A long tail, a mini bus, a second mini bus, a quick night in a hostel, a third mini bus, a very big tuk tuk style bus and we were finally to our home for the next 5 days/nights – the Manta Queen 7. We were told to hand in our shoes on our way in to our 90 foot cruiser and we would get them back in 5 days. Barefoot, we stepped aboard the boat and our first SCUBA liveaboard trip had officially begun.
We traveled overnight to the Similan Islands and woke up to see an amazing sunrise over one of the most unique looking islands I have ever seen. Our days would quickly start to blend together, our schedule the same every day:
wake up call- 6am, light breakfast,
1st dive briefing, 1st dive: 7am followed by a big breakfast and time to rest
2nd dive briefing, 2nd dive: 10:30am followed by lunch and rest,
3rd dive briefing, 3rd dive: 2:30pm, snacks, rest,
4th dive briefing, 4th dive: 5:30pm, dinner, hangout, crash out, repeat.
Our first day was the only variation on that schedule since we had a night dive. There were 22 divers on the boat, 5 instructors and an amazingly helpful Thai crew. They were people from all different parts of the world with varying levels of experience.
It was an amazing first day. We did 4 dives – Anita’s Reef, East of Eden, Deep Six and then for our night dive we headed back to Anita’s Reef. The names have little importance to the story but we will tell them to you anyway. The underwater life here blew Croatia out of the water. Thousands upon thousands of fish engulfed us within their schools us as we swam down. We saw all sorts of interesting fish – We saw some ENORMOUS Parrot fish, HUGE Trevally, a Bent Stick Pipefish, Mantis Shrimp, Trumpet fish, Clown Trigger fish, Nudibranch and a bunch of different types of Moray Eels. The underwater landscape was covered in big boulders just like it was above water. Diving at night was a really awesome experience too. Neither of us had done a night dive before. It is both terrifying and exciting. You can only see what you light up with your flashlight and the faint glares of other divers lights in the distance.
Today was another amazing day. There were some stronger currents during todays dive but we managed to get through just fine. We were able to go to Donald Duck Beach after breakfast today, which was a really nice treat. It was completely empty with the exception the 10 or so of us from the boat. We were able to hike up some huge boulders for a stunning view overlooking the ocean. By far the most picturesque place we have been in Thailand.
We saw some really interesting marine life today on our dives – Elephant Head Rock, Christmas Point, Koh Bon and The Dome (of dooooom!). We saw a Purple Ribbon Eel, I saw a 1 ½ meter Black Tip Reef Shark but of course no one was near me at the time to corroborate, Giant Manta Ray from a distance, Trumpet fish, Cornett fish, Emperor Angel fish, and then during our ascent our instructor Ben got a feathery sea star stuck to his crotch, which was hysterical. We have no idea where it came from but it was quite a show watching him try to get it off. Rob and I both almost used up the rest of our air from laughing so hard – thankfully we were on our way up already.
Halfway through the trip and it is going great! Dives today were The Dome (of doooom!) again for a morning dive, La Torilla, Stone…something (neither of us can remember the name), and Corner Stone. We saw a few different stonefish, which are always a fun find since they are so great at camouflage, a zebra moray eel, which was a very interesting patterned eel and the biggest fish we saw all trip – a HUGE Napoleon Wrasse! We didn’t get a clear picture of him but he was size of a newborn calf. No joke. We also got a nice treat today, we had the opportunity to go to a fishing village on an island in the middle of nowhere. We were told that the people who lived on this island had no passports, they are “people of the sea.” Fisherman and their families – the King of Thailand gave this island to them to live and they are not allowed on mainland Thailand as they have no paperwork, so they have built themselves a community there. It was pretty amazing to see what people could do with essentially no connections to the mainland or what we consider “real world.” They have built houses along the beach, the kids all seemed very happy, they had a few games, some were just happy splashing around in the water. They made beautiful wood cravings of ships and fish to sell to the few people that visited from time to time. It was really amazing to think that they took a completely empty island and built themselves a life there. Rob, along with a group of guys from the boat had a really good time splashing around with some of the kids in the water and I of course enjoyed just photographing the village, the people and videoing their “playtime.”
This was a great day - Most marine life we’ve seen yet. Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock, which we did 3x.
Koh Tachai was beautiful, we saw what seemed to be the largest eel ever, a couple stingrays swimming above the sand, 4 giant lobsters hanging out in a little rock cave and my favorite of the trip, a little tiny yellow seahorse!! He was the absolute cutest! This dive was full of lionfish and a couple nudibranch and then at the end of the dive we swam out into the blue to find a HUGE school of barracuda (200+). The smaller ones on top around where we were swimming and the larger ones below us. They were everywhere. It was really amazing.
Richelieu Rock was where we spent the remainder of the day. Our first dive there (2nd of the day) was all about the cuttlefish, six in total. It is mating season for them so it is a pretty cool site to see them go through their mating rituals. The biggest male in the bunch clearly already has the girl, he’s doin’ his thing and then 3 or 4 smaller males just take turns hovering around them and slowly approaching almost to say “uhhh, excuse me larger cuttlefish sir… do you think I could get in there? No? Oh okay, I’m sorry you are clearly busy, I’m sorry I will just go back with my friends and watch from a distance. I am so sorry.” It was pretty comical. Third dive, it was getting darker but we were still able to see huge schools of many types of fish darting this way and that in seemingly rehearsed evasive maneuvers, the cuttlefish still doing their thing, on the edge of the deep blue were more trevally and barracuda. And then a special treat with one very large barracuda on the ocean floor posing for pictures.
Our last day on the boat was bittersweet. Only 3 dives for the day, Hin Luang, Boonsung Wreck and Premchai Wreck.
Hin Luang was a beautiful site that was covered every inch in soft yellow corals that looks like little bundles of flowers. It was a picturesque site with a lot of different marine life although nothing “unusual” we were still amazed by every single fish we did see. Maybe at this point we’d seen it all? Haha
The Boonsung and Premchai wrecks were both tin mining boats. The Boonsung wreck had been torn into pieces and spread about the ocean floor when the tsunami hit 10 years ago, but the Premchai is still mostly intact. The visibility near the wrecks is much less clear since they are on sandy ocean floors and a lot of that gets kicked up with the current. The Premchai was much much worse than Boonsung – we couldn’t even see but a few feet in front of us on our last dive which was a bit of a disappointment – there were also a few HUGE jellyfish, something we hadn’t seen much of yet, so it was a bit of a dodging game with those guys. Don’t want to get stung 20m below the surface. At the Boonsung wreck we saw some cool life though, one of my tops – a baby emperor angel fish, probably the most beautiful fish we saw, a couple stonefish, some shrimp and then honey comb moray eels which are the most interesting looking eels I had ever seen with their leopard print pattern that extends down into their mouth/throat.
When we finally made it back to the dock, the time had finally come for us given back our shoes. Another minibus back to the scuba shop where we would say our final goodbyes and all get into our separate taxis to our different locations, back to our lives on land whatever that may be for each of us. 5 days with people from all over the world, people that likely would have never met and if they had may have never given each other the time of day. Seeing and experiencing some of the most amazing things Thailand and the ocean world in general has to offer. That is surely something you do not forget. We will make sure that this doesn’t become a once in a lifetime experience but an every chance we get experience. We absolutely loved it and will be looking for our next liveaboard opportunity again soon. Who wants to come along?