Best Thailand Liveaboard Reviews 2021

LAST UPDATED:

October 1, 2021

Finding the best Thailand liveaboard for you is easier said than done!

There’s over a dozen different Thai liveaboards to choose from and they all vary in terms of price, onboard amenities, extra activities and overall vibe. 

Some explore the Similan and Surin Islands of Thailand’s north Andaman Sea, whereas others head down south to the country’s Krabi province. 

Read on for our brutally honest Thailand liveaboard reviews – each one tells you everything you need to know about that liveaboard’s layout, price, routes travelled, level of experience required by guests and more. 

In the routes section further below, we go into more detail on North vs South routes and then we’ll also talk about everything else you need to know such as the Thai diving season and scuba diving insurance. 

Let’s dive in:

REVIEWS:

  • With up to 5 dives a day, gourmet cuisine, a jacuzzi and huge cabins, the 35 meter long Thailand Aggressor is the biggest, priciest and most luxurious Thai liveaboard of them all. North Routes. 
  • The sleek and modernly furbished Dive Race Class E is the only liveaboard to boast 6 private balcony cabins, a 60 inch 3D TV and giant inflatables for playing on in between dives! Massages are also available. North Routes. 
  • Phinisi is the only Thai liveaboard to offer all entailing dive safaris that explore the north and south of Thailand’s Andaman Sea in one trip! At 10 nights long, this is the longest Thai dive safari. North & South Combined. 
  • Despite being the absolute cheapest Thai liveaboard out there, Dolphin Queen is unique in that she features a land excursion to a Moken village! For an extra fee, massages are available. Free rental gear. North Routes. 
  • The charming, traditionally built Junk is so authentic looking that it’s been used in several movies and a documentary. It’s also one of the only two liveaboards to feature kayaksNorth Routes & South Routes. 
  • Merdeka 3 features less diving compared to other liveaboards, which is substituted for with extra sightseeing, chilling and land excursions. This is a 50% dive / 50% chill trip! Kayaks and massages available. South Routes. 
  • Sawasdee Fasai only requires her guests to have their open water certification, with no extra logged dives necessary. A free check out dive is available for those who’ve not dived in a while. North Routes. 
  • Taking an absolute maximum of 10 guests, Giamani runs the most private dive safari of any Thai liveaboard. With single occupancy cabin options, she’s a great choice for solo travellers. North Routes & South Routes. 
  • The newly renovated Deep Andaman Queen can take up to 25 guests and has spacious cabins and chill out zones. One of the crew is a naturalist guide and there is also Free WiFi.  North Routes & South Routes. 
  • Many Thai liveaboards only require OW cert & no extra logged dives from their guests, but Bavaria runs a trip where guests must have at least 30 logged dives. Bavaria also offers massages and a Beach BBQ. North Routes.
  • Whereas most Thai liveaboards offer Nitrox (to certified divers) at an extra cost, Pawara offers it for FREE. She also has Free WiFi and budget cabin options. North Routes.  
  • Our favourite Manta Queen of them all, number 3 is cheap, beginner friendly, provides free WiFi and has beautiful cabins with plenty of space. North Routes. 
  • The second cheapest liveaboard, Thai Sea has slightly more basic cabins than the rest but makes up for it with kayaks and stand up paddle boards! There is also FREE Nitrox. Maximum of 12 guests. North Routes. 

ROUTES:

North Routes

This is by far the most frequently taken route by Thai liveaboards and it’s also the best diving in Thailand in terms of marine biodiversity. North routes venture to the Similan and Surin islands, two archipelagos in Thailand’s north Andaman Sea that have are afforded special protection by their National Park status. 

On the islands themselves lie evergreen forests, white beaches and mighty boulder formations, whereas below water you’ll discover the country’s most pristine hard coral, with many stunning reef gardens, walls and swim throughs that are home to a colourful myriad of fish, crustaceans and mollusks. 

Also found here are black tip reef sharks, leopard sharks, turtles and blue spotted sting rays. Between January and April, lucky guests may even spot whale sharks and manta rays. 

A little further north of the Surin islands lies Richelieu Rock, which is included in most north route itineraries. Richelieu Rock is widely considered to be among the top ten dive sites in the world and as one of the most likely places in southeast asia for spotting a whale shark (between Jan – Feb). 

Don’t think that just because most Thai liveaboards take the north route it’s going to be the most crowded! Admittedly, you will probably see some other liveaboards operating in the area, but that’s all you’ll see as there are no dive resorts. These regions can only be dived via liveabaord, making them more off the beaten track than other Thai dive destinations. 

If your number one priority is discovering the absolute best marine biodiversity that Thailand has to offer, whilst escaping the crowds, I strongly recommend a North Route. 

The North Route can be dived between October and May. 

