LiveAboard: Phi Phi Islands

After I got certified, I took a LiveAboard trip to Egypt in the Red Sea and loved it. I was so spoiled in that my first experience on a dive trip was so magnificent and luxurious.previous.

Scuba diving has opened up a whole new world of travel and absolutely made my dream holiday to Thailand (read posts on Bangkok and Ko Pha Ngan). When Ryan and I started talking about our trip, I told him about my LiveAboard and scuba diving opportunities abroad and he was interested, so he got certified himself for this trip.

Our boat was The Junk, a historic, charismatic vessel, took us around southern Thailand from Phuket for three days, two nights and ten dives. There were 12 passengers (not a full boat, which would be 18 passengers) split in groups among three dive masters. The passengers were mostly American with a few Europeans (unlike my other LiveAboard that was almost exclusively based in Britain) and had an average age of about 30. It’s always interesting to see the demographics of these kinds of trips. I was in a four-bed bunk room with an ensuite with my brother and one other man called Stefan. All in all, it was a bit more basic than my other boat, but this vessel only does these short trips, so living in luxury isn’t a priority.

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We were picked up early morning on the first day and managed three dives, then four dives the next day, and three more dives on the last day for a total of ten dives. The daily schedule was about the same as my Egypt LiveAboard…

  • 6:30: Wake-up call
  • 7:00: Briefing for the early morning dive
  • 8:15: Breakfast and free time
  • 10:30: Briefing for the morning dive
  • 12:30: Lunch and free time
  • 14:30: Briefing for the afternoon dive
  • 18:00: Briefing for the night dive
  • 19:30: Dinner and free time
  • 21:30: Lights out (for me)

Between dives, I enjoyed reading (not PADI material as I did last time as I got certified), logging my dives, studying fish and resting on the sun deck.

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All dive conditions had a water temperature of about 30°C (86°F) with 5-10 meters (16-34 feet) of visibility and mostly calm conditions. The weather this week was a mix of partially cloudy and sunny with a few spells of rain.

  • Total number of dives: 10
  • Dive numbers: 38-47
  • Average depth: 20.2 meters
  • Maximum depth: 31 meters
  • Average duration per dive: 47 minutes
  • Total duration: 7 hours 53 minutes
  • Critters seen: Crown of thorns starfish, eels (including babies), blue-spotted rays, lionfish, boxfish, barrel sponges, massive schools of snappers and barracudas, shrimp, hermit crabs, batfish, parrotfish, angelfish, nudibranchs, porcupinefish, scorpionfish, bamboo shark, feather stars, sea horse
  • Favorite dives and why: The Viking Cave; it has so much interesting history and the artificial reef was incredible.
  • Least favorite dive and why: The night dive; I’m still trying to learn to like them.
  • Other highlights: seeing Ryan in the water (he’s amazing for a novice) and continue his diving courses, the warm water, all the time I got to read, seeing the gorgeous islands

Now, for the play-by-play… (note: all underwater photos were taken by my dive guide Phil because my $40 Faux Pro turned out to not take great pictures)

Friday, 21 June: We were picked up from our hostel in Patong Beach and driven to Chalong pier, where we were ferried in a zodiac to the vessel and briefed on safety and tried on rental gear while we waited for the other half of the passengers. Once everyone was on board, we headed for our first dive site.

First dive: Shark Point

  • Maximum depth: 17.4 meters
  • Duration: 36 minutes
  • Comments: It’s on this dive I realized Ryan absolutely guzzles air and is the lowest common denominator for dive times the first few tries. The two of us dove with someone with a similar experience level, Antonia, guided by Phil. Both Ryan and Antonia were taking the advanced open water course on this trip. This dive had pinnicles, crown of thorns starfish, large schools of snappers, eels, lionfish and a blue-spotted ray.

Second dive: Bida Nok

  • Maximum depth: 31 meters
  • Duration: 38 minutes
  • Comments: This was a bit of a current/ drift dive and with the depth, I was running a bit low on air as we panted swimming against the current quickly to get back to our pick-up spot. It was a bit stressful. However, we saw some cool barrel sponges, boxfish and large schools of snappers.

Third dive: Tonsai Bay

  • Maximum depth: 12.9 meters
  • Duration: 41 minutes
  • Comments: This was a night dive, which I’ve never been a huge fan of, but I’m trying to make them happen. We saw some shrimp and hermit crabs that only come out at night as well as larger fish hunting.

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Saturday, 22 June

Fourth dive: HTMS Kled Kaew

  • Maximum depth: 23.4 meters
  • Duration: 44 minutes
  • Comments: This small vessel was purposely sunk in 2014 as a dive site and has been well received by the underwater locals. Although there were no safe points of penetration, there were massive (literally blackened the water) schools of small fish that were most impressive.

Fifth dive: Bida Noi

  • Maximum depth: 19.3 meters
  • Duration: 53 minutes
  • Comments: This was a great wall dive with a wide diversity of fish… even if I missed seeing the blacktip reef shark.

Sixth dive: Pileh Wall

  • Maximum depth: 15.5 meters
  • Duration: 51 minutes
  • Comments: As the name suggests, this was another reef wall dive with so much to see within the crevasses at different depths. I went with another group/ dive master (Sharkie) as Ryan and Antonia were doing training dives. I saw some especially beautiful angelfish and nudibranchs on this dive!

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Seventh dive: Viking Bay

  • Maximum depth: 17.6 meters
  • Duration: 56 minutes
  • Comments: This dive site had the most interesting history: back when the cave was first discovered, the much loved king thought the paintings on the walls looked like viking ships, so he dubbed it Viking Cave. The island is home to a vast network of limestone cave systems and valuable swiftlet nests, which are harvested by one company exclusively and fiercely guarded. Under the surface lies an artificial reef made up of stacks of cube outlines about 2m and are doing well, with scorpionfish, big porcupine fish, eels and rays nearby.

Sunday, 23 June

Eighth dive: King Cruiser

  • Maximum depth: 29.3 meters
  • Duration: 41 minutes
  • Comments: This car transport ferry was accidentally sunk in 1997 from hitting a well-known reef in calm conditions (although there is speculation that it might have been an inside insurance job). Traces of its cargo can still be seen in scattered toilets and nets, but the site has been taken over by massive schools of small barracuda and a wide range of other fish. Here, we also saw our first bamboo shark hiding in the shadows.

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Ninth dive: Koh Doc Mai

  • Maximum depth: 23.2 meters
  • Duration: 58 minutes
  • Comments: Caves and overhangs were the main attraction on this dive, hosting more bamboo sharks and seeing a free-swimming eel (something I’ve never seen before, it was vaguely threatening). There we also really neat airpockets inside the cave that looked like mirrors on the ceiling.

Tenth dive: Koh Doc Mai

  • Maximum depth: 28.9 meters
  • Duration: 55 minutes
  • Comments: Weather prohibited us from moving to a different dive site, so we just dove the other side of this island. There was a reef will with crevasses but not much to see.

After the last dive, we packed up and returned to shore, riding the zodiac in the rain fully clothed. Not the warmest of goodbyes, but I had a lovely time on the trip, despite the less-than-perfect conditions and short run. I’m really proud of myself for doing all the dives even though I suffer with fatigue on a normal day and diving is exhausting. I’m already thinking about my next LiveAboard, I can’t recommend them enough.

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