Thailand has 2 main diving areas depending on the monsoons. The Gulf of Thailand (east) and the Andaman Sea (west).
The best time to dive the Andaman Sea area is from November to April. However, resorts are most crowded November to January.
The best time to dive the Gulf of Thailand is from May to September. The rest the year it is OK but not the best.
The Junk Liveaboard and Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand
This review is based around the Junk liveaboard and the hotels used before and after the trip in the Patong Beach area. This was a good trip on The Junk, but not uneventful. We were aboard the Junk liveaboard when it collided with a fishing vessel during the night. Read on for more information.
We arrived in Phuket via Ferry from Koh Yao Yai. It was a standard Ferry which carried passengers and cars. Our luggage was stored below deck with the cars. Upon arrival it was a bit of a zoo and I ended up throwing our luggage out of a side door to avoid the crowds leaving the boat. A driver pre-arranged by Elixir Resort was there to pick us up and transfer us to our hotel in Patong. Most visitors would normally arrive by air to Phuket Airport.
As soon as we arrived in Phuket the attitude of the locals was very evident. Everyone was trying their best to sell us something. The driver was immediately trying to sell us a trip to the airport, tours, etc. This never stopped for our entire time in Phuket. Someone always pushing you to buy or do something. They even sell a t shirt on Phuket that states on one side in english the other in thai “No, I don’t want a F?@#ing Taxi, Suit or Massage”. Every other place we went to in Thailand was more laid back.
Patong Beach is a dump. It is the most popular or most over populated beach on the island. The north end if very busy and noisy. The place smells horrible. The smell of raw sewage and rotten trash was everywhere. It was hard to find a restaurant located in an area that did not smell.
The Beach is extremely over crowded. The photos below were taken in the morning. The beach gets extremely crowded by 2PM.
Patong Beach has one section full of strip clubs and prostitutes. Most hotels require 1000 baht for unregistered guests (prostitutes) who may rip you off or the hotel. This 1000 baht fee is posted in a sign at check in. Obviously they had some issues.
Patong is not the location to go for a quiet restful sleep. The street noise and fireworks going off will keep you up for quite some time. Some of the Tuk Tuk’s (small taxi’s) have large stereos booming as they drive down the street. Fireworks can go off until 3 or 4 AM.The noise on the streets subsides around 3 or 4 AM. After that things are quite until about noon.
Walking the streets is very annoying as you are constantly being hit with, Do you want a Taxi, Do you want a Massage, Do you want a Suit. Where are you from, do you speak English ……… You try to be polite, but eventually you start losing it. It is really annoying.
There are better beaches to stay in than Patong. I highly recommend staying else where. However, we were about to do a week on the Live Aboard “The Junk” which leaves from Patong so Patong was very convenient. The Junk tenders leave from the floating dock in the south of Patong beach. This area is slightly quieter. Our second hotel in Patong was located there and it was better. This was the Rayaburi Beach Club which is located at the end of the floating dock in Patong that you live from to board the Junk.
Taxis and Tuk Tuk’s vary drastically in price depending on the time of day and were you are going/coming from. We spent 1200 Baht for a 3-4 hour tour of the southern tip of the island. The southern tip has beautiful views and beaches. We stopped off and walked around about 4 of the beaches. The views from the southern tip of Phuket are beautiful. We also stopped off for a quick elephant ride. I thought this price of 1200 baht was quite reasonable for the distance and the amount of time. However, we also took a Tuk Tuk to a nice restaurant and a 2 mile trip was 200 Baht ($6). The return trip the first Tuk Tuk wanted 300 baht ($9) for the same 2 mile trip. We refused and quickly found another Tuk Tuk for 200 Baht.
The Liveaboard “The Junk”
The actual name of The Junk is the June Hong Chian Lee. It is a roughly 100 foot chinese junk built in 1962. It is not a new luxury liveaboard as some web sites state. However, it is unique. The boat only raises its sails for a couple of hours on the last day of diving otherwise it is under motor.
You arrive on the junk via tenders as it is anchored about 1/4 mile off shore. It is not the easiest liveaboard to enter via dingy or tender as you must time your step with the seas. During our stay the seas were flat, it they were not it would be a challenge to enter.
The Junk has 6 rooms for the divers and can hold a maximum of 18 divers. I think this would be very rare as 2 cabins are quad, 2 cabins are triples and 2 cabins are doubles. During our trip there were 7 guests. It would be a bit crowded if it was packed with 18 guests on this liveaboard.
