Imagine waking up to the sun rising from the depths of the great blue sea stretching out in all directions. You sip on a coffee as the sky changes colors and the breeze plays with your hair. You slip on your wetsuit, gear up, and jump into clear waters and are quickly surrounded by fish and corals of all colors.
When you make it back onto the boat for breakfast at 9 a.m., you've already completed a dive, but the fun is far from over. By sunset, you'll have 4 dives under your belt, and tomorrow you'll do it again. Dive, Eat, Sleep, Repeat.
If this sounds dreamy to you, we've got the perfect idea for your next vacation!
A Scuba Diving Liveaboard!
We first heard about scuba diving liveaboards while traveling in Thailand 2 years ago. We've been dreaming of it ever since. We diligently did our research, found a great company, and made our scuba dreams reality. And you can too!
We're going to share exactly what it's like to spend 3 days on a scuba liveaboard, share the company we recommend in Thailand, and answer all your questions -- from what to pack to what the bathroom situation is like! (Yep, we’re going there!)
If you know what your loooking for, click the link to jump down:
Ever wonder what it is like on a scuba liveaboard? Check out our video for a quick glimpse:
What is a diving liveaboard?
Experiencing a liveaboard is the the best way to get multiple dives in one day. You'll spend the day hopping from one island to another, diving up to 4 times a day. Guests get their own rooms or shared with a friend and actually sleep on board.
Why we chose Wicked Diving
We've heard really good things about the diving in the Similan Islands and Richelieu Rock. But there are a handful of liveaboard operators that run out of Khao Lak, so it can be difficult to choose. We picked Wicked Diving because of the consistently great reviews they receive from guests. And even more importantly for their commitment to the environment and supporting the local community. We've outlined their eco and community practices below.
Diving in the Similan Islands
You might think that the dives would start to blend together since they are all relatively close together, but they are carefully selected and are all quite different — featuring different topography and ocean life.
The Similans Islands are about 70 km off the coast of mainland Thailand and are home to some of the best diving in the world. There are massive underwater rock formations, making unique ecosystems for coral and ocean life. Some dive sites have awesome swim throughs and huge coral reefs.
There are so many fish to see while diving in Similan Islands. We saw many clown fish, puffer fish, box fish, and moray eels. We swam near a large schools of barracuda and a white-tip reef shark cruised right past us. In the past, our instructors spotted manta rays and whale sharks around the Similans, but unfortunately we did not see any.
The Schedule on a Liveaboard
We did the 3-day liveaboard to the Similan Islands, and while each day was slightly different, here's the gist:
Dive, Eat, Sleep, Repeat.
I wasn't sure if I would get tired of diving, but honestly, I found myself excitedly awaiting the next dive.
And don’t worry: if you're not feeling well, are tired, or just need a break from diving, there's nobody forcing you to go. You can certainly sit out a dive if you want.
Here's an example of what our second day aboard the M/V Mariner looked like:
7:30 a.m. Wake up call
7:45 a.m. Dive 1
9:15 a.m. Breakfast
11:00 a.m. Dive 2
12:30 p.m. Lunch
2:45 p.m. Dive 3
4:15 p.m. Afternoon tea
5:15 p.m. Info session on Shark Guardian
6:35 p.m. Dive 4 (night dive!)
8:20 p.m. Dinner
Scuba Diving Gear
As a guest on a liveaboard, you will receive rental gear, though you are more than welcome to bring your own equipment if you have it.
Included in your liveaboard price is all equipment necessary for diving:
Wetsuit (shorty style because the water is so warm!)
BCD & regulators
Fins and Booties
Tip: We'd recommend purchasing your own mask, as this piece of equipment will be much more comfortable when it fits your face properly. If you purchase only one piece of scuba gear, this should be it. The rentals just can't fit every face properly, so you may get some leaking.
What to pack for the liveaboard
Diving certification card
Quick-dry microfiber towel (you are provided a towel, but it's nice to have a backup when you're in the water so often!)
Leave-in conditioner spray (super nice to keep your hair from becoming a mess between dives)
2 pairs dry clothes
GoPro camera and waterproof housing
Kindle or book (there's also a small library on board you can borrow from)
Liquor (if it's your thing!). Beer (Chang and Leo) is available on board for a reasonable price (75 baht, $2.40 USD), but if you want alcohol, you can bring your own. You can purchase soda (35 baht, $1.12 USD) or use juice to mix with it.
What NOT to pack for the liveaboard
There's a lot you don't need to bring on the boat. And to save space, we'd recommend storing what you don't need at the Wicked Diving office or at your hotel in Khao Lak.
Shampoo, conditioner, body wash/soap (Wicked Diving provides all the above in a PH neutral version so it does not damage the reefs. Please refrain from using your own products during your liveaboard as they can do harm to the ocean life.)
