Liveaboard Diving Thailand: Similan Island liveaboards or Hin Daeng liveaboards?

April 7, 2010
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If you Google liveaboard diving Thailand, you’ll come up with thousands of different search results. There are two distinct choices when it comes to liveaboard diving in Thailand, Similan Island liveaboards or Hin Daeng liveaboards. Both the Similan Islands and Hin Daeng and Hin Muang are located in the Andaman Sea and geographically aren’t too far apart, but they offer two extremely different marine eco systems and a vast array of jaw dropping colorful marine life. Here we’ll outline the two main Thailand liveaboard destinations to help you make the choice easy of where to book your liveaboard diving holiday in Thailand.

Similan Island Liveaboards

The Similan Islands are the most popular Thailand liveaboard destination and are protected as a national marine park. The Similan Islands consist of nine islands, and the word Similan is an

Donald Duck Bay Similans

Donald Duck Bay Similans

ancient Yawi word, which means nine. The Similan National Marine Park was recently extended to include the remote islands of Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. As a dive destination, the Similan Islands have been repeatedly voted as one of the worlds top ten dive spots, and they certainly offer the best scuba diving in Thailand with a huge spectrum of diversity. The Similans are located around six hours north of Phuket by dive boat, or three hours from the resort town of Khao Lak. The visibility around the Similans is usually excellent, and can reach in excess of 50 meters on a good day.

There are dozens of liveaboard operators who offer a full range of Similan liveaboard dive trips of varying length and comfort. Day trips are also possible, but it’s a long day out from Phuket by buses and speedboats for two fairly rushed dives. We wholly recommend that if you want to dive the Similans you should choose a Similans liveaboard. This way you’ll get to see a good contrast of different dive sites and be able to relax on the boat between dives. Don’t expect to lose any of those extra pounds on a liveaboard in Thailand, as you’ll be fed sumptuous meals all day long, usually a good mix of Thai and western cuisine, as well as tasty snacks between every dive. We’ve created our own original map of the Similan Islands so you can see where the Similans are as well as the names and locations of the different Similan dive sites.

If you’re thinking about taking a Similans liveaboard there’s a few things you need to consider first. Although the Similan Islands themselves offer awesome diving, it would be a shame not to take a trip that also visited the three dive sites north of the Similans, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai, and Richelieu Rock.

Koh Bon Manta Rays

Koh Bon Manta Rays

Koh Bon is arguably the number one dive site for Manta Rays in Thailand. When there are Mantas at Koh Bon, they’re usually there for weeks at a time. Koh Bon is both a feeding and cleaning station for Manta Rays. Mantas can sometimes grow to have a wingspan in excess of six meters and never fail to take divers breath away no matter how many times they’ve seen them. They glide effortlessly into current sucking microscopic plankton and suchlike into their cavernous ribbed mouths. Although they’re one of the biggest fish in the sea they pose no threat whatsoever to humans. Even without Manta Rays Koh Bon is a fantastic dive site and there’s a good chance here to see Sharks and other cool stuff. Visibility here ranges from 10 to 50 meters, but can change in a matter of seconds. Thermo clines at Koh Bon are extremely common and it’s possible to go from 30-meter visibility, to 2-meter visibility, and back to 30-meter visibility in a matter of minutes. There are two main dive sites at Koh Bon, the West Ridge, and Koh Bon Pinnacle. Most dives are conducted at the West Ridge, while more experienced dive groups might be offered the chance to dive Koh Bon Pinnacle later in the trip.

Koh Tachai is another fantastic dive site, just a little further north from Koh Bon. Koh Tachai is subject to pretty strong currents, which at times can make scuba diving challenging. The marine life found here makes all the effort worthwhile though, and you can expect to find Leopard Sharks, Seahorses, and Ghostpipe Fish. There are also regular appearances from Whalesharks and Manta Rays. Visibility here averages from15 to 30 meters.

Barracuda Richelieu Rock

Barracuda Richelieu Rock

Richelieu Rock is the jewel in the crown of any Thailand liveaboard trip. It is purportedly the best dive site in Thailand, and we agree. It’s a macro lovers dream and is home to some species of marine life which are found nowhere else on the planet. There’s one species of Tomato Clownfish found here in abundance, which is native only to Richelieu Rock. There are nooks and crannies everywhere hiding gems like Harlequin Shrimps and Cleaner Pipefish. There are Tiger Tail Seahorses, Clown Frogfish, Ornate Ghost Pipefish, and the list goes on. Richelieu Rock above all else is famous for Whalesharks. Richelieu Rock is the dive site where you’re most likely to see a Whaleshark in Thailand. Hin Daeng and Hin Muang come a very close second. Usually as long as conditions are good most Similan liveaboards will schedule at least two or more dives at Richelieu Rock. Visibility here is similar to Koh Bon. On a good day when the visibility is 40 meters the dive site is awesome. Thermo clines also hit Richelieu Rock regularly.

The Similan Islands themselves offer a good contrast of scuba diving. Some sites are mostly boulders and huge rock formations, which make for exciting swim through opportunities. Some dives are quite deep, and at sites like Elephant Head you’ll need to go deep to find the Whitetip Reef Sharks and big Jenkins Rays. Some of our favorite Similan dive sites are Three Trees, North Point, Christmas Point, Anita’s Reef, Elephant Head, Shark Fin Reef, and East of Eden. Eastern sites generally offer reefs comprised of hard and soft corals. Western dive sites are usually rockier and lack much in the way of soft corals compared to the eastern dive sites. The western Similan dive sites can still however be extremely spectacular. There are a couple of wrecks in the Similans, but they’re nothing to get a woody about.

