Liveaboard Diving in the Andaman Sea

A Guide to Scuba Diving Richelieu Rock, the Surin Islands, and the Andaman Sea

The Andaman Sea boasts having the best scuba diving in the entire world at the Similian Islands, just a short liveabord away from Khao Lak. And, well, I agree.

More importantly, diving Richelieu Rock was probably the greatest diving I have ever experienced. We were surrounded by hundreds of massive yellow and black angelfish, walls of barracuda, and deep divers spotted octopi – that’s MORE than one octapus!

How did I hear about Richelieu Rock?

In 2013, I finished a fourteen month backpacking trip through Europe, Australia, and Asia. I spent the last month of my trip in Thailand before heading back to Boston.

It was on that trip in 2013 that I scouted out some dive shops at Phi Phi Island and heard about Richelieu.

One of the owners or workers (I wish I remembered who) told me diving the Phi Phi sites were great, but I needed to dive Richelieu Rock. Raving about the walls of fish and vibrant coral, I didn’t even want to talk about the wreck dive I would be doing the next day. He told me a liveaboard was the only way to see the Similians.

So, I started saving and continued dreaming. He had me convinced and almost four years later, I came back.

Solomon Tsao Photography coral from Richelieu Rock
Credit: Solomon Tsao Photography – gorgonian coral from Richelieu Rock

In this post, I will write reviews and experiences about:

  1. Info on Andaman Sea
  2. Khao Lak
  3. My experience with Wicked Diving
  4. Andaman Sea dive sites

Need to know before diving the Andaman Sea & Surin Islands

  • Diving Season: opens in December and runs until May
  • Monsoon season is June-August, but you can still dive. You’ll probably get discounted dives, but water is definitely rougher and visibility may not be so great
  • Diving is closed: September, October, November to replenish the marine life and because of poor weather
  • Dive Insurance is required
  • Certification – Open Water required, but I suggest Advanced so that you can go deep enough on the dive sites

Khao Lak

Khao Lak is the closest point to the Andaman sea that liveaboards leave from. It’s possible to get a dive boat from Phuket, but Phuket is further away and more expensive.

The town is a small and quaint. There is one main road full of restaurants, accommodations, and dive companies.

It’s actually worth a visit for more than diving, you’ll have white sand beaches all to yourself and everything is affordable compared to the town’s neighboring (oftentimes/most times) chaotic Phuket.

I will write more about my experience in Khao Lak in another post, what to do, see, accommodation suggestions, etc.

Go Pong Restaurant Khao Lak
Sweet & sour vegetarian soup from Go Pong Restaurant
Khao Lak lighthouse
Khao Lak lighthouse just before sunset

Diving with Wicked

As the scuba whores we are, we stopped in four or five dive shops to feel out different instructors, check prices, and see when the next liveaboard left.

Initially we were looking for day dives. My dream was a liveaboard, but I didn’t think we could afford it. Eventually and LUCKILY, we caved.

We walked into Wicket Diving and had a blast. It helped that the salesman was fantastic – we chatted with him for close to an hour. Plus, he had a 3night trip leaving the next day with space. So, we got a discount. Always shop around — and if you are flexible, arrive with time and you’ll find a deal.

We signed up without hesitation and would leave the next day on a 3-day/3-night liveaboard with 10 dives in the Andaman Sea & Richelieu Rock. SUCCESS!

The Wicked boat: the boat was the only con for someone looking for luxury. It’s an older boat, not the most grand, but comfortable for us. There are some luxurious dive boats, but you’ll pay for them.

Liveaboard in the Andaman Sea
some light reading in between dives

Wicked Diving Boat

Wicket Dive instructors are fantastic

They were very professional, but more importantly they were informative.

Our instructors were passionate about marine conservation. In between dives we had discussions to raise awareness about treatment to marine life. We were also given a different informational topics on marine habitats, fish, and conservation. Our trip wasn’t just diving, but it was also a learning experience.

The instructors always helped divers look up the marine life we spotted underwater. We had great equipment and dive computers for each dive. We learned about the history of Richelieu Rock and were prepped with a briefing of the site before each dive.

Polaroid Picture
Nigel and Eddy – our dive instructors!

Our Dive Sites

We did 10 dives during our 3 days on the liveabord and each dive just got better and better.

Below will essentially be my dive log for the trip: visibility, depth, and marine life spotted, plus my review of some dives.

