by us in the opposite direction! Their wingspan stretching over 3 meters long, these majestic creatures dwarfed us humans, and were the largest creature I’ve encountered thus far under the sea. When we finally surfaced, Lars and Dear were just as excited as we were, telling us that it was a somewhat rare occurrence to have them swim so close!
During the afternoon we were able to relax on the boat before our night dive as we drove towards the Similan Islands. Here we were treated to a spectacular sunset as it disappeared over the shimmering waters. This night dive ended up going much smoother than my first one, back in my Advanced Course on Koh Tao. Using our flashlights, we were able to see about 10-15 meters away, versus the 2-3 in my first experience. Having the extra visibility took away the nerves for diving during the night and I was able to enjoy it more. Everything seems calmer during the night, and at times, it feels like we were even exploring a different planet! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see the more elusive creatures that we were hoping such as octopi and sea turtles. We did come across a gigantic lobster however, about the size of a Jack Russell Terrier. We watched it scurry around the ocean floor, trying to evade the light from our flashlights.
Today was going to be a jam packed day, with 4 dives planned. We wasted no time by waking up at 7am and promptly having our first dive. Highlights from the 2 morning dives included Kuhl’s stingray (much smaller than the manta rays we saw the day before), blue ribbon eels, moray eels, angelfish, lion fish, and porcupine fish, one of the more cuter fish with large dark eyes. Just be careful not to get too close, as they are very aptly named!
In between dives, we had the opportunity to go ashore on Similan #8, where we went on a short hike and were subjected to stunning views! These islands are beautiful, and it is a good thing that they are so small to prevent a ton of development. Later, while we were relaxing on the boat, Lars spotted a large green sea turtle swimming near the surface right by the boat! We donned masks and snorkels and jumped into the water, eager to get up close. The turtle was not shy at all and seemed a bit curious of us and the boat. A bit too much, in fact, and a couple times, I found myself frantically swimming backwards as the turtle swam directly at me! Turtles’ beaks are designed for chomping off hard coral and I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of it! Michael and I were able to get a few good videos of the turtle however, so it was well worth it.
The afternoon dives were conducted off of Similan #6 and #4. Here we saw yellowback fusiliers, pipefish, schools of trevally, giant triggerfish, and unicorn fish, named for the small horn protruding from their faces.
The four dives combined with being out in the hot sun really tired us out. Everybody slept well that night, satisfied from the entertaining day.
Normally the 2 dives on Day 3 are done at other sights off of the Similan Islands, but Dear and Lars gave us the option to return to Koh Bon for our last 2 dives if we wished, since it was on our way back to Khao Lak. Without hesitation, we agreed to the offer, excited for the possibility to see the manta rays again!
This morning there were a few other boats around the dive site in contrast to the first time we were there. As such, there were many other divers in the water during the dives, but luckily the site was large enough to avoid them. A huge school of large emperor fish swam furiously past us, while other cool things we saw were a bearded scorpion fish, which are experts of camouflage. I wouldn’t have noticed it if Dear hadn’t pointed it out, as it blended into the rocks almost perfectly! We were treated to a brief visit by a manta ray on the first dive, while on the second Lars and Stu spent close to 15 minutes with one, having been separated from Dear, Michael, and I. We were a bit bummed when we found out what we had missed, when we reconnected on the surface
All in all it was an incredible 3 days and 9 dives, and we got to see many different kinds of fish and other marine life. I will definitely look into doing a liveaboard trip in the future, as it is a great way to do a lot of diving in areas far from the coasts!
See below for a video that Michael put together highlighting the whole trip!