The stairs from the Salon to the cabins is typical sailboat. Very Steep. It is best to hold on the rails and walk down the steps backwards as if you are on a ladder. The hall way is narrow and there are 3 cabins on the right and 3 on the left.
Cabins on the Liveaboard “The Junk”
Each cabin has its own air conditioner, however, there was only one remote control for the entire boat. This meant you had to go to the salon and bring the remote to your room, adjust the temperature and then return the control to the salon for others to use. I thought this was a bit cheap for a Liveaboard in this price range. The room was always damp and a bit musty. There are no fresh air vents in the rooms. There are no windows in the room. The room is always pitch black with the lights off. The Junks website states “recently renovated”. I think the renovation was many years ago.
If anyone in your cabin uses the bathroom at night the light is quite bright even with the door closed. This would wake me up at night.
The Beds on the Junk did not have sheets. There was the Tan Patterned fitted sheet and a large red terry cloth towel for a sheet/blanket. The beds were not comfortable. Sheets could have drastically improved things . There was plenty of storage under the bed. The pillows were very thick and not comfortable.
Sleep was difficult as The Junk is very rolly even in very flat seas. The junk has no large heavy keel as most sail boats have and it is very wide with a roundish bottom. This causes the boat to roll most of the time. This made it difficult to sleep.
Roaches on The Junk
Our room did have at least 1 large roach. Only 1 was seen, but as the saying goes “if you see one, there are many more”
The roaches came home with us. We now have roaches in our house. I personally feel this is a huge risk you take when you are on ANY liveaboard. However, this boat is infested and it infested our luggage which we took home.
The Bathroom on the Junk
The bathroom was very small which is typical for a liveaboard but it was in poor condition. The toilet leaked fresh water constantly. This combine with the air conditioner condensate line draining in the bathroom caused the floor to always be wet. The bathroom needed to be renovated. The door was covered in mold. Grout around the sink was disintegrating.
Toilet Problems on the Junk
One other major issue we had on this liveaboard trip was with the bathroom was the toilet overflowed onto the floor 2 times. This was due to the waste tank being full and when the toilet was flushed there was no where for the waste to go except the floor. Quite disgusting.
The salon and Deck areas of the Junk
The salon and deck areas of the Junk were spacious for 7 passengers. I think they would be a bit cramped if 18 people were on board. If 18 people were in the salon eating on a rainy night it would be very cramped. However, 18 people spread out on deck and the salon would not be an issue.
Tanks are spread out around the deck. There is plenty of room for 18 divers.
Food on The Junk
The food on The Junk was fantastic. The Thai dishes were some of the best that we had during our 2 1/2 week stay in Thailand. The spice level was toned down for westerners, but not too low. There was always a bowl of hot pepper sauce to spice things up if you desired. The food was served buffet style. One side had Thai food and the other had western food. I only ate the Thai food and there was more than you could possibly eat and always a nice variety.
Diving the Junk
Most dives were made from the inflatable tender. Entering the inflatable wearing you gear was a bit difficult. Some choose to have their tanks and BCD’s carried down. This would be wise if you have difficulties with the rolling seas and the inflatable going up and down relative to the Junk or have back or leg issues. Entries were back rolls from the inflatable. Getting back on the inflatable is by removing your BCD in the water and the crew pulls it up. There was a ladder to climb in or flutter kick like mad and pull you self up.
A few dives were done directly from the Junk. The method of entry was giant stride entries from the platform that was about 3 feet off the water line. There was a metal bar (part of the ladder) that was slightly above the deck height. This caused your fin to slip as you pushed off for your giant stride. This could cause an injury. One dive we returned to the Junk via its ladder on the platform. The ladder has an inverse angle, so it is difficult to climb.
Dives are done in waves. You are assigned to a group with a dive master and each group departs a few minutes apart. This gave the diving somewhat of a more private feel.
The main diving area during our trip was the Similan Islands. Dives were also done in Koh Bon and Richelieu Rock.
The Similan Islands are granite boulder dives with lots of fish life. The boulders do not have much coral. Huge schools of Barracuda and other fish were seen. Manta rays were seen on 2 different sites. Other critters seen, 1 frog fish, 2 seahorses, 5 or 6 dwarf pipe seahorses, several pipefishes, Turtles, a few nudibranch. The amount of nudibranch’s seen was significantly lower than Indonesia or the Philippines. The variety and quantity was very low. The ones that we did find were mostly much smaller than those seen elsewhere. Being smaller they were much harder to spot.
