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Written by Scuba Divers ~ DIVEIN.com’s Complete Guide to:

A Complete Guide to Liveaboard Diving in the Similan Islands in 2021

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Our divers at work

We gave our Scuba diving geek one job:
Check all the Similan Islands and write reviews of the best.

The result is 10 of the best Similan Islands for Scuba Diving.

Anastasia

Summer Worsley

PADI Instructor & Writer
Summer has been teaching scuba for the last 10 years.

The Similan Islands have long been a top destination for divers — if not the number one entry on their bucket list. Situated in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand, these nine granite islands in a national marine park are surrounded by clear blue waters full of lush marine life.

Many dive centers in Phuket and Khao Lak offer day trips to some of the closer dive sites in the Similans. But, with more than 25 sites to choose from that are spread out over a huge area, experiencing the best diving this region has to offer is not possible with day trips. Liveaboards are the only way to dive the best sites in the far-flung Similan Islands.

Read on to find out what you need to know about liveaboard diving in the Similan Islands and get the lowdown on 10 of the best safaris to suit every budget.

Top 10 Best Similan Liveaboards

Grab your passport and your dive bag and dive into the Similans with these top liveaboards.

Dolphin Queen

Liveaboard.com

Although budget-friendly liveaboards are few and far between, the low-cost options in the Similan Islands offer great value and quality. The Dolphin Queen, a 79 foot (24 meters) wooden monohull boat with three decks is a great example.

In addition to double and twin-berth cabins, the Dolphin Queen also features a four-berth cabin. All cabins have AC and the twins and quads are fitted with privacy curtains around all the beds — a great accessory when sharing with strangers. The spacious sundeck is partially shaded and has hammocks and sun loungers for relaxing between dives.

Dolphin Queen may be a budget option, but it’s pretty inclusive with biodegradable toiletries, wetsuits, booties, masks, and fin rental. A fresh European-style breakfast is prepared daily. Lunch and dinner is Thai cuisine served buffet-style and drinks and fresh fruit are available throughout the day.

Thanks to its great value, the Dolphin Queen is a popular choice with backpackers and attracts a younger crowd who are happy with a no-frills option.

Need to Knows

  • Nitrox: Yes at extra cost
  • Number of cabins: 18 divers in 8 cabins
  • Number of bathrooms: 3
  • Tenders: 2
  • Price range: $
  • Trip length: 3 and 5 nights
  • Courses available onboard: OW, AOW, RD, Nitrox

Manta Queen 5

Liveaboard.com

Manta Queen is a popular fleet of boats offering Similan Island liveaboards to suit every budget. The Manta Queen 5 is a great option for divers watching their pennies. This 75 by 16 foot (23 by 5 meter) wooden hull vessel features four decks, including an open-top sundeck to enjoy the stunning scenery. Divers are looked after by a team of six boat crew and five dive staff.

Accommodation is in shared, air-conditioned twin bunk cabins making the Manta Queen 5 another liveaboard favored by backpackers. Meals are a mixture of western and Thai cuisine and special dietary needs are catered to, including vegetarian, vegan, and any food allergies.

The four days, four night trip takes in 15 of the major dive sites including those around the Similan Islands, Koh Bon, Richelieu Rock, and the Boonsung Wreck.

Need to Knows

  • Nitrox: Yes at extra cost
  • Number of cabins: 20 divers in 10 cabins
  • Number of bathrooms: 3
  • Tenders: 1
  • Price range: $
  • Trip length: 4 nights
  • Courses available onboard: OW, AOW, Nitrox, PADI Specialities

The Junk

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Offering slightly more luxury for a reasonable rate is The Junk, a 98 foot (30 meter) long three-mast junk with 3,550 square feet (330 square meters) of sails. This Malaysian-built craft, also known as The June Hong Chian Lee, was restored and converted to a liveaboard vessel in 1997.

Each of the two, three, and four-berth cabins have AC and a private bathroom with a hot shower. Divers are treated to two breakfasts every day (one light before the first dive and a full breakfast after), followed by lunch and dinner of Asian and Western cuisine.

