Because the Andaman Sea is part of the Indian Ocean, between May and October the National Marine Parks on Thailand’s west coast are closed for the monsoon season. Most of our Similan Island liveaboard boats stop operating for five months, and spend time moored in a harbour waiting for the new season to begin. But some boats choose to continue running trips from May through to the end of August, then they go into dry dock in September. Even though the National Marine Parks are closed, The Junk and Giamani offer weekend trips to the best dive sites around Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, and are also available during the week. We also have Gentle Giant available for long-weekend full charters.
Choice of Dive Sites
The national parks are closed from May to October because the Indian Ocean monsoon winds bring rain and waves. But the millions of creatures that live under the surface are still there all year round. As long as it’s safe and comfortable to sail to a dive site, the experience you can expect under water should also similar to high season. The Similan Islands, Surin Islands (including Richelieu Rock), and Koh Haa & Hin Daeng are quite far away from the mainland and larger islands, and they’re exposed to wind, waves and currents. These conditions make them fantastic for scuba diving during the high season, but more challenging for boat captains and divers in the low season. But from May to October there are plenty of places where boats can safely sail and divers can dive. These include around Koh Phi Phi, Phuket’s Shark Point, Anemone Reef, Koh Doc Mai and King Cruiser Wreck, and the Racha/Raya Islands. There are too many excellent dive sites in this area to visit on one short liveaboard trip, meaning that you are almost guaranteed a different dive each time you jump in the water.
Sea, Weather & Diving Conditions
Around the ‘low season dive sites’ you can still expect to enjoy some excellent conditions for diving. In fact, because there are usually no other boats for the early morning and evening dives, you are likely to be the only divers in the water! For the regular daytime dives, there may be some day trip boats from Phuket, Phi Phi, Ao Nang and Koh Lanta, but not many, and they won’t be full.
Once underwater, the diving is usually just as good as in the high season. Currents are controlled by the moon, not the weather, so this is no different from any other time of year. With more chance of cloudy skies, there is sometimes less light and slightly reduced visibility, but it’s also possible to enjoy whole days of clear blue skies and awesome conditions. Visibility is affected by the amount of light from the sky above, and from plankton and algae in the water. Again, this can be just as good or just as bad during the high season. The water temperature doesn’t really change throughout the year, and 3mm short wetsuits are the norm. In fact, some people don’t wear a wetsuit at all. But if there is some wind or lower air temperatures, you will notice it more just after each dive, when you’re wet but not underwater.
The weather is the main factor to compare high and low season. From December to April, it hardly ever rains, and you should expect the seas to be calm. But it can rain at any time of the year. In fact, January 2019 saw Thailand‘s worst tropical storm in more than 30 years! Likewise, during the low season, it can be bright and dry all day long, and any rain is usually just for a short time. The weather can affect your whole experience on vacation, but for diving from a boat, there are two main effects caused by waves. These are the boat pitching & rolling, and divers’ ability to return to the boat at the end of each dive. The captains and cruise leaders are experts at managing these situations to ensure that everyone is safe, comfortable and happy. All the boats have motorized tender dinghies, and large crews to help.
The Junk’s Itinerary
The Junk has trips every weekend from early June until the end of August, then a few from the end of September until the national marine parks open in the middle of October. All of the scheduled trips start on Friday mornings from Chalong Pier, and are three days and two nights long (3D/2N). You get up to 10 dives, and disembark on Sunday afternoon. On the Friday you do three dives, then four on Saturday, and three on Sunday. It’s safe to fly again on Monday afternoon.
The Junk plans to take you to Koh Phi Phi, Phuket’s King Cruiser Wreck, Anemone Reef, Koh Doc Mai & Shark Point, and also to Racha/Raya Islands. Each itinerary is slightly different, depending on the needs & desires of the guests, plus the sea and weather conditions.
MV Giamani offers two low-season itineraries. Both give you two full days of diving, but one is three nights on board and the other is two. The 2D/3N trips are at weekends, and the 2D/2N trips are during the week. On both itineraries, there are excellent opportunities for snorkelers to also enjoy the shallow reefs full of marine life.
