In the early evening of April 21st 2017, I was lucky enough to be able to join a Similan diving trip on one of the best, and easily our favourite, liveaboard diving boats: MV Sawasdee Fasai. This was a 4D4N scheduled liveaboard diving safari, and my first like this for quite a few years. Normally, I am unable to go on 4 Day 4 Night trips because it means I am away from the internet for more than 36 hours, when the boat sails north of Koh Bon. However, I was able to manage our bookings in advance, and ensure that every guest and their relevant dive centre was well prepared in advance of my absence. I was accompanied by my brother & his wife, Neill & Jenny (owners of Gili Divers, Indonesia). As usual, the transfers were organised by West Coast Divers, and pick up was bang on time. We were the first guests to board Sawasdee Fasai liveaboard at Tab Lamu Pier in Khao Lak. We were welcomed on board by the team of diving staff. These included, Markus from Germany, Dan from The USA, and Kawelyn, Gun and Kwan, who are all Thai. Shortly after we boarded the boat, the rest of the guests joined us. Having a nice group of people on board is probably just as important as the diving, the food and the boat’s facilities. We were incredibly lucky with everything. Normally Sawasdee Fasai can accommodate 26 diving guests, but we were just 21. Nine of us consisted of Neill, Jenny & I, Christian from Denmark, Marc from Canada, another Danish Christian and his partner Cecilia from the Philippines, and two very quiet guys from China. Most of the trip’s guests were ‘Team Korea’ : 11 wonderfully-fun friends from Seoul. They claim that they were aged 31-47 years old, but they looked and behaved so much younger! This is meant in a nice way, because they all had so much fun and energy. Their diving experience ranged from 35-200 logged dives and this was their first liveaboard trip. Team Korea never failed to entertain us. They cooked, ate, drank, played and dived so much and so happily that they made the trip a lot of fun. Finally, guest #21 was the star of the trip. Mrs. Sayoko Asaka was a solo-travelling 77-year-old lady from Tokyo, Japan. Yes, you read that correctly. She’s 77!
I was supposed to be in a Budget Cabin, but because the trip wasn’t full, I got an upgrade to a Standard Cabin with a huge double bed and en-suite private bathroom. It was really nice, but all the time I was awake and not enjoying a hot shower, I was on the main deck with the other guests or enjoying some awesome diving. Sayoko-san was offered to upgrade to a better cabin, but she politely declined. Sawasdee Fasai has plenty of space and communal areas for guests to socialise or find some privacy. Some of them spent long periods of time on the huge sundeck, where there are sofas, sunbeds and sun-loungers. This was also a great opportunity to fly drones, as at least two were brought aboard. There is a very large air-conditioned lounge saloon in the centre of the upper deck, and here guests and dive staff enjoyed some low-temperature peace & quiet to read, nap or use laptop computers. The main area for eating, socialising and dive briefings is the upper deck’s covered communal area. We soon settled on one side, with the other western guests, and Team Korea took up a table on the other side. However, it was a very sociable arrangement, and we shared fun, food and more.
The food was absolutely awesome, and plentiful. The kitchen staff fully lived up to their reputation of providing lots & lots of tasty and healthy food, served five times each day. And although Team Korea appeared to enjoy eating plenty of the meals supplied, they were constantly cooking more, and then eating it. They brought their own devices and supplies to fully enjoy Korean cuisine, even though their tummies were full of Thai food. What we couldn’t understand was how they all ate so much, had so much energy and none of them was at all fat. It’s really not fair! We had so much fun watching them enjoy themselves, and this included some music and disco lights in the evening. Now, before you start to think that this may be inconsiderate for other guests, it was not at all. The volume, style and quantity of the ‘music & lights’ perfectly balanced what we wanted and needed each evening. Without Team Korea, this trip would not have been as much fun as it was.
At the start of the trip, Kwan (Cruise Leader) welcomed us all into the saloon lounge and gave us a thorough boat briefing, introducing the staff, crew and procedures to ensure that we all enjoyed a safe and comfortable trip. The following morning Kwan’s first dive briefing was the longest, required to explain the diving rules and how to get the most out of the trip. We were delighted to be told that Kawelyn would be the dive guide for us (Neill, Jenny & me). She is a petite 24 year old who has lots of experience and the perfect personality and guiding style for us. She’s calm, polite, fun and gave us just the right amount of attention and information during our dives.