If you’re interested in a Similans liveaboard we recommend going for at least four nights so you can experience the previously mentioned Koh Bon, Koh Tachai, and Richelieu Rock. Check out our full selection of Similan liveaboards to check comforts, specifications, schedules, and Similan liveaboard prices. If you don’t have the time to spend four nights on a liveaboard there are still a couple of options where you can experience these aforementioned sites but stay for as little as two nights. Somboon III visits Koh Bon twice a week and Sonboon IV visits Richelieu Rock twice a week. These options are ideal for divers with less time, or if they are traveling with their non-diving partner who doesn’t want to spend four nights on a dive boat.

The Similan Islands are closed to scuba divers and all liveaboards from the end of May until mid October. This is because the monsoon weather makes it unsafe for dive boats to make the trip out there in rough seas. Some operators still make a sneaky trip or two in the closed season, but we don’t advise going on these trips, nor will we act as an agent for these trips. It’s just too dangerous because even the most robustly built dive boats can be flipped over and sink when unsavory sea conditions are at their worst. Squalls and storms can blow up in minutes in the monsoon season, making reliable weather forecasting almost impossible.

Hin Daeng Liveaboards

whaleshark Hin Daeng

Whaleshark Hin Daeng

Hin Daeng liveaboards usually run for two or three nights and include Hin Daeng, Hin Muang, Koh Haa, and the Phi Phi Islands. Some also include Shark point close to Phuket. Hin Daeng and Muang offer the deepest drop offs in Thai waters for scuba divers, meaning there’s always a good chance to see big stuff like Whalesharks and Manta Rays. Hin Daeng liveaboards are usually a little cheaper than Similan Liveaboards because the dive sites are closer to Phuket, and they usually only run for only two or three nights. Most Similan liveaboards run for at least four nights.

Hin Daeng and Hin Muang are located in the open ocean and are available to dive all year round. They are best dived however between November and May as this is when the weather is predictable and seas are usually flat. If bad weather is forecast or arises part way through a Hin Daeng liveaboard trip, the trip will usually be rerouted to the Phi Phi Islands or Koh Haa due to safety concerns. If the weather turns bad dive boats need sheltered bays to take cover and Koh Haa is the closest place that offers relative safety from wind and waves. We’re not trying to alarm readers with this article, and we need to stress that bad weather is rare.

Scuba divers go to Hin Daeng and Hin Muang primarily to see big stuff like Whalesharks and Manta Rays. After Richelieu Rock in the Similans, Hin Daeng is where you’ll have the best chance to see a Whaleshark, or two. Likewise, after Koh Bon, Hin Daeng is where you’ll have the best chance to see Manta Rays in Thailand. Incidentally, Chumpon Pinnacle at Koh Tao is the third best place to see Whalesharks in Thailand. You can also expect to see Reef Sharks and Leopard Sharks at Hin Daeng. Of course, the reefs are also home to all the other aquatic life you’d expect to find here, critters like Moray Eels, Lionfish, Batfish, Barracuda, Jacks, Scorpion Fish, and more. Here you’ll find some of the largest Moray Eels you’re ever likely to see. Visibility at Hin Daeng can range from 10 to 50 meters.

As part of every Hin Daeng liveaboard itinerary you’ll also get to dive at Koh Haa. Koh Haa is famous for two dive sites, The Cathedral and The Chimney. It’s very similar to some of the Similan dive sites here, with clear water and white sandy bottoms. Some dive sites offer huge underwater rock formations for divers to explore. The Koh Haa islands aren’t overflowing with underwater marine life but they’re still outstanding dives. They are especially good for night dives and the Decorated Crabs are well cool. Visibility at Koh Haa is usually excellent with an average of around.30 meters.

Koh Haa Thailand

Koh Haa Thailand

The dive boat will also stop off at the Phi Phi Islands where conditions permitting you’ll do a couple of dives at Bida Nog and Bida Nai. The underwater marine life around Koh Phi Phi is extremely rich and diverse. Often the visibility here can be a touch murky but what you’ll hopefully see here will more than make up for it. There are fish everywhere. Huge shoals of Snappers of every description, Barracuda, Tuna, Trevally, Morays, Seahorses, Ghost Pipefish, Sea Snakes, Lionfish, Turtles, Khulls Stingrays, and more. Bida Nog and Bida Nai are also famous for their resident Leopard Sharks. Sometimes you can see five or six on a single dive. It’s also very common to see Blacktip Sharks around Phi Phi, particularly at the Bidas, as well as off Phi Phi Leh at a dive site called Palong Bay North.

Summary

We personally prefer the Similan liveaboards because they include more varied dive sites and take in great sites like Koh Bon and Richelieu Rock. The Similans don’t only have underwater beauty, but also offer some of the best above water beauty you’ll find anywhere in Thailand. You can trek into the islands between dives, visit some viewpoints, or chill out for a few hours on one of the many beaches. The downside is that the Similan Islands are only open during the high season months between October and May. Budget four night liveaboards like Manta Queen 1 or Manta Queen 2 can be had for as little as B19300 including all marine park fees and equipment. That’s an absolute bargain. More luxurious four night Similan liveaboards like one of our favorite offerings Black Manta can be snapped up for as little as B28000. Please contact us with any inquiries. Discounts on some trips are sometimes available.

If you’ve already been to Similans or just want to spend a couple of days on the boat then try a Hin Daeng liveaboard. There’s a very good chance to see something big to put in your logbook. If you’re interested in Hin Daeng liveaboards have a look at Colona VI who run regular trips.

Finally overall, we think Similan liveaboards offer better value for money than Hin Daeng liveaboards and offer a wider variety of dive sites and Marine life. Koh Bon and Richelieu rock also offer the best chances to see Manta Rays and Whalesharks. Visit our Liveaboards Section to browse our comprehensive choice of liveaboards to find the right boat for you.

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