In a nutshell
The set of islands is incredible stuff. So much so, in fact, that the islands are on the American Diving Association’s list of Top 10 dive sites the world over. Any diver that has been in the game for a while, and no doubt the ones reading this article, are well aware of the gems to be discovered here.
Why go to the Similans
Motivating a trip to the islands is almost like begging a child to skip nap time and swim in the pool – high unnecessary, and easily accomplished. The sites are world-class. Brilliant colours swish and flicker, painting the underwater landscape in dreamy colours of ethereal descent. In amidst the hordes of tiny creatures that are in abundance in these waters, there are also a handful of larger animals you stand a good chance of coming across. Whale sharks, black-tip reef sharks, nurse sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, barracudas all grace these special waters. With opportunities like this, you can’t want to walk away.
Just below the Myanmar border, and not far away from the most northern of the Similan islands, is a special place filled with magical creatures, incredible limestone casts, and a constant supply of supremely grateful humans. Richelieu rock is the name, and should you have done any research about dive sites in Thailand, you’re sure to have heard about it. Nutrient rich water attracts an uncountable number of fish and more whale sharks than anywhere else in the country. Not only do you have a great chance of seeing one of these gentle giants, you are guaranteed to be surrounded by immense, brightly lit schools of fish, cosy, colourful caves, slow-moving corals, and just so many opportunities for a stunning macro-photography shot.
Keeping you forever entertained and forever grateful for however this all came into being, are the incredible underwater limestone casts, brightly lit schools of fish, and surreal swimthroughs of Richelieu Rock. The site is the highlight of the Similan dive route and is the stuff of dreams. Nutrient rich water attracts and feeds the local fish that come and stay in abundance. Yay for nutrients!
Similan islands snorkelling
Many snorkelling tours are available, too. Day trips, overnight trips and even trips that last for over three days are possible. They are not too dissimilar from liveaboards, except your accommodation will be on one of the islands. You will be taken to the best spots throughout your trip and will be guided about what you should be looking for. Downtime between your swims is spent amongst likeminded people, putting on sunscreen other peoples backs, and reflecting on all that you have seen. What a way to live for a few days!
When go to the Similans
The absolute best time to enjoy the delights of the sea life surrounding the Similan islands is between the months of February and April. During this time, the seas are extraordinarily clear and calm, allowing for brilliant visibility.
The season to visit is quite a bit longer than this though, and thank goodness for that! Day trips run through October to early May, while liveaboards begin about a month later. Outside of these times, the national park is closed and off limits to all tourists.
How do you get to the Similan islands
Leaving for the Similan islands from the Westernised oasis that is Phuket couldn’t really be any easier. There are multiple trips through to the islands every day. You can also book day trips through to the islands for those who are on an unfortunately strict timeline. While many operators promote direct travel between Phuket and the islands, many of them rather send you off on a minibus to the pier in Khao Lak – the more common and preferred departure point for the islands.
Day trips through to the islands start at the crack of dawn and end after dusk. They include snorkelling at several of the islands – usually up to 4, and allow time for doing very little on the beach, inland gallivanting to viewpoints, and time for wading in amidst the shallows. The trips always include a hearty Thai lunch on one of the incredible beautiful beaches.
The trips aren’t cheap, but do include everything you’ll need and want on the day. Tour packages vary in length, price and inclusions between operators, so do you research into them and decide what works best for you. You shouldn’t pay more than 4000 THB for the day of adventure, and could pay as little as 2,500 THB if you find a good deal and book in advance.
From Khao Lak
The most popular departure point for the islands is the Thap Lamu Port. Being the closest point to the islands, the trip is significantly shorter from here.
Being tremendously visited by tourists from all over the world, the port in Khao Lak has garnished much attention from local companies who have sought to capitalise on the demand for tips through to the islands. As such, there is no scarcity of options. Whether you are looking for something cheap, something fast, something comfortable, or just something at the last second, you’re covered.
Prices, of course, vary extraordinarily. You can hop aboard a fishing boat and get yourself there for 1000 THB, or you can get there in speed for double the price and half the time. A reliable choice is the service operated by the national park themselves. Tickets cost 1500 THB and the trip takes around 4 hours. There is one single departure each day, leaving at 9.00am.
