After getting scuba certified in January we started toying with the idea of doing a liveaboard during our RTW trip. Liveaboards involve living on a boat for a certain number of days and include a lot of diving trips in the time you are on board. We opted to try this out in the Similan Islands, a set of islands off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. We were told it was one of the most beautiful places to dive in Thailand and a great place to try a liveaboard since day trips to these dive sites are not plausible due to them being so far off the coast.
We spent 5D/4N on the Manta Queen 3 with about 30 other people. It was an amazing experience where we made some fantastic friends, found new travel companions and even met some other Texans! We were lucky enough to have a room to ourselves as a way to ease into our liveaboard lifestyle. We did 15 dives in 4 days (we had only 7 logged dives before this trip), improved our scuba skills, saw some unique and impressive sea life, completed our advanced open water certification and most importantly, had a lot of fun.
The crew of the Manta Queen 3 were beyond amazing. They fed us, spoiled us, kept us informed and entertained, made sure we were safe, helped us in and out of our gear, shared stories of their adventures and much more. Our guide, Joe, spent every dive showing us unique and intriguing things under water and also helped us get our advanced open water certification. Fellow Texans Devon and Brandon rounded out our dive group nicely and we really enjoyed spending time in (and out of) the water with them. Brandon came to us with a proposal towards the end of the trip – that we all go on a dive trip once a year – and we gladly accepted!
Luckily Jenny started feeling better at the start of this trip once her medicine kicked in and she was able to enjoy all of the dives on the trip without any issues! Such a relief!
Here’s a breakdown of our dive sites and what we saw:
Day 1 (dives 1 through 4)
West of Eden
When Joe talked to us originally about our air consumption on past scuba trips, we informed him that Kerry used more air towards the end of our GBR scuba trip than Jenny had, so he started Kerry out on dive #1 with a larger tank. The other 2 divers in our group, Devon and Brandon, were diving on Nitrox and Brandon also had a larger tank. We learned after this first dive, that Jenny also should be on the larger tank, because 25 minutes into the dive, Jenny was at 70 bar, which was the signal for when to start your ascent and 5 minute safety stop at 5 meters depth. Jenny went up with a DMT, or DiveMaster in Training, while the others stayed down and explored for another 15 minutes or so.
During this dive, we experienced our first Green Monster. A Green Monster is the slang term for a thermocline. This is a layer of water in which the temperature changes more rapidly than it does in the layers above or below it. In the ocean, a thermocline divides the upper mixed layer from the deep, calm water below. When the Green Monster hits you, its super cold and the visibility becomes very poor. We were kind of in shock a bit when it first happened to us! Enough science for now though….On this dive, Joe also took us through our first swim-through to see how we liked them. This is when you have to navigate between a small hole in rocks or coral, and we loved it! It’s a challenge on your spacial awareness and buoyancy control, and not for anyone who is claustrophobic! But its so fun to swim through the crooks and crannies of huge boulders under the sea!! We also saw some moray eels and tons of fish at this first incredible dive site. Since we were also training for our advanced open water cert, we did some small skills underwater on this dive.
With Jenny now on the same size tank as Kerry and Brandon, we were all set for a nice, long dive for our second dive of day 1. Joe was proud of our first swim-through showings, so he decided to test our skills on quite a few more at the Deep Six dive site. They got a lot more narrow and challenging, but we are always down to try and I must say, we did a fantastic job! We were able to navigate these small openings with skill and not harm any coral in the process! We also saw a notable sea creature called a pigmy pipehorse!
