Diving at the Similan Islands and Richelieu Rock on a liveaboard is a wonderful experience, but not the cheapest thing you can do on a vacation in Thailand. Although accommodation and meals are included in the prices, the cheapest Similan liveaboard trips (with air conditioned cabins) are still more than $120 per day. This is quite an outlay for travellers on a limited budget, such as backpackers. Considering that most Similan diving safari boats set sail from Khao Lak, in Phang Nga, just getting there from Phuket can be unnecessarily expensive, especially for those who are travelling alone or in pairs. A private taxi from Phuket can be more than $60 one way and the public bus service requires patience, timing and a certain amount of luck. Although most of the more luxurious and higher-priced Similan Islands liveaboard boats offer free transfers from Phuket to the dive centres or pier in Khao Lak, not many of the budget liveaboard trips include Phuket transfers to Khao Lak. However, there are a few low-priced liveaboard trips to the Similan Islands which include free pick up from, and drop off to, most parts of Phuket.
Manta Queen 3 and Manta Queen 6 take divers on 4D/4N 15-dive safaris most days from Tab Lamu Pier in Phang Nga, which is 100km north of Phuket. Although this is not a private taxi service, it works incredibly smoothly and is absolutely free of charge. The minivan arrives in the southern parts of Phuket mid to late afternoon, usually at locations which are both comfortable for guests to wait in and convenient for everyone to find. From Patong or Phuket Town, the minivan works its way north to Phuket International Airport, normally collecting guests from the arrivals floor. There is a pub, a Burger King, a meeting point, and a bank’s ATM. Free Phuket airport pickups usually take place at around 5.30-6.30pm and from there the guests are driven off of Phuket Island and north to Khao Lak.Of the lower-priced liveaboard trips to the Similan Islands, almost the whole Manta Queen fleet and Peter Pan offer a free pickup service from Phuket and drop off after each trip. Manta Queen 1,
Depending on whether guests will dive on Peter Pan or one of the Manta Queen boats, they will be taken to the dive centre to complete paperwork and check and fit equipment. From there it’s back into the minivan for the short drive to the pier in Tab Lamu, and onto the boat. Once aboard the diving liveaboard, guests are shown their cabins, introduced to the staff, crew & safety procedures, and then it’s time for dinner.
Once on board, there is very little difference between the Similan liveaboards which offer free pick up from Phuket and those which don’t. There are four dives per day and lots of fun. Maximum depths tend to be 30m for those who are Advanced or have completed the Adventure Deep Dive. But when it’s time to return to land, Peter Pan and the aforementioned Manta Queen vessels, as well as Manta Queen 2, Manta Queen 5, and Manta Queen 7 will then take their guests to hotels and resorts around Khao Lak and Phuket, as well as directly to the airport for those who didn’t dive on the final day of the trip. This pick up and drop off service is worth a lot of money and potential stress. Admittedly, guests need to be in a certain place at a relatively fixed time, but these have been chosen to benefit all involved. In addition, the taxi drivers of Phuket are infamous for all the wrong reasons, so not having to deal with them is always a bonus. While the Peter Pan pick ups happen every four days, coinciding with the trips of the boat, divers joining a Manta Queen trip can sometimes come a day or two early. This is because the six Manta Queen liveaboard boats leave on different days. The free minivan pick up service takes place almost every day through the diving season, and it is sometimes possible to be collected in Phuket a day or two before your chosen Manta Queen trip sets sail.
What, might you ask, is the difference between all these Manta Queen boats? While Manta Queen 3 is the pride of the fleet, the others all play a very important role in taking divers out to the Similan Islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock. Manta Queens 2 & 5 concentrate on the northern dive sites. They bypass The Similan Islands, and just visit the more challenging yet more rewarding sites of Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock. Their 3D/3N 11-dive trips are among the most popular. Manta Queen 7 is all new for 2014-2015 and offers 5D/5N 19-dive cruises to all of the best dive sites in Thailand. The transfers happen most days so, with prior agreement, it’s usually ok to be taken to Khao Lak or returned to Phuket on a day other than your trips departs and returns. However, this extra service is not guaranteed. What is guaranteed is the great diving at The Similan Islands and the friends you’re bound to make while enjoying the diving, socializing and buffet meals. Families, friends, couples and single travellers all enjoy diving on the Manta Queen fleet and Peter Pan. Manta Queen 1, 3 & 6 cruises compare with Peter Pan’s but offer one extra dive. Manta Queen 2 & 5 trips are a day shorter and skip the Similans, concentrating on the ‘Northern Sites.’ Manta Queen 7 offers its 20 divers staying in twin cabins the chance to see everything, in many cases more than once. For anyone who wants to enjoy a budget Similan diving safari while taking advantage of free Phuket pick up and drop off, these seven boats are the way to go.