The Similan Islands off the Andaman (west) coast of Thailand is home to some of the best scuba diving in the world. One of the best ways to experience this is to live on a boat for a few days, which we were determined to do. Unfortunately, the rainy season was fast approaching and even after dropping everything in Krabi to head to Kho Lak to book a trip, we found that there were very few boats still going out.
Frustrated with our lack of options, we stopped for a bite and met Sarina, Claudio and Chris: local dive instructors on their day off. For nearly two hours, the three made calls and helped us find exactly what we wanted…even if the dates required us to spend two days relaxing and catching up on some writing before heading out. As a bonus, Sarina and Claudio could come along, get paid and be our dive masters (essentially an underwater guide).
First some background on the tour. The package we agreed to was ten dives over three days and nights on board the M/V Amarpon: a luxury speedboat. After the second day, we could choose to stay on board for two more days and nights, bringing the total number of dives to 18. Three gourmet meals a day were included, as were water, coffee and tea. Accommodations were in teeny little cabins with bunk beds, but as the dive shop owner, Marcus, was worried about filling the boat, he upgraded our cabin to the deluxe suite to get us in the door. This meant we got the same cabin but with a private bathroom.
As for the food, lunches and dinners ranged from fried rice and chicken to fish soup, shrimp dishes and pad thai. However, my favorite meal of the day was always breakfast. Imagine me, starved of tasty meats, face to face with heaping plates of bacon, sausage and ham to go along with fried eggs, onions, tomatoes and loaves of toast. I was simply in heaven and wanted breakfast for every meal. Even now, weeks after returning to land, I still crave it.
Our trip started with a rough six-hour boat ride through a series of storms that had Carrie feeling seasick and both of us in bed before 9pm. Waking up refreshed, we spent the first full day and night diving but were disappointed with what we saw. The next day things just got worse, as a huge storm tore through the Similan Islands and forced us to miss our first dive. The wind ripped the protective tarp off of the roof of the dining hall, the boat was rocking around and we honestly wondered if we had made a mistake tempting fate and going on the last live aboard of the season.
When we finally got back into the water, the visibility was low and the animals seemed to have been scared off by the storm. Needless to say, we woke up on day three convinced that we were going to be leaving. However, in order to do so we had to be picked up by another live aboard boat that was going back to harbor, as ours still had two more nights at sea. Making our decision tougher was the fact that our first dives on the third day were some of the most amazing we have ever done.
Long story short, Marcus made us a great offer to stay another day…so we did. We tried to leave on day four but no boat could pick us up so we had no choice but to finish out the trip. Boy did that work out in our favor as on the final day we spent three dives swimming with manta rays. Now, I’ve seen a ton of cool things diving: corals, sharks, turtles, fish and more. But nothing can compare to the manta. These things were at least 15-20 feet long and were just as curious about us as we were about them. We literally just floated there as they swam by and circled us. At one point there were three in a row, just swimming around checking us out. And then there was the whale shark!
Throughout Central America, all Carrie and I wanted to see was a whale shark…but we just kept missing them by a few weeks. They are very rare and many divers go their whole life without seeing one. We thought our bad luck would continue but after our final dive one was spotted very close and we all put on our masks and snorkels and jumped back in. I won’t even guess how large it was but the thing was massive and simply amazing.
Looking back on the whole experience I am so glad we did it. We saw so many types of coral that I have never seen before and countless new types of fish. Though I did get scuba’ed out a few times, it really was a one of a kind experience that I hope to do again one day. But for now, I’m glad to be on solid ground…something that took some getting used to again on our first night back.
Scuba Liveaboard This and That
- For whatever reason, every other guest on the boat was from Germany including a group of 50 somethings on some sort of trip together. As such, most conversations were in German except for when the younger of the passengers hung out with us and used their second language.
- Every morning we were greeted by the calls of “GOOD MORNING!” from the halls of the boat and before every dive the staff would shout “BRIEFING!”
- Despite being in the middle of the water, all we could hear was the sound of the motor keeping the power working for the lights and the AC rooms.
- Something about scuba diving makes me need to pee like crazy. Too much info, I know, but true.
- Not sure why, but Americans seem to be the only ones who don’t wear banana hammock speedos as bathing suits.
- Because I wrote it on the contract, all the staff were told my name was Gregory, which it is, so for five days I was once again known only by my birth name. I never bothered to correct them.
- By the time we hit our third dive with the mantas, word had gotten out to the other boats and Carrie counted 25 other people in the water with us.
- So many people had underwater cameras that at times with the mantas and the whale shark it felt like we were surrounded by paparazzi.
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Some underwater videos, taken by a German guy on our boat:
A whale shark swims by
A manta ray
A moray eel