Shoes (you'll obviously wear a pair of shoes to get to the shop, but shoes are collected upon entering the boat. Everybody goes barefoot while on the liveaboard (for safety and cleanliness reasons), and your shoes are returned to you upon docking at the pier)
Unnecessary clothes — leave extra clothes or items at your hotel in Khao Lak or at the Wicked Diving office in storage
When we first got on board and sat down for our first briefing, our trip leader said quite bluntly, "This isn't the ‘poshest’ boat, but you'll love it."
And in all honesty, he's right. If it's luxury and comfort you're looking for, well, you might wanna look into a yacht excursion and be ready to fork over a hefty bit of cash.
But if you have a reasonable expectations and like adventure, you will be totally comfortable aboard the M/V Mariner. And while it' not luxurious per say, you certainly won't be roughing it.
The rooms are small and simple, but quite comfortable. They are even air-conditioned (I was pleasantly surprised by this!). There are two types of rooms — bunks and queen beds. If you are traveling solo, you might be paired up with a bunkmate. If you are traveling as a couple, you'll either get bunks or a room with one big bed.
Common Areas on the Boat
The second level has tables and chairs, and this is the area that most things take place. Here is where you'll have dive briefings and eat meals. It's also a nice, shaded area to hang out and play cards or read.
The top deck is partially shaded and has an area with bean bags and a hammock. There's also a section in the sun with mats to lay out and take a nap. Just be sure you apply enough sun block if you hang out here — it's no fun putting on a wetsuit with a nasty sunburn!
Soooo you might be wondering what the bathroom situation is like while living on a boat for a few days. Don't worry — we'll tell all!
There are 3 bathrooms on board, and aside from once or twice, we rarely had to wait to use them. They are Western style toilets and are kept clean. One thing to note is just like most toilets in Thailand, you cannot dispose of paper or sanitary products in the toilets.
It is even more important on the boat than it is on land, as these are marine toilets and eventually everything that is flushed will end up in the water. There is a bin to dispose of anything you cannot flush.
Each bathroom also has a shower, and surprisingly, the hot water worked well and the pressure was strong. PH neutral shampoo, conditioner and body wash are provided, and you are asked to refrain from using your own products on board so you don't compromise the marine life.
Food on the Liveaboard
Guys, the food on Wicked Diving liveaboard was incredible! It's crazy, because the two women who cook all the meals use just two burners to whip up breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks with multiple dishes — curries, wontons, stirfrys, to name a few! They are also accommodating to vegetarians, vegans and others with dietary restrictions.
And if you’re hungry between meals, there are plenty of snacks for you to enjoy: fresh fruit, cereal and granola, yogurt, peanut butter and jam. Plus, there are juices, instant coffee, tea and hot chocolate available all day long (and fresh coffee with breakfast!).
Safety while Diving
Wicked Diving puts a big emphasis on safety, and you will be in good hands. The staff on board is super professional and have been trained to handle all types of situations.
Before each dive, the dive staff checks the currents and the conditions and communicates any things you may encounter on the dive briefing.
If you've been following our blog for a while, you know that supporting companies that are doing things the right way is of utmost importance to us. And in complete transparency, Wicked Diving's ethical and eco-conscious policies are the reason we chose to dive with them over any other company in the area. Learn more about sustainable diving practices and how to become an environmentally friendly diver.
Here are some examples of things they are doing for the environment and the local community:
Water bottles: Each guest is given a water bottle that is theirs to use for the trip. They can use it to fill up with fresh water instead of going through hundreds of plastic water bottles per trip.
Recycle & compost: We were so happy to see recycling and food scraps were disposed of separately from the general trash.
PH Neutral shower products: Each bathroom has PH neutral shampoo, conditioner and body wash, and all guests are asked to use these products while on board instead of their own. This ensures that the reef will not be damaged.
Rechargeable batteries: Even though they may cost more than normal batteries, rechargeable batteries help reduce waste. And Thailand does not have a program to recycle old batteries, so if you bring a battery to Thailand, please leave with it and properly recycle it when you are back home.
Strict no touching marine life policy: One of the things we appreciated most about Wicked Diving is their strict no touching policy. We’ve gone snorkeling with companies in the past where the guide will pick up ocean life, like starfish or touch the coral to show it to guests. This has always made us uncomfortable, and we loved that the instructors at Wicked said we are all observers and we do not manipulate or disturb any marine life.
Shark Guardian: Wicked Diving partners with a UK Charity called Shark Guardian which helps monitor sharks and provides education about sharks. For each dive, we would record if we saw a shark (which we did!) or not and that information will be sent to Shark Guardian to help track the population of the apex predator of the sea.
Metal pull rings: While on the boat, there is a place for you to put your soda can pull tabs. These are then sent to Chiang Mai where they are melted down to make prosthetics. If you’re traveling in Thailand for a bit before your liveaboard, consider saving up the tabs from any beer or soda you consume and adding them to the collection when you arrive on the liveaboard.