There were huge areas of dead hard corals in Thailand. The kill areas were close to 100% dead hard corals. One area was about 100 yards wide by 400 yards long with 100% dead hard corals. We did not see any significant signs of recovery of the hard corals. . The bleaching event the occurred several years ago was devastating and there is little recovery. On many sites you hear about the recovery….. We did not see this
It is difficult to understand reports of coral bleaching and death. How bad and how much are the questions you want to know. In this area it was terrible. However, bleaching does not effect the very colorful soft corals and gorgonians. The next 2 photos are typical reef scenes. Notice the absence of living coral (also ignore the turtle and see the dead reef behind it. The area with the turtle must have been beautiful at one point. Enormous area of dead acropora coral.
Richelieu Rock Diving
Richelieu Rock is the high point of this trip. Richelieu rock barely breaks the surface and it offers no protection from the weather and waves. The boat rolls the most at this site at night. No night dive is done here for safety reasons. It would be a very uncomfortable night if the seas were high. However, on our trip the seas were very flat.
Richelieu Rock has Nudibranchs, soft corals and huge schools are fish. It was the best scuba site of the trip.
Random Underwater photos from this trip.
Dive Guides on the Junk
I am an underwater photographer so I prefer tours of smaller areas that go slower. I am not a hard core dive one rock type of photographer. However, I felt the tours were much too far in distance. I was not pressured to do the tour. However, I prefer to stick around as the dive masters usually know where some of the interesting critters reside. The dive guides did know where some of the more sessile critters hid and where able to find them. The guided tours were excellent for non photographers as most usually do not like sticking around to see one critter for a some time. Distance allows them to see more. Most scuba dives were planned to be 60 minutes but most were closer to 70 minutes.
You must use a SMB if you are diving in Thailand. There is a lot of boat traffic and you want to have a marker up before you surface. The Junk Supplies SMB’s to every diver.
The crew did a great job of assist me with the camera and there was a very large dedicated camera rinse tank on board. There was a very small area to store cameras. Charging areas were any plug you could find in the salon. There were plenty of plugs available. Only 1 in your cabin.
The Crash, Things that go Bump in the Night or asleep at the Wheel
Whatever you may call it, our last night was not pleasant.
On our last day, the Junk was returning to Harbor and they were hitting hard objects at sea. I could not go to sleep when something hits the hull every 15 minutes. I assume they were fish traps.
The real surprise was around midnight. A fishing boat’s bow struck the right side of the Junk about midship. The impact was hard and it caused the Junk to Roll. A few seconds later there was the sound of breaking glass and a lot of screaming in Thai. No one sounded the alarm. No one came down to the cabins to alert the passengers or to check to make sure they were OK. There was not head count to assure no one went overboard. This was surprising and I felt very unprofessional. They claimed they did an inspection and everything was fine. I still feel the professional response would be to get all passengers on deck immediately while doing an inspection to assure no one was injured and to assure the safety of the passengers in the event of something going wrong. There is no reason to allow passengers to sleep in their cabins after a collision.
The bow of the fishing boat did significant damage to the right side of the boat. It punctured the hull leaving a 12 inch hole on the right side about 3 feet off the water line. The hole entered the first quad cabin on the right. It also separated the deck from the hull leaving a 3 to 4 inch gap in spots. No water entered the boat from the damage.
Most of the damage was above deck height.
The fishing boats in Thailand have booms with many lights. After the crash, the fish boat turn along side us due to our forward motion and push one of these booms through the salon window.
Several things were surprising.
- Crew never sounded alarm (they said they did an inspection and found no danger)
- Crew did not keep us informed as to what was happening
- Crew spent 2 to 3 hours trying to save dingy instead of getting the boat closer to shore/harbor.
- The Junk had radar, but they could not see an 80 foott fishing vessle
- The junk was quickly repaired and went back out 2 days later
Overall The diving on the Junk was good. With the damage to the hard corals it is not as good as it used to be. There were large schools of fish, soft corals and the Manta’s partially made up for the damage seen. A few lesser seen critters were seen such as pineapple fish, frog fish, sea horses, and pipefish.
The Junk was not the most comfortable liveaboard, but it is very unique. The food on the Junk was excellent and probably the best food I had while in Thailand.
This liveaboard was one of the more expensive options and considering the condition of the bathroom and lack of sheets I felt this lowered the value for the money.
The collision at night was an eye opener. Makes you think twice before taking a live aboardtrip in many countries due to poor maritime laws and safety of the boats.
Silver Resortel Hotel Review
Our first hotel was Silver Resortel in Patong Beach. The website for Silver Resortel had pictures of a room with a beach view, sand, ocean and palm trees. This is far from the truth. It was located 2 blocks from the water.
