Not everyone knows exactly where to find the best diving in Thailand, and a lot of the time, dive sites are bunched together in reference and names of places easily confused. For example, while many regard The Similan Islands as being the best place in Thailand to dive, it’s actually Richelieu Rock, in Surin National Marine Park, which Jacques Cousteau named in his ‘World Top 10.’ Also, for more experienced divers, Koh Bon & Koh Tachai rate higher than the two dozen dive spots around The Similans. And we mustn’t forget Hin Daeng & Hin Muang, which are located south east from Phuket, in the opposite direction to The Similans. Finally, Koh Haa is a small and uninhabited archipelago further east of Phuket, often reached by day trip from Koh Lanta. Not only can it become confusing, with many places having similar names it’s also difficult to understand which dive sites can be easily visited on one trip or boat. For example, most Similan liveaboard trips sail from Khao Lak, which is a seaside town on the mainland 100km. north of Phuket, but Koh Lanta has a similar name and is a similar distance from Phuket, but to the southeast. To make matters worse, there are varying opinions, as well as tastes, about what and where are Thailand’s best diving spots.
The Similan Islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock are generally visited individually by day trip boats, or can be enjoyed on a liveaboard cruise of up to a week in length. Hin Daeng & Koh Haa don’t have enough different dive sites or cover as much area to be dived for more than two or three days at a time, but the diving there really is great, and on some occasions better than even the best of the rest. There are days when Whale Sharks and Manta Rays make repeated visits, and/or the underwater visibility is 40m or more. While this also occurs in out west (Similans), there are always days when one spot is better than the others.
So, how do you find a liveaboard diving boat in Thailand which visits all of the aforementioned dive sites? There are not many which offer trips to both throughout the diving season, but there are some.
The Flying Seahorse is based in Koh Lanta and offers possibly the widest range of liveaboard trip options in Thailand. Accommodating up to 14 guests in air-conditioned comfort and a range of cabins, this is a great boat for diving at Thailand’s best spots without breaking the bank. The boat has recently undergone renovations, and its Austrian owner and management run well-organized trips that are carefully chosen to offer divers the opportunity to see everything. Spending much of the time around Koh Haa, Hin Daeng and even Koh Phi Phi, The Flying Seahorse then pops off to The Similan Islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock, thus allowing divers to combine two trips to make a 7-day cruise to all of the best dive sites in Thailand. In fact, this boat also sails much further south to Koh Lipe from time to time. Liveaboard diving from The Flying Seahorse is excellent value and is the only boat on which guests can embark at Koh Lanta and see the best of everything, without having to visit Phuket or take a land transfer up to Khao Lak.
MV Giamani is a very popular liveaboard diving boat based in Phuket. In the summer of 2014 the boat was completely revamped, with its new look and cabins designed to attract guests who enjoy privacy and luxury. Now accommodating just 10 guests in 5 deluxe cabins, each of which has en suite hot water bathrooms and air conditioning, Giamani is easily fully booked due to its reputation and limited capacity. However, just because only ten guests can join each trip in no way means that Giamani is a small boat. At 24m in length it is larger than some budget liveaboard boats which take twice as many guests. Therefore, every trip on Giamani is relaxing and enjoyable, with guests having lots of space to relax alone or socialize in small groups. Throughout the diving season, trips on MV Giamani are generally alternated between the ‘southern islands’ of Koh Haa, Hin Daeng & Koh Phi Phi and The Similan Islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock, thus enabling guests to enjoy all of the best diving in Thailand on one boat. They can start their trip in Phuket and dive at Hin Daeng, Koh Haa, Koh Phi Phi for 2D/2N, and then return to Phuket very briefly before setting sail into the sunset to enjoy a 4D/4N cruise at The Similan Islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock. MV Giamani then sails back to Chalong Pier in Phuket at the end of the trip.
MV Scuba Adventure runs a very similar itinerary to Giamani. The only difference being that the boat alternates Similan departures between Khao Lak and Phuket. Regardless of where guests embark or disembark they will be taken (free of charge) to/from hotels and resorts around Phuket, and sometimes Khao Lak. Like Flying Seahorse and Giamani, there are a limited number of divers who can join Scuba Adventure cruises, with no more than twelve lucky guests on each trip. Cabins have either double or twin beds, and all have air conditioning as well as fans. The boat is run by a very experienced team from Phuket, who insist of professionalism and safety at all times. Only divers who are certified to dive to 30m can dive from this boat, but those who aren’t can take advantage of one of the best-value ‘diving course & cruise’ packages available. With local dives before departure and having your instructor with you throughout makes doing a PADI course on Scuba Adventure a great idea.
Whichever of these three great liveaboard diving boats are chosen, one thing is for sure; divers will get to enjoy all of Thailand’s best dive sites, without having to compromise and choose between what are referred to as ‘The Similans’ and ‘The Southern Islands.’ Flying Seahorse, Giamani and Scuba Adventure are the only boats on which it’s possible to stay on board and enjoy all of the best dive sites in Thailand. The season begins mid-October and places on all are already selling out fast, so it’s always a good idea to book early. Booking well in advance no only gives the best chance of securing a cabin of your choice, it also enables those booking on MV Scuba Adventure to take advantage of promotions including discount and free diving equipment rental.