Most of the diving trips to the Similan Islands that we sell are liveaboard cruises, on which our diving customers spend from one night to one week on board a large diving boat that sails around the best dive sites of Thailand. However, there are still lots of people who want to enjoy the comfort of their Khao Lak* hotel or resort, or are not prepared to sleep on a boat. We have a good choice of different scuba diving day trips to Richelieu Rock, and the best of the Similan Islands National Marine Park, which also includes Koh Bon & Koh Tachai.
*Khao Lak is the departure area for Similan dive trips, and it’s not practical to stay in a Phuket hotel the night before a Similan diving day trip. Even from Khao Lak, divers spend at least 1 hour 15 minutes travelling by boat each way, plus the road transfers from around Khao Lak. Coming from Phuket in the morning will add up to 4 hours travelling to an already-long day, and that will affect the enjoyment of the diving trip. Also, most of our Khao Lak dive centres need guests to ‘check in’ the day before departure. This includes completing a little paperwork, making the balance payment, and trying on the equipment before sailing out to sea.
We Have Several Types of Similan Day Trips
Forgetting about diving locations for a moment, there are several differences between the day trip boats that take our guests scuba diving to The Similan Islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai & Richelieu Rock. Some of the boats are fast, some of the boats focus on a more comfortable journey, and others combine speed with comfort by transferring guests by speedboat to a large boat to dive from and enjoy lunch on.
Speedboats & Speed Catamarans
We have a few Similan diving day trips on which the divers spend all day on the same boat. Some of these are normal speedboats, specially designed or modified to accommodate divers, dive staff, equipment & tanks. Although our guests spend the whole trip on board these boats, they are quite comfortable. They have toilets, most have showers, and lunch is served when the boat is moored in a sheltered bay when possible. These trips focus on speed, but maintain safety and as much comfort as possible. Included in our fleet are a couple of catamarans, which have twin-hull bodies to give even more stability. Wet Cat focusses on Thailand’s best dive sites, which are a little more challenging for new divers. Richelieu Rock is the #1 dive site in Thailand, but Koh Tachai is a staff favourite, and Koh Bon is known for its Manta Rays (Manta alfredi). Stingray isn’t as fast as Wet Cat, but is a lot larger. It offers trips to The Similan Islands almost every day of the diving season. The choice of dive sites around the ‘regular’ Similan Islands is wide and diverse. Dive sites such as Deep Six and Elephant Head Rock are more suited for experienced divers, while East of Eden, Breakfast Bend and Monument are considered to be easy enough for all levels of diver to enjoy. Probably our most popular day trip diving speedboat is Blue Dolphin. This boat is large and comfortable, but fast & stable. Richelieu Rock is visited up to three times per week by Blue Dolphin, and this is the only boat that offers a diving trip to Koh Tachai & Koh Bon on the same day. For those who can’t decide between these two dive sites, Blue Dolphin’s Bon/Tachai trips are the perfect compromise.
Fast Journeys, But Dive from a Large Boat
Possibly the best compromise of getting the most out of a Similan Island diving day trip is to travel at speed, but dive and eat in comfort. You may wonder how this is possible, but it’s actually quite simple. We have at least two options which enable divers to travel quickly by speedboat out to the Similan Islands, then once they arrive they meet up with a large liveaboard diving boat. The diving is done from the large boat. It’s so much easier to gear up on, step off from, and climb back onto a large boat than it is a speedboat. Not only is the diving done from the large liveaboard, but the whole surface interval between dives is spent relaxing on the large boat. This includes opportunities to sunbathe on the sundeck and eat a proper sit-down meal for lunch. Nawanoppa teams up with MV Camic, and the weekly schedule cruises around all of the best dive sites, including going up to Richelieu Rock once a week. Nemo 2 takes divers to its brand-new sister ship Nemo 1 (purpose built in 2017), and dives are around the Similan Islands for five days of the week, at dive sites such as Christmas Point, Hideaway Bay and Chinese Wall, then one day at Koh Bon, and the following day at Koh Tachai. Diving day trips at The Similans can’t really get any better than zooming out to the dive locations on a speedboat, then enjoying diving from a large and comfortable boat that you then get to enjoy lunch on.
What do you need to know or do before booking your Similan Islands diving day trip?
