A Similan Islands liveaboard trip report on diving the Similan Islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock in December 2022, on the newly-launched Blue Dolphin liveaboard.
Big eye red snapper under ledge with fan, Christmas Point, Similan Islands © email@example.com
At the beginning of December 2022 I went on the first trip of the newly-launched Blue Dolphin liveaboard to the Similan Islands.
The boat is the new Similan Islands liveaboard from Big Blue Diving. You can see details and make bookings for Blue Dolphin direct on the Big Blue Khao Lak website or on liveaboard.com.
Glassfish over soft corals, Richelieu Rock © firstname.lastname@example.org
The trip followed a fairly standard itinerary for Similan Islands liveaboard – the first day in the Similan Islands themselves, then up to Koh Bon and Koh Tachai for a day, an early morning dive in the Surin Islands, and then three dives at Richelieu Rock. The final day has two last dives at Koh Bon before lunch and the cruise back to Tapla Mu pier near Khao Lak.
Tuna Wreck, Hideaway Bay, Similan Islands © email@example.com
The first dive is in the calm waters of Hideaway Bay, descending over the Tuna Wreck and then shallowing up into the white sands of Hideaway Bay.
The wreck is down at 30 metres and the viz is usually clear enough to simply observe it from above, rather than dropping all the way down to see it. It lies on its side with the bow railings still intact.
Tsunami memorial, Hideaway Bay, Similan Islands © firstname.lastname@example.org
A memorial to the 2004 tsunami is located in the shallows of Hideaway Bay, consisting of a stone mermaid and 12 circular sculptures of the Chinese zodiac. These have now become encrusted with corals.
Corals and anthias, West of Eden, Similan Islands © email@example.com
West of Eden, Three Trees, and Christmas Point all delivered with some gorgeous soft and hard corals and Three Trees signature huge barrel sponge. West Of Eden and Christmas Point’s big boulders had both been shaped by the waves of time, creating curved canyons and sculpted overhangs.
Orange fan, Three Trees, Similan Islands © firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite the boulders being huge and not moving (unlike everything else underwater), I failed to get any decent shots of them which really captures the almost organic shapes into which the water pressure has carved them. Maybe next time.
Soft corals on white sand, Three Trees, Similan Islands © email@example.com
All three sites make a great contrast with each other, and Three Trees is definitely the highlight for me – the barrel sponge, abundant soft corals and white sand is just epic. Topographically, it’s a coral-covered slope down into a sandy channel.
Giant sponge coral, Three Trees, Similan Islands © firstname.lastname@example.org
In the channel are several bommies packed with soft and hard corals and tons of anthias, along with the aforementioned supersized barrel sponge too. It needs to be slack tide to dive Three Trees, as you can imagine the current will rip through the channel when it starts moving.
Sweetlips, Christmas Point, Similan Islands © email@example.com
While we did a couple of dives at Koh Tachai on Day 2 of the trip in the afternoon, it was surprisingly quiet.
Fan bommie, Koh Tachai © firstname.lastname@example.org
Tachai is famous for lots of fish action, as they ride the currents, and I was hoping for a batfish school encounter or even – as I’ve only seen there once before – a huge school of barracuda. But we had to content ourselves with the smaller fish life buzzing around Tachai’s signature fan corals.
Hard coral garden, Ao Suthep, Surin Islands © email@example.com
The following morning was a new experience for me – my first time diving at Ao Suthep in the Surin Islands. It has an amazing untouched hard coral garden, which has somehow survived humans and climate change so far. It was a real highlight of the trip for me.
Hard coral garden from above, Ao Suthep, Surin Islands © firstname.lastname@example.org
After the first morning dive at Ao Suthep, it was a couple hours cruise to Richelieu Rock. The dive boats like to stay at the Surin Islands for shelter overnight and then head to Richelieu. As Richelieu Rock itself is completely exposed, it’s reassuring to know there’s somewhere to run if the weather suddenly turns bad.
Yellow snapper, Richelieu Rock © email@example.com
On this particular visit we were graced with decent weather, sunshine and fairly good viz. Richelieu was dynamic as ever – the resident hundreds-strong school of yellow snapper, eye-popping soft corals, carpets of glass fish moving as one over the reef – just majestic, and deeply pleasing that we stayed here for the rest of the day doing three dives, although the final one was pretty dark. (For more on Richelieu, see my Richelieu Rock trip report from January 2022).
Fan and glass fish, Richelieu Rock © firstname.lastname@example.org
We did three dives total at Koh Bon – one on day 2, on the way to Tachai, and then two dives on the final morning of the trip, each time hoping to see a manta ray. But no luck, even with the visibility on the final dive of the trip being pretty much perfect. As I looked down the jagged edge at Koh Bon’s famous ridge dropping off into the depths, I couldn’t help but think back to the spectacular encounters we’d had with manta rays back in March 2022. Oh well, maybe next time.
Koh Bon feeding frenzy wrasse and jacks © email@example.com
However, almost as a consolation prize, we were lucky enough to see a big group of wrasse and jacks in a feeding frenzy over some coral, whipping around the bommie lightning fast, striking to get their food and then circling out ready to dive back in again.
The afternoon cruise back to the mainland and real life provided a relaxed time to enjoy lunch, dry out all the dive gear and pack away camera stuff before arriving at the pier around 4 pm. Taxis had already been organised and were waiting to take guests off to Khao Lak or Phuket to spend the night. Everyone is out of the water by around 11.30 am so plan your flight to depart after midday the next day at the earliest.
Glass fish and soft coral bommie, Richelieu Rock © firstname.lastname@example.org
Phuket has several decent cheap hotels right by the airport if you are looking to fly out the next day. The Sixteenth Nai Yang Beach hotel and BS Airport at Phuket almost next door to each other are both fine for an overnight stopover. Both offer a free transfer from the hotel to the airport departures area – literally a five-minute drive, but you wouldn’t want to walk it.
Nai Yang beach is only 10 minutes walk away if you want to spend some more time by the sea. There’s also plenty of other Nai Yang beach accommodation options if you want more time at the beach to relax after your liveaboard.
If you’re looking for alternative liveaboard options, see our page on mid-range Similan liveaboards.