Thailand Liveaboards - To book or not to book?

The Similan Islands diving season is November until the end of April. The ideal time to dive there is February to April. That's when you are most likely to sight whalesharks, that's when the sun is hottest and the sea is flattest.

Getting on one of the better liveaboard boats at that time usually needs advance booking because they do fill up. (There are plenty of cheaper boats sailing the Similan's now so getting on a cheaper boat at short notice should be possible if you can be a little flexible with your dates).Whalesharks can be seen at Richelieu Rock on a Thailand liveaboard safari

During the west coast of Thailand low season, from late April to late October, the northeast monsoon brings rain and rough sea. Most liveaboard operators stop running trips at this time or move to another location.

At either end of the main diving season, just outside the high season dates, (before 1 November and after 20 April) flights to Phuket get cheaper and so do hotels, often by as much as 40%. So it is tempting to travel at that time to save a lot of money and hope that the weather will still be ok. It is also pretty easy to get a bargain liveaboard trip around these dates as many of the boats have spaces free and offer last minute prices, usually 20% off.

So what are risks of booking a dive trip just before the high season starts and just after the high season finishes?

There are really two issues. One is the weather and the other is availability.Banded sea snakes can be seen on many Similan dive sites

Let's look at availability first. There is always availability on the first and last trips of the season and as more and more boats enter the market there should be more supply and more last minute offers. Boats always plan extra trips on at the beginning and the end of the season in a desperate attempt to get as long a season as possible. They then hope that the weather will be ok. However they always struggle to fill all their berths for these trips and as the dates draw near they realise that they have a few confirmed bookings but to run with so few divers would be to run at a loss, so they drop their prices to attract some last minute business.

The risk is not so much that boats will be full but that boats will not sail at all due to lack of numbers. On the cusps of the season fewer tourists visit the area for diving and therefore if the boats cannot get the minimum numbers to sail they will cancel trips. To be fair, many operators will sail at a loss even if you are the only guest on board (would you really want to be on the boat alone?) but many others will tell you at the very last minute that they don't have the minimum numbers to sail so your trip has been cancelled. They wait to the last minute before they tell you because they are trying to get some last minute bookings. They will refund you but that still leaves you standing at the pier with no dive trip and no hotel booked.

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