No two scuba diving trips are the same, even if they are the same boat & destination. Most liveaboard guests tend to go on trips in new & different destinations. And a lot of Similian liveaboard divers are joining their first ever trip. Therefore, it’s common for divers to be unsure of what to expect and have questions. This includes all kinds of things, such as logistics, local customs, what to bring, what to expect in the water, and whether or not to pay a tip. The following are just some things that people should know before joining a diving cruise in Thailand. This page goes some way to explain what Similian liveaboard divers should expect, should prepare in advance, and should avoid.
- What to Bring & What to Leave Behind?
- Check In At The Office, or Go Straight To The Boat?
- Morning or Evening Departure?
- On-Board Payments
- Sea Conditions
- Boat Facilities & Sleeping Arrangements
- Itineraries & Grouping
- Diving with Photographers
Bring evidence of your diving certification & logbook. These are vital to show to the dive centre or boat manager. If you have lost them or can’t bring them for any reason, inform us as early as possible. In most cases, it is possible to check online to verify divers’ certification.
Bring enough clothing for the length of the cruise, but not too much. The weather is hot throughout the diving season and the sun shines every day, but the breeze can be cool at times. So it’s important to have something that offers some warmth and protection from the sun. Many guests bring too many outfits or items of clothing. Due to divers being in and out of the water, eating, listening to briefings, enjoying the view and chatting with others, there’s often no time to keep changing or need to shower more than once per day. Many people wear the same t-shirt all day or more, and shorts for 3-4 days. Hats, suncream, sunglasses, cameras and even laptops are all good to bring. Simple toiletries, such as toothbrush & toothpaste are not usually provided, but basic shower gel, shampoo and soap usually is.
Bring some cash for on-board purchases, such as beer, soft drinks, ice-cream, souvenirs and maybe a tip for the crew. Some boats require payment of national park fees and some equipment rental to be paid for on board.
Don’t bring large suitcases if possible. Many divers are on an international vacation and have large suitcases. These are normally stored securely at the dive centre, but some boats are large enough to store them below deck. Dive tanks, weights & weightbelts are provided on all our trips at no extra cost. If you have your own tank or weights, don’t waste your luggage allowance bringing these heavy items.provisions are transferred in the morning from Khao Lak, but not from Phuket. A couple of liveaboards depart in the morning without a speedboat transfer, but due to the distance there isn’t enough time for 4 dives on that first day. Also, they need to leave on time, which means delays cause problems. Morning departures rely on everything & and everyone being on time. Delays are a serious problem and late guests are often left behind. This usually means that they miss their trip and will not get a refund or compensation.
Depending on each boat’s booking and payment policy, divers may need to pay for some items after boarding the boat. There are no banks, ATMs or money changers out at sea. There may be some opportunities to buy local souvenirs on an island, but in cash only. On-board payments are nearly always in cash, but a few boats can take credit card payments on board. This normally incurs a banking fee of 3-5%. On-board payments normally include the following.
Beer (after the final dive of the day), soft drinks, and other optional extras are usually paid on board. The boats use an ‘honesty sheet’ where each guest keeps a record of what extras they owe for. Then at the end of the trip a total is made and paid for. The honesty sheet is usually attached to the refrigerator.
National park fees are required to be paid by all diving guests on every trip. The fees are calculated on park entry and diving days. Most Similian liveaboard trips enter both the Similan & Surin National Marine Parks, which each have their own entry fee. Then for each diving day there is an additional fee. Park rangers patrol the area in small boats and visit the liveaboards to collect the money. These fees are used to protect the marine parks by paying the rangers’ salaries and working costs. The rangers prevent fishing and other illegal activities.
Extra equipment & courses which are decided on after booking or check in can be paid for on board. This may also include Nitrox fills, or computer or night-diving torches. Each boat has its own policy and prices.
It’s common in the liveaboard diving industry for happy guests to pay a tip to the crew and/or dive staff at the end of each trip. Although not mandatory, it is expected that most guests will pay a tip, which of course needs to be in cash. Tips usually go into a shared pot, so that crew members such as deck hands & kitchen staff receive the appreciation that they deserve.
Boat, safety & dive briefings divide opinion. Diving guests tend to either find them boring or can’t get enough of them. The dive staff (often tour leaders) may enjoy the attention or be bored of saying the same speeches time & again. However, briefings are necessary to ensure that every guest understands the boat, its facilities & policies, and enjoys a safe trip.
