Choosing The Best Liveaboard Diving Safari


We feel extremely privileged to be able to offer almost thirty liveaboard diving boats which visit The Similan Islands and Surin Islands National Marine Parks. However, we totally understand that so much choice can make it even more difficult to select exactly which boat or trip is best for each guest’s particular needs. On our ‘Available Boat Trips’ page, we have a unique system where visitors to the website can choose from filtered boats which fit into certain budgets, sail for particular periods of time and to particular diving areas in Thailand. However, some people like to read about it this way, and that’s why we have decided to try to explain which are the best boats and cruises depending on certain factors that our guests feel are important. Please note that we don’t want to promote one boat over another. We are using our experience, knowledge and feedback from previous guests to provide detailed and honest information about all of the wonderful liveaboard boats which we offer.

I’m staying or landing in Phuket and want a free transfer (pick up and drop off).

white-mantaMV White MantaPrivate taxis from Phuket to Khao Lak are overpriced, but there’s very little anyone can do about this. The public bus service is quite good, but requires good timing, patience, and luck. Most of our boats sail from Khao Lak, which is 100km north of Phuket. Even the majority of the dive centers which are based in Phuket will sail from Khao Lak. However, vessels such a The Junk, MV Giamani, and Marco Polo actually sail to the Similans from Phuket, and why not? Those boats which sail from Khao Lak do so overnight, arriving at about midnight, so why not just sail a few hours more during the night? Anyway, all of our Phuket-based dive centers, as well as those which don’t have offices in Khao Lak, transport guests for free from most hotel and resort areas in Phuket, as well as the airport. These include MV Pawara, MV Scuba Adventure, MV Daranee, MV Dive RACE, Deep Andaman Queen, MV White Manta and Panunee. In addition, some of our Khao Lak based budget and mid-range liveaboard cruise boats also include free pick up and drop off in Phuket. The entire Manta Queen fleet, MV Hallelujah, and Peter Pan all offer to transport guests from and back to Phuket at each end of the tour. Due to logistics and costs, they require guests to be picked up at certain times, and sometimes at certain meeting places, but it is all designed to be convenient for all involved, especially you – the guests. Generally, free pick up is only available on the day of departure, in the late afternoon. However, with Manta Queen having several boats, all of which sail on different days, it’s sometimes possible to jump on the free transfer minivan a day or two before. Please contact us for details.

I don’t want to be in a large group of divers on the boat.

MV-Scuba-Adventure-book-similansMV Scuba AdventureSimilan liveaboard boats vary in size and the number of guests that they can accommodate. During the start and end of the season, they are rarely full, but this last season (2013-2014) was unbelievably successful for both bookings and sightings of special species. Most of our trips were fully booked throughout the diving season. Therefore, when choosing a Similan liveaboard boat to dive from, it’s always best to prepare for the maximum number of guests on any trip. Most of our boats usually take about twenty diving and non-diving guests on each cruise, and this number does not include western dive staff and local crew. It’s not unsociable to want to be with fewer other people, it’s quite normal. There are a few of our boats which limit the number of guests, either due to lack of cabins or to ensure that there’s plenty of space for everyone to walk around and find somewhere to chill out and/or read a book. Similan liveaboard diving boats such as MV Oktavia is large enough to take plenty of guests but the owners choose to limit numbers for comfort and convenience. This boat also offers flexible trips and very competitive prices. Some of the other liveaboard diving boats which accept fewer guests than average are MV Scuba Adventure (12), MV Giamani (10) which are both based in Phuket, and MY Genesis (12) which offers 3D/2N trips from Khao Lak, alternating between just the Similan Islands and the northern sites of Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock. In addition MV Thai Sea (12) sails from Ranong and focuses on the northern dive sites as well as venturing into Myanmar. MV Nangnuan is rather a special boat. Not only is the number of diving guests limited to just 8, but also this boat offers the best price-per-dive out of all the Similan liveaboard trips. This is made possible by guests sleeping ‘al fresco’ on the top deck and enjoying even more peaceful nights, without the noise of a generator to run the air conditioning which is doesn’t have.

I want the best value liveaboard trip to the Similan Islands and best dive sites in Thailand.