Hotel location is important
Every season we receive lots of enquiries from potential divers who want to go diving at the Similan Islands, but they are staying in a hotel in Phuket. We try to make it clear to everyone that this is not at all practical, and usually impossible, for the trips that we offer. Staying in Khao Lak the night before a Similan day trip is necessary for a number of reasons. These include being able to ‘check in’ at the dive centre to complete a little paperwork and maybe pay a balance and fit diving equipment. Also, the dive centres offer free transfers from Khao Lak hotels in the morning and then return transfers in the afternoon. They do not offer transfers from Phuket, even for an additional fee. Customers are picked up in shared vehicles, so a road transfer can be 30-45 minutes long even from Khao Lak hotels to the pier. Phuket is at least one hour to the south of Khao Lak, and the journey is up to 2.5 hours from Karon & Kata Beaches. Coming all the way from Phuket will add a lot of time to an already-long day. We cannot be held responsible for divers who decide to drive themselves from Phuket in the morning or get a private taxi and fail to arrive on time for whatever reason. The boats can’t wait for late guests, because this is not fair on all the others who were on time and don’t want to be left in the sun for who knows how long.
The boats depart from different piers in Khao Lak
There are two main pier areas in Khao Lak, and each has its own ‘sub-piers.’ The most-commonly-used is Tab Lamu Pier, which is 12km. south of central Khao Lak. Tab Lamu has a main pier area that is easy to find, and at least one other mini-pier that isn’t easy to find at all. Then, 26km. north of central Khao Lak are a couple of piers in the Baan Nam Khem area. The scheduled shared transfers pick guests up from hotels furthest away first, and work their way towards the departure pier. Therefore, it’s worth noting which pier your chosen boat sails from, or choosing a boat that departs from the pier nearer to the hotel that you have booked. If your hotel is near Tab Lamu and your day trip boat sails from Baan Nam Khem, you’re likely to spend around 45 minutes to an hour in the van in the morning, and the same on the way back after your day trip, and vice versa for guests staying far to the north of Tab Lamu Pier.
Some boats require full payment when you book
Each of our Similan day trip diving boats has its own booking and payment policy. Some ask for just 30% deposit of the trip price, and when you arrive for check-in the day before your trip you pay the balance, the park fees and the equipment hire, sign a couple of forms and fit any equipment you’re going to rent. Other boats ask for full trip payment, and when you come to check in you pay the national park fees and any equipment hire. And some others ask for full payment of the trip, park fees & equipment when you book. They usually ask for full payment because you will be taken directly from your hotel to the boat in the morning. Each of the boats’ booking procedures is detailed on its booking page, and we always explain this in the email reply to potential customers who send us an enquiry.
Where Do Similan Diving Day Trips Dive?
Similan Islands Diving
The ‘regular Similan Islands’ is a mini-archipelago of 8-9 islands grouped together 60km. out to the west of Thailand’s mainland at Phang Nga Province. One or two of the islands are owned by the royal family, and are therefore out of bounds to the public. The two southernmost Similan Islands are further away from Tab Lamu Pier. The dive sites here are good, but nothing extra special, and they are a little challenging for inexperienced divers. Therefore, Similan day trips tend not to go to the south. This leaves Islands #4-#9, which make up the northern half of the archipelago. On the western side of the island chain, the underwater topography is distinctly different from the eastern side. The west has been exposed to wind, waves and currents from the Indian Ocean for hundreds of thousands of years, and is therefore made up of hard boulders. Diving on the western side of The Similan Islands is more suited for experienced divers, but those who do get to go there will thoroughly enjoy some fantastic diving. Elephant Head Rock and Deep Six are the best-known Similan dive sites that are exposed to the Indian Ocean.
Most of the ‘regular Similan’ dive sites are located between the islands or on the eastern side. Here the seabed slopes away gently and there is a lot more colour and a lot less current and surface waves. Due to being protected from the west by the islands themselves, the reefs have been able to flourish and there are a lot more soft corals and small reef fish. Because of this, diving around here is a lot easier and therefore more suitable for divers who are new, learning, or inexperienced. Night dives can be enjoyed in a few of the bays, and there are also beaches to visit on Islands #4 & #8. The only disadvantage is that these areas are also popular with snorkelling day trips. While the opportunity to snorkel at lunchtime during your dive trip is nice, these snorkel day trip boats do tend to take up quite a bit of space, and their snorkelling guests are often not proficient in snorkelling. Some can’t even swim.
Whichever island, bay or dive site that your Similan diving day trip takes you to, you will certainly have a wonderful day. There are so many dive sites, and most are large. Therefore, even if the scheduled location is too busy or the conditions aren’t perfect, there’s always a great Plan B to fall back on. Don’t worry if some of the divers on the same boat trip as you are much more or much less experienced at diving than you. The trip leader will ensure that all the divers are placed into the relevant groups, and each group dives to a depth and at a profile to perfectly suit the needs and experience level of all involved.