South Routes

A few liveaboards offer routes through Thailand’s south Andaman Sea, around the Krabi Province to areas including Koh Phi Phi, Koh Haa and Koh Rok. 

Although less liveabaords venture to these islands, there are dive resorts and accommodation around here, so the waters can actually get more crowded than North Route voyages. 

However, the South Route is probably the most scenic above water, especially when passing through the Koh Phi Phi islands, which with their towering limestone cliffs and assorted coves and bays have been voted the most beautiful island group in the world. 

Below water, expect lots of soft coral wall dives as well as some excellent macro life. Leopard sharks, turtles and black tip reef sharks are all regularly seen. 

Koh Phi Phi is also home to the famous King Cruiser wreck, an ex-cary ferry that now lies 32 meters deep and is perhaps the most popular wreck dive in southern Thailand. The South Route can be dived all year. 

  • Only one liveaboard allows you to explore the North and South route, within the same trip: The Phinisi. 

Thai Liveaboards - QUICK COMPARE

Go to Booking Page: Liveaboard:  Special Features:Routes:
Click HereThailand Aggressor 5 Dives a day, Massage, Jacuzzi, Gourmet Food, Huge CabinsNorth
Click HereDive Race Class EPvt. Balcony Cabins, Giant Inflatables, 3D TVNorth
Click HerePhinisiAll Encompassing Route, Long TripsNorth & South together
Click HereDolphin QueenCheapest, Moken Village Visit, Kayaks, MassageNorth
Click HereThe JunkTraditional Design, Kayaks, FamousNorth or South
Click HereMerdeka 3Extra Activities, Less Diving, Sightseeing, Kayaks, Massages South
Click HereSawasdee FasaiFree Check out Dive, Value for MoneyNorth
Click HereGiamaniSmallest Group Size, Single Occupancy CabinsNorth or South
Click HereDeep Andaman QueenBig Groups, Free WiFi, SpaciousNorth or South
Click HereBavariaExp. diver trips, beach BBQ, MassagesNorth
Click HerePawaraFree Nitrox, Free WiFi, Budget CabinsNorth
Click HereManta Queen 3Free WiFi, CheapNorth
Click HereThai Sea2nd cheapest, stand up paddle-boards, kayaks, free NitroxNorth

Diving Season of Thailand:

thailand diving season

Thai liveaboards all explore the Andaman Sea, which is located off the country’s western coast. 

There’s a distinct diving season here (Oct – May), outside of which the North Route destinations: the Similan and Surin Islands are closed to all vessels. As for the Southern Route islands, these can be dived all year round, but they’re still subject to the changing conditions of the season.

Here’s an overview of Thailand’s Andaman Sea Dive Season:

  • January – February: During these months, the Andaman Sea enjoys calm waters, with exceptional visibility both up North around the Similan and Surin Islands as well down as in the South Islands. This is also tourist high season, so book early to avoid disappointment.

     

  • March – April: These two months are great to dive in the Andaman Sea, with clear and calm waters. That said, water visibility isn’t quite as clear. That’s because of the large plankton blooms that occur over these months. But these plankton clouds attract whale sharks and manta rays!

     

  • May – October: The Similan Islands and Surin Islands are closed due to the exceptionally choppy water conditions bought on by monsoon season. However, the South Route islands can still be dived during this time. Water conditions are more choppy and less clear though. 

     

  • October (mid) – December: From the middle of October onwards, liveaboards in the Similan Islands and Surin Islands are back open for business, with incredible water visibility and stillness. October is considered to be one of the best months of the year to dive, due to it being tourist low season. From November onwards, it’s back to tourist high season.

Dive Insurance:

It’s important to get diving insurance before your trip! This is to cover any medical expenses, loss of equipment and flight / accommodation expenses following injury.

Don’t leave this until the last minute! You actually need to have your scuba diving insurance sorted properly before leaving your home country, in order to get full coverage.

Find out more by heading to our Dive Insurance Reviews Page. 

Liveaboard Destinations - In Depth Look

Similan Islands

Donald Duck Bay, Simlan Islands

Fifty two miles north west of Phuket, lies the fabled Koh Similan Marine National park – an archipelago of eleven granite boulder islands arranged in a South to North access. In order from South to North, they are:

Koh Huyong (Island 1, at the southernmost tip of the mini Archipelago)

Koh Payang (Island 2)

Koh Payan (Island 3)

Koh Miang (Island 4)

Koh Ha (Island 5)

Koh Payu (Island 6)

Koh Hin Pousar (Island 7)

Koh Similan (Island 8)

Koh Bangu (Island 9)

Koh Bon (Island 10)

Koh Tachai (Island 11, at the Archipelagos northern end)

Reef fish and Coral Grouper

Above the vibrant blue water, the views are breathtaking. Lush neon green rainforests adorn the islands, the dense vegetation jostling for space to reach the fiery orange sun beating down upon it.

