As I sat ready with my equipment at the Dive The World shop in Patong waiting for the pick up for MV Nautica, I was excited to be returning to the Similan Islands for my first diving holiday there this year. Having experienced the joy of diving Thailand's west coast a few times before, I was eagerly anticipating a good trip.
Few places offer so many riches below the waves as much as the Similan Marine National Park, so it is not surprising that this part of Thailand is my number 1 diving destination. By the time the trip had ended I was even more certain than before that this part of the world is one of the best places to stage a liveaboard getaway.
The other guests were just as enthusiastic as I was. Many of them had taken a few days in Phuket to enjoy the famous Thai hospitality, before setting out for the beautiful scenery of Similan. Chatting at night with like-minded people about the days' diving was almost as much fun as the diving itself. And there was plenty to talk about: multi-coloured reefs, turtles, snakes, octopus, leopard sharks, Manta rays and the one everyone had come to see ... the whale shark!
One of my favourite dives sites is East of Eden, a great spot, particularly in good visibility. It was a pleasure to reunite with an old friend in the form of Emma, the huge, friendly moray eel, still frequenting the same section of white sand between the 2 sections of the reef. The coral here is in great health and we spent a lot of our dive time around just one coral bommie, fixated by its red and yellow soft corals, gorgonian sea fans, tunicates and sponges. Mesmerised by all the creatures that call this home, we were treated to the entertaining play of 3 octopuses, some sea snakes and a green turtle.
Another highlight was diving in a spot I had last visited some 3 years ago, the Atlantis X wreck. In that time, much of the structure has been eroded, but the part that remains has begun to blend in exquisitely with the surroundings. It amazed me to see how nature has completely taken over this inanimate object and turned it into a living ecosystem. Absolutely stunning!
The highlights for most of the guests were Richelieu Rock and Koh Tachai. Richelieu Rock did not disappoint with an array of pelagic and other marine animals: Tuna, mackerel, Napoleon wrasse, cuttlefish and a large variety of nudibranchs. We had all been hoping to see a whale shark a common sight in this area. However I was beginning to think our luck would fail us. Then, on our final safety stop, a majestic Whale shark cruised into our midst. It was around 4m in length, and stayed with us as we breathed the last of our air before emerging from the sea with radiantly smiling faces. At Koh Tachai we were entranced by the vision of 3 manta rays cruising all around us. There were many delighted photographers on Nautica that night!
MV Nautica is arguably best-maintained and cleanest of the Thailand liveaboard boats. With only a month to the end of the season, the boat still looked as spanking new as if it had just come from the shipyard.
The boat is narrower than average at 5m. This is offset by providing 2 open-air public relaxation areas on the upper deck and cabins which feature modern décor, are exceptionally clean and have large windows, imparting a sense of space that is sufficient without being overly generous. MV Nautica is equipped to carry 12 divers and 7 staff members.
The Master cabin on the upper deck is sumptuously large, offering a level of accommodation, matched only by a few. I was pleasantly surprised with my bunk bed cabin since the exclusion of a private toilet allowed more space for storage and movement. It was also quiet and sheltered. My only recommendation was for more insulation to be installed between Cabins 1 & 2 to absorb the sound of the generators.
As a diver, I thought MV Nautica's best advantage was that we could dive off the back of it without the need for tenders. The main disadvantages, some might say, are the lack of an enclosed saloon and not having a huge amount of space to move around if the boat is fully booked.
By dinner time I had worked up quite an appetite and really enjoyed the selection of Thai food on offer. I was happy to find that at least 1 of the main course options was a mildly, spicy Thai dish. Other courses were either a clear or curry soup, salads and desserts. The buffet style service was very relaxing in the open air saloon, allowing me to enjoy meals at my own pace. The hostess discreetly removed empty dishes, and replenished the buffet.
Breakfast was a feast beginning with croissants or pancakes and served with eggs and bacon. Beers were available at 60 Baht per can. Wine and whisky were available at reasonable prices and fresh milk, fruit juice and soft drinks were abundantly available free of charge.
The staff members were very accommodating with special dietary requests that had been received ahead of departure date, which allowed them to stock the galley with everything they would need to cater for the specific requirement of each of their guests.
Overall, the crew was excellent and very helpful.
A service I truly appreciated was the crew rinsing my dive gear with the use of their fresh-water-maker every evening. The captain contributed to the safety of the trip by sailing carefully. He was very knowledgeable of the dive sites and always approached divers in the water cautiously.
Our helpful and demure hostess, Gee, made mealtimes a pleasure, ensuring the deck was tidy and ordered at all times.
Michael, the tour leader and experienced Divemaster, consistently made good decisions. On boarding the MV Nautica, the water was quite choppy, so in order to ensure a comfortable introduction to the boat, he delayed the departure, extending the boat trip into the night. We arrived at the Similan Islands the next morning to perfect conditions with no current and a great day of diving ahead of us, all thanks to his solid planning.
The transfer couldn't have gone more smoothly with a minibus pick-up in Phuket arriving exactly at 16:30 as promised. The trip to Tab Lamu, Khao Lak took an hour and 20 minutes, allowing us a 45 minute break to stretch our legs and rehydrate before boarding the MV Nautica with plenty of time to witness a magnificent Thai sunset. Departure took place a little later in the evening to the accompaniment of the traditional explosions of fire crackers for good luck. The boat journey from Tab Lamu to Similan Island #4 took about 4 hours and we awoke the next morning well rested and on top of the first dive site.
Read the full version by Diego Bianchi here: Similan liveaboard trip report