I spent an amazing 3 days/3 nights on a Thailand snorkeling liveaboard trip. The excursion with Andaman Snorkel Discovery left from about 1.5 hours north of Phuket to the Similan and Surin Islands. The company has recently started trips to Myanmar as well, so I’m hoping to return for another adventure. I chose them based on their good reviews and small group size, and because they specialized only in snorkeling rather than a mixed scuba diving/snorkeling group.
Haphazard Rating: (3 of 5). Open-water snorkeling recommended for experienced snorkelers; bring Dramamine for sea-sickness; you’ll travel to shore via small dinghy
To See: pristine beaches, sea turtles, rays, corals, sea life
To Eat: all meals served onboard; fresh fish; Thai dishes; tropical fruit
When to Go: October – May
The draw of a liveaboard is being able to wake up in amazing snorkeling or diving locations before the day trip boats arrive, as well as having an experienced captain and crew that know the best spots. You also feel a teensy bit like a rock star, since this is the closest most of us will ever come to rolling up in a private yacht to pristine and secluded beach settings.
Keep in mind, though, that the itinerary can be greatly affected by weather: our first night, there was a storm and we missed some spots because we needed to avoid the weather and didn’t have enough time to backtrack. Additionally, be aware that corals in the Gulf of Thailand (east coast) and Andaman Sea (west) have experienced bleaching due to warming waters and high tourist activity, so some islands are closed to allow the reefs time to recover.
You’ll complete a reservation form online and communicate with their staff to complete a booking. Expect a request for a bank transfer or PayPal of deposits and payments – it’s quite normal for trips I’ve booked in Thailand. Be sure to ask any questions before you book if you have any dietary requirements, special requests, etc.
Keep in mind that if your itinerary includes a national park entry, this is an additional fee on top of what you pay for the tour. You’ll pay separately in cash on the boat for that. Also bring cash if you want to purchase alcoholic beverages on board.
We left from Khao Lak, which is about 1.5 hours from Phuket. There are multiple flights daily from Bangkok to Phuket from either airport (BKK – Suvarnabhumi or DMK – Don Mueng). If you fly from BKK, there is luggage storage at the airport if you need it. Or ask to store your bags in their office.
Since I flew in the day the trip began, I booked an airport transfer for an additional fee through Andaman. The trip includes transfers (pick-up and drop-off) at a hotel in the city where your excursion starts and ends.
The boat itself was very basic (not a yacht), with bunk beds in all cabins except the master, but quite suited for its purpose. There’s also no room for luggage beyond a backpack or duffle, so leave any large bags at your hotel or the liveaboard office. In my research I noticed that some other liveaboards had shared bunk rooms, so check with your company before you book. I paid a reasonable single supplement since I traveled alone. I also was one of the first to arrive and snagged a cabin on the upper deck, which had a direct door to the outside and better ventilation. The rooms only have air conditioning at night.
The bathrooms were all shared and have showers, although you could also rinse off right as you get out of the water at the back of the boat.
The trip price included all meals onboard which were delicious and prepared by the local crew – Thai dishes, platters full of cut tropical fruit, fresh fish, etc. Drinks included soft drinks, water, coffee and tea; beers are available for an extra charge onboard after the day’s snorkeling excursions are complete. The crew is super laid-back and nice, and the captain and guides knowledgeable.
There’s a sun deck on top of the boat with a padded floor and bean bags for lounging. This was definitely the best spot, especially at night for looking at the stars.
If you’ve only ever snorkeled from a beach, it can be a little intimidating to plunge off a boat into deep water. Because I was traveling alone and didn’t have a buddy, I stayed with my group and used a life jacket. I would recommend that even strong swimmers and experienced snorkelers use life jackets, since you’re in the open sea. To see the best corals, in some areas you’ll need to be prepared to swim down from the surface, though.
Equipment is provided, or bring your own if you have it. Towels were also provided, but I recommend bringing an extra so you have a separate one for showering.
The boat captains are good about avoiding areas where there are large speedboats of day trippers. They’re also good about keeping in touch to share news on things they spot. For example, another captain let ours know about a group of turtles in the area. We were able to spend quite a while swimming with them before a giant speedboat pulled up. Other travelers have reported seeing manta rays, but we didn’t, although we were there during October – May when rays are generally found.
We did at least two snorkeling excursions each day, sometimes three, and went ashore at several islands.
I’d recommend this tour for couples, families (ages 7 & up) or small groups with prior snorkeling experience or for adventurers. It’s important to be flexible since conditions at sea can vary and space is limited, so you’ll be up close with fellow travelers. Also the staff is made up of almost entirely local crew and the captain is a native German speaker, although his English is good.
I’d also recommend the Myanmar excursions, although I haven’t done them, based on what I’ve read about the reefs there.