Having completed my SSI Open Water certification with Princess Divers on Koh Phi Phi, I decided that I couldn’t leave Thailand without diving the Similan Islands. Unfortunately, I couldn’t justify the cost of a live-aboard trip, which could easily be in the neighborhood of $900 or more. Instead, I opted for the day-trip, which runs under $200 and includes two dives.
I booked the dive through a local travel agency in Phuket, Thailand. The cost was 6,000 Baht, including all dive gear (5,600 + 400, discounted from 500). The dive was operated by South Siam Divers.
A taxi was sent to pick me up at 6:30am. The taxi was, in fact, one of the dive shop employees, and what might have been his girlfriend. We picked up one more diver on the drive up. We arrived at the dock around 8:00am, with a planned departure of around 9:00am.
We then boarded a speedboat and began a somewhat grueling one-hour ride out to the Similan Islands. I was just beginning to feel sick just as we approached the islands and slowed. We docked with the dive boat and transferred over.
The trip leader, who I assume was the captain of the live aboard, was a friendly, well-spoken man who appeared to be Thai with what may have been an Austrian accent. His presentation of rules aboard the ship, and explanations of the diving zones were extremely comprehensible.
Our first dive was around 11am, near GPS coordinates N08.68261,E097.64328. Though I’d gotten friendly with the British guy who shared the taxi on the ride over, I was instead paired with Chubby Girl. Chubby Girl assured me that she got her license a long time back, and had plenty of experience. Unfortunately, at some point along the line, she forgot entirely how to perform a buddy check (“Bangkok Women Really Are Fine” – “BDC, Weight belt, Releases, Air, Final check”).
Once in the water, we wasted precious time because one diver didn’t have her weight belt — or just not enough weight — so she couldn’t dive. Then her dive buddy became confused. Once at our target dive depth, we were pumping a lot of air in fighting the strong currents. Ultimately, our time underwater was only around 35 minutes. In that time, I saw some interesting coral, and only a few fish.
My dive partner, Chubby Girl, was bobbing madly around. Sometimes pointed up, sometimes pointed down, sometimes below me, other times above me. Regardless, she was easy to find since, for better or worse, she’d been assigned a vibrant, neon orange wetsuit. At one point, I noticed the dive master give an angry look, then pull something from the coral, only to realize that she had somehow managed to drop one of her diving weights!
The provided buffet lunch was quit tasty, and they produced a very nice vegetarian dish upon request. No complaints there at all.
The second dive, at 1:30pm, GPS coordinates N08.67568,E097.64155, was somewhat better. Chubby Girl sat this dive out (at this point, the trip leader was referring to her as my wife, I have no idea why). Instead, I was paired with a random guy who always seemed to have trouble finding me in the water. I’d glance over to check on him, only to watch as his head swiveled around. I’d wait while he did a full-body rotation looking for me, and flash him the “okay” sign when his eyes finally met mine. Funny, since there weren’t that many stark-white, bald swimmers down there.
On this dive, we got to depth more quickly, and covered more ground. Still, however, we were fighting the current, and only managed around 37 minutes. Also, our dive master still seemed disinterested, and seemed to avoid taking us directly over the coral.
It was on this trip that I realized how good my dive class had been. I watched as two of the divers in my group dragged their heavy SPGs (air pressure gauge) along the coral, since they hadn’t tucked it through their BCD belt. Initially self-conscious that I’d be consuming air too quickly, I soon learned that everyone else was at least as inefficient as I was.
Overall, compared to the four open water dives I did around the Koh Phi Phi and the Phi Phi islands, I was very disappointed with the Similans.
Today, I took a look at the South Siam Divers flier and noticed that near the top of the right panel, it lists the destination for each day of the week. It looks like Wednesday and Sunday are the days to go, the days that visit the top-rated destinations. Oops.
Well, maybe some day I’ll return to Thailand and repeat the day trip on one of the “good” days. I’ve heard that at least one of the other Similan islands is much better, with good odds of seeing a whale shark or manta rays.