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 going on my first liveaboard trip to the Similan Islands this year. Having been a few times I know how excellent the scuba diving can be, so I was really hoping for a good tour, even though this was near the end of the season.
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 liveaboard destinations possible. I saw many guests who had been having fun for a few days in Phuket and were now enjoying the famous Thai hospitality and beautiful scenery of the Similans. At night everyone chatted excitedly about each days' diving and there was plenty to talk about: beautiful reefs, turtles, snakes, octopus, leopard sharks, manta rays and the one everyone was hoping for ... the whale shark!
There really are not many destinations that can deliver such a strong line up of exciting underwater sights which is why the Similans is my favourite dive spot.
East of Eden is a dive site I always enjoy, especially in great visibility, and it was nice to say hello again to Emma the old, friendly (and huge) moray eel, waiting for us on the white sand between the 2 sections of the reef. The coral here is in excellent condition and we spent half of the dive around one single coral bommie, marvelling at the corals and sponges and all the creatures that call it home. After that we were entertained by 3 octopus, a few sea snakes and a green turtle.
Another highlight for me was the Atlantis X wreck I had last dived 3 years earlier. A lot of the structure has gone in that time but it amazed me to see how life has completely taken over and turned a man-made object into part of nature. Stunning!
For most of the guests, the tour highlights were Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock. At Koh Tachai we were spellbound by the sight of 3 manta rays seemingly dancing all around our group. There were lots of happy photographers on Nautica that evening! Richelieu Rock delivered its usual high quality dive and then, on our safety stop, a mighty whale shark cruised into the picture. It was about 4m long and stayed with us long enough for us to run our tanks down and leave the water with huge smiles on our faces.
MV Nautica is probably the cleanest and best-maintained liveaboard boat diving in the Similans. Even though we were at the end of the season, the boat looked like it had just come from the shipyard.
The boat is only 5m wide which is narrower than average and obviously affects some of the space available. The cabins and all areas are very well decorated, cleaned every day and the space is enough without being overly generous.
The largest cabin is the Master cabin on the upper deck, with only a few other comparable Similans liveaboards offering a similar level of accommodation. Oddly, the bunk bed cabin is also to my liking since, despite not having a private toilet, the bunk bed solution offers more space for storage and movement. The bunk bed cabin is also quiet and sheltered from the noise of the generators. Cabins 1 and 2 are right on top of generators and I suggested that they install some more insulation, since it can be a little noisy.
One of Nautica's best advantages is that, as a small boat, you can dive off the back of it and there is no need for tenders. Its main disadvantages are that it lacks an enclosed saloon and if the boat is full there is not a huge amount of space.
The main food served on these liveaboard trips is Thai food, one dish is always a bit spicy and one choice each evening is a soup, clear or curry. Breakfast usually involves croissants or pancakes plus eggs, bacon and a variety of vegetables. Fresh milk is always available in the fridge, together with fruit juice and soft drinks, all free of charge.
Special requests can be accommodated but please advise us in advance to allow the galley to be supplied according to your request. Service is buffet style and the hostess takes care of collecting dishes and keeping order in the open air saloon. Beers are available at 60 Baht per can. Wine and whisky are available on the boat at reasonable prices too.
Michael the tour leader is an experienced guy and always seems to make the right decisions. Our departure was delayed due to choppy seas which allowed us all to have a comfortable introduction to the boat. We arrived at Koh Tachai at just the right time and dive conditions were perfect with no current and again this was thanks to Michael.
Gee was our helpful and gentle stewardess who assisted serving the dishes and keeping the deck tidy and ordered at all times.
Overall, the liveaboard crew is excellent. They keep every part of the boat in order and clean and offer great assistance on the dive deck. The boat has a fresh water-maker and this allows the crew to rinse customer dive gear every evening. The captain sails carefully and has a great knowledge of sites. He always approaches divers in the water very slowly and safely.
My minibus pick up in Phuket arrived exactly at 16:30 as planned. The transfer to Tab Lamu in Khao Lak took around 1 h 20 mins. We had time for a break after 45 minutes to stretch or legs, rehydrate and nip to the toilet. We were all on board Nautica to enjoy a lovely Thai sunset.
Due to the waves, we set off in the night rather than evening. After the traditional explosions of fire crackers for good luck we set off and we awoke the next morning on top of the first dive site. The journey from Tab Lamu to Similan island number 4 took about 4 hours.
Written by Diego Bianchi, March 2009
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