liveaboard to Richelieu Rock

dive map of richelieu rock

Richelieu Rock is one of the best dive sites in Thailand. (Some people may have added a few things to this drawing.)

Richelieu Rock. That’s what I’d heard. That’s what they said. If you’re a diver in Thailand, that’s the place you need to see. And so began my quest to find the right liveaboard to see this and a few other sites in the Andaman Sea – the Similan Islands, including Koh Bon and Koh Tachai.

After all my Travelfishing, TripAdvisoring and Face-Plaquing I found her. It was a four-day/four-night trip with Similan Dive Safaris for a cool 19,800B plus park fees (1,600B.) I booked it a few days prior while I was still on Koh Chang, and luckily they still had space. It’s still early in the season. Typically the liveaboards don’t start until mid to late October, at the end of rainy season.

Richelieu is part of the Surin National Marine Park, a set of islands 70kms northwest of Khao Lak, Thailand. The only options for going there are liveaboards or speedboats, on account of the site being in the open sea. The Similans also belong to a marine park, and both parks, as with most marine parks in Thailand, charge 400B per day per diver.

The expense of the trip didn’t worry me too much. I had this trip up my sleeve months ago, so I’d been putting money aside for a while to afford it. The liveaboard included all meals, plenty of water and snacks, a bed in a bunk berth, 14 dives and my rental equipment. I rented a dive computer for an additional 1,000B as I thought it would be a good idea seeing as we were doing four dives a day. I wanted to keep track of my deco limits.

southern bus stop from phuket airport

The southern bus stop in Thalang. Cross over the pedestrian bridge and catch bus on the other side of the street to get to Khao Lak.

Here’s a tip for getting to Khao Lak from Phuket Airport on the cheap. There aren’t any bus services running direct from the airport, but what you can do is catch the Airport bus to Thalang (just a stop on the side of the road about 15mins from the airport) for the standard 100B fare. From there, use the pedestrian bridge to cross to the other side of the street and flag down almost any bus heading north (usually orange and white buses) as almost all of them will be making their way through Khao Lak as they head up the coast. This fare costs another 100B. It takes much longer than a direct taxi (which is an hour but at 1,200B) but is a much cheaper way to get to Khao Lak if you have the time to kill.

sunset silhouette on the boat, Dolphin Queen.

Heading out on the boat. We can already feel it’s going to be a good trip.

Just before we set out on the first day around 5 p.m we got news that the Similans had been closed for the next two days. I got out my trusty Google-machine and after a bit of research we discovered the evening prior a tourist speed boat had been struck by lightning killing their navigation and radio. All 30-something tourists and crew were rescued, but as it’s still the edge or rainy season the park officials weren’t taking any chances. Our company decided we would instead head to the Surin Islands as they are just as majestic and close to the real prize, Richelieu, but before we pushed away from the pier we discovered they had re-opened the park, except for island number 8 – the site of the main tourist beach in the Similans.

so many boats at the similans

The first day of diving it turned out we weren’t the only ones raring to dive the Similans.

scuba diver

Hello from under the water!

The seas were rough, I took some sea-sick pills, some later wished they took sea-sick pills, and we made the four-hour journey out to sea where we, and about ten other boats, camped out in the wake of an island in preparation for our early morning dive the next day.

The morning dives were typically at 7 a.m., though two days we got in closer to 6:50. We’d breathe about 50mins in the water and then get out and have breakfast. A few hours and coffees later we’d go for our second dive. This was usually followed by lunch and a nap. People would be passed out everywhere. Our boat, the Dolphin Queen, had a lovely sundeck with some loungers that were ideal for post-dive-naps.

viewpoint on island 4?

We got off the boat in the Similans and hiked to the top of a lookout. I stepped on a nail on the way up. Naturally.

After napping we’d do our dive briefing and be in the water for our third dive. We’d have some fruit and snacks and then head in for our fourth dive at sunset. Dinner was the last event of the day except for the first day when we did a night dive. We ate before we dove on that one.

Getting in or out of the water. That's our home for four days.

Getting in or out of the water. That’s our home for four days.

I was happy we had a professional photographer, Thomas Ozzane, on the trip as my mother had requested photos of me under water and to date I still didn’t have any. I dropped a hint and lucky for me that he listened – lucky for him, because I bought the photos. He allowed me to use his photos. Check his work out at http://www.arewedreaming.com.