Swooping and swinging, skittering and scuttling, crawling and flying through this noisy tumble of jungle are crab eating monkeys, dusk langurs, squirrels, lizards, bats and a colourful assortment of tropical birds. 

Around the edges of the island, the vibrant jungle reluctantly fizzles out to give way to immense boulders littering the fine sand beaches that are almost as white as snow.

But it is what lies beneath the crystal clear waters surrounding these islands, that has given the Similans their formidable reputation as one of the top scuba diving destinations in the entire world.

The eastern Similan dive sites showcase rainbow assorted coral reefs, with psychedelic coloured sea anemones lazily waving their tentacles in the air as countless reef fish dart above them. Waters are calm and beginner friendly. 

Baby Whale Shark off South West Pinnacle

Meanwhile, along the western dive sites are mighty granite boulders which descend all the way down to 40 meters, featuring swim throughs, caves and tunnels for the boldest and most intrepid of divers.

Strong, drift dive offering currents, provide bountiful nutrients for immense living walls and carpets of crescent coloured soft corals and sea fans which coat every feasible surface.

Mighty whale sharks and graceful manta rays frequently visit these waters between february and april, hoovering up the living clouds of plankton that accumulate here around this time.

Massive barracuda, jackfish, batfish and snapper shoot after the smaller reef fish, whilst camouflaged scorpionfish, stonefish and octopus blend in seamlessly with their environment.

Alien like cuttlefish scoot to and fro’, as lethal lionfish drift ominously drift through the water and nosy moray eels poke their head from hiding places.

Peek carefully, among the coral and crevices, the reefs and rocks, the cracks and gaps, and delicate seahorses, dainty pipefish, skittish shrimp, surreal nudibranch and all manner of other weird and wonderful micro critters await your discovery.

It is impossible to do any real level of justice for the true beauty that awaits divers in the Similan through words or even pictures. To fully realize the splendor that awaits you there, you will simply have to go.

Green Turtle off the Similan Islands

Surin Islands

100 KM further north of the Similans, is the even less frequented, but no less spectacular Surin Islands.

The 2 main main islands forming the bulk of this 320 KM mini archipelago are:

  • Koh Surin Nuea
  • Koh Surin Tai.

…In addition to 3 smaller, satellite islands that enhance the overground visas and provide additional fringing reef:

  • Koh Ri
  • Koh Khai
  • Koh Klang

This National Park status also extends to Richelieu Rock, a huge seamount in the middle of the sea 10 km southwest of Koh Surin, which is renowned as one of the top ten greatest dive locations in the world, as well as one of the most likely places to see a Whale Shark.

Whale Shark Spotted at Richelieu Rock

Because the Surin Islands are visited even less frequently than the Similan Islands, divers will enjoy having these crystal clear waters all to themselves.

It is like stepping back in time, to an era where life beneath the waves was still unaffected by the hand of man. The coral reef here is in spectacular condition and home to a wide assortment of reef fish and other marine life.

Whale sharks and manta rays can be seen around the Surin Islands, as well as turtles and sometimes even bryde’s whales.

Dive conditions range from beginner to advanced, with everything from shallow to deep diving, calm waters to drift current dives and cave to open water diving being available.

Green Sea Turtle swimming around the Similan Islands

Southern Islands

Koh Phi Phi

Phi Phi Islands: 45 KM East of Phuket, in the Krabi Province, is the stunning 6 island archipelago of Koh Phi Phi. They have been voted the most beautiful island group in the world. 

The two largest islands, Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh phi phi Leh, make up the bulk of landmass, with the former being an ancient settlement that is a melting pot of Thai, Chinese, Moken – and now backpackers!

Towering limestone cliffs climb into the sky from these two islands, where the dense canopy of jungle atop them stretches further towards the heavens still.  Beaches, coves and bays are scattered across them, to make for a diverse assortment of dramatic landscape.

The four smallest islands, Koh Mai Phai, Ko Yung,  Bida nok and Bida Nai are little more than limestone rocks jutting from the sea although the diving to be had around them is just as stunning.

Diver with Anemone Coral

There are many incredible dive sites around the Phi Phi Island group, consisting largely of incredible coral and gorgonian fan adorned wall dives, where the limestone drops to a depth between 10m – 25m, and feature various caves and swim throughs for thrill seekers.

That said, most local dives around here are suitable for beginner level divers, whereas some of the further flung dives featuring currents and deeper waters, better suited for experienced dives in search of action.

Expect a phenomenal range of marine life including Wrasse, moorish idols, rays, turtles, travallies and angelfish.

Keep an eye out for leopard sharks cruising along the bottom and blacktip sharks patrolling over the reefs. 

Leopard Shark cruising through the waters around Koh Phi Phi.

King Cruiser –  Once an ex-car ferry that travelled between Phi Phi and Phuket, in 1997 the “King Cruiser” cruised straight into an anemone reef and sank a short distance away. Happily, nobody died and divers were left with an awesome wreck!

