As a recreational activity on holiday or vacation, scuba diving is one of the most popular choices for people of all ages and from all walks of life. It’s one of those few activities that is enjoyed without language, and therefore brings all nationalities together, under the sea. Thailand is among the most popular destinations for scuba diving holidays, as its geographical location is ideal both for transport logistics and for colourful marine life to flourish. In addition, the warm hospitality of the local people, the wonderful food, and a range of other things to do while in Thailand, make this possibly the best country in the world for scuba vacations.
Despite the Asian tsunami ten years ago, and the natural phenomenon of coral bleaching, the west coast of Thailand is still without doubt the area where the best diving is enjoyed. While Phuket, Phi Phi, Koh Lanta and Koh Lipe all have plenty to offer enthusiastic scuba divers, the best diving in Thailand is considered by most to be found at The Similan Islands & Richelieu Rock. This also includes two extremely beautiful underwater oases at Koh Bon & Koh Tachai.
Scuba Holidays Can Be Any Length You Choose
Due to the popularity of Similan diving tours, more operators than in the past are offering cruises and day trips to this mini archipelago 60km. west of Phang Nga Province on Thailand’s mainland. In the past, a standard Thailand liveaboard cruise (also known as a diving safari) would be four days & four nights in length. Nowadays, although this trip length is still the most popular, there are longer and shorter trips to choose from as well as ‘flexible liveaboard Similan trips’ which can include any number of nights on board, and begin and end on any date the diver chooses. And for those who either don’t want to sleep on a boat or have a luxurious resort to stay at, there is a wide range of scuba diving day trips available to the aforementioned diving areas.
4D/4N is the most popular, as it allows for a day or so at the central & north Similan Islands, then half a day at Koh Bon, the third day at Koh Bon & Koh Tachai, then usually a whole day at Richelieu Rock, saving the very best to last. This is a wonderful way to enjoy a diving holiday in Thailand, and the difficulty level of each dive increases gradually throughout the cruise. However, there are those who are already experienced scuba divers and want to go straight to the ‘northern sites’ of Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock. Most commonly, these tours are a day shorter, and are 3D/3N in length, offering 9-11 dives at the best locations in Thailand, and where big fish such a Manta Rays an&d Whale Sharks are often spotted. This season has also seen the addition of one or two liveaboard diving boats which offer 5D/5N trips and almost 20 dives. These cruises are extremely popular and everyone who returns has given us great feedback. As usual, we still have boats operating from Phuket and Koh Lanta that take divers out to enjoy Thailand’s best diving for a week or more.The ideal length for a liveaboard trip to The Similan Islands and/or Richelieu Rock is difficult to define.
Finally, there are at least a couple of ‘platform boats’ which stay out at sea and guests can join when they like, for as long as they like. This is done by speedboat transfer from Tab Lamu Pier at 8.00am, with guests returning at 5.00pm the following day or any day after that. These flexible liveaboard trips are extremely popular, and offer something that the scheduled boats cannot.
Are the Dive Sites Overcrowded?
Compared to more accessible diving areas in Thailand, such as Koh Phi Phi, Koh Tao, and the dive sites just east of Phuket, the answer is ‘no.’ However, it would be a lie to say that we can guarantee a dive where just your small group or boat is present at a particular time. There is an obvious compromise of having so much choice on offer and having to share the experience with others. Divers who want to enjoy being under the water far from any other group or boat have to accept that the reef and marine life will not be as good as at the Similan Islands, or fit in with a scheduled trip very far from an airport or hotel & resort area. The best dive sites in the world are quickly found out by budding divers and opportunistic businesses. Soon there will be an infrastructure put in place to accommodate more visitors as word gets around about the diving conditions. Everything must be accepted in its own balance. The Similan Islands is actually quite remote, when compared to Koh Phi Phi or Koh Tao, but it offers much better reef and marine life. Diving in Myanmar or remote parts of Indonesia is arguably better than at the Similan Islands, and there will certainly be fewer other divers in the water at any given time, but getting to these places is not easy, and there is nowhere near the same choice of liveaboard options (at different luxury levels) as there are at The Similan Islands & Richelieu Rock.