Charity projects: 2% of all Wicked's revenue goes to a few local charity organisations in the area.
Teaching local children how to swim: Not only do they give money, but they give their time to help teach swimming to children in the community.
Trash clean up: Wicked partners with Trash Hero, an international organization helping clean up trash in beaches and oceans. We participated with a Trash Hero Clean Up and would highly recommend it to any one traveling to the islands or even throughout Thailand.
The Liveaboard Staff
On our voyage, there were 5 instructors – one of whom was the trip leader.
The ratio of instructors to guests varies, but the group sizes are small (the most guests an instructor had on our trip was 4).
We had our own guide, Bridget, and she was super knowledgeable and a fantastic diver. She is deaf and was able to teach us some sign language, which was really fun. We truly couldn't have asked for a better dive guide!
There are also Thai boat crew – 2 cooks, 3 “boat boys” who help getting equipment ready and get guests in and out of the water; and the captain (or course!).
The Other Divers Onboard
On our liveaboard there were a total of 14 guests, from all over the world and of all ages. The youngest person on board was 20 years old and the oldest was a repeat customer who I would guess is in his early seventies.
There are people of all walks of life too. Two-week vacationers, backpackers, couples, solo travel, students, professionals. A bit of a mix of it all.
And much the same, everyone came with their own level of diving experience. One guest on our boat had gone diving for his first time just a week before to get his Open Water certification. Others had been avid divers for years and have experience diving all over the world.
How much does it cost for a 3-day liveaboard?
This is the big question.
At the time of writing, a 3-day liveaboard in the Similan Islands or to Richelieu Rock costs $585 USD (18,200 THB). There is also a 1600 baht ($51.40 USD) fee to enter the Marine National Park.
When you consider this includes transportation, food, accommodation, equipment and staff, it is very reasonable. And when a single dive costs about $60 USD, it is a steal!
Be prepared with some extra cash to tip your instructor and the boat crew. They work really hard, and by the end of the experience, you’ll definitely want to show your appreciation.
Do I need to have my Advanced Certification?
No. Wicked Diving welcomes those with Open Water certifications and above, though I will say having your advanced open water certification allows you to fully explore the sight a bit more. For example, on some sights, the advanced divers can dive to 30 meters, while those who don't have their advanced certification can't explore the dive site as extensively because they can only go to a maximum of 18 meters.
All this said, you can actually get your advanced certification ON the boat! How cool is that?! Three people aboard our voyage came in Open Water Divers and left with Advanced certs.
What if I haven't gone diving in a while?
To be honest, I was a bit nervous. It had been 2 years since we've been diving in Koh Tao, and everything was a bit fuzzy. We booked a refresher course for the morning before our dive trip, and we are so happy we did.
Want to book a trip to the Similan Islands?
You’ll not regret it. Head to the Wicked Diving website and contact their friendly staff. They are very responsive and can get you set up for a 3- or 6-day liveaboard excursions. Wicked also has a branch in Indonesia if you are traveling there.
If you want to take a trip on a liveaboard, but your not traveling to the Similans, there are plenty of dive trips around the world. Liveaboard.com is a great search engine to find the best liveaboard trips in destinations like the Philippines, Galapagos and the Caribbean.
Where to Stay in Khao Lak
Luxury/Couple Stay Hotel: Baan Khaolak Resort — Steps away from the beach, this 4-star hotel (under $100 USD) has an elegant outdoor pool, restaurant and bar on-site, and concierge for booking activities like a Thai cooking class or jungle adventures.
Budget Hotel: To Zleep Hotel — We were happy with To Zleep: Small, but clean and comfortable "micro-rooms"; an extensive free breakfast of eggs, fried rice, noodles, toast, and make-your-own pancakes. Reasonable price for a night stay, though it was further from the Wicked Office than we initially thought.
What to Do in Khao Lak
Honestly, we didn't love the town of Khao Lak. Very touristy, kinda cheesy, and just not really our style. That said, it's not a bad hub for a night before and after your liveaboard.
See the sunset: We witnessed two sunsets in Khao Lak and both were incredible. If possible, head to the lighthouse near the south end of Bang Niang Beach for a wonderful view.
Get a massage: After a few days of diving, a nice massage is a great way to treat yourself! I had the best back & neck massage I've had in Thailand (and I've had a lot!) at B. Massage, which isn't far from To Zleep.
Spend some time at the beach: The town may not be great, but the beach is stunning.
Enjoy the nightlife: We were too tired after our liveaboard (and the massage kind of was the final push to spend the night in), but we heard good things about Gecko Bar.
Honestly, that’s about it. There are some tours, but if you want to do some exploring, we’d recommend making your way to Khao Sok National Park for some jungle trekking and time in nature, or down to Koh Lanta for amazing island life or Koh Lipe for gorgeous white sand beaches!
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Thank you to Wicked Diving for a partial sponsorship of our liveaboard experience. As always, all our opinions are completely our own.