Divers around the world know Phuket as the place to come in Thailand for world-class diving. Honestly, Phuket–and Khao Lak up the coast are the only destinations in Thailand which offer good enough diving to entice people to fly halfway around the world.
We’re the gateway to the Andaman Sea, home to thousands of kilometres of coral reef, millions of fish, and hundreds of perfect beaches.
Getting there is fairly easy: Go online, find a good website, make sure you can trust the people behind the website, then book it – “It” being a live on board (liveaboard) dive trip or a resort with diving offered as well. Most divers do it this way and are perfectly happy. However, not all divers come from the same egg, and many look for something more luxurious.
While there are quite a few luxurious resorts in Thailand, the diving, unfortunately, lies farther offshore than is comfortable for most people, so diving from resorts has not come of age as it has in other places in Asia like Indonesia or the Maldives. Most upscale resorts in Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, and Koh Lanta offer diving as part of guest’s activity list, but none of them offer it as the main activity.
So, while some people may be more than happy with incredible comfort at the hotel and on a boat, they may not be as happy with the diving conditions. While smaller, faster, more comfortable boats may be on offer in the future, right now they are very limited in Thailand, so the only way to dive in style is by joining a liveaboard dive boat.
Just a few short years ago, divers in Thailand had little choice in boats. There were fewer boats around and there was little demand for niceties–most divers had to be content with a bed and an air compressor to fill their tanks. Many people referred to these boats as “camponboards” and even today, they are immensely popular. If you want more, you have to look a bit harder.
What makes a dive boat luxurious? Many of the same things that make hotels and resorts luxurious. One, you’ll want to have plenty of water so one doesn’t have to take navy showers (water on, get wet; water off, soap up; water on, rinse off; dry off, get out.) Watermakers “make” water from the sea, so you can let it run all day long. You’ll want to have fuel-efficient engines; not necessarily fast, but with excellent range so you can reach remote islands and reefs. Great meals are part of any luxury voyage, so refrigeration and perishable storage for up to two weeks is a must. And, the cook or chef should be able to prepare whatever kind of meal you request.
It’s All About The Crew
And, just like any five-star resort, you’ll expect and demand good staff. Many of the luxury liveaboard vessels around the world will have a one-to-one staff to guest ratio. Staff will include captain, engineers, and crew to keep the boat operating comfortably and safely. But we’ll also want hostesses to serve drinks and food, and masseuses to while away the time between dives. Luckily here in Thailand this type of staff is relatively easy to find since the culture is so service oriented. Finally, you’ll want a divemaster or two who know the local waters well, and also have fantastic knowledge of the local marine life. This gives you a luxury experience underwater as well as above water on the vessel.
The biggest difference between onshore stays and offshore stays is safety at sea. No one wants to go to sea if they are not safe and many local boats lack the safety equipment that really should be on board (and redundant). Though safety equipment is not fun and sexy, it’s an important part of a luxurious holiday, as you want to make sure you get there and back.
Three Reasons It’s Getting Easier
The luxury market is slowly becoming a significant business here in Thailand for several reasons.
- Thai authorities reduced or eliminated the duty on yacht imports. This has made it possible for individuals and companies to bring in vessels from abroad where there are more choices. This is a recent change, however, and liveaboard boats of 100ft (30m) or more are expensive, so we haven’t seen a huge number of imported boats become liveaboard diving vessels–yet. My guess is that it wont be long before we see some very nice dive boats here, and the luxury market for diving will be firmly established.
- Boat builders have become more skilled, just as luxury property builders have. It is now possible to build a vessel in Thailand that is safe and comfortable.
- Local crews are more qualified, and boat owners have to rely less and less on foreigners to operate a luxury dive operation.
Tips for Booking Luxury Vessels:
- Be sure you actually see pictures of the boat operating at sea and inside to be sure it is in fact a luxury boat. Some boats oversell their products.
- Be sure the boat has a watermaker and adequate refrigeration to be at sea for the number of days you prefer.
- Be sure the boat has sufficient staff and more importantly, qualified staff. Don’t be afraid to ask to see the divemaster’s resume, and the captain’s as well.
- Be sure the chef is able and qualified to prepare the type of meals you really want. If there are “Gala Dinners” advertised, common in Thailand, be sure that it is in fact a proper dinner and not just another buffet.
- Be sure the drinks you want to have are on board, and be sure to check the cost of these before you commit.
- Be sure to ask about lifesaving and communication equipment on board so you travel safely.