Unlike many other liveaboards that only offer seasonal trips between October and May, The Junk has trips all year round. Divers can choose from four or six nights, with the longer cruise taking in the Surin Islands in addition to the Similans.

The Junk really is a charming, characterful boat Divers can pick up some great bargains in the low season to cruise on and dive from this special vessel.

Need to Knows

  • Nitrox: Yes at extra cost
  • Number of cabins: 18 divers in 6 cabins
  • Number of bathrooms: 6 en-suite
  • Tenders: 2
  • Price range: $
  • Trip length: 4 and 6 nights
  • Courses available onboard: AOW, Nitrox, PADI Specialities

Pawara

Liveaboard.com

The Pawara is a 115 foot (35 meter) steel monohull vessel that takes divers to the sites of the Similan Islands, including Koh Bon, Koh Tachai, and Richelieu Rock on a four-night voyage. The boat has been specially fitted with an improved keel and large hull stabilizers to give passengers a smoother journey.

One of the highlights of the Pawara is the spacious diving platform and well-organized deck that allows divers plenty of room to gear up without getting in each other’s way. Equipment rental is extra but qualified divers can take advantage of free Nitrox.

The Pawara features an open sundeck with mattresses for sunbathing which is great for chilling out and unwinding between dives. The air-conditioned entertainment room is well-stocked with a flat-screen TV, DVD player, games, books, and even a karaoke machine to wow your fellow divers with your vocal talents.

With both deluxe and budget cabins, the Pawara offers accommodation options to suit the majority of divers.

Need to Knows

  • Nitrox: Yes, included
  • Number of cabins: 26 divers in 13 cabins
  • Number of bathrooms: 12 en-suite, 1 shared
  • Tenders: 1
  • Price range: $$
  • Trip length: 4 nights
  • Courses available: OW, AOW, Nitrox, RD, PADI Specialities

Bavaria

Liveaboard.com

The Bavaria was designed and built by divers specifically for divers. As such, this 92 foot (28 meter) long steel vessel is spread across three decks and features everything a safari boat needs — and more.

The diving platform is spacious with a large kitting-up area and a generous amount of storage for equipment. Group numbers are restricted, with four to six divers per guide for a more personalized experience.

Divers can choose from standard, comfort, or deluxe twin/double cabins, all with AC and most of which have a private bathroom. In addition to a partially shaded sundeck with loungers, there’s a well-equipped salon with AC, TV, and sound system.

The most popular part of the ship is the upper deck’s open-air lounge and dining area where meals are served and divers can relax and take in the views while enjoying an apres-dive beer or cocktail.

Need to Knows

  • Nitrox: Yes, at extra cost
  • Number of cabins: 24 divers in 12 cabins
  • Number of bathrooms: 10 en-suite, 2 shared
  • Tenders: 1
  • Price range: $$
  • Trip length: 2, 3, 4, and 6 nights
  • Courses available: N/A

Deep Andaman Queen

Liveaboard.com

Renovated in 2019, Deep Andaman Queen is a stylish, spacious boat measuring 100 feet (30.5 meters) in length. Its biggest attraction is the variety of cabins it offers. The two master ocean-front cabins have king-sized beds and are among the largest rooms on any liveaboard in the region, and the addition of a TV and DVD player provides an added layer of luxury. Many of the deluxe rooms also have double beds, making the Deep Andaman Queen popular with couples.

In addition to the rooms for couples, divers also have the option of deluxe twins or standard twins, triples, or quads. Whichever cabin type you choose, you’ll have AC, charging points, ample storage, and a private bathroom.

And, it’s not just the cabins that are large. The kitting up area is extremely wide and on two levels with a separate entry/exit platform with freshwater showers to rinse off after diving. Dive groups are kept to a maximum of four per guide.

Downtime can be spent editing photos at the camera stations in the air-conditioned salon, relaxing on the huge sundeck, or enjoying a sundowner in the outdoor lounge area.