Now mostly broken up, the King Cruiser is coated with beautiful soft corals and is inhabited by large schools of Barracuda and Snapper, as well as Groupers, Eels and Crabs.

With strong currents and reaching down to 32m deep, this is a great dive site for advanced divers or those looking to rack up the experience as part of their PADI Advanced Open Water Course.

With stunning views both from outside and the cavernous inside, the King Cruiser is regarded as the best wreck dive around Phuket.

King Cruiser Wreck from outside

Shark Point – Named after the large numbers of peaceful leopard sharks that are regularly seen here, Shark Point is a series of 7 pinnacles running north to south, that lie halfway between Phuket and Phi Phi.

Covered in red, pink and purple soft corals, large sea fans and all colours of sea anemones, they are home to a variety of reef fishes as well as seahorses, barracuda and occasionally other shark species such as black tips. It is a favourite drift dive for experienced divers!

Stunning coral reef near shark point.

Koh Doc Mai – Also known as “Flower Island” this is a small piece of jungle topped sheer rock located between shark point and Phuket. Although tiny, it regularly provides divers with huge memories due to the incredible wall diving and macro species encountered here.

Those who regularly dive this favourite site report encountering something different every time, from seahorses, frogfish, nudibranchs and ornate ghost pipefish and even to tiny, cute bamboo sharks.

For the intrepid there are also some thrill seeking opportunities here including a spacious cavern and an air pocket in one of the caves to make for a mind blowing surfacing experience at 13m.

Koh Doc Mai Island.

5 Incredible animals to look out for:

1) Whale Sharks

  • Whale Sharks are the largest known extant species of fish in the world! The biggest recorded individual measured a whopping 18.8m long.

  • They are slow moving, filter feeders. Their diet includes copepods, krill, fish eggs, crab larvae and very small fish and squid.

  • They’re friendly to divers and frequently allow people to swim up close. Avoid touching them though!

  • The best months to see Whale Sharks in Thailand’s Andaman Sea are March and April.

2) Manta Rays

manta ray with divers on a thai liveaboard
  • Manta Rays are another gigantic pelagic encountered in Thailand, with the largest species Manta Birostris, reaching 7m in width!

  • In addition to being filter feeders, recent findings show that Manta Rays actively hunt mesopelagic fish and other organisms 650 – 3,300 feet below the surface.

  • Gestation lasts a year with Mantas giving birth to live pups.

  • March and April are also the best time to see manta rays in the Andaman Sea,  due to the thick plankton clouds that accumulate there during these months.

3) Turtles

Hawksbill Turtle with Scuba Diving in thAILAND
  • Thailand’s Seas are home to Leatherback Turtles, Olive Ridley Turtles as well as rarer Green Sea Turtles and the critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtles.

  • Most species of turtle feed primarily on small animals like jellyfish, squid and crustaceans as well as vegetation such as sea grasses and algae.

  • When they reach adulthood, Green Sea Turtles are the only species of Sea Turtle to be fully vegetarian in diet, which is reflected by their finely serrated jaws.

  • To breed, Sea Turtles return to the same beaches where they hatched. Around the Similan and Surin Islands, nesting season occurs from october – march.

4) Cuttlefish

cuttlefish in thai liveaboard - the best scuba diving
  • Cuttlefish are able to rapidly change the colour of their skin to produce moving patterns of colour across their bodies.

  • This amazing ability serves multiple functions; confusing predators, hypnotising prey, camouflage, communication and elaborate mating rituals.

  • Smaller males can pretend to be females, tricking large males to mate with them & take them back to their lairs. When the bigger males aren’t looking, the small males mate with the real females!

  • There’s over 120 different species of cuttlefish, ranging in size from 4.5cm to over half a metre long! 

5) Leopard Sharks

leopard shark with diver in thailand similan liveaboard
  • Unlike other sharks, which must constantly swim to avoid drowning, leopard sharks can conserve energy by resting at the bottom of the sea floor.

     

  • That’s because they have specially adapted spiracles behind their eyes, which blow a steady stream of water over their gills.

     

  • Sharks like this belong to the Carpet Shark Order. Another type of Carpet Shark is the Whale Shark.

     

  • From birth, leopard sharks form large schools, generally segregated by age and sex. These schools are nomadic and have a strict social hierarchy.

Diving Squad Debriefing

Nice work! You have made it to the end of this whale shark of an article telling you everything you need to know about the very best Thai liveaboards. 

We constantly review and update our articles so you can rest assured that what you’ve read today reflects the very latest information on Thai liveaboards.

We truly hope you’ve found this article useful and don’t forget, if you have any questions shoot an email over to ajhatton55@gmail.com and we’ll assign a dolphin member of our team to you in no time at all. 

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