The room as adequate, but not nice.
Bathroom at Silver Resortel
The Bathroom did not have a separate show/tub. Water goes everywhere. It works, but it was not nice. There are other hotels on the island for the same price that are much nicer. The Silver Resortel is located on the opposite side of Patong as the Junks pier. It is located about 1 mile away. This is a poor choice for a hotel for the Junk.
The room was ok. Night time noise was very tolerable as our room was off the main street and beach… Beware though. Patong is VERY noisy. Fireworks, traffic, loud music.
Rayaburi Beach Club
Silver Resortel Hotel in Patong
Value for the Money 3 out of 5
Comfort 3 out of 5
Room/ Bathroom Condition 2 out of 5
Convenience to the Junk 3 out of 5
The Junk Liveaboard
Value for the Money 2 out of 5
Comfort 2 out of 5
Room/ Bathroom Condition 2 out of 5
Diving 4 out of 5
For Photographers 4 out of 5
Rayaburi Beach Club in Patong
Value for the Money 5 out of 5
Comfort 4 out of 5
Room/ Bathroom Condition 4 out of 5
Convenience to the Junk 5 out of 5
Elixir Resort is located on the southwestern side of the island of Koh Yao Yai. Koh Yao Yai is a lesser visited island that can be reached by ferry from the over populated, but more popular island of Phuket.
Elixir Resort arranged our pickup from the airport and they transfered us to the Ferry dock for a 45 minute fast boat ferry ride to northern Koh Yao Yai. The fast ferry is a passenger ferry that is a bit cramped, but the ride is short. Very little english was spoken by the crew, so it was not clear to me what island we arrived on first. A passenger was trying to ask me if I was going to Koh Yao Noi of Koh Yao Noi which confused me more, I think more tourists go to Koh Yao Noi. However the first stop was Koh Yao Yai and we got off and was greeted by a driver who took us to Elixir. The ride from the northern end of Koh Yao Yai to Elixir took about 1 hour.
Koh Yao Yai is a much lesser populated island that is cleaner and better kept than Phuket. No crowds, quite, and clean were my first impressions. This is a quiet tropical paradise with rubber tree farms and small villages.
Elixir resort is a nice resort located on the beach on the southwestern end of Koh Yao Yai. The rooms were small villas about 50 feet apart. The resort was well maintained and nicely landscaped.
The majority of the visitors were non divers looking for a relaxing vacation on the beach.
Rooms at Elixir
The rooms were fairly large, however, they had limited room for storage of suitcases and clothes. There was a large bathroom that was modern and clean. The shower was a very large outdoor shower surrounded by 7 foot wall for privacy. The rooms were very quiet and private. Each had a large deck. The rooms on the beach had a small private pool off the deck.
The bed was very comfortable but a bit odd. It was on a raised platform which caused a few bumped ankles at night.
One Night there was a very heavy rain and one of the windows leaked in the bathroom. However, this was not really an issue.
Elixir Grounds and beach
Elixir is a very pretty resort with nice landscaping and a nice beach. There is a pool with a swim up bar that closes at 5 PM. At the end of the pool there is a shaded area where you could get a massage.
The beach is very quiet and beautiful.
Exilir Resort’s Restaurant
The restaurant was located onsite and there is no other option for eating that is close that I am aware of. The food was good and it had a wide selection of Thai dishes and some western dishes. All the Thai dishes had the spice levels reduced to western tastes. All meals were excellent with the exception of the Seafood BBQ which was the most expensive item on the menu. The seafood that we had in Thailand was “fishier” that what we were accustom too and this dish was no exception. However, it was a HUGE platter of shrimp, crab, squid and fish. It was meant to be shared by 2 but it was enough for 4. However, it was bland and fishy. All other dishes were quite inexpensive and good.
The restaurant had indoor and outdoor seating. We only ate outdoors (we were not aware of anyone eating indoors). Bugs were only a minor issue.
Elixir Divers is located at the resort. They are a small operation that does not get many highly experienced divers. It was my impression that over 50% of their business is open water classes or snorklers. The staff was very friendly with a VERY laid back attitude. The boat left very late in the morning at 10 am and only 2 dives are scheduled for each day. At first we were a little concerned, but the dive day was long with a little land touring of different islands. Very different but in hindsight it is a very relaxing way to dive.
The Dive Boat is small and a bit cramped for divers, gear snorkeler and staff. There was no rinse tank for cameras. There is shade, but sometimes there is not enough room for everyone to be in the shade. No meals are brought onboard. I would suggest bringing a sandwich due to the late start and long days onboard. Also, bring cash just incase there is a side island excursion.
