My liveaboard experience in Thailand – Similan & Surin islands on MV Pawara

divin

Imagine waking up on a boat, watching the sunrise from your cabin and having an exciting day of diving ahead of you. You’ll get to explore the unique underwater world of the Similan and Surin islands in Thailand. If you’re lucky you might spot Whale sharks or Manta rays. And all of this every day for a full week. Doing a liveaboard makes this possible.

In this blogpost I’m going to give you a full review about my five day liveboard experience on MV Pawara with West Coast Divers. This is the first liveaboard I’ve ever done and marks the beginning of many many more to follow. I loved it!

Liveaboard basically means: eating, sleeping and diving. All on and from one boat.

The trip covers the Similan islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock. The dives sites and featured marine life are all very different from each other so it will definitely not get boring. They are very famous for crystal clear water (we always had a visibility of at least 20 meters) as well as for attracting Manta rays and Whale sharks. Most of the islands are part of the Similan and Surin national park located around 60 km off the West Coast of Thailand. Khao Lak marks the departure point for most of the trips to these islands. The national parks are only open from mid October until mid of June.

How to get to Khao Lak & departure

The departure point for the liveaboard is in the evening in Khao Lak which is located three hours north of Phuket. If you’re staying in Phuket or within range the company can arrange the transport for you. We came from Koh Tao by night ferry which arrived in the afternoon. To make the trip more enjoyable I recommend to spend at least one day in Khao Lak and explore the area. The following day you can then start the liveaboard fully relaxed.

Have you ever heard of Khao Sok national park? You can add this to your journey as it’s quite close to Khao Lak.

When we arrived on the boat the team checked our diving certifications and showed us the cabin. To be ready to jump into the water the following morning we also set up our dive equipment. All equipment can be provided by the company or also only the bits and pieces you need. Before the boat headed towards the Similan Islands we enjoyed a nice first dinner on the boat. The first leg of the journey was all overnight, therefore depending on the conditions it might be a bit wavy.

MV Pawara

The most exciting moment was when I woke up in the morning and saw an abandoned island with a stunning sunrise. A great start into the first full day of our liveaboard.

The liveaboard: Daily schedule

We booked a five day/four nights trip which had 14 dives covered with the following schedule.The dive sites and procedures might vary depending on the conditions. Before every dive there was a dive briefing with information about of the dive site and wildlife we might encounter. Day 1 was the departure day from Khao Lak.

Day 2
  • Wake up call 6AM: After the wake up call we were assigned to different groups and a dive guide. As we did Nitrox diving we were put together with other Nitrox divers. The group assignments depended on our experience and certifications of diving. We were then briefed about the dive site and what we will be expecting.
  • First dive 7 AM: Tuna Wreck at Hideaway Bay
  • Breakfast 8 AM
  • Second dive 10:30 AM: West of Eden
  • Lunch 12 PM
  • Third dive 2 PM: Elephant Head
  • Snack 3 PM
  • Beachtime 4 PM: On the first day we had the chance to discover a white sand beach with a viewpoint to overlook the whole bay. We spent around an hour exploring the island and swimming in crystal clear water. This was the only chance during the trip to go to a beach.
  • Fourth dive 6.45 PM: The only night dive of the trip was on the first night. For this one we went to Snapper Alley.
  • Dinner 8 PM
whitesandbeach similan islands
Whitesand beach
diving on a liveaboard
Dingy dropping us for the dive
Beautiful Eagle ray at West Ridge

Day 3&4 were pretty similar to Day 2. The only difference were the dive sites & there was no night dive.

Day 3
  • First dive: Three Trees
  • Second dive: West Ridge, Koh Bon
  • Third dive: West Ridge, Koh Bon
  • Fourth dive: The Dome, Koh Tachai
Day 4

All four dives happened at Richelieu Rock. On this day I realized that a five day liveaboard is not enough time.

Day 5

Unfortunately day 5 already marked the end of the liveaboard. We finished that day with one dive at West Ridge, Koh Bon and one at The Dome, Koh Tachai. After lunch the boat headed back to the pier in Khao Lak where we arrived at around 2:30 PM. We had enough time to dry all our equipment during the journey.

My experience on MV Pawara

All in all I had a great time and was happy to have booked my trip on MV Pawara. The staff was really nice and our group with a number of 13 people the perfect size. The boat accommodates a maximum of 26 people. Nitrox was available free of charge which was one of the main reasons why we chose this liveaboard. Compared to the other dive boats the MV Pawara was not too big but also not too small.

Accommodation

We stayed in the budget cabin which had one bunkbed. It was super small but we only slept in there so for the next trip I wouldn’t really upgrade. Our cabin was next to the cabin of the captain which also meant that we couldn’t really hear the generator and motor noise – an advantage compared to the other cabins. We used the shared bathrooms with the crew which we also found to be an advantage as they were closer to the dive deck and kept in a very clean state. The cabin as well as the lounge were air conditoned and therefore very comfortable. Each cabin was also provided with: drinking water, beach towels, blankets, sockets.