The diving was good, but the Similans didn’t really hold up to their name and fell short of my expectations. From what I saw there was a massive amount of coral bleaching and in some places it was a graveyard of coral due to the destruction from the 2006 tsunami or fishing boats. Of course, this could have a lot to do with the sites we went to. The currents were a bit strong at times and our awesome tour leader, Ivan, had to choose sites carefully to ensure our safety and that we got good experiences. I’m not saying the dives sucked. It’s just when a place gets so much hype one expects to be blown away. This was not the case. I was mildly enthralled.

dwarf spinner dolphin

A group of dwarf spinner dolphins came up to the boat to say hi. I was told this was very rare, so most of us thought of it as a good sign of things to come.

Koh Tachai and Koh Bon were much better in a lot of respects, apart from there being quite a lot of current. While I have a wee bit of experience, the current and swell on Koh Tachai plateau proved to be my nemesis and I nearly sucked my tank dry stressing while swimming like a very sick fish. That time it was me who brought my team up around 40 mins. But the fish life was abundant. Earlier that day a group saw two mantas at Koh Bon, so we were hopeful we would see something big soon.

divers taking a safety stop

Safety stop time.

When we got to Richelieu, where we stayed for three dives, it was clear why this is a highly regarded dive site. There was a bit of current, but nothing major, and the horseshoe shape of the site provides plenty of spots to duck away from the flow and observe the teeming fish life. There was everything from frogfish to morays to barracudas to Harlequin shrimp. The colours were amazing and rich.

It was during our third dive at Richelieu, a sunset dive, when we were the only boat still there, that we saw the whale shark. At first I saw everyone swimming really fast, so I knew they spotted something. Than our dive-master turned around and gave us the sign for shark. I thought, awesome. Then I thought, wait a second, what kind of shark? But I just kept on swimming towards them. She was less than four-meters long and was missing her right pectoral fin. The left one was also damaged. Most of us thought it was probably from fishing lines/nets. I noticed none of this until I saw photos and video later. She swam around us for about ten minutes, all of us hanging out near the rocks watching like dead sea sponges, until she left. Then we may as well have just surfaced at that point because none of us could pay attention to anything else after that.

low clouds over mountains

The bad weather that was chasing us home.

As bad weather was approaching, our tour leader decided to move us closer to shore before we settled down for our last night, just to be on the safe side. He had planned to dive a wreck in the morning, but we all woke up to find our second last dive of our liveaboard experience was cancelled due to current and poor visibility. As we were all on the high from the whaleshark sighting, no one seemed to care.

divers in the water

Shark bait.

Our last dive was at Boonsung Wreck, an old fishing boat that lies broken and fragile at about 20m. Within five minutes of our dive we spotted, to our delight, two huge (2m) blacktip reef sharks. Now, our divemaster, who was busy looking for macro stuff, says they were cobias, but the rest of us in the group, who were looking, are convinced they were blacktips. We’ll never know for sure. It’s highly unusual for blacktips to be there. So beyond that, this place was a sea-life party. Honeycomb morays, schools of puffer and porcupine fish, lionfish, scorpion fish, snappers, trevally, a lone bararcuda, which was weird – though I think he was stalking the divemaster, and so much more could be seen. Some little cleaner wrasse even tried to get in my ear, while a ramora swam with me the whole dive. One of the divers even found a tiny baby octopus in his BCD pocket after we surfaced. How did that get in there?

dive buddies

Augustina and I, my dive buddy for the trip. Somethings you will always remember! Like your first liveaboard. Thank you Similan Dive Safaris.

So we did 13 dives instead of 14. And we arrived back at the pier an hour early. Apart from one nasty bruise on my leg from an exit strategy that failed, I found the liveaboard experience magnificent. I highly recommend this as something anyone into diving has to do at least once in their life. And if you get to see a whaleshark or mantas, well, isn’t it all worth it then? The food was very tasty, the toilets had TP, the beds were soft (but small,) the dive instructors were fun and awesome. Just do it.

Next, after a hot shower and good nights sleep in a big bed, I’m off to Koh Lanta, an island I visited last time in Thailand that is laid back and just the right ingredient for my last week in Thailand.

 

2 Responses to liveaboard to Richelieu Rock

  1. Hello!! I”m looking to go diving in Thailand but also to get my license there as well. Are there any places that you suggest in Richelieu Rock? Thank you very much!!

    Sincerely,

    Wes

    wesley du June 22, 2015 at 9:58 pm Reply
    • I think they’re all great companies. Most people go to Koh Tao to get their license. Richelieu Rock is a dive site, so unless you charter your own boat you’d need to do a live aboard to go there as far as I know.

      Sheri June 23, 2015 at 2:40 am Reply

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