Boat briefings take place at the beginning of the trip and this is when the cruise leader introduces him or herself and the crew. Guests need to know which areas of the boat are ‘dry areas’ or may be out of bounds. They also need to know where things are kept and should be returned to. Which bins to use for certain items, how to use the showers and marine toilets and more topics are all important information.
Safety briefings are usually part of the boat briefing, and ideally only needed once per cruise. It’s vital that everyone on board needs to know emergency procedures, such as what to do, who to go to for help, and where to find certain items in an emergency.
Dive briefings usually take place immediately before each dive. They explain the dive site, what to look for and be aware of, such as marine life and sea conditions. On most Similian liveaboard cruises the cruise leader does the dive briefings to the whole group of guests, but on some trips each Divemaster guide will brief his or own her small group. While some guests really enjoy listening to the briefings to better prepare for and understand the dive, others find the briefings a boring waste of time. Also, some dive staff like to talk lots and in detail, whereas others give much shorter briefings. Due to this situation, it is impossible to please everyone.- Communal bathrooms are shared by guests and they are usually near the rear of the boat on a lower deck. It is common for divers to want a shower after the final dive of the day before dinner, so this is when patience is required. You might have to wait your turn. Guests who have their own bathroom in their cabin are asked not to use communal bathrooms, even if this is more convenient for them.
Toilets on diving boats usually have the ‘marine toilet flushing system’ that uses sea water to flush the contents of the toilet straight into the sea. This means that it’s vital to never put toilet paper, sanitary towels or anything else into the toilet. For cleaning yourself after using the toilet, Thailand is famous for its ‘bum guns’ which are sanitary hoses. The ambient air temperature ensures that the water in bum guns is never cold. You can use tissue paper to dry yourself, and then put that (wet, but clean) tissue paper in the small waste bin in the bathroom. Never flush it down into the sea.
Dining & Lounge Areas vary from boat to boat, but at the Similans most liveaboards have a covered outdoor dining area at the rear of an upper deck. Some boats have an air-conditioned lounge area with a television and some sofas. These areas are shared with other guests, so it’s important to understand others’ space & privacy. ‘Reserving’ the best seats with your personal items, playing music, or speaking loudly is considered to be impolite, and therefore not acceptable.
Electrical devices can be charged 24 hours per day in cabins and communal areas on nearly all the boats. The current is 220-240v with sockets usually the 2-pin & 3-pin international type.
Internet coverage is becoming more-often requested by guests, but the facts remain the same. At The Similan & Surin Islands there is minimal cellular network coverage from Thailand’s main service providers. Local SIM cards are cheap and easy to buy at the airport and convenience stores, but most will lose their signal at sea. The boats which offer Wi-Fi on board do this by also relying on the cellular signal and not a satellite. Therefore, all Similan live aboard divers need to prepare to be offline for at least half of their time on board.
Shoes are normally not worn on Similian liveaboard trips. They are usually collected from guests at the start of each trip and stored securely until the end.
The itinerary of each trip is dependent on several factors, which include the planned destination, weather & sea conditions, local holidays & authorities’ activities, guest requests, and more. The Trip Leader & Boat Captain make decisions based on what’s possible and safest for all on board.
There are two main beaches where the public can go on land and get some sand between their toes. These are on Similan Islands #4 & #8. Some islands are closed to the public. Beach visits on Similan liveaboards depend on the itinerary, but there is usually at least one beach visit per trip. However, itineraries which go directly to Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock usually do not offer the opportunity to visit a beach at all.
Dive, eat, relax & repeat. Scuba diving requires rest periods known as surface intervals. Therefore, in order to safely dive up to four times per day, an early-morning start is required. Each day’s dives maximum depths start deeper and become shallower towards the evening. Diving immediately after eating can cause nausea and divers often get hungry while in the water, and want to eat soon after a dive. Therefore, the itineraries and meals are carefully planned by experienced staff. It’s good to trust them, ad follow the mealtime plan.
Only guided dives are possible on nearly all Similian liveaboard trips. Liveaboard diving in The Maldives and some other countries allows divers to explore the reefs while dive guides remain on the boat. But this is not possible at The Similans. Even guests who are diving professionals need to follow the official Divemaster guides. This is important for better enjoyment, insurance purposes, and for everyone’s safety.