Booking your ticket to the islands can be done in a variety of ways. The easiest of these is through the hotel or guesthouse you’re staying with. The prices for the trip usually remain the same as even if you make the effort to book directly through the ferry companies, the commission otherwise paid to the hotels is added onto the price offered to you.
Another good way to book your trip is through one of the many travel companies in the area and near the port. The travel companies often offer more competitive prices than the tour companies themselves, and will surely make the whole process a little less daunting and uncertain.
If you are conscientious in the booking process, you are sure to save a good chunk of change. Get prices from several travel companies and tour operators. Soon enough, you’ll have a good idea about what you should be paying for what you want.
Departing for the Similans is also possible from the town of Ranong. There is far less bustle here and much less competition amongst tour operators. You are, as a result, less able to choose from a vast array of options that you will find in Khao Lak. However, there are a few reputable companies that offer fantastic services at fair prices. The Smiling Seahorse and Aladdin Dive Safari are both examples of this. Most companies round these parts offer liveaboard trips. Ferries through to the Similans are not really an option from here. Your best bet is to hop on a bus to Khao Lak, and make your way to the islands from there.
As a general rule, it is wise to book your trip through a trustworthy operator. While small, non-descript companies or individuals may be able to offer you a better deal, the lower price is not worth the holiday ruining headaches you expose yourself to should something go wrong. Bigger companies will invariably have other people booking with them, and group tours are always cheaper than small, individualised ones.
Where to stay on the Similans
Considering how long it takes you to get to the islands, it may well be worth your time spending a couple of nights on the islands themselves. The accommodation options are slim and slightly over-priced, but the feeling of being one of the few people in the world to have gone there, to have laid eyes on its shores and trees and seas, is one that is worth any price tag.
Island 8 has camping facilities only, whereas island 4 (Koh Meang) has both camping facilities and bungalows. Fan bungalows run for around 1000 THB a night, whereas the inclusion of air-con doubles that price. Tents are around half the price of fan bungalows and fill up pretty quickly, so be sure to book in advance. The facilities are basic, and electricity is only available from 6 in the evening through to the next morning. Mosquitos are a plenty, so some repellent is essential.
The bungalows and camping sites are all close to the beach, but remain behind the cover of trees to ensure less disruption to the local habitat and the mating patterns of sea turtles.
Just meters away from the shores are fantastic snorkelling spots with great visibility. While there is not a tremendous amount of coral-life, there are plenty of colourful fish in the shallows. Overall, the islands are wild. Snakes, monitor lizards, and bats all roam the area as freely as you do. The islands provide the experience we hope for when thinking about seclusion and authenticity, but so often struggle to get.
Staying on the Similan islands themselves is an absolute delight, but may not be the best option for those looking to fully immerse themselves in the diving scene. For the singularly focused underwater baby, liveaboards are, without a doubt, the best option for seeing as much as possible in the shortest amount of time.
Similan islands liveaboards
Liveaboards are predominately for serious divers who have experience. While this is not a requirement, you’ll find that the people on board are avid divers whose every waking minute is spent diving, or wanting to dive.
Liveaboards range extensively in duration, price, and offerings. Before making the decision to board one, be sure to do your research.
Costs range radically. The cheapest liveaboards that come with no frills and shared accommodation go for around 4,500 THB a day. High end, luxurious and secluded liveaboards can get up to 20,000 THB a day.
The duration of liveaboards also varies drastically. You could be sailing and diving anywhere from 3 to 14 days.
Reputable companies that manage liveaboards include Sunrise Divers, Similan Diving Tours, and Liveaboard.com. Check out these companies and do the research. Once you’re done with that, there will be very little else on your plate, so go ahead and get the nitty gritty out of the way!
During the late 70’s and early 80’s, dynamite bombing decimated the marine life in the Andaman Sea. Fishing and tourism has also done its fair share of devastation to the marine life near Phuket and the dive sites surrounding Coral island. Unsustainable practice and money making has had its impact on the once thriving and vibrant corals. However, there have been many projects working toward to restoration and protection of marine life in dive sites all over Thailand. Coral bleaching is a systematic problem that is the result of a dysfunctional, wasteful, and unsustainable way of living. Rising sea temperatures and other effects of global warming is something that each person needs to defend against themselves.