We booked a 4-night trip to the Similian Islands on the MV Pawara, staffed by West Coast Divers. Diving in the southern part of the chain was just decent, but we loved Elephant Head Rock, Koh Tachai, and Richelieu Rock. We could have spent another few days just at Richelieu. That pinnacle is covered in an amazing amount of life. We stopped at island #8 and climbed Sail Rock one afternoon. The views of the turquoise and cobalt sea, white sand beaches, and dark granite boulders was stunning.
The boat is gorgeous and looks like it was recently updated. There is lots of comfortable living space, including an air conditioned salon and a huge sun deck. We opted for a standard cabin, which is a bit cramped, but we figured we only sleep and shower in there anyway. It had an ensuite and enough storage, so it worked. Our only complaint was the mattress. We've slept on some pretty hard mattresses throughout Asia and this was by far the worst. There are no blankets, only sheets, so consider packing a lightweight blanket if you tend to get chilled at night. This is a big, stable boat. Even our friend that said she always gets sea sick had no problems.
I can't say enough great things about the staff. The dive staff gave very detailed briefings before every dive, complete with maps, and ran a very organized operation. All the guides were experienced instructors and were rigorous about safety and upholding PADI standards. Our boat was full, but they had enough guides to keep the groups small. Our group of five had our guide all to ourselves. We appreciated the safety rigor, but at the same time our guide was flexible enough to ascend with the divers that couldn't extend their air time quite as long and let the rest of us finish our dive. They had Nitrox on board, making it easy to switch over on those dives when we wanted to maximize bottom time, but we didn't have to commit to the extra expense for the entire trip. The dive staff seemed to know just how to schedule diving at each site so we usually had the site to ourselves. It seemed we were always departing just as a bunch of other boats showed up. This is definitely the way to dive these islands.
The Thai staff were very friendly and accommodating (of course) and served very tasty and plentiful meals. Often times I starve for vegetables on liveaboards, especially since I don't eat a lot of meat, but not here! There was a great variety and everything was good. There was always hot tea, fruit, and cookies out, and I swear they were feeding us after every dive.
We looked at many boats before booking this one, and I'm very glad we settled on the Pawara. It was a great trip and an amazing value. We booked through Jamie at Sunrise Divers, who was great to work with.
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