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Thailand’s coast is blessed with some of the region’s best diving locations, both within the Gulf of Thailand and off its western coastline in the Andaman Sea.

The famous diving destinations you may have heard of: the Similans, Surin and Koh Lipe are all located in the Andaman Sea, so we headed down to Phuket, the so-called Pearl of the Andaman, in search of a comfortable liveaboard scuba diving experience.

Not the case when I first dived in Thailand many moons ago, these days much of the easily accessible coral around Phuket is under threat from global warming and over-tourism, so for real underwater variety you have to venture further offshore to find the pristine reefs. Fast speed boats can take divers only so far, they are weather restricted and often offer a bumpy ride, so the liveaboard experience is the way to go. 

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On browsing the internet there were several good looking Phuket based liveaboard operators, most offering modern, steel-hulled vessels and promising stable cruising with great facilities. There were also some more traditional looking craft, phinisi schooners and gaff-rigged traders, there was even a Chinese junk!

That’s when the 35 metre SY Diva Andaman sailed onto my screen! Operated by Diva Marine, the Diva Andaman offered a seven day (six nights) trip to the Similan Islands coming up, which would take in the fabulously named Richelieu Rock site; that all sounded good so we jumped right on it.

The brain-child of owner-operator Yannick Mazy, SY Diva Andaman was built in 2008, locally in Thailand’s Samut Prakan boatyards, south of Bangkok. She follows a traditional Sulawesi phinisi design and has been fitted with seven luxury air-conditioned, en-suite cabins; her average capacity is for eight guests, although she can accommodate up to a maximum of fourteen - small enough for some personal attention.

Upon boarding, we were met by a wellturned- out English speaking crew, including the commander in chief ‘Charlie’, the ship’s black cat and mascot. Far from taking it easy in the officer's mess Charlie was a paws-on leader, he seemed to pop-up everywhere; we even found him in our cabin once! 

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The SY Diva Andaman experience is one of gunwale to gunwale luxury, with onboard services such as traditional Thai massages from Khun Naum, exotic looking cocktails and two specially designed wine cellars to ensure the wines are kept at the correct temperature for the tropics. 

In the galley, Chef Somboon provided fine Thai cuisine along with some international favourites, all prepared with the freshest of ingredients. I’m a big breakfast fan, particularly if your day is going to be packed with activity, so I really enjoyed the great coffee, croissant and homemade granola and yoghurt. Lunch was a substantial buffet, with many of the diving guests needing a quick feed between dives, while dinner was under the stars, a candle-lit signature dish affair, with all of Chef’s skills on show.

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It was a shame to interrupt all of this Thai hospitality and great food, but we were here to dive I kept reminding myself, and the Simillans offered much. Touted to be in the top ten most fascinating dive destinations in the world The Similan Islands are characterized by fantastical granite boulders and slabs, both above and below the crystal clear waters – this region is famous for its visibility, diversity and underwater topography.

From deep canyons and swim-throughs to white sandy slopes the Similans keep it interesting for divers at all levels of experience. On one day we came across some strong currents, the perfect conditions for a feeding frenzy. Giant trevallies, mantas and a couple of blacktip sharks were involved so we were happy to be behind, and clinging onto a big rock, stage left.

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For a different pace of dive, the Similan Islands also offer amazing coral gardens, and we saw a few varieties of small and colourful Nudibranchs, as well as huge numbers of yellow-tailed Fusiliers, Nemo himself, the ubiquitous Clown Anemonefish and some large Moray Eels. The highlight though was a close encounter with a very friendly Hawksbill Sea Turtle, who was happy for me to get close and then followed us around for a while.

The Manta Rays were another bonus, at one point we had five of them making runs through the current, as they filtered in some tasty plankton. Talking of plankton, we were told that Whale Sharks often appeared in Similan waters, looking to feed on the same stuff as the Manta’s, but sadly not on our shift; a good reason to come back!

A word about our cabin. There are only seven on board, and all of them are wall to ceiling to floor covered in teak wood. A tad dark, but hey this is all part of the atmosphere of a traditional wooden boat, plus we didn’t spend any time in the cabin during the day, We were given the triple room which had a queensized double, with a ladder up to a single bunk bed for our six-year-old daughter, and occasionally Charlie the cat! 

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Our seven days aboard the SY Deva Andaman will live long in the memory, not just for the amazing diving and exemplary staff, but what I will particularly remember was the experience up on deck when the wind got up and the Captain instructed the crew to ready the sails. There then followed a burst of energy as seven crew hoisted the two large mainsails, no electronic winches here, just sweat and muscle. Within five minutes we were under sail with the fantastic sound of wind on canvass, and the creaking of rope and shackle as the SY Deva Andaman powered us home across tropical waters, and right on cue, dolphins off the starboard bow! Unforgettable. 

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The six-day Similans - Richelieu Dive Cruise aboard the SY Diva Andaman costs from 94.160 THB per person

 

For more and bookings: divamarine.com

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