Need to Knows

  • Nitrox: Yes at extra cost
  • Number of cabins: 25 divers in 11 cabins
  • Number of bathrooms: 11 en-suite, 1 shared
  • Tenders: 1
  • Price range: $$
  • Trip length: 4 and 5 nights
  • Courses available onboard: AOW, PADI Specialities

Manta Queen 6

Liveaboard.com

Another offering from the Manta Queen fleet is number 6. Slightly larger than the budget-friendly Manta Queen 5, this boat is again a four-deck wooden-hulled vessel but also features en-suite cabins, hence the slightly higher price tag. Still great value for money for those divers looking for a bit more comfort than shared bathrooms.

Divers tend to spend the majority of time in the open-air upper deck or the saloon with TV, DVD player, and a well-stocked movie library. Sun worshipers can catch some rays on the sun mats at the bow of the main deck. There’s also a dinghy that transports guests to various islands where they can enjoy the beautiful white-sand beaches.

Manta Queen 6 offers a full range of PADI courses onboard, including Open Water. So, even if you’ve joined a friend on the liveaboard as a non-diver, you can get your certification while on the trip.

Need to Knows

  • Nitrox: Yes at extra cost
  • Number of cabins: 14 divers in 7 cabins
  • Number of bathrooms: 7 en-suite bathrooms
  • Tenders: 1
  • Price range: $$
  • Trip length: 4 nights
  • Courses available onboard: Nitrox, OW, AOW, PADI Specialities

Giamani

Liveaboard.com

Divers willing to splurge will find a more exclusive experience on the Giamani. This 79 foot (24 meters) steel-hulled ship welcomes a maximum of 10 divers on each trip so the service received is much more personal. Each of the five air-conditioned cabins is tastefully designed with sea-view windows, an en-suite bathroom, and a mini-fridge.

Giamani’s air-conditioned salon is perfect for reviewing the day’s photos and perusing the marine life library, while the open-air lounging and dining area is where everyone gathers to socialize after a busy day. The restricted numbers aboard mean there are also plenty of areas where divers can find a quiet corner away from the crowds.

Giamani is equipped for both recreational and technical diving, including CCR, trimix, and nitrox. The spacious dive platform makes gearing up easy, and features a camera table and rinse tank for photographers.

Divers can choose from four or six-night trips. Those who opt for the longer safari will also get to enjoy some of the best dive sites in the South Andaman Sea. Giamani’s multi-lingual crew and guides will ensure you get the most out of the Similan Islands, however long you are with them.

Need to Knows

  • Nitrox: Yes at extra cost
  • Number of cabins: 10 divers in 5 cabins
  • Number of bathrooms: 5 en-suite
  • Tenders: 1
  • Price range: $$$
  • Trip length: 4 and 6 nights
  • Courses available onboard: OW, AOW, Nitrox, PADI Specialities

DiveRACE Class E

DIVEin.com

Since 2015, the steel mono-hulled DiveRACE Class E, with a top speed of 15 knots, has been offering luxury liveaboards cruises to up to 20 divers. Accommodation options include six cabins with a private balcony and a quad room that’s ideal for small groups or families.

The sundeck with its sun loungers and sofas is the perfect place to unwind between dives and enjoy the sea breeze. It’s also where the BBQ pit is located and where Thai, Asian, and international fare is prepared. Divers are treated to table service and can enjoy their meal accompanied with freshly ground coffee or a bottle of wine.

DiveRACE Class E’s dive deck has been specially designed to allow plenty of room for each diver to kit up comfortably. The boat caters to recreational and rebreather divers.

The crew is always available to provide personalized services, including hanging up your wetsuit and handing you a refreshing hot towel after returning from a dive. There’s also a special room where divers can get a well-earned Thai massage.

Need to Knows

  • Nitrox: Yes at extra cost
  • Number of cabins: 22 divers in 10 cabins
  • Number of bathrooms: 10 en-suite, 2 shared
  • Tenders: 2
  • Price range: $$$
  • Trip length: 4 nights
  • Courses available: N/A

Thailand Aggressor

DIVEin.com

For a truly extraordinary liveaboard and the chance to cruise in style, divers can treat themselves to a trip on the Thailand Aggressor, a 115 foot (35 meter) steel-hull motor yacht spread over four decks. The beautifully appointed cabins are referred to as staterooms for a good reason. Each comfortable, spacious room comes with AC, a private bathroom, picture or porthole windows, a hairdryer, bathrobes, and a flat-screen TV with a media player, allowing you to choose from a variety of pre-loaded movies.

