After a two hour journey to the pier, we got a first glimpse of our boat – the MV Sawasdee Fasai – run by West Coast Divers. This was going to be our home for the next few nights and where we would enter the water from. What struck me straight away was the length of the boat. A long boat at 37m, it made for an extremely spacious dive deck onboard. Luckily we weren’t at maximum capacity onboard either. For the dive company this isn’t ideal but for us as divers it meant more space and less divers in the water. The boat has 15 cabins and can accommodate up to 30 guests. We came across most other liveaboards along our journey and I’d say our boat looked to be the biggest and most spacious in the area.
We set sail after a thorough briefing by the boat leader Beto and a delicious dinner prepared by the two chefs onboard. It was five hour sail during the night over relatively calm seas. We woke in the morning to stunning views over the turquoise sea that met with meticulously placed granite boulders at the island’s edge. The islands rose to a modest height but were densely covered in lush green rainforest with white-bellied sea eagles frequently seen patrolling each island. We had arrived at the stunning Similan Islands National Park for our first day of diving.
We were treated to much better visibility diving here compared to some of the sites around Phuket and Phi Phi. 25+ metres was the norm, although the odd thermocline rolling in made the dives more adventurous as they chased us through the water engulfing us in hazy water reducing the vis and the temperature drastically for a very short moment.
Again, scorpionfish were abundant during the dives here and for the first time in my diving life I also got to watch as one awkwardly bimbled along the sandy bottom. The soft coral here was just as stunning as the day diving but was more abundant as gorgonian fan corals dominated the boulders underwater creating interesting swim throughs, especially at the Elephant Head Rock site. The change of current through each turn was interesting to see but did make some of the dives more difficult on occasions. Air didn’t last as long on these dives but the adventure was cranked up a little to compensate.
After dive three we moored up in Donald Duck Bay and had the opportunity to go on the island and marvel at the beautiful white sandy beach surrounded by lush rainforest. After a short but interesting hike up granite boulders in only flip flops to a view point, we were greeted with a view where I instantly knew why this had become a protected national park. The rainforest oozed with life as the soothing sounds of birds greeted our presence and if you listened carefully the ground would talk, as small lizards and insects worked their way through the foliage. One lizard even scuttled across our path.
The coral reef was easily visible through the clear turquoise water as the colour of the sea turned a deep blue the further you looked out. I certainly felt a sense of paradise standing there in awe of Nature’s beauty. Once we returned to the boat it was time for a night dive in the bay and my favourite dive of the day. I love a night dive and after saying I was going to find a pygmy squid, it gave me great joy to catch one in my light. A little guy only about a centimetre in size that I unfortunately lost before I could get my camera focused on it. Other critters were a little more willing to be photographed though and it was an enjoyable dive.
Day Two was the start of our journey north to the islands of Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. The topside view hadn’t changed but we were here as these two islands gave us the better opportunity to hopefully get lucky with some big sightings. Manta rays and whale sharks are the stars of these islands as long as you are lucky. Unfortunately, we were the unlucky ones and they both proved elusive this time. It left me a little despondent after dive three where a ripping current at Koh Tachai Pinnacle left us suspended like waving flags on a mooring line and unfortunately didn’t deliver the whale shark we were hoping to see.
We decided to risk the current at the Pinnacle once more for the sunset dive and luckily for us it had died down and let us explore a site full of life. This dive saved the day and I didn’t let the disappointment of a whale shark being elusive get me down. I could appreciate this stunning site of granite boulders covered in soft coral and full of life surrounding them. We had fish feeding on jellyfish and a titan triggerfish let me get close and photograph it as it gorged on its feast. Then at the surface we had a beautiful white-spotted jellyfish to photograph as the sun was setting.
After a nice leisurely drift dive at the start of day three in Surin Island, it was time to head north again to the site I’d been eagerly anticipating since this trip was organised. Richelieu Rock was the destination and sure enough it didn’t disappoint as it was magnificently manic as soon as you dropped in. Schooling fish engulfed the site as small bait fish were hunted by bigger fish such as giant trevallies, big eye jacks, barracuda and more that would swarm round you as we drifted through the site. It was also the colours of the site that blew me away as soft coral dominated the pinnacles and anemones full of clownfish covered the top of the rocks like a carpet.
Richelieu Rock is also a great site for macro spotting but beware of the current as on some occasions it can be difficult for macro photography as you can’t take it slow exploring the reef. Then even if you do spot a macro wonder, it’s hard to stop and compose the shot without sucking the air out of your tank too quick. Luckily for me the last dive of my trip provided calmer currents and an opportunity to photograph a stunning ornate ghost pipefish, along with a peacock mantis shrimp, some nudibranch, dancing shrimp, and a white-eyed moray. Unfortunately I missed out on a harlequin shrimp that someone else on our boat spotted. A critter that still remains elusive for me. A good reason to do a few dives at this site and experience it all including a change in current. Another word of warning at this site is not to get too close and put your hand down. I’ve never saw so many scorpion fish in one place before.
It was unfortunately time to head back to shore but on the morning of day four there was the opportunity for a couple of last dives before the trip ended. The dive site was BoonSoong Wreck, only an hour and a half from the marina. Unfortunately for my group we were all flying back at midnight that same night and after careful consideration decided after a hectic schedule of diving we would reluctantly miss this dive.
We heard from the others who dived it that the visibility wasn’t great at all but it is a great site to see honeycomb moray eels and one was spotted hunting along the wreck. Different species of nudibranch are also common here and the talk was of finding some along the way. A shame we couldn’t add the extra dive but the swarms of jellyfish at the surface kept me entertained as I gazed across the ocean.
I must admit I was at first left a little underwhelmed by the diving here and it was saved by the stunning Richelieu Rock site. However, on reflection, I feel that was my own fault in building up my expectations too much and telling myself I was going to see a whale shark, a manta, a zebra (leopard) shark and guitarfish. This was very naive of me considering the experiences I’ve already had diving around the world. This is nature and in most circumstances we can’t guarantee what’s going to happen, and that is what’s great about diving and keeps bringing us back underwater, the anticipation of what we may find.
I know that all these big exotic marine animals can be found here as I’ve seen photos of them from people diving the Similan Islands itinerary. Some were even seen by other dive groups on our boat, such as a zebra shark and feeding eagle ray. However, I was only diving here for three days so I’d have to be incredibly lucky to get all of them. This is a destination where you travel knowing that you are going to be surrounded by stunning topside views and the diving is going to be great fun no matter what happens. You have a great chance of hitting the jackpot with some unusual sightings and its all in the mindset how you see it. I’d certainly recommend a trip here, you never know what you might find! A word of warning though, the currents can get a little interesting.