Phuket Airport is just one hour away from Tab Lamu Pier in Khao Lak, and therefore easily accessible immediately after a diving cruise to the Similan Islands. However, it’s important to remember that you must not fly in a plane for at least 24 hours after your final dive. The team cannot be held responsible for poor planning by guests. If you really need to fly within 24 hours of the trip’s final scheduled dive, then you can simply sit out the necessary dive(s). But getting reduced prices or refunds for less diving is not possible.- Provided on nearly all boats is clean bedding, bathroom towels, food & drinks, seasickness medicine, first-aid kit, dive tanks, weights & weightbelts. Water, tea & instant coffee, some snacks and fruit are always for free. Beer & soft drinks are always available to buy for a nominal fee.
Case by case : Some boats welcome divers to bring their own alcohol on board, but others discourage or forbid it. Most boats provide bathroom towels. Please check with us if you’re unsure. Snacks from a local supermarket or convenience store are commonly bought at the last minute, and this is expected and acceptable.
Most Similan live aboard trips require all guests to ‘check in’ at the dive centre before departure. There they fit equipment, sign a few forms, show diver certification cards & logbooks, and maybe pay the balance of their trip. Some boats do not require guests to check in, or they do not have a local office. They keep rental equipment on the boat and they deal with the check-in process on board before departure.
For boats which require checking-in, Khao Lak dive centres are located about 20 minutes’ drive from Tab Lamu Pier, which is where most boats depart from. But some boats depart from Kuraburi Pier which is more than 1 hour north of Khao Lak. A few boats also leave from or return to a pier in southern Phuket. In all cases when guests check in at the office, the team drives everyone to the departure pier.
Boats which require or enable guests to be taken straight to the pier usually do not need or have a physical office for checking in. These require divers to give equipment needs and sizes in advance. Usually height, weight & Euro shoe size is enough information. Full trip payment is required before the day, unless the boat accepts departure day payment in cash.
Nearly all boats offer a pick up and drop off service for guests. These are at set times, depending on the place that guests are picked up from or dropped off to. The further away from the dive centre or boat means an earlier pick up or later drop off and therefore more time on the road. Each boat has its own distance limit for transfers. Divers coming from Ranong, Krabi, Ao Nang or islands such as Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, or Koh Yao need to make their own way to the transfer zones.
Some boats that depart from Khao Lak transfer guests from & to Phuket for free, and others charge a small fee.
All morning departures are from Khao Lak, and it is vital for guests to be staying in Khao Lak the night before. Coming from Phuket for a morning departure is not practical.
Transfers are nearly always shared with other divers on the same trip. The drivers are locals who have limited English skills. Asking to stop en route is not really acceptable unless it’s important or urgent.
Most Similan live aboard boats depart in the evening, but a few depart in the morning. The reason for evening departures is mainly because the boats travel quite slowly and leaving at night means that there is no rush to arrive at the dive sites to keep to the planned diving itinerary. Also, guests can get to know one another over dinner, which is served on board usually at around 9pm. Then everyone wakes up early the next morning ready to join the first dive of the trip. There is a lot less stress departing in the evening, and this includes the transfers, equipment checking, briefings, sailing speed and more. If guests, staff or equipment are delayed, this is not usually a big problem.
Similian liveaboard trips that depart in the morning usually do so by speedboat transfer, meaning that guests spend much less time travelling. For these types of trips the main ship stays out at sea and guests, some staff, equipment &
Water temperature is 27-29°C throughout the diving season. 3mm short wetsuits are most common for rental items. Some divers don’t bother to wear a wetsuit at all, but others feel cold and prefer a long or 5mm wetsuit.
Visibility ranges from 10m. on a very bad day to 40m. at its best. Expect 20-25m. as an average. The visibility is affected by the currents, which are caused by tides. Poor visibility means more plankton, which of course is food for the marine life, including large species such as Whale Sharks & Manta Rays.
Surface waves are larger in October, November, late April and May.
The Similan Islands are a group of 8-9 uninhabited islands, the largest of which is less than 5km long & less than 2km wide. Because the area is exposed to the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean on one side and the other side faces the mainland, there is a distinct contrast in what to see underwater around the Similan Islands. On the eastern side there are gradually-sloping reefs with a sandy seabed. On the west side of the underwater topography is granite boulders, with swimthroughs and not as much coral as on the east side. Larger fish species are more common on the west side and smaller reef fish on the east. At any time of the season it’s usually possible to find a calm surface and little or no current on the eastern side, because of the shelter offered by the islands.