Outside of the cabins, and when not in the water, divers can spend their time chilling in a chaise lounge on the sundeck, relaxing in the hot tub, or keeping cool in the air-conditioned salon. Photographers can also take advantage of the onboard video and photo editing facility.

Breakfast and lunch include fresh fruits, fresh-baked bread, fresh salads, and hot entrees. For dinner, divers can feast on American specialties, local cuisine, or BBQ dishes followed by homemade desserts. All this while taking advantage of the free selection of local beer and wine that’s available once divers have completed their final dive of the day.

Need to Knows

  • Nitrox: Yes, Extra
  • Number of cabins: 16 divers in 8 cabins
  • Number of bathrooms: en-suite, shared
  • Tenders: 1
  • Price range: $$$
  • Trip length: 7 nights

Your Guide to Liveaboard Diving in the Similans

Liveaboard in Similan Islands Racha Coral Island

Day trips are great, especially if you’re short on time. But with dive sites scattered across such a vast area in the Similans, the only way to truly experience the beauty and wonder of this region is on a liveaboard.

About the Similan Islands

The Similan Islands is a Thai archipelago located 40 miles (65 km) off the Phang Nga province of Southern Thailand and 60 miles northwest of Phuket. The area was established as a protected marine park in 1982 and covers an area of over 32,000 acres.

Liveaboard in Similan Islands Snorkeling

Similan is derived from the Yawi (a Malay language of Southern Thailand) word for nine, representing the nine islands that make up the archipelago. In 1998, the national park was extended to include two additional islands: Koh Bon and Koh Tachai, both of which are visited by the majority of Similan liveaboards. Although each island has a name, each is also designated a number for easier identification.

As a protected area, very few people actually live on the Similans. In fact, the only permanent inhabitants are the park rangers situated on the two main islands of Koh Miang and Koh Similan (islands number four and eight).

Over the years, as the Similans became increasingly popular with tourists, the national park became one of the most overcrowded in the whole of Thailand. Island 11, Koh Tachai, was so badly affected that it has been completely closed to tourists since 2016. In 2018, as part of a plan to slow environmental destruction from over-tourism, the Thai government introduced a daily cap of 3,325 visitors allowed into the park and no one is allowed to stay on any of the islands overnight.

These small granite islands are covered in thick tropical jungle and edged with pristine white sand beaches. One of their most striking features are the huge boulders and rocks scattered around the southern and western shores of many of the islands. Over millions of years, the wind and waves have sculpted these huge rock formations into dramatic shapes to create a stunning topography.

Liveaboard in Similan Islands Blue Sky

And the topography is not just restricted to the surface. Below the water, these boulders continue to spread down to the depths, becoming home to a diverse abundance of sea life and creating an adventure playground for divers with crevices, caves, canyons, and passageways.

Getting to the Similans

The only access to the Similan Islands is by boat via mainland Thailand, namely Phuket and Khao Lak. Luckily, Bangkok is the travel hub of Asia for many of the world’s airlines. Once in the country, the easiest way to get to Phuket is a 1 hour 25 minute flight with one of the national carriers, such as Thai Smile, Nok Air, or Thai AirAsia. Khao Lak is around a three hour drive from either Phuket or Krabi airport.

Liveaboard in Similan Islands Tropical Island

Always check current visa regulations before traveling to Thailand. Some nationalities don’t require one at all, whereas others need to apply for a tourist visa prior to arrival. And, with travel regulations changing all the time in this era of Covid-19, check with your airline for current guidelines. Although visitors were required to quarantine after arriving, The Tourism Authority of Thailand has announced that vaccinated foreign visitors will be welcome in Phuket from July 1, 2021 without the need to quarantine. Hopefully, other destinations in the country will follow.