The weekend trips are perfect for divers coming in to Phuket from Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok or Bali who don’t want to book a hotel! How is this possible? Well, you can land on a Friday afternoon or evening in Phuket and go straight to the boat at Chalong Pier. The boat sails into the night. Then you dive on Saturday and Sunday, and disembark on Monday morning. You’re safe to fly on Monday afternoon!
Saturday’s diving is at Racha/Raya Noi Island, and Sunday’s is at Koh Phi, including the Kled Gaeow Wreck. You also get to enjoy a night out on Koh Phi Phi Don on the Sunday evening, after the diving. Around midnight or soon after, Giamani sails back from Phi Phi to Phuket, and guests disembark after breakfast.
Giamani’s midweek 2D/2N trips start on Tuesday evenings and you can get to know the other guests over dinner as the boat sails east into the night. Wednesday is spent around Koh Phi Phi, with four dives at different locations, then an evening on Koh Phi Phi Don, before returning to the boat to sleep. There are three more dives on Thursday, before sailing back to Phuket’s Chalong Pier to disembark around 5.30pm.
Gentle Giant’s Itineraries
MV Gentle Giant does things a bit differently from the other two boats. Firstly, its trips are ‘charter only’ meaning that you need to have a group large enough to be able to pay for the whole boat, but that means nobody else will join. It’s like a private trip. The Junk and Giamani open the trips to anyone who wants to join. Of course, each cabin and trip has a maximum limit of guests (Junk =18, Giamani=10). Secondly, because MV Gentle Giant runs private trips in the low season, the itineraries are much more flexible. As long as the captain agrees, the boat can be taken to several different diving areas in the region, or stay at one place longer if requested. They are not allowed into the Similan or Surin national marine parks, but sometimes diving boats visit Koh Haa during the low season. Officially, this is not permitted, and therefore we never guarantee or offer it.
Gentle Giant’s trips begin on Thursday evenings from Phuket, and you get four dives per day for three days (Fri-Sun), then you disembark on Monday morning after breakfast.
There’s lots of marine life in these areas. This includes regular sightings of Manta Rays around Racha Noi. And they and Whale Sharks have also been known to visit Koh Phi Phi’s Bida Nai and Bida Nok islets. On a night dive you see creatures that you might not see in the day, such as crustaceans and octopuses. Stingrays can be spotted on the sandy bottoms, and of course Clownfish in anemones. There’s also a chance to see invertebrates such as jellyfish, but most are harmless. Keep your eyes open all the time, both at the reef and out into the blue!
There is a selection of dive courses on the low-season liveaboards. The AOW (Advanced Open Water) course is the most popular, but other courses such as Nitrox, and Deep Diving are also usually possible. Unlike within the Similan National Marine Park, where it is now no longer possible, you can easily learn to dive on one of our low season liveaboard cruises. With a day or two in Phuket before the cruise, you can learn the theory and pool skills, then continue and complete the Open Water Diver course on the liveaboard. This is the ideal way to become a diver! Ask us about any dive courses that you may be interested in.
As you can see, there’s plenty of choice of great diving sites and a selection of boats with different itineraries. Plus the conditions are also ideal.
Giamani offers diving for two days, and you sleep two nights on board during the week or three nights over the weekend. The Junk offers more dives, with three days and two nights on board from Friday to Sunday. Gentle Giant’s trips are the longest (3D/4N) and give you the most dives, but these are only available for private or semi-private bookings.
The weather and water is always warm, and there are just as many fish as during the high season. As long as there are not too many large waves or heavy rainstorms, the diving and sea conditions are also really nice. In addition, there are far fewer other boats and divers in the water at this time of year. During the daytime, Phuket’s day-trip diving boats usually go to King Cruiser Wreck, Shark Point, Anemone Reef and Koh Doc Mai. Therefore, the liveaboard boats can choose from the many other dive sites for the late morning and early afternoon dives of each day. As for the early morning and evening dives, well there’s usually no other dive boats in the area at all, so that means you’re most likely to get the whole dive site to yourselves!
Finally, these trips are excellent value, and rarely fully booked! So, what are you waiting for? Contact us today to find out which trip best suits your needs, your desires, your schedule and your budget! Even though the Similan and Surin parks close for five months every year, we are still very much online every day!