Can Anyone Dive at the Similan Islands & Richelieu Rock?
In a word, ‘yes.’ Richelieu Rock in particular is quite an extreme dive site, at least by Thai standards. There’s no part of it above the water’s surface, currents are present every day, and it is exposed in open sea. However, we send new and inexperienced divers to Richelieu Rock every day of the season, and they have a wonderful time. Of course, those divers with more experience and the ability to go deeper and for longer will get more out of a dive at Richelieu Rock than inexperienced divers. Koh Bon and Koh Tachai have marine life right up to the water’s surface and are great for snorkeling during surface intervals, although they also offer some fantastic diving down to depths of well over 30m. Again, there are currents at these dive sites, but like at Richelieu Rock and The Similan Islands, all of our dive guides are experienced and professional. They ensure that the groups, entry point and time are carefully selected so that the maximum enjoyment comes with the minimum effort and risk.
When is the Best Time to go for a Scuba Holiday in Thailand?
The Similan & Surin National Marine Parks are located 60km. from land, in the Andaman Sea. This is the north-eastern corner of the Indian Ocean, and while the marine life is healthy, colourful, diverse and abundant, the sea and weather conditions control who does what, and when they do it. During the monsoon period of mid-May to mid-October, the marine parks are closed to the public. The seas are often rough, and even on a calm day the conditions can change quickly and without warning. From mid-April and until mid-November, the conditions are changeable, and there are times when smaller vessels and speedboats are unable to take divers out. This is purely for everyone’s safety and comfort.
However, any time between the beginning of December through to Thai New Year (mid-April) is ideal for a Thailand liveaboard cruise or diving day trip at The Similan Islands & Richelieu Rock. Weather and sea conditions are ideal, and the marine life is there to be seen and the reefs explored. Traditionally, the large pelagic cartilaginous species which most divers come in hope of seeing are most often spotted at the ‘northern sites’ of Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock during the months of February to April. These Manta Rays and Whale Sharks cruise the reefs night and day, and are neither afraid of divers nor do they pose any threat to them. However, this season (2014-2015) there have been plenty of sightings of both Manta Rays and Whale Sharks from as early as the beginning of November. These have continued to be seen over Christmas, New Year and now Chinese New Year is upon us. It looks like there is no better time to enjoy a Similan diving holiday than now!
How Do I Choose the Best Trip For Me, and How Do I Book?
Because of the wide range of boats and trips available, it can appear almost too good, and somewhat confusing. So many boats look so similar, and offer the same trip at different prices or different trips at the same price. What are the advantages of one boat or trip over others?
Quite simply, you can leave it to our experts to help you. Being agents for all of the best diving centres and boats in the region, we are able to offer helpful and unbiased advice to make sure every potential guest is given the right options to choose from to enjoy the best diving holiday in Thailand. Our team ask guests for information, such as his or her diving history, total number of dives, what facilities they expect from the boat & their cabin, and what they want to see while in the water. Some trips welcome non-divers and children, while some guests want to dive from a boat which only has serious and dedicated divers on board. The more information you (the guest) can give our team about you and what you need or want, the better and quicker advice and help you will get.
How do I book? Well, this is the easy part. Some of our diving operators just require a small deposit of around 20% and the balance can be paid in cash or by card, after your liveaboard cruise. Most commonly, the deposit is 30%, with the balance due upon arrival. There are also a few of our liveaboard trips which insist on full payment up to 45 days in advance. This is done to ensure that everything is organized perfectly and professionally, and allows guests to just turn up and enjoy the diving. Payments are most commonly made through PayPal, but we are open to all kinds of methods. PayPal payments can be made with almost any credit or debit card and you don’t even need to have a PayPal account.
Contact us today, to find out which trips are available to suit your needs, schedule and budget. We are online and contactable by phone almost 24 hours of every day of the year!