MV-Manta-Queen-3MV Manta Queen 3Cheapest doesn’t always mean the best value, and this applies to almost everything in life. We would like to point out that all of our liveaboard trips to the Similan Islands and the northern sites of Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock are great value. Some are more expensive than others, but you always get what you pay for. However, we understand that many divers are not interested in wasting money on unnecessary luxuries and are willing to do whatever it takes to dive at the Similans for the lowest price. Where do we start? Boats such as Similan Explorer offer the best price-per-dive deals with trips to the best diving sites in Thailand and air-conditioned cabins. Dolphin Queen is also extremely good value and run by the same PADI 5 Star dive center, which is one of the most experienced and well-established dive centers in Khao Lak. MV Vilai Samut is also an extremely good-value liveaboard boat, offering a selection of cruises and cabins to suit all budgets and tastes. Based in the centre of Khao Lak, this boat is among the most popular Similan liveaboards due to its value, selection of cruise lengths and friendly yet professional service. Another of the best value liveaboard boats which visits the Similan Islands and Richelieu Rock is MV Andaman from Khao Lak. With 6-berth bunk bed cabins in addition to twins, doubles and en suite cabins, MV Andaman is also extremely popular with divers looking for the best value diving safaris in Thailand. When discussing the cheapest liveaboard trips to The Similan Islands it would be a mistake to forget the Manta Queen fleet, in particular Manta Queen 1, Manta Queen 3, and Manta Queen 6. Not only do these trips offer a free pick up and drop off service, even from Phuket, but they also have good clean boats and very competitive rates. Finally, MV Camic is also excellent value, but trips on this vessel are special for another reason. Please keep reading.

I don’t want a fixed schedule. I want to join and leave a cruise when I choose.

MV-Camic-Similan-Liveaboard-BoatMV Camic SimilanIt’s true that most of our Similan Islands liveaboard cruises set sail and return to port at fixed times, with the same passengers and crew remaining throughout the trip. However, there are many people whose schedules don’t fit perfectly with the boat that they’d like to dive from. What would be ideal would be a liveaboard diving boat which stays out at the Similan Islands and northern dive sites (Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock) and the guests are transferred daily by speedboat. This would not only enable divers to choose tour lengths and dates to perfectly suit their schedules, but it also means that they get to travel out at high speed (in less than two hours) on the first morning of their trip. MV Camic offers cruises which are flexible in such a way. The speedboat leaves Khao Lak every morning, taking new divers out to MV Camic and then returns in the afternoon with those whose iving safaris are finished. This boat is also clean, professionally run with a great crew and chef, and offers among the best value Similan liveaboard trips.

I want to dive at more challenging and rewarding dive sites than newly-certified divers do.

MV-Manta-Queen-2MV Manta Queen 2Not everyone is aware that the ‘Similan Islands’ is more than just the small archipelago of nine islands 60km west of Thailand’s nearest point of mainland. In fact, to the north there are three or more areas which are considered to be the best dive sites in Thailand. Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock are deeper, more exposed, more extreme and offer better chances of large pelagic sightings, including Manta Rays and Whale Sharks. There are a few diving safaris which skip the regular Similan Islands and concentrate their 3D/3N or 3D/2N tours to these ‘northern sites’. Manta Queen 2 was our most popular diving boat last season (2013-14) and its trips depart in the evening, then return three days later in the afternoon. Cruises start at Koh Bon, then move north to Koh Tachai, then Richelieu Rock. The former islands are often visited again on the way back, along with one or two wreck diving sites before returning to port. Other vessels which visit these northern sites without going to the Similan Islands include MV Oktavia, MV Andaman and MY Genesis, although they alternate trips between the north and south regions.

I don’t want to sail overnight to the start of the trip. I want to leave in the morning.

MY-Genesis-liveaboard-boat-SimilansMY Genesis 1While most of our liveaboard diving safaris set sail in the evening, arriving at the dive sites during the night, there are a few which leave Khao Lak in the morning. Most notably, MY Genesis, which alternates 3D/2N cruises between the Similan Islands and the ‘northern sites.’ Others include the second half of MV Oktavia’s cruises which see guests taken out by speedboat, and MV Camic which stays out at sea and transfers guests back and forth on speedboat trips. Finally, MV Nangnuan leaves on 3D/2N 9-dive trips to the Similan Islands and Koh Bon. This is a special liveaboard boat on which divers sleep on the exposed top deck and enjoy small groups and the best value diving in the area.