The boat had three decks: dive deck and cabins (1), outdoor and indoor lounge as well as captain cabin (2), sundeck (3). We spent most of the day on deck no 2 either in the outdoor or indoor lounge. Food was served in the outdoor lounge.

budget cabin on MV Pawara
Budget cabin on MV Pawara
Lounge and where food is served

Food

On the first day I thought there were way too many food breaks in between the dives as I don’t really eat that much food. However, diving does need a lot of energy and even the afternoon snack was much needed. The food was a nice mix between Western and Thai dishes plus fresh fruit. Eating vegetarian is definitely possible (tell them in advance), vegan is doable but a bit more challenging. There’s no plant based drink alternative so I just brought my own soy milk. All in all I was able to have a nutritious meal everyday and thus very happy with the food.

Water, coffee and electrolytes were included in the price. Softdrinks and beers could be bought on the boat for a reasonable price.

Read more about how my biggest fear became my passion – how I became a dive master.

Pros and cons of doing a liveaboard

Would I do this liveaboard again? Yes! Yes! Yes! The fish we’ve seen and the whole living on the boat experience was amazing. We were so close to just jump on the next trip. However an experience does come with good things and things we need to take into account. I summed up some main pros and cons which I discovered during the trip.

PROS

  • No moving tanks and equipment: As I’ve only done one day dive trips so far I always had to set up my equipment, switch the tank and then take off the equipment within the same day. On a liveaboard this is so much more relaxed. The crew will change tanks for you and your equipment stays at one spot during the whole trip.
  • Diving at its best: Liveaboards take you to really exciting dive sites and you dive a LOT. I loved the variety of the dive sites – not only the marine life was different on each dive site but also the whole underwater topography was just stunning. Due to the sites being out in the open ocean there can also be strong currents which make the whole dive a little bit more exciting.
  • Just keep swimming: What I also really enjoyed was that an experienced dive guide showed us around the dive site so all I had to do is watch my air and dive. No getting lost, no compass, just enjoying the best spots of the dive site.
setting up the tanks

CONS

  • Diving needs energy: Being on a liveaboard means you can dive a LOT. I found that this came with a bit of pressure though. As I paid a high price for the trip and each dive site was so different I didn’t want to miss a dive. At the same time I was asking a lot from my body – four dives a day, lots of equalizing. Make sure to rest a lot, keep yourself hydrated and eat well.
  • Different bodies, different air consumption: This one was something I was a bit worried about before the trip. In my case it turned out to be perfectly fine as the other four divers and I were all on one level regarding our air consumption. Our dives were therefore all one hour long. However – depending on the liveaboard and group assignment – this is not always the case. Maybe it will be possible though to bring our own surface marker and you and your buddy come up later than the rest of the group. I guess this can be individually discussed.

Things to consider and prepare before your trip

Last but not least I have some helpful advice to consider before your trip.

Insurance

Make sure to get dive insurance. The insurance is not only important in case of an accident but also if you can’t dive due to medical conditions or your dives are affected due to an issue with another diver. More important is that it will cover in case you get sick before the trip. The companies normally don’t refund the money so paying extra for insurance can be worth it.

Advanced Adventurer & Nitrox

I recommend to get your Advanced Adventurer and Nitrox certification either on or before the liveaboard. This allows you do dive up to 30 metres (AA) and your no decompression limit is longer (Nitrox). Due to so many repetitive dives if you only dive with the normal tank the last few dives of each day will be shorter just because your NDL is lower. With Nitrox you are much more flexible.

No mobile network

Say goodbye to Social Media and tell your family and friends you’re going to be offline. As the boat is out in the ocean there can be days without any mobile network. I absolutely loved that and only used my phone to take photos. Some liveaboards state to have WiFi but if you really need that, check with them before booking. Without mobile network there’s also no WiFi possible.

Well being: Coconut oil & towel dress

For the ladies: Your hair will be basically wet and in the sun all day. I kept mine smooth by using coconut oil before the first dive.

For all: Have you ever heard of a towel dress? Soo helpful when on a liveaboard! You can take off your wet swimming suit after the dive and wear the towel dress until your dry or until the next dive. The towel is even cozier after a night dive. Find mine here.

Rip Curl towel dress
Cozy towel dress from Ripcurl
Enjoying offline time and sunset

A liveaboard is a very unique experience. If you love diving I can only recommend to give it a try. Maybe in the beginning start with only three or four days to see how you like it. If you’re looking into doing a liveaboard in Thailand have a look at the MV Pawara – it really was a great trip!

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