The first five dives of the trip were at The Similan Islands. We started around Island #5 early in the morning of April 22nd, and worked our way north during the day. The plan was to visit Anita’s Reef, but just a few days before departure the local authorities closed it. However, we still visited some great dive sites and saw species including Spotted Garden Eels (Heteroconger hassi), Banded Sea Kraits (Laticauda colubrina), Moray Eels (Gymnothorax javanicus), an octopus that wasn’t at all shy, lots of Titan Triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens) and a Hermit Crab. We went on to Island #7, where we climbed up to the viewpoint of Donald Duck Bay. Jenny decided to skip the night dive, and Neill only lasted a few minutes before the first thermocline made him return to the boat and grab his first beer of the day. That left just Kawelyn and me to enjoy a 40-minute night dive with several large lobsters.
April 23rd saw us start at Three Trees, which is on the northern edge of Island #9. The diving here was nice, and there were hundreds of thousands of tiny fish in schools around coral bommies. Kawelyn and I ended up alone again and she was almost attacked by a male Yellowmargin Triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus), whose mate was making a nest below him. I also saw a couple of Parrotfish having a ferocious fight. Then we moved on to Koh Bon. We were hoping to see a Manta Ray (Manta Alfredi) here, but sightings are never guaranteed. The visibility was not so good, and there were quite a few other divers here as well. In addition to us & MV Pawara, we were joined by Manta Queen 2, and a couple of other boats. Luckily, half way into the dive Kawelyn pointed out a large Manta Ray swimming towards us. We, and at least 50 other divers, floated around 12-16 metres for the rest of the dive enjoying this gentle giant swimming past and around us. I would estimate its size to be 2.5m from wingtip to wingtip. Our second Koh Bon dive was great too, because an even larger Manta Ray came to visit us, and it really appeared to enjoy the attention and the feel of the divers’ bubbles. The 4th dive of the day was at Koh Tachai. This dive site is well known for its sometimes strong currents, and Kwan forewarned all the divers of this and how best to deal with it. She also said that the tide chart is often incorrect for what to expect at Koh Tachai. Luckily, she was right. We were expecting current, but there was very little. That meant that we could enjoy some great diving, and while Neill & Jenny stayed a little shallow, Kawelyn and I went deeper to enjoy the vast amount of life and colour, and the visibility was pretty good, too. This dive was a late afternoon dive, which is better than a night dive for this particular spot.
We then sailed further north to Thailand’s best diving site. The captain brought the ship to Richelieu Rock around 8.30pm, while we were enjoying some beer, followed by red wine and cheese. For three dives on April 24th we explored ‘The Rock’ and I was lucky enough to see my first ever Seahorse, which was a Yellow Thorny Seahorse (Hippocampus histrix) at a depth of 32m., and my first pipefish, which was an Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus) at 24m. Kawelyn was very skilled at leading me down to both. Richelieu Rock is fantastic place to explore multiple times, and we did three long dives there. The visibility was excellent, and although there were a few other boats there for dives #1 & #2, for our 3rd dive at Richelieu we almost had the place to ourselves.
Then it was time to turn around and start the return journey. We sailed through the afternoon to do a sunset dive at Tachai, which was nice. Then our final night was spent properly enjoying each other’s company, and getting back online as we got a cellular signal for the internet. Team Korea took their mini disco upstairs to the sundeck, and the Chinese guys really came out of their shells with the help of some Scottish whisky.
April 25th saw us arrive at Boonsung Wreck, which is not far from Khao Lak’s Tab Lamu Pier. Two dives were planned here, but I only did the first, and then I relaxed until check out. The visibility at Boonsung isn’t so good, but there are so many fish here it is unbelievable.
Then, Kwan gave her debriefing and we all said thank you to the team of crew, dive staff and those who helped feed us so much great food. I am biased to believe that Kawelyn was the best dive guide (because she was perfect for our needs), but looking at how, Dan, Gun, Kwan & Markus interacted with their divers showed that all of them were wonderful. I would wholeheartedly recommend this boat, this team and the dive sites for future guests interested in getting the best out of a Similan diving liveaboard experience. And we’re already planning our trip for next season.