Elephant Head Rock
At Elephant Head Rock, we were able to go through even more swim-throughs and enjoyed when Joe pointed out various sea life in the cracks of the rocks. We encountered some very social fish that swam really close to us in huge groups. We also saw a giant lobster hiding in the rocks! This dive didn’t end up being very typical, as when we passed another group of divers from our boat, we saw that Kris, a divemaster leading a larger group, was on the alternate air supply of a DMT in his group! We learned later that a connection of his air hose had burst, and he was losing air quickly, so he and his DMT had to ascend to the surface, and he left the rest of his group with ours. Almost immediately after we gained Kris’ entire group, we came upon another group of divers from our boat, led by divemaster Kate. Kate had one person in her group that had reached their NDL (no decompression limit) and she had to go with her to the surface, so we then took on her group as well. For about 30 minutes of our dive, we had a group of 13 following Joe around the dive site. Only one word can be used to describe the scene – chaotic. We were used to our small group of 4 divers and Joe, all of us being careful to give each other space underwater and being considerate in general. This was not the case with many of the temporary additions to our group. We kept looking at each other with rolling eyes and sarcastic facial expressions, every time that we got whacked in the face or head or anywhere else on our bodies by some of the girls in the group who were focused solely on their selfie sticks. We were ready for this dive to be over with and get back to our small group with Joe to ourselves.
Mooring Bay (Night Dive)
On day 1, the fourth dive would be our only true night dive of the liveaboard. Some people were nervous, as they had never dove at night, and it did sound like it could be scary, yet we felt pretty confident that it was going to be REALLY cool, so we set nerves aside and got excited! We watched a beautiful sunset prior to our descent to the ocean floor. We were armed with torches (underwater flashlights) and discovered that night diving was really serene. As Joe had described to us in the dive briefing, it would be a personal experience. Joe had no plans of pointing out everything to us, as its nearly impossible to do so in the dark, so he told us all to have our own experiences – to enjoy the scenes on our own and know that each diver in our group was doing the same. It was incredibly peaceful and relaxing to not have the sight senses overwhelmed, since you could only see what you pointed your torch at. However, there was one thing that had Jenny squirming within the first 5 minutes of the dive….the sea snake. We saw it immediately and Joe even was touching it, forcing it to swim around and it ascended up as we all watched….and Jenny swam away quickly to get some distance from it! For those that don’t know, Jenny is deathly afraid of snakes…and we found out that these are some of the most dangerous snakes in the world?! EEK! Once it was out of view, we relaxed back into the dive and saw some incredible sea life that is only visible at night. During the day, some creatures are completely hidden and only come out at night to feed. We saw tons of small red eyes staring at us, which we knew were from shrimp. We swam near a group of people who had all of their torches pointed at one thing, and when we got close we saw it was a gigantic lobster the size of us! So wild!! We saw tons of eels slithering around through small groups of coral and another sea snake to end the dive! The night dive was such a cool experience!
Day 2 (dives 5 through 8)
I should take the time here to say that before every dive of the trip, there is a dive briefing in which Joe, Kate or Kris explained the dive site, and gave us an idea of what marine life existed at each site, so we would know what to look out for. They also used sign language for each identifiable creature, so we started learning how to to communicate with our divemasters underwater. When Joe found something for us to see, he would do the sign to explain what we were seeing, then let us take a look. This was super helpful throughout the whole trip, as each dive site was known for something different!
Our first dive on day 2 was around 7am and lasted about 40 minutes. We saw more pigmy pipehorses, schools of barracuda that were SO neat to see and some huge tuna! We tried out some more swim-throughs and had a great time doing so!
Christmas Point dive was at a site where you stayed deep for most of the dive, as Joe informed us that all of the cool stuff to see at this site was deep. When you stay deep for a lengthy time, you can get close to reaching your NDL, which happened to Kerry and I since we are not diving on Nitrox. We had to ascend a bit once we were close to our limits, so the dive was only about 35 minutes, but we were at about 28 meters depth for a huge portion of the dive! While diving this site, we saw some incredible things! Joe identified a pregnant male pipe horse (yes, there are species where males carry the babies!), a really cool tree-shaped coral under a huge rock edge, and 3-4 narrow swim-throughs! We hit the jackpot and were delighted to get to see a baby grey reef shark swimming about 10 meters away from us! These are very rare and Joe was SO pumped at this sighting, it made us realize how lucky we were to get to see it! We also saw our first starfish of the trip, and it was one that we had not seen before. Joe had also informed us that there would be some air pockets under some caves that made reflections if you were swimming in the perfect spot, so he lined us up for a good shot and took our GoPro from us to capture the epic pic!
