Phuket is the main holiday destination for many of Thailand’s diving tourists. Although Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand is where many new divers are certified, most of the best diving in Thailand takes place on the west coast, and Phuket is the centre of all of this. Some of our Similan Islands liveaboard diving boats are based in Phuket, even if they don’t sail from there. However, one or two do sail from several locations in Phuket directly to The Similan Islands.
Even though most diving liveaboards to the Similan Islands sail from Khao Lak, in Phang Nga, most diving centres on the west coast of Thailand are based in or near Phuket. However, the majority of Phuket diving centres either only have local day trip diving boats or no boats at all. They act as agents and send their Similan liveaboard customers onto boats owned and operated by other companies. There are a few of our Similan boats which are either owned and run by Phuket-based dive centres or actually sail from Phuket, and sometimes both. For you, the diving customer, it makes very little difference where the company’s office is located, or where the boat sails from and returns to, but it is good to know in advance how things will work on your departure and return day. Below is some information that you may find interesting regarding the logistics of Similan liveaboard boats that are owned and/or based in Phuket.
Sailing times: Nearly all of our liveaboard diving trips depart in the evening, and sail slowly through the night to arrive at the dive sites ready for an early-morning first dive. Even though sailing from Phuket to the Similan Islands takes several hours more than sailing from Phuket, it doesn’t really affect the diving guests on board. The dive boats can depart in the evening and still have time to get to The Similans for sunrise. Only the captain and crew are inconvenienced, and they can sleep during the day.
As for the return journey from the Similan Islands to Phuket, this sometimes makes a difference to the diving customers’ itinerary or dives. Normally, Khao Lak boats offer 2 or 3 morning dives at the Similans and then return to port, arriving in the afternoon. However, boats which need to return to Phuket need a lot more sailing time. Therefore, guests either don’t get as many dives on the final day, or they do get those dives (plus more) and the boat sails back to Phuket during the night, with guests disembarking the following morning. Marco Polo is one boat that manages to offer two morning dives at The Similans, before the 7-hour journey back to Chalong Pier in Phuket, arriving around 6pm.
Customers coming from, or returning to, Khao Lak hotels: Because Khao Lak is a growing seaside resort town an hour or two north of Phuket, and a popular base for divers and non-diving tourists alike, many Similan diving guests choose to stay in a hotel or resort in Khao Lak before or after their Similan diving safari. They may know what they’re doing and purposely book a Khao Lak hotel, or they may be under the impression that all Similan diving trips sail from Khao Lak, when in fact they don’t. Similan diving boats that sail from or back to Phuket usually offer a transfer from or back to hotels in Khao Lak, but not always, and usually not for free. It’s best to check with us about the itinerary of your proposed trip and which transfers are included. From Khao Lak to the piers in Phuket is about a two-hour journey.
Boats run by Phuket companies that sail from Khao Lak
How about airport & hotel transfers?: Most of our boats which are owned and run by Phuket-based companies actually sail from Khao Lak and return to Khao Lak at the end of each trip. These boats’ head offices are normally just offices, and not retail stores or dive centres that customers can visit. This may sound strange, but it works very well, and some of our favourite and most-popular mid-range and luxury Similan liveaboard boats work like this. Customers normally book online, and many choose to stay in a Phuket hotel before the cruise or get picked up from Phuket airport. This is no problem, and the system works very well. Starting in mid-late afternoon on departure day, minivans go around Phuket collecting guests from their hotels and resorts. The pickups are at set times, depending on the location of each hotel. Phuket airport is in the north of Phuket Island, so it’s the last pickup point. Guests staying in Khao Lak are collected around 7.00-7.30pm because they are already very near the departure pier. At the end of the trip, guests are then transferred back to hotels and resorts in and around Phuket and Khao Lak. Again, the further the distance from Tab Lamu Pier, the later the guests will be dropped off.
Check in and equipment fitting: You may ask that if there is no dive centre retail store, or guests are being taken straight from a Phuket or Khao Lak hotel directly to the boat, how can the diving equipment be fitted and credit card payments made. This is no problem. Only our larger and better-organised boats operate like this, and everything is taken care of in advance. Full payment for the trips is usually already made, and that only leaves smaller amounts to pay, such as equipment hire, national park fees and bar bills on board. These are most-commonly paid in cash, but credit card payments are usually accepted. The dive staff can check diving certification online from the boat if divers don’t have their actual cards to show. As for diving equipment, the sizes are pre-booked and prepared ready for guests, and these boats are large enough to have storerooms on board where spare equipment is kept. Similan liveaboard boats that are owned and run by Phuket-based companies but sail from Khao Lak are extremely well organised and everything can be taken care of on board. Guests are picked up, taken directly to the boat, and sail away happily into the night.
How about customer transfers?: A few of our Similan Islands liveaboard diving boats start a cruise in Khao Lak and end it in Phuket, or vice versa. This is no problem for logistics, as long as clear communication is made prior to departure. Guests coming from Phuket for a Khao Lak departure are collected from hotels or the airport in the afternoon and driven to the boat, and Khao Lak guests are sometimes offered a transfer down to Phuket for departure. It is not possible to wait in Khao Lak and jump on the boat as it passes by, because boats sailing from Phuket do not come near to the mainland on their way to the Similan diving sites. At the end of the trip, transfers are usually offered for free or a small fee back to hotels far from the disembarkation pier. Boats that start a trip in a different place to where they will end are large enough to take all of the guests’ luggage, so there is no need to leave luggage at a dive centre or hotel in Khao Lak or Phuket during the cruise.
Is the itinerary affected?: As already mentioned, the itineraries are sometimes affected, but not much or always. Boats that sail from Phuket in the evening can easily reach the dive sites in The Similans in time for an early-morning dive the following day. As long as the boat sails before 11pm from Chalong in Phuket, it will arrive for sunrise at the Similans. Guests on board get to know one another over dinner and a few drinks, then sleep in cabins as the boat sails through the night. For most of our boats, on the final day of the trip it is normal for divers to get 2 or 3 dives in the morning and maybe at lunchtime before the boat sails back to Tab Lamu Pier in Khao Lak. However, boats which need to return to Phuket at the end of a Similan diving safari have several more hours’ journey before docking and disembarkation. That means that the final day’s dives are affected, or the boat sails through the night. Option #1 is for the final day’s dives to be at the southernmost islands of The Similans, allowing for a shorter distance back to Phuket and an early evening arrival. This works very well, because these southern dive sites are rarely visited by Khao Lak based boats, and there’s plenty of time for guests to wash & dry their own diving equipment and really chill out for the final hours of the cruise. Option #2 allows for 4 full dives on the final day, and then the boat sails back to Phuket through the night, with guests disembarking the following morning. Therefore, compared to a four-day, four-night 14-dive cruise that returns to Khao Lak, these trips are four days & five nights in length and have 16 dives. The prices are little higher, but they give two extra dives and an extra night’s accommodation with an evening meal and usually breakfast before disembarkation.