The Similan and Surin Islands rank among the top 50 dive sites in the world and no wonder! The water is invitingly warm, crystal clear, with great visibility and the wildlife underwater is stunning. From macro stuff like nudibranches and blue dragons to the huge pelagics like visiting whale sharks and giant mantas, the Similans and Surins have it all. The best way to explore this magical underwater paradise? A 6 day liveaboard, hitting up the best dive sites in the region, is the way to go. We booked with Wicked Diving, a ecologically friendly dive operator, and have absolutely no regrets! In fact, we loved it so much that we’re thinking of eventually going on their Komodo and Raja Ampat liveaboards – hopefully soon! Here’s our Wicked Diving review of the 6 day liveaboard to the Similan and Surin Islands!
Reservations and payment
Reservations were all easily handled online. Wicked staff were friendly, responsive and helpful, clearing up all our questions prior to making the actual booking. We customised our dive gear hire and asked for Nitrox certification – all arranged with no hassle. Then we recustomised our dive gear hire and asked for a discount – again, no problems! Wicked also gives you a contact for you to arrange airport transfers and accommodation before or after the trip – Mrs Aoy will take good care of you!
A 50% deposit is due to confirm your spot on the dive boat, with the rest payable a month before your departure. Initially we paid via credit card through Paypal – and got slammed with a hefty fee of AUD50 for our troubles. Nothing to do with Wicked, and when contacted, they provided us with the option to transfer the money via international direct debit, with far less fees involved.
Transfers and accommodation
Wicked partners with Mrs Aoy, who can arrange your airport transfers and accommodation for you. This is the easy, no hassle option. She communicated clearly and reliably through email before our trip, giving us contact numbers in case of emergency. Our airport transfers were punctual and reliable, with our driver waiting for us at Phuket Airport as soon as we walked out of the departure gate, ready to whisk us away to Phu Khao Lak, in Khao Lak, about an hour away. The accommodation is modern, clean and set in lovely lush grounds. There is a handy restaurant nearby. Payment for the transfers is in cash, with the option to pay by card for accommodation.
The MV Mariner is a comfortable little boat. All of the bunk cabins are air conditioned, but you’ll only really spend the nights indoors – and on calm nights you could even sleep out on the sun deck, under the stars. There are bean bags and cushions available here – perfect for an afternoon snooze in the sun between dives. The second deck is the main dining area, where all the meals are served. The dive deck is well thought out, and splitting the divers into different groups make for stress-free, comfortable buddy checks. Upon boarding, the crew does the introduction, along with the mandatory safety briefing – there are lifevests and lifeboats in case of emergency.
Then, a Thai tradition – firecrackers, hanging from the bow of the ship, are lit and the air explodes in loud pops and bangs, to scare off the evil spirits and ensure a safe journey ahead. The rooms are located on the dive deck level – all are bunk beds and although narrow, were comfortable enough. There’s just enough floor space for one big rolling suitcase, though we kept ours mostly closed up during our trip – our dive gear was stowed away safely in crates on the deck. There are three shared bathrooms with hot showers and while we all had to wait for our turn to use it, everyone was considerate and never hogged it for too long. The bathrooms were my main bugbear, but the crew kept it clean and after awhile I got used to sharing.
Food and drink
The food was excellent on the Mariner. Beyond excellent. Fresh, plentiful and varied – we were served 5 meals a day and there was always plenty to go around. The dishes were a mix of Western and Thai, from delicious curries, deep fried chicken, to fried rice. The only caveat is that Wicked has a policy of not serving fish on board, as the local fishing industry is not what would be deemed eco friendly and sustainable.
There are snacks available throughout the day, such as cereal, bread and spreads, yoghurt and as well as hydrolytes to add to your water. A fruit basket is kept stocked up and water and juice is free – a point of difference to many of the other cruises I’ve been on. Honestly though, the main meals were so delicious and so filling I hardly ever found myself craving snacks between meals – the cooks, P’da and P’lek, are absolute wizards for cooking up a feast from their tiny onboard kitchen!
I rented everything except for my snorkel gear – fins and mask. The gear was top notch, and the dive masters take the time to calibrate your weight to pin point precision, which improved my trim underwater and helped me conserve air. So many other dive operators just slam divers with a ton of weight, without taking the time and effort to finesse the weights – it makes a massive difference underwater! The regulators are excellent and clearly regularly serviced. Dive computers are included in gear hire and each diver gets his/her own personal computer. We had given our measurements before arriving and our gear was all packed and onboard, ready for us by the time we arrived. Wicked has a no-gloves policy, to discourage divers from touching the wildlife underwater. This is an excellent idea, but one that I can only really see working in warm water – I couldn’t possibly dive without my gloves in water below 20 degrees. Luckily, in the Similans and Surins, the water is warm.
Itinerary and diving
The itinerary and dive sites are generally not fixed and depends in part on the weather conditions. Richelieu Rock is a highlight, and where conditions permit, Wicked will always include this dive site in the itinerary. Dive briefings are thorough, useful and best of all, illustrated by hand drawn maps! The stops we made on our dive trip were:
- Anita’s Reef
- West of Eden
- Turtle Rock
- Elephant Head Rock
- Christmas Point
- Koh Bon (where we saw mantas!)
- Boon Sung wreck (visibility as 2 metres due to the huge rainfall the night before – all I saw for 40 minutes were the fins of the diver in front of me as we hugged the wreck in single file and tried not to touch the swarms of scorpion fish! This site is usually amazing in good vis, to judge by the videos!)
- Tachai Peninsula and Reef
- Torinla Peninsula and Reef
- Richelieu Rock (the highlight of the dive trip!)
Wicked offers Nitrox certification, Open Water and Advanced Open Water courses while on the liveaboard – it’s certainly one of the best places in the world to get certified. The Similan and Surin islands are considered the top dive site in Thailand, and likely, in Asia. The topography ranges between huge, underwater boulders teeming with fish to sandy, sloping reefs covered with coral. The wildlife here is staggering, beautiful and awe inspiring. And if you’re lucky you might be in the water when a shadow of the biggest fish in the sea, the whale shark, passes by overhead, or you might witness the otherworldly grace of mantas, dancing through the bubbles in the deep.
Wicked offers an ethical, ecologically friendly setup. They are insistent on dive insurance, have a fair emphasis on safety and the boat itself feels sturdy and solid. They work with charities back in Khao Lak and take their responsibility to the environment seriously. Ecologically friendly soap and shampoo are available on board and for sale at their shop. The products are made by local workshops. The crew and divemasters were professional, knowledgeable and fun, and they hail from all over the world. I’ve been on a few dive liveaboards and Wicked, so far, has been the best overall experience, from the cost, the people, the condition of the boat, and all aspects of the diving.