Life on Land

With the Similan Islands being closed to overnight visitors, many divers choose to stay on mainland Thailand for a few days before and after their liveaboard. Many safaris depart from either Phuket or Khao Lak, both of which offer a variety of hotels, guest houses, and hostels to suit all budgets.

Liveaboard in Similan Islands Traditional Wooden Boat

Life Underwater

The Similan Islands are often rated among the top 10 dive destinations in the world for a good reason. No other region in Thailand — or possibly even the whole of Asia — offers such biodiversity and abundance of marine wildlife.

The warm waters and clarity of the Andaman Sea is ideal for coral growth, and more than 500 species of hard and soft coral have been identified in the region. Table and staghorn corals form a carpet on steep slopes while bright, colorful soft corals and huge gorgonian fans cover the massive underwater granite boulders.

Liveaboard in Similan Islands Butterflyfishes and Turtles

These well-established reefs are a magnet for creatures, large and small, and pulsate with life. The Similans bring together most of the marine species found in other parts of Southeast Asia. From hawksbill and leatherback turtles, mantas, groupers, and reef sharks to guitarfish, morays, frogfish, and ghost pipefish, there’s something amazing to be found around every corner and in every nook and cranny.

Underwater photographers will find the Similans difficult to beat for the sheer number and variety of species. Whether you’re looking to snap big creatures passing by or small critters among the corals, you will not be disappointed.

Reef Dives for Days

Each of the Similan Islands are similar, with the diving on the eastern side being very different from elsewhere around the island. On the eastern edges, divers can expect weaker currents, excellent visibility, and healthy reefs. The diving is gentle and easy-going, allowing you to go at a leisurely pace and relax while taking in the sights.

Off the western edge and the northern and southern points, the currents get stronger, drawing in the larger pelagics. Deeper waters are home to steep drop-offs, gorges, tunnels, arches, and swim throughs created by massive sunken boulders. And interspersed throughout the dive sites and among the rocks are a cacophony of colorful soft corals and huge sea fans.

OW or AOW?

Many operators welcome snorkelers and non-divers on board and don’t specify a minimum level to join their safaris. However, to really get the most out of a Similan liveaboard and have the confidence to deal with the region’s strong currents, it’s advisable for divers to be at least Advanced Open Water.

Luckily, some liveaboards give divers the opportunity to do AOW training as part of the excursion, and the majority offer speciality courses, such as nitrox, deep, and photography. Non-divers can sign up for an Open Water course on a few of the liveaboards. But, who really wants to be worrying about buoyancy and buddy breathing when you’re trying to enjoy some of the best diving in the world?

Water Temperatures

Water temperatures around the Similans remain pretty steady throughout the year, ranging between 79 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit (26 and 29 degrees Celsius).

For hardened divers, the warm waters may allow them to get away with wearing just a rash guard and shorts. However, the majority may find it more comfortable with a 3 mm wetsuit — or even a 5 mm if they feel the cold easily.

Best Time To Go on a Similan Islands Liveaboard

Diving in the Similan Islands is seasonal and practically all liveaboards only operate between mid-October and mid-May. Between May and October, the region is hit with monsoon winds, rain, and surface swell which makes for unpredictable diving conditions.

The end of February brings stronger currents and the larger marine creatures. March and April are possibly your best chance of spotting mantas rays, sharks, and even whale sharks.

6 Must-Dive Sites in the Similans

There are more than 25 dive sites in and around the Similan Islands, and liveaboard guides should ensure you dive the best of the best. Although sites on the western edges of the islands are trickier, each of the dive sites offer something to suit all levels of diver.

From coral-encrusted walls to gently sweeping currents, add these Similan dive sites to your bucket list.

The Best Dive Sites in the World

Elephant Head Rock

Elephant Head Rock is undoubtedly the most popular site in the Similan Islands. Giant boulders covered in a tapestry of soft coral form a labyrinth of tunnels and gorges creating swim throughs where divers can have fun. Nurse sharks and snapper rest below the overhangs while blue-ringed angelfish, cuttlefish, mantis shrimp, and Andaman sweetlips dart among the reef.

