If you love the water, being on a boat, and an opportunity for lots of diving, a live aboard trip makes a lot of sense. That’s exactly why we did it. After our 6 nights in Phuket we headed up north an hour and half to Khao Lak to depart for our three night live aboard adventure to the Similan Islands.
Where and what are the Similan Islands?
The Similan Islands are a set of 9 islands (technically 11 today) located 70 KM off the mainland of Thailand that make up the Similan National park. They are home to the best dive spots in Thailand. The islands were impacted by the 2004 Tsunami but are slowing recovering. The National Park helps to protect the islands and closes them during low season to divers. In addition, only certain spots are open to divers so the damaged areas have time to regrow. But, it only does so much.
Coral bleaching occurs often with the rising ocean temperatures. Dynamite fishing tactics used by locals also cause great damage. We learned on our boat that when the islands are closed to diving for 6 months of the year, they open it to the fisherman (under the table of course) because they pay the money to have access to fish on the reefs. The dive boats will see the fishing boats out occasionally where they are not supposed to be but can’t say anything because the national park will take away their dive license. Tough spot to be in and unfortunately is going to impact both sides in the long term when there are no fish to go see, or hunt.
On a brighter note, the islands are beautiful- above and below sea level. The color and clarity of the water is what you see in Conde Naste magazines. On land, you can find stunning beaches made of pure and soft white sand surrounded by giant boulders. Under water there is a ton to see. ..but you should have an idea of what you are looking for because some species are so small you will miss them!
Our itinerary: Eat, Dive, Sleep, Repeat
Sounds intense, right? Well it sort of is, but that’s the point of a liveaboard. You are there to do one thing and that is dive. While Jeff and I are not your typical “dive enthusiasts” we like the idea of being with a group of people who are interested in the same goals as us- see some cool stuff and have fun! Another advantage of a liveaboard is that you don’t spend a good chunk of your day in tranport to the dive sites as you do with day trips. Here you wake up, have some tea or coffee, watch the sunrise, and get ready to start your day with a dive around 7:30 am.
The morning dives are my favorite. Is there a better way to start your day? Plus, it’s usually breakfast for the fish so they are actively swimming around and hunting. After the first dive, we have breakfast, relax, then prepare for dive #2 around 11 am. I am sure you can guess what is next…eat lunch, relax, dive again. We did 4 dives our first day on the boat. That is A LOT. I prefer three, because you are pretty tired and worn out. BUT, we were super excited for our 4th dive because it was our first night dive ever.
I was scared, but equally excited. Imagine jumping into the huge, black, dark ocean at 7 pm at night with just a flashlight in your hand. Yup, it’s intense to say the least. I overcame my fear and really enjoyed the night dive (after the first 10 minutes of course). Lot’s of interesting creatures and crustaceans that you don’t see during the day. We also got to experience the bioluminensce, which are a type of plankton in the water, and when you turn off your flash light and wave your hands in the water, they light up neon green. I have no idea why or how this works, but it’s definitely cool. I tried to google a picture to better explain but couldn’t find one. Picture having glow stick liquid poured all over your hands with a black light on it. A mini rave party down below 😉
I will try to summarize (even though I feel I could write 5 pages…) and share with you some of our favorite memories.
- The people! We had a great group – 12 customers (this is a small group as the boat is full at 20 customers), 3 dive masters ( Lars was our guide and he was awesome.), and the Thai crew (Captain, chefs, first mates, etc- I think 6 in total). The group is really what makes the trip. New friends from US, Germany, France, Switzerland, Sweden, and the UK.
- My inability to see some of the sea life even though it’s right in front of me. Funny story, our guide pointed out a particular creature and after the dive I came to the surface saying “yeah, that stone fish was awesome! So glad I saw it this time.” My dive group (Jeff, Aaron from the US, Bert from Germany, and Lars from Sweden who was our guide) look at me like, “um what?” I repeat…they laugh. Nope, not a stonefish, but clearly an octopus. I swear, this thing camofloughed itself to look like the coral, which is what the stonefish do. One would think an octopus would be easily identified. Nope not for this girl. It was funny and became the running joke of the trip. After every dive I would just tell everyone, “yup, another octopus stonefish combo down there”
- Our dingy engine failed after the captain dropped us off at Koh Similan island to enjoy the beach between dives. It made for a fun ride back when we hitched a ride and trailed along side a huge speed boat to take us back to our main boat.
- At the end of each day we would gather on the top deck to socialize and relax before dinner. Somehow we got on the topic of accents (a product of a diverse group of people) so I asked the group, “what do Americans sound like” two people, not knowing each other’s answers described our accent as having a giant marshmallow in our mouth, and a mouth full of hot potatoes. Basically, we sound like big dumb rambling idiots. Haha, it was very very funny to hear their impressions.
- The night dive- what a unique experience. We plan to do another when we arrive in the Philippeans. No pictures from this but may try to take the camera when we do it again.
A lesson learned.
Sometimes Jeff and I are not smart and we had a big brain fart before this trip. When you dive, especially at deep depths over the course of multiple days like we were, you are not allowed to fly for 24 hours after. If you do, you risk getting the “bends” which is horrible and can cause you a lot of pain…or death. We knew this and we purposely booked another night stay in our hotel after we returned from our dive trip to fly out the next day. Ok great. Well, when we booked our flights, we saw a deal for the morning flight at 7 am and said yup, book it. Will be great to arrive during the day to Cambodia. Oops. Flying at 7 am the day after does not allow for a full 24 hours because the last two dives of the trip (at arguably the best spot) take place at 8 and 11 am the day prior. Because we were dumb, we couldn’t take part on these dives. Lesson learned. Make sure you have plenty of time between your last dive and flight so you can enjoy the entire trip. Instead of diving the last day, we enjoyed a nice snorkel session at the surface and believe it our not, I saw three octopus! So in the end, it all worked out and we were safe to fly 🙂