Koh Bon is a limestone island 22km. northeast of the Similans. There is no beach at Koh Bon, but snorkelling is possible in the bay. Koh Bon has lots of exciting marine life all year round, including regular Manta Ray sightings in March & April. The main dive site at Koh Bon is very popular, but large enough to accommodate several boats at the same time. There is a deeper dive site as well, but this is for experienced divers because its shallowest point is 18m. and it is exposed to currents.
Koh Tachai is 25km. north of Koh Bon and larger. It has a pristine beach that is usually closed to the public. This is a granite island that is famous for its beautiful topography and exciting marine life, which includes Whale Sharks from time to time. Currents can be unpredictable and sometimes strong at Koh Tachai, but there’s always somewhere for divers to shelter.
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Richelieu Rock is Thailand’s premier dive site, and extremely popular due to its vast & diverse marine life and stunning soft corals. It’s easily possible to enjoy up to four different and exciting dives at Richelieu Rock in one day, and Whale Sharks are often seen here. Richelieu Rock is part of the Surin National Marine Park.
The Surin Islands are further north, and therefore not included in every Similan live aboard trip, so this area is always much quieter. Dive sites are shallower but corals are in excellent condition.
It’s important to remember that space is valuable on every boat. Cabins, bathrooms, seating, dining & luggage storage areas are all much smaller than in hotels on land. Also, with the potential rocking of the boat, items roll or slide off of tables, across the floor, or fall off of walls. Therefore, things may look different or be treated or stored in certain ways.
Cabins : There is a wide selection of Similian liveaboard boats, most of which have air-conditioned guest cabins. Cabins accommodate 1, 2, 3, 4 & 6 guests in single and double beds. Only a few boats have single cabins, and only one or two have cabins that take 6 guests. Nearly all offer cabins for 2 guests, which are clearly described as twins & doubles. A few of these have a large double bed and a single bunk. They’re for 2 guests not 3, but offer the choice of sleeping separately or sharing a bed. The most common cabin type on the budget Similan live aboard boats is the 4-shared, which has 4 single bunk beds.
Private bathrooms are only available on some boats or cabin types. The luxury & mid-range boats have private bathrooms in most or all of their cabins, but some budget boats do not offer them at all.- Dive groups are normally maximum 4 or 5 guests following a Divemaster or Instructor. Ideally, these groups include divers of similar certification level and experience. It’s unfair to mix OW and AOW divers, because that would mean the AOW divers can’t dive deeper than 18m. Some Similian liveaboard boats require all guests to be certified to 30m., and those who aren’t can become certified on the trip.
Friends and family who want to dive together can nearly always do so, but if they have different certification or experience levels, it’s important that they discuss options with the team as soon as possible.
Some divers are good on air, and others run out quicker than average. To be fair to others in each group, dives are planned to maximise the time spent underwater, not maximise time at depth. Sometimes larger tanks are recommended for divers who use air quicker than others.
Dives times are normally limited to no more than 1 hour, even if the group are excellent on air. For safety & logistic reasons, it’s important that everyone is back on the boat (& accounted for) at a pre-agreed time.
Underwater photography is becoming more & more popular. If you’re not a diver who takes photos or video, then it might be good to know if you will be placed in a group with photographers. It’s quite easy to separate diving photographers into four main groups.
Professional & serious diving photographers have large equipment sets of cameras, strobes and more. Their whole dive is focussed on getting the best pictures possible. Diving with them is often not much fun, unless you’re also a serious photographer.
Hobbyist diving photographers have proper DSLR cameras and they are quite serious about their photography, but they also like to enjoy fun diving. They may decide not take their camera on every dive. Diving with them can be good if you want good records of what you see or pictures of you diving. But it can be frustrating when diving with them if they are slow or if they push in front of you to get the best shot.
Selfie Addicts are often found in groups and they usually but not always come from Asian countries such as Korea or China. These divers enjoy taking photos of themselves or each other. If they have the opportunity to pose with marine life, then they do. But they’re also happy to take group photos or selfies anywhere underwater. These divers are usually in their own little gangs and don’t get in the way or disturb others too much. Unless if they’re inexperienced divers who may have poor buoyancy trying to get the best pictures.
Go-Pro Opportunists are usually divers who have a Go-Pro and take it on the dive to maybe grab a couple of snaps or a few minutes video. These are often the easiest of the photographers to dive with if you don’t want your dive to be affected by others in your group who take their cameras underwater.