Our first trip was to Koh Bida Nai and Koh Bida Nok located just south of Koh Phi Phi Don. The boat started off quite crowded for such a small boat. However, they dropped off one of their staff each morning on a island located several miles off shore.
Next we traveled to Koh Phi Phi Don where 2 more passengers disembarked. They let us roam Phi Phi for 45 minutes which was nice as Koh Phi Phi was on our original list of places to stay. However, it would have been nice to know this as we could have brought some money to buy lunch. The dive crew offered us money to borrow for this purpose. After spending 45 minutes on Koh Phi Phi, we were glad we selected Koh Yao Yai. Phi Phi was massively over crowded.
photo of Phi Phi
Now it is close to 1:00pm and we are heading to our first dive site. This site had significant damage from the coral bleaching event that happened several years ago. There were quite a few anemones and fish. It was just lacking hard corals.
The surface interval was located in coves on 2 islands with beautiful views. Some of the guests took a quick walk on the island to see the other side.
The second dive was very similar to the first.
Photos from first 2 dives
The boat return to Elixir divers about 6 pm. This is a strange itinerary for a dive boat. But we spent time on Phi Phi and saw 3 other beautify Thai islands. Very relaxed scuba touring.
The second day of diving also started out at 10:00 AM and we were headed to Shark Point and Anemone Reef.
These 2 sites are the must do dives of the area and I felt that they were among the top dives in the Thailand. Both sites are teaming with life. Lots of fish….huge schools of fish and Anemone Reef is covered with thousands of anemones. Very beautiful dives. However, the visibility was not ideal. Average vis on these dives was about 20-30 feet. Usually poor vis and huge schools of fish go together.
Photos from Second Day
Overall Impression of Elixir Divers
The diving at Shark Point and Anemone Reef was excellent the other dive sites were OK but not great. The boat was a bit cramped and the days were long without food.
The prices were high, but the distance traveled was over an 1 hour to get to the sites.
Very laid back diving. Late wake up calls. Plenty of time to eat breakfast and the ability to see and walk on nearby islands made this a unique laid back and relaxing dive operation.
Thailand Scuba diving and Touring 2012
We planned a less than normal scuba divingtrip to Thailand in 2012 (for us at least). Most of our scuba trips are close to 100% scuba with very little land based touring.
We were not expecting the best of pacific diving, so we broke the trip up into several segments of land touring and scuba to experience the culture of Thailand in addition to our diving.
We ended up with 2 days in Bangkok, 3 nights in Koh Yao Yai at Elixir, 1 night at Patong Beach in Phuket, 1 week on the live aboard “The Junk”, 2 more nights in Patong and finally 2 more nights in Bangkok.
Overall it was a wonderful experience as we had the chance to see many things on land that you do not get to see from a live aboard trip and we also were able to see and dive a different section of Thailand.
I will separate the articlesElixir / Elixir Divers The Junk / Patong beach
The non scuba diving time spent in Bangkok will be discussed below.
Bangkok (non diving)
We stayed at the Millennium Hilton Bangkok which is actually just outside of downtown. This created a bit of confusion a 1:00am at the taxi stand at the airport. I don’t speak Thai and they never heard of the Millennium Hilton downtown. After a small amount of confusion, the taxi driver was off to the Hilton.
All 4 of our transfers between the hotel/ airport were based on a set fare that ranged from 500 baht to 600 baht. None of the drivers offered a metered rate which may have been cheaper, but 500 baht is only $15 US and I thought that was fair for a 45 minute trip that had tolls. However, if you take a taxi for short rides and Bangkok, insist on meter rates. The pre arranged rates are 2 to 3 times greater than the metered rate.
The Hilton was wonderful. After all it is a Hilton. My only negative comments are:The Hotel Restaurant Yuan Chinese had several Shark Fin dishes. The walk way from the lobby to the dock had a foul odor. However, I was there 30-60 days after their major flood in Bangkok.
Speaking of the Major Flood. We really saw no evidence of any flooding while we where there. We walk a fair amount. My guess is about 10 miles over both of our stays. I was expecting to see some debris or water damage. However, we saw nothing.
We walked a fair amount in Bangkok. However, it is not a pedestrian friendly city. Taxis and Tuk Tuks are everywhere, but the traffic is horrible and a better form of transport are the water taxis.
Must do things in Bangkok
Temple of Dawn
Channel Tour of Bangkok