Anita’s Reef

Due to its shallowness, Anita’s Reef is great for all levels of diver and is always a favorite with photographers. It’s also considered a competitor for the best dive site in the Similans. Soft tree, table, and staghorn corals blanket stunning bommies and create a hiding place for glassfish, longnose hawkfish and juveniles of all kinds. Look out in the sand for Kuhl’s stingrays and spotted garden eels and, if you’re lucky, you may even get a glimpse of the majestic 6.5 feet (2 m) long fantail stingrays.

Christmas Point

Submerged boulders scattered across a wide area make up Christmas Point and the site sometimes requires more than one dive to truly appreciate all it has to offer. Coral gardens have formed in the crevices and are home to frogfish, ribbon eels, and nudibranchs. While testing out your buoyancy on a number of swim throughs, keep an eye out for napoleon wrasse, barracuda, tuna, and black-tip reef sharks who have taken a liking to Christmas Point.

East of Eden

East of Eden is often described as aquarium diving due to the density of marine life. Once closed to divers due to coral bleaching, the reef is now a beautiful mixture of both soft and hard corals, most notably large clusters of staghorn coral. But the highlight is the large bommie known as Gluay-Mai, The Orchid Garden. Hot pink anemones and purple and blue soft corals cover the body while green sea fans dot the lower portion. If you’re into macro-photography, this is definitely a dive not to miss.

Donald Duck Bay

Fans of night diving should include Donald Duck Bay on their list. It’s a relatively easy dive with a flat sand bottom at around 65 feet (20 m) covered in rocks and boulders. The swim-throughs are especially fun at night and the boulders and the gaps between them are home to a plethora of night-loving sea creatures who choose the hours of darkness to come out and play. Expect to see crustaceans, squid, cuttlefish, moray eels, octopuses, cephalopods, and painted rock lobsters.

Beacon Point

Large patches of hard coral and rock formations dropping down to 130 feet (40 m) make Beacon Point a great dive at all depths. Gorgonian fans, brain coral, and wire coral create a home for nudibranchs and colorful reef fish, including surgeonfish, wrasse, and chromis. The chance of spotting eagle rays, mantas, leopard sharks, and reef sharks is also pretty high at Beacon Point.

Grab Your Fins!

There’s no doubt about it, diving in the Similan Islands is special. And going on a Similan liveaboard is hands-down the best way to experience the region and get in some epic dives. We hope this guide to liveaboard diving in the Similan has whet your appetite for dive adventures and you’re ready to grab your fins and get going.

Have you been diving in the Similans? Which sites did you like best and do you have any tips for divers heading to the archipelago? Drop us a comment below, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

And if you still have questions about diving in the Similan Islands, check out the FAQs below:

FAQ – Frequently asked questions about Similan Liveaboards

  • image/svg+xmlimage/svg+xml
    How to get to the Similan Islands?

    The only access to the Similan Islands is by boat via mainland Thailand, namely Phuket and Khao Lak. Luckily, Bangkok is the travel hub of Asia for many of the world’s airlines. Once in the country, the easiest way to get to Phuket is a 1 hour 25 minute flight with one of the national carriers, such as Thai Smile, Nok Air, or Thai AirAsia. Khao Lak is around a three hour drive from either Phuket or Krabi airport.

  • image/svg+xmlimage/svg+xml
    What’s the best time to go to the Similan Islands?

    Diving in the Similan Islands is seasonal and practically all liveaboards only operate between mid-October and mid-May. Between May and October, the region is hit with monsoon winds, rain, and surface swell which makes for unpredictable diving conditions.

    The end of February brings stronger currents and the larger marine creatures. March and April are possibly your best chance of spotting mantas rays, sharks, and even whale sharks.

  • image/svg+xmlimage/svg+xml
    Is Thailand safe to travel to?

    Thailand has had some political turbulence during the last decade, since the beloved King Bunipol died. But it remains a magnet for tourists because Thailand remains safe for travelers. But always check travel advice from your own country’s foreign service. For scuba diving, Thailand has almost boundless beauty and has built up a great industry where thousands go diving every year.

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