Koh Ban, West Ridge
Our dive at the West Ridge was 50 minutes long and we were basically at this site for one thing and one thing only….the manta ray. We unfortunately did not spot one, but Kate’s group saw one, so we knew they at least existed there! We hung out on the ridge for quite some time while waiting for the manta, but saw tons of schooling fish to keep us entertained. We also spotted a sea cucumber on this dive.
Koh Tachai, The Dome
At Koh Tachai, Joe decided that it would be the best place for us and Devon to take our navigation test using compasses because this site had a more shallow area away from where all of the other divers would be. This site was still incredibly beautiful and we had tons of gorgeous sites to see as we accomplished our tasks set out in order to get our new certification. The last underwater test was a navigation task that included remembering 5 unique items underwater in order to find your way back to where you started. Joe identified the 5 items for us as we swam along and at a point, he turned around and let us lead our way back. We were doing great until a HUGE green sea turtle was spotted nearby and we got completely distracted by its beauty! We ditched the navigation test and swam after the turtle for a bit, but it was moving too quickly away from us, so we stopped chasing it and Joe expected us to find our last 3 items and beginning spot. Jenny had tried to pay attention while we were chasing the turtle and had a vague idea where the next identifying object was – a large blue starfish on a rock, and spotted it after a minute or so! We found the other 2 marked items and passed our navigation test with flying colors!! We had about 20 minutes of fun diving to do after our test, where we saw tons more starfish and even another turtle! We also spotted baby clown fish in a sea anemone with its parents! ❤
Day 3 (dives 9 through 12)
Koh Tachai, The Dome
We dove this spot again, as it was a huge dive site with a lot to offer. We dove the deeper portion of this site called the dome with more rocks. This dive lasted 50 minutes and we encountered another Green Monster that came in and moved us off track early on in the dive. We also were lucky enough to see a huge school of barracuda swimming above us and multiple eels. We also spotted some super tiny jellyfish! Joe pointed out some nudibranch that were having an orgy and had also laid eggs nearby…this was really interesting to see! Several boxfish were swimming around and we decided that we think they are a super cute fish – so unique!
After this dive, we were lucky enough to spend a surface interval (scuba nerds here typing) on a gorgeous beach! The dinghy took 3 trips to get all of the group to the island, where we took a group pic and then spent time laying on the beach soaking up the sun and chatting with our new friends.
Richelieu Rock is the most famous dive site in Thailand and the reason why so many people chose to dive the Similan Islands and this particular route on a liveaboard. Our first dive at this location was 45 minutes long and we saw so many incredible underwater sights! Here we encountered clown fish galore, saw a crown of thorns, sighted tons of different kinds of shrimp, a tiny moray eel and tons of nudibranch everywhere we looked! A boxfish swam right between us and it was so neat to see that they aren’t afraid of coming close to us divers! There was a good amount of current at this site and we swam right into another Green Monster! Brrrr! The most notable creature that we saw at this site was undeniably the adorably thorny yellow seahorse! It was SO cute!
Our next dive at this amazing site lasted 48 minutes long and we saw an incredible amount of fish. We swam right into hundreds of thousands of glassfish on our descent, that were so shiny and in such number that you literally couldn’t see 5 feet in front of you! There were moments when we were so surrounded by them we couldn’t see anything else… it was magnificent! Here we also saw pipefish and stonefish, that blend in so well with the coral you can easily pass them up! There were some moray eel hanging out in small crevices. We saw some lion fish and then were delighted to see a huge peacock mantis shrimp – it was such a beauty!! There was a huge sea anemone area at the end of the dive that had clownfish all around it.
