Joining a scuba diving safari in Thailand doesn’t have to involve making compromises, and nor does it need to be expensive. There are several large boats (small ships) which are within a reasonable price range, yet offer guests luxurious cabins, plenty of sumptuous food and an aura of quality not found in the lower-priced Similan diving boats. Naturally, these larger vessels are run extremely professionally, and tend to attract a class of guest who enjoy the finer things in life rather than the least expensive. Free pick up and drop off transfers from all around Phuket and Khao Lak at the start and end of the trips are included in the rates, as are air-conditioned and comfortable cabins with sea view windows, nearly all of which have en suite facilities with hot water showers.
Depending on each guest’s needs, there is a good selection of luxury liveaboards that sail to The Similan Islands. Some offer different cruise lengths and destinations, or multiple cabin options. Others specialise in a personal service for each guest, and there’s even one which has wifi internet on board. All are PADI affiliated and able to conduct courses on board, including introductory dives for non-diving guests who would like to give it a try. Choosing between them can only really be done by personal preference and availability of cabins on the most convenient date to sail out to Thailand’s best diving area.
MV Pawara is a hugely-popular liveaboard diving boat. The level of luxury when compared to the rates is almost unbeatable, and that’s before onboard wifi and free Nitrox fills are taken into account. This boat is often fully booked more than a year in advance, such is the popularity from an excellent reputation. However, for those who are quick, spaces are available for most trips each season and there is even the option of an ‘Early Bird Discount’ promotion. The team who run Pawara have been doing so for a long time and always receive positive reports from guests, many of whom return time and time again to dive from this wonderful boat. Finally, for those who need to rent diving equipment, not only does Pawara offer new and high-quality sets of gear, they do so at the most competitive rates of any boat, at any budget level.
MV Hallelujah is a large boat designed to take just 25 guests in comfortable luxury. Its most special cabin is the VIP single suite, but the deluxe double and standard twin cabins also have en suite facilities and are tastefully decorated and thoughtfully designed. The freshly-served food is delicious, and the crew and diving staff are professional and courteous at all times. While safety is paramount at all times, the cruises are still based around relaxing luxury with a certain amount of fun. There is even the opportunity for guests to learn to dive from Hallelujah, with confined water sessions done in the shallows of pristine empty beaches on uninhabited islands.
One of the newest luxury liveaboard boats which sails around the Similan Islands & Richelieu Rock is MV White Manta. This purpose-built diving ship was launched just a couple of years ago and has already established itself as one of the best in terms of stability, facilities, comfort and friendly but professional dive staff and local crew. Taking no more than 24 guests and at a length of 37 metres, it is clear just how much space is afforded to the passengers, both in terms of cabin size as well as communal areas. Just a quick glance at the saloon and dining areas are enough to see potential guests worrying about the price of a 4D/4N cruise on this wonderful boat. However, upon clicking on the rates, many will be pleasantly surprised, and there are often last-minute discounts for any unsold spaces on White Manta.
Possibly the closest competitor to White Manta is a similar-sized diving ship known simply as Panunee. This 35-metre diving ship sails the seas of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and even out to the Andaman Islands. However, the vessel’s home is Thailand, and throughout most of the Similan Islands diving season, luxury trips are available at sensible rates. Although photographers, videographers and Japanese divers are among the most numerous guests on many trips, there is nearly always a wide diversity of like-minded passengers who want to enjoy safe & comfortable liveaboard diving trips to the best spots for diving in Thailand. With spacious air-conditioned cabins and communal areas, Panunee pampers her guests, who get to dine on fine cuisine throughout every trip. In addition there are studio cabins for photographers to care for their equipment and edit their work, and also a multimedia room for showing videos and slide shows. Two trips are available on Panunee in this part of the Andaman Sea. 4D/5N trips to The Similan Islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock and 5D/6N trips to Richelieu Rock and into Myanmar (Burma). Instead of rushing back for passengers to disembark at dusk who would have to find their hotels in the dark, an extra night’s comfortable sleep is enjoyed, as Panunee sails serenely back to port overnight.
Deep Andaman Queen is another large and luxurious diving safari boat which is based in Phuket but sails from Khao Lak. In addition to the popular 4D/4N cruises around the Similan Islands and Northern Sites of Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock, there are two other trips available on this large, safe, stable and comfortable diving ship. At Christmas and New Year, the trips are a day and a night longer, allowing guests to properly relax while staying away from the crowded hotels on land. In addition, during the diving season there are several week-long cruises which incorporate all of Thailand’s best diving spots before venturing into Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago. These extended trips usually take place once a month. In addition to a choice of trip length, Deep Andaman Queen also offers five cabin options, covering all needs and most budgets. Each cabin is clean, comfortable, air-conditioned and with en suite bathroom facilities. There really is very little to beat Deep Andaman Queen for luxury cruises at the right price.
For discerning scuba divers who are looking for a larger-than-average liveaboard boat in Thailand’s Similan Islands and surrounding dive sites, there are several wonderful vessels to choose from. 30-40m in length is the norm, and air-conditioned comfort and fine cuisine are standard. While most of the boats above are managed from Phuket, they all set sail from Khao Lak’s Tab Lamu Pier. Maybe the hardest decision is choosing between them, as they are all professionally run, safe, stable, comfortable and set up to accommodate guests who expect the best.