All underwater pictures are from Solomon Tsao Photography (Solomon Scuba)

Solomon Tsao Photography - Barracuda at Richelieu Rock
Barracuda at Richelieu Rock – Credit: Solomon Tsao Photography
Solomon Tsao Photography at Richelieu Rock
Richelieu Rock – Credit: Solomon Tsao Photography
Solomon Tsao Photography - Schools of fish at Richelieu Rock
Schools of fish at Richelieu Rock – Credit: Solomon Tsao Photography
Solomon Thso Photography at Richelieu Rock
Pink coral at Richelieu Rock – Credit: Solomon Thso Photography

Koh Bon

  • Visibility: 25-30m
  • Depth: 15.5m/60min
  • Marine Life: Nice and easy acclimation dive, very warm water. We saw needle fish, stone fish under rocks and one on the ocean floor. Also saw a few tuna, lion fish, eel box fish, and a dark blue starfish with six legs and pointy black pricks. We noticed how the water becomes hazy as cold currents meet warm currents, the visibility changes.

Koh Tachai Reef

  • Visibility: 25m
  • Depth & bottom time: 20.7m/52min
  • Marine Life: Soft coral was very colorful, saw some Sean anemones and my group (except me) saw an octopus change color. Did some drifting, also saw a scorpion fish and lion fish.

Aow Pakkard

  • Visibility: 15m
  • Depth & bottom time: 20m/52min
  • Marine Life: Spotted a sting ray hidden in the sand, colorful hard and soft corral, a lonesome barracuda, and moorish idols. Water temperature kept shifting with the current from warm to cold.

Aow Pakkard Night Dive

  • Visibility: torch
  • Depth & bottom time: 15.5m/41min
  • Marine Life: sea anemones turned purple at night, fish tumbled and rolled with the current as they slept, eels came out, and there were some massive angel fish
  • My least favorite, but also my first night dive.

Koh Stock

  • Visibility: 20m
  • Depth & bottom time: 22.7m/44min
  • Marine Life: Big boulders scattered on the ocean floor created a unique environment for the marine life. We saw 7 barracuda swimming together, clownfish were swimming in and our of sea anemones, lion fish, moorish idols and angel fish.
  • Currents were rougher

Aow Tow

  • Visibility: 20-25m
  • Depth & bottom time: 22.8m/44min
  • Marine Life: This is a slanting reef on the Surin Islands filled with tons of massive and vibrant coral. There was a current so we swam into it and drifted for the remainder. Site was filled with tuna, hard and soft coral was stunning, gorgonian coral, emperor angel fish, and walls or tiny clear fish.

*** Rainbow Rocks ***

  • Visibility: 20+m
  • Depth & bottom time: 18.4m/45min
  • Marine Life: Coral was yellow, blue, green and we saw sea anemones, huge fish, giant trevalleys, a massive pink lobster. We spotted a lonesome mapped or mazed pufferfish, 4ft grouper, triggerfish, pompinors, moorish idols, a white spotted puffer and manila puffer fish. And a massive 1ft clam with its mouth open/close with blue and purple lines on the mouth.
  • This was incredible and it was clear why it is called rainbow rocks – the coral is absolutely stunning, it was glowing! I literally didn’t want to surface.
  • After this dive, we chased surfacing dolphins!
Dolphins leaping from the dive site near Rainbow rocks
Dolphins we saw leaping from the water after Rainbow Rocks
Rainbow Rocks dive site by Wicked Diving
Our dive instructors presentation of Rainbow Rocks

Torinla Sunset Dive

  • Visibility: 5-7m
  • Depth & bottom time: 20m/40min
  • Marine Life: We were unlucky on this dive, the green monster came in (a wave of plankton) and our visibility was cloudy. We saw an octopus and a massive 3-4 ft puffer fish hiding under a rock. That was impressive!

*** Richelieu Rock ***

  • Visibility: 20-25m
  • Depth & bottom time: 21.7m/53min
  • Marine Life: We descended the rope to get past a strong top current. Going down the roap we were surrounded with thousands of schools of fish, whipping back and forth. Schools were both blue and turquoise in one pod and orange and yellow in another. We saw hundreds of schools of tuna, trevalley coasting up the rocks, waiting for their change to quickly turn and strike the smaller minnow-like fish.
    We saw a lonesome 3-4ft barracuda cruise by with its mouth half open, box fish, long piper fish and walls of barracuda.
  • Since this is a protected area, the fish had no fear and get so close to you, it is amazing, I was impressed by everything.
  • The terrain is a massive granite rock in the middle of the Andaman Sea which provides shelter and homes to all these miracles of the sea.
Richelieu Rock dive outline
Richelieu Rock dive outline

Richelieu did not disappoint

This was our first liveabord and it was incredible! Truly outstanding and worth every penny.

My adventures and ramblings through Europe, Australia, and now back the United States. I generally write from daily inspirations or from random thoughts.

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