We were also working on our buoyancy control throughout all of these dives, learning to become better divers in general. Joe had informed us that weight belts really weren’t necessary as long as we knew how to control our BCD’s, so throughout the trip, we “dropped weights”. By this dive, Jenny had completely dropped her weight belt and Kerry was down to only 1 weight on hers… We would like to say this is impressive but most of you likely don’t care. 🙂
Our third dive at Richelieu Rock was just as exciting as the other two. We saw more baby moray eels, lots of different sized boxfish, tons of glassfish swarming all around us, more sea anemona and clownfish, porcupinefish and squat shrimp, aka sexy shrimp. We saw yellow back fusiliers in schools at the top of the water as well. We had just finished our 5 minute 5 meter safety stop and ascended to the surface when we saw that the group near us had not fully surfaced yet. We stuck our masks back into the water to see what was going on, and were shocked to see a GIGANTIC jellyfish right in the middle of a group of people! We quickly swam over to it to get a look and a photo, and learned that there was a crap inside of the jellyfish, as well as fish swimming alongside it. It was a super cool thing to see, but we had to make darn sure that it was no where near us when we all had our heads back above water! Ouch!
Day 4 (dives 13 through 15)
Koh Bon, Hin Luang
Day 4 began with a super deep dive where we stayed near 30 meters for a good duration of the dive. There are “orange rocks” all over this dive site, but in reality the rocks aren’t orange, the coral growing on the rocks is all orange. It’s beautiful. Joe spotted a marble eagle ray under a reef ledge where it apparently hangs out quite often. We saw tons of german cleaner shrimp in one crevice and identified some more camouflaged stonefish. This dive site became super crowded since something like 6 boats were all anchored at this site at once and dropping divers in constantly.
Koh Bon, West Ridge
We went back to the West Ridge at Koh Bon on our last day in hopes of everyone being able to spot the incredible manta ray. During the dive briefing, we even all joined in to do a super-secret move that the crew told us that if everyone participated at once, it was sure to bring us luck on the dive and guaranteed (ok, almost) that we would see a manta. This did the trick because less than 5 minutes in, Joe was pointing above us and had us viewing a 5 meter wide manta ray! It swam right over us and we reveled in the glory of such an early and magnificent sighting of the manta. We had now accomplished our goal for the dive, and everything was just gravy after that. However it didn’t come close to ending there. The gigantic manta ray decided to essentially put on a show for all of the groups from our boat, and swam in huge circles around us, beside us, above us, below us… it was unreal. The manta got really close to each of us at different times, and we were all seriously dancing and shaking with glee at the end of the show put on just for us by this magnificent creature. Of course, some of the other divers had to take the joy out of it for the rest of us, when they moved in front of us chasing after the manta and blocking our views, when if they had just stayed still, the manta would have swam right by everyone, but, such is life I guess. We still ended up with an incredible 43 minute dive where we essentially saw a gigantic manta ray for the entirety of the dive. Lucky us!
Between the last 2 dives, we spotted a couple of minke whales off the bow and starboard side of the boat and watched in amazement at their sheer volume and size as they surfaced for air.
The Boonsung Wreck was the final dive site of the trip, which also happened to be a wreck dive, and also where we finished our Advanced Open Water Certification. We identified hazards requested by Joe and enjoyed a really cool site full of sea life! Right off the bat, we saw a school of squid! We also spotted 2 leopard moray eels that were fighting and Joe got close enough to one of them that we got slightly worried it would start to attack his fin…he was actually hoping for it himself, but they didn’t bite. We saw huge nudibranch eggs that were big and colorful, more sexy shrimp, tons of rockfish, porcupine fish and lionfish.
We had the most incredible time on this liveaboard adventure. We made amazing friends that we have every intention of keeping up with and visiting and learned so much from our favorite dive instructor, Joe. We are actively searching for when we can go on another one in the very near future!
Here’s to many more dives in the future. Go team wiggle butts! (Which is our team name with Brandon and Devon.)
After we got back to dry land we headed to Patong, Phuket for our final night in the region. We hung out with a couple of our new girl friends from the boat and spent the evening feasting on market food, enjoying some drinks and people watching on the busy (party) streets of Patong. The next day was going to be a long one with about 13 hours of travel on vans, buses and ferries where we were both physically exhausted and fighting off sickness.
Until next time…
~ Jenny & Kerry