Liveaboards are of course not hard to come by in this day and age and in Thailand, a hub for divers the hunt has always been on to find the best boats and crews to take you under water.
This trip was recommended to me by a good friend, Darren Moss (Dmo) from Aquamaster, Phuket, who suggested the trip after hearing that I was after another level dive trip to review. This also demonstrates the way in which the dive community operates and how valuable word of mouth and a good reputation really is. I always base my trips on other peoples experiences as well as the locations I am interested in and Dmo, with a huge amount of experience and knowledge in the industry sold it to me instantly.
Phuket based Colona Liveaboard offers guaranteed small dive groups with a maximum of 10 customers on board, en suite cabins, exquisite food, nitrox and a welcoming crew.
A spacious dive deck equip with a camera table and rinse tanks make it an ideal area for serious photographers eager to capture the wonders of the underwater environment. Dry areas are communal and comfortable for computers and photo editing and the general layout of the boat by its own account is impressive.
The MV Giamani is a 24m (80ft) steel vessel built in Phuket in 1998 by an Italian boat builder to IMO standards and was custom built to be a Similan Livaboard. It has since had various refurbishments to tailor is for less customers in order to make it a more exclusive hosting boat for divers and to enhance space and comfort for all who board it.
This liveabord not only offered an easy booking process and ample information before departure but was exemplar throughout. The dive crew were friendly and welcoming and most importantly knowledgable, not only about diving but about the areas we were diving in and about efforts to keep it safe and protected.
Every effort was made to attend to all of the customers needs and requirements, including help to set up kit, technical support and most importantly ample advice and recommendation on how to stay safe In and out of the water. Safety is a key area that makes a boat feel like you are not only working with professionals but also working with people who care about your wellbeing and this only adds to the high level of service that you seek and hope to source when booking any trip.
Most of the organising was done via Ingo Siewert, who was prompt and extremely helpful with my booking process. He was in continuous contact with me and communicated everything I needed to know very well and clearly.
Ricardo Trabulo was my highlight. Giamani trip leader, Ricardo’s wealth of knowledge and experience is vast. A man who should have gills with a lifetime spent by and in the ocean. My most sort after feeling on any boat is to feel safe as previously mentioned and this was forefront on this trip and after many conversations with Ricardo it was clear that he had a deep respect for the ocean.
Diving from the age of 13 Ricardo’s professional history is expansive including a degree in sports education, opening a dive Center in a remote area, working in 5* resorts as well as being an avid athlete and competing in windsurf championships. Working in hotspots from Mozambique to Thailand he has made a very strong name for himself and hence was hired to lead this Liveaboard.
Ricardo has now worked here in Phuket on Giamani for 6 years and has an obvious passion for it and for the area in which it operates. He is now stepping up this Livaboard experience by offering technical diving courses on board including Sidemount, Tech 40/50 and Advanced Wreck, all of which can be offered at an introductory level on board as well as full course certifications. All of which he was trained in by UK based and well known technical Diver, Garry Dallas.
Ricardo was passionate, approachable, genuinely concerned for my wellbeing as well as others and organised. He was a very charismatic and memorable personality and is a very inspiring individual and it was nothing short of a pleasure to meet him and to be guided by him on this trip.
Most of my diving in Thailand had been on the other side of the country with sites being visited out of Koh Tao and other near by islands. The difference in diving on this side was noticable. Swim throughs, caverns, wrecks, chimneys and of course flourishing marine life. Giant groupers, manta shrimps, nudi brancs, sharks, mantas, the abundance of coral and reef life, lion fish, scorpion fish, pipefish, bat fish, snapper, parrotfish, trigger fish, Goby’s, Angel fish, anemone fish, huge schools just exceptional!
So the diving, in the midst of the Indian Ocean to the west of Thailand’s Phang-Nga province is the Similan National Marine Park. The Similans themselves are reputable hugely by visitors from all over the globe who have travelled there to dive this set of 9 magnificent islands that make up the infamous Dive location. The name itself deriving from the Malaysian word, ‘sembilan’, meaning nine. As beautiful as these islands are from land, the magic most certainly happens underwater with diverse marine life and coral growth creating a divers playground.
The topography here is really something special with huge granite boulders creating dramatic formations that wow you underwater, life bursting in every direction, awesome visibility with mild temperatures and tranquil sandy patches to fly over as well as numerous pinnacles and fringing reef systems. It really is a dream place to dive for any level of diver.
Most of these are inhabited with the exception of islands 4 and 8 where national park offices are located. The marine park itself spans over 140km of which only 15km is land. The offices are in place to oversee the protection of the park and rules are strict to ensure its safety.
It is important to remember that this part of the world was hit by destruction back in 2004 and the re development process takes time above and below the surface. Damage here was extensive and a big part of the marine protection work that had to happen here and that must continue to happen is that of conservation and management, both of which contribute to Life on Giamani in dive briefings, general conservation and in attitude. The damage to not only the marine world but to Thailand’s tourist industry at that time was enormous and after that event an even more deeply rooted respect for the countries natural world was realised.
This liveabord was incredible and some of the feedback I got from their divers on board went a bit like this…
“Less a crew and more a loving, breathing Eco system of your own, everything was seem less, all parts working in unison. Always happy and helpful-awesome experience! Thank you.” Matt Healey.
A letter from one of the younger passengers to the boat crew,
“Dear Crew, I loved all the food you cooked, it was so amazing and when Martino took me diving I saw lots of fish and it was so much fun. It was also so cool when I went snorkelling and saw a turtle for the first time up close! Thank you so much for a wonderful few days, love Ava (age 10)”
Attention to detail and small things create special, memorable moments and this alongside waking up with golden sunrises and calm seas and the smell of crisp, fresh sea air create times in life that you never forget. The hustle of an excited dive deck as people gear up, the conversations at night around a table about the things everybody saw that day and the funny things that happened on that dive, the tales of previous experiences and dream dives still to come, can only be had in environments where like minded people come together to do what they love. This trip creates that opportunity in every sense of the word. The opportunity to build memories and meet new people who share that same love and wonder of the ocean.
The last thing on the boat that just gave it that last nice touch for me was that as I went down to the dive deck after a snooze on the last day to wash and pack up my dive kit and there it was, washed, dried and packed and ready for me to collect. So note, you don’t even need to wash your own kit on this dive boat! Awesome!
Martino Rech, Colona Instructor also recorded the whole trip and created a short movie about the dives and the marine life we saw as a group. Looking back over dives with new scuba friends is a really wonderful way to round off a trip and the journey back into Chalong harbour was one of only buzzing conversations and reflection.
If you are looking for a Thailand based dive trip and want something exceptional, I highly recommend this excursion.
Photography by Martino Rech