Koh Bon Diving
Koh Bon is a small uninhabited island in the Andaman Sea, 60km. west of Thailand’s mainland at Phang Nga Province. There is no beach at Koh Bon, but there is a sheltered bay which has plenty of life in shallow water. Most of our Koh Bon diving day trips offer two dives at the same location, even though there are two dive sites here. The reason for this is that one of the dive sites (Koh Bon Pinnacle) is quite deep and prone to currents. Koh Bon Ridge is the shallower of the two dive sites, and also where Manta Rays are more likely to be encountered by divers. Saying that, some diving day trips can offer one dive at The Ridge and another at The Pinnacle. It really all depends on the situation on the day. This includes sea & weather conditions, as well as the experience, certification level, needs & wants of the diving customers on the day. Even if both dives are at Koh Bon Ridge, there is plenty to see without becoming bored, even if nothing large and special is seen.
For some, the perfect diving day trip is one dive at Koh Bon and one dive at Koh Tachai. Currently, only Blue Dolphin offers this trip, and only one day per week.
Koh Tachai Diving
Located to the north of Koh Bon, Koh Tachai is another uninhabited tropical island that is perfect for scuba diving day trips. Until May 2016, the island was visited by a lot of snorkelling day trip boats, many of which were full of Chinese tourists. However, in May 2016 the local authorities decided to close Koh Tachai’s beach to the public until further notice. The destination is now just for scuba diving. This is better for boat traffic, but it does affect the activities that day trip divers are able to do during the lunchtime surface interval. In the past, they could visit the beach or snorkel off of it, but until the beach is reopened again, everyone is limited to staying on or very near the diving boat. Please note that when you read this, Koh Tachai’s beach may have already reopened. We are waiting for the local authorities.
As for the diving at Koh Tachai, it’s as awesome as ever. There are usually currents there, and these can be medium to strong. And even if the tide chart says it’s slack tide, there can still be current. Saying that, when the tide chart says current is likely, there may be very little or none. In any case, there are a couple of mooring lines down to the reef, and divers can descend easily, or use it for a safety stop at the end of a dive. The dive sites is famous for its huge granite boulders & swimthroughs, great visibility, diverse & healthy marine life and of course the potential currents. The boulders offer shelter from the currents, and the whole reef is big enough to enjoy two day trip dives at. Soft and hard corals cover the lower areas of these granite boulders and then spread down on the seabed, making a large and colourful reef that is regarded as a favourite by many diving staff who guide or teach at The Similan Islands.
Richelieu Rock Diving
Generally regarded as the premier diving site in all of Thailand, Richelieu Rock is an underwater pinnacle that is only visible above the surface at some low tides. There is no land for many miles in every direction, meaning that The Rock is exposed in deep water. This may be a little inconvenient for those who prefer to enjoy the surface interval of a diving day trip visiting a beach or snorkelling, but the flipside is a huge reward during the scuba diving. Richelieu Rock is a large and wonderful reef that is covered in hundreds of thousands of purple soft corals, which are home to an uncountable number of marine life species, including bony fish, invertebrates and some reptiles. Also, pelagic species come from far and wide to visit Richelieu Rock. They come to feed, breed and be cleaned. These large pelagics include Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus) and Manta Rays, as well as schooling predatory fish such as Barracuda and Trevally.
Due to its location north of Koh Tachai, and in the Mu Koh Surin National Marine Park, most of our Richelieu Rock day trip boats sail from a pier in Baan Nam Khem, but Nawanoppa departs from Tab Lamu Pier. The journey time depends on the boat’s speed and the departure pier. Generally it’s at least 1 hour and 15 minutes on board the speedboat or catamaran.
Is a Similan Scuba Diving Day Trip Right for Me?
This is quite a pertinent question, and one that requires some thought. The most important thing to consider is logistics. If your hotel is not in Khao Lak, then please understand that you may not be able to join most trips. And even if you are able to join, arriving on time is your responsibility and nobody else’s. Even if you have paid in full and arrive just 10 minutes late, the boat will have gone without you, and the cost of your trip will be forfeited because your space can’t be sold to anyone else. We can’t stress enough that staying in Khao Lak the night before will give you the best day trip experience.
Per-dive, the price is more than liveaboard diving at The Similan Islands, and that’s before you consider the food and accommodation included in liveaboard diving trips. However, Similan diving day trips are still good value and very popular throughout the diving season. Expect to pay at least $150 USD for a 2-dive day trip, including the national park fees and maybe some equipment hire. Prices are quite similar across our range of day trips.
Your diving experience isn’t really an issue when choosing a Similan day trip, because all of the boats welcome divers of all certification levels and experience. They then place divers into relevant groups to ensure the longest, safest and most-enjoyable time underwater. Even those who have never dived before can take part in DSDs (Discover Scuba Diving dives) for complete novices. These can’t be done at Richelieu Rock, and they are not ideal at Koh Tachai, but Koh Bon is sometimes ok. The ‘regular Similans’ is the perfect place to do your first ever scuba dive, mainly because the water is warm and clear and there are lots of colourful fish and other species to take your mind off of worrying about your first breaths underwater.