I do a lot of underwater photography and need boat facilities designed for photographers.

MV-Pununuee-Similan-IslandsMV PununueeUnderwater photography is becoming more and more popular, with those who do it for a hobby becoming ever-more enthusiastic and many selling their work. Diving with photography gear such as cameras and lights is quite different to just recreational scuba diving. Plenty of large rinse tanks are essential, but also somewhere to edit images and clean equipment is necessary for the most comfortable photography liveaboard experience. Although all of the boats which we offer Similan diving trips on have something and somewhere to deal with cameras and equipment, the best-suited of them all is Panunee. This large and luxurious liveaboard diving ship was designed for photographers and videographers to enjoy all the facilities, which include a large multimedia room and two twin-bunk studio cabins especially for photographers and vidieographers. While other large liveaboard boats in the Similan Islands, such as Pawara, Deep Andaman Queen and White Manta, are also well set up for photography, Panunee is the leader in this field.

I want luxury. Why join a liveaboard cruise if you have to make compromises?

The-Junk-Similans-divingThe JunkFor those lucky enough to be able to enjoy a flexible or generous budget when booking a Similans Islands liveaboard cruise, there are several wonderful options available. Possibly the most luxurious of our boats looks on the outside to be quite the opposite. In addition, its name also hints at the opposite of what life is like on board. The Junk, also known as June Hong Chian Lee, is a completely transformed trading vessel which is actually more than fifty two years old. The luxurious cabins, lounge and saloon make this vessel well worth every penny, and liveaboard cruises aren’t as expensive as some may first assume. In addition to The Junk, we offer Hallelujah, with a VIP and deluxe cabins. There are also wonderful facilities and cabins and facilities including wifi on MV Pawara, which is possibly the most popular of all Similan Islands liveaboard boats. White Manta, Panunee, and Deep Andaman Queen all have wonderful facilities, including luxurious cabins and communal areas and exquisite cuisine. Finally, for 2014-15 season, MV Giamani has undergone renovation and a transformation and is now set up to accommodate just ten lucky guests in very comfortable conditions at reasonable rates.

I have non-divers who want to join me on a liveaboard trip, some may be kids.

It is quite common for partners and family members, including children, to want to come along for the ride on a Similan Islands liveaboard diving safari. Not only are they very welcome, they receive a special discounted price and there’s still plenty for them to do during the trip. Nearly all of the liveaboard cruises which we offer include trips to deserted tropical islands with pristine beaches and all of them have great snorkelling and swimming opportunities. Non-diving guests are very welcome to come aboard and they will be just as eligible to take advantage of the facilities on board the boat. These include buffet meals, excursions to the islands via motorized dinghy, snorkelling (equipment supplied) and some boats such as Dolphin Queen even have kayaks for use. The only cruises which may not be suitable for non-divers are those which only visit Koh Bon, Richelieu Rock and Koh Tachai. Although Koh Tachai has a wonderful beach, Koh Bon does not, and there’s nothing to do for non-diving guests at Richelieu Rock. The reef is too deep and it’s exposed to the sea, with no land in site. However, even the three and four-day tours which visit these three locations in addition to The Similan and Surin Islands have plenty to do and see for non-diving adults and kids.

I want to do a PADI course on the liveaboard cruise.

This is one of the most common and popular requests we have. Almost every kind of PADI or SSI diving course is available, and some can even be decided upon once your cruise has begun. However, to avoid disappointment, we recommend that you at least ask or mention your potential liveaboard diving course plans at the time of booking or at least a few days before the trip. All of our liveaboard safari boats which sail to the Similan Islands are geared up for diving courses aboard, with the Advanced Open Water and Nitrox Enriched Air being the most popular. While less common, it is actually possible to take part in a Discover Scuba Diving single dive or an Open Water Diver course. However, to join a liveaboard cruise and complete an Open Water course nearly always involves one day on land, doing skills in the pool and theory in a classroom. In addition to being available, SSI and PADI courses on board diving safaris are extremely good value. This is usually due the fact that the ‘diving’ has already been paid for in the price of the trip.

If there’s anything here which we haven’t mentioned, please feel free to contact us at anytime. We know our boats very well and always give impartial and honest advice to book our guests on the liveaboard diving safari which best suits THEM, not us.

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