The Similan Islands are not only the jewel in the Andaman ocean but a jewel in the oceans of the blue planet we call earth. These islands lie 65 kilometers off the west coast of Thailand. This is just 85 km north west of the tourist hub of Phuket. This island chain consist of nine islands in the Smilan archipelago which are just pin pricks in any map but with such stunning beauty that it will leave you wanting to return year after year. The Similan national park consists of the nine islands plus two more islands that stand alone to the north of the main group. The eleven islands are Koh Bangu, Koh Bon, Koh Ha, Koh Hin Pousar, Koh Huyong, Koh Meang, Koh Payan, Koh Payang, Koh Payu and Koh Similan. In total they cover 140 square kilometers with the largest being Koh Similan. Koh being the Thai word for island.
The islands themselves are on the whole uninhabited with a few tents and cabins available for an overnight stay during the season. The low lying islands are covered in a mix of thick jungle, white sandy beaches and large boulders. Ironwood and gum trees are among the larger trees, while jackfruit, rattan and bamboo form part of the denser undergrowth. The islands are home to crab-eating monkeys, dusky langurs, squirrels, bats, lizards and a good variety of birds (though the monkeys are shy and rarely seen by the casual observer).
But the most striking feature of these islands, at first glance, are the huge boulders that litter the western and southern shores on several of the islands. Another highlight, as the visitor soon discovers, are the white coral-sand beaches, splendidly picturesque and often deserted.
All eleven islands are surrounded by crystal blue tropical bays and lagoons. The clear warm water makes these islands a snorkeling and scuba diving dream. The conditions for coral growth are ideal, with a minimum prevailing sea temperature of about 28oC and exceptionally clear waters. More than 200 species of hard coral alone have so far been identified in this area, while these islands have the greatest profusion of reef fish in Thai waters. These are not only the best islands in Thailand but in the world.
DIVING THE SIMILAN ISLANDS
For scuba diving then by far the best way is to join one of the Liveaboard boats that tour these islands during the season which runs from 15th October till the 15th of May each year. This way you can travel from island to island diving as you go and still being able to stay in a comfortable air conditioned cabin with en-suit toilet and showers. The Liveaboard boats these days are a far cry for what many think of or experienced years ago. The boats in the Similans are all trying to be better than the others. This means that all the boats now have great chefs turning out better food on these dive boats than many smaller hotels and guest houses. Some boats are turning out four meals a day with snacks in-between. They all have almost unlimited supply of soft drinks all well chilled and of course when on a boat cruising in the tropic a nice sun deck too.
To join these trips is very simple as there are many dive centers that have gathered in this ideal location and there are trip leaving every day from Phuket. The best way to join these trips is to look for a well establish dive center with many years experience on the island as they will offer you several options both in length and quality of boat for you to choose from. The average price of a good mid range trip is fifteen to twenty thousand Thai baht for a three day cruise. This price will normally include the transfers from your hotel in Phuket, all your dive equipment and being a national park there is an entrance fee too. These are normally all included but do check these things when booking to avoid any unexpected fees. Some dive centers do offer "cheap trips" but then they add on all the extras so be aware of this and try to book a trip where everything is included as this will rule out any issues later.
The Similan islands liveaboards which are two or three day trips which take you to the eleven islands in the Similan national park including Koh Bon. The nine islands in the Similans islands are known for their clear waters with 40 meter or more viability being the norm rather than the exception. Here you will find both Black and white tip reef sharks, Hawksbill turtles as this is a turtle breeding ground too. Recent years have seen the rise in new visitors too like the guitar shark, Minke and pilot whales too. Koh Bon is the most northern island in the group and is a location where people go to see both the reef and giant Oceanic Manta Ray.
WHEN TO VISIT THE SIMILAN ISLANDS
As mentioned before the Similan Islands are open for six months of the year. They open on the 15th of October and close again on the 15th of May. The reason for this is two fold. The fragile and unique eco systems on the Similan Islands are one of the major attractions of the area. But because the fragility of the nature reserve it can’t endure the massive tourist industry. Therefore, the Government of Thailand is protecting the Islands by closing them down for the public during the Monsoon season, which starts around May and ends in October. Between these dates the park is closed for all tourist and other visitors. Additionally, some of the Similan Islands are prohibited for to enter all year around because unique species of sea turtles are nesting on the beaches or to protect the very fragile eco systems that may be effected by conditions such as El Nino when the water may get too warm. The best thing to do is to contact us for the latest unto date information if your planned trip is at either end of the Similan season.
HOW TO GET TO THE SIMILAN ISLANDS
The Similan Islands offers no port oR airport, and are, in fact, a set of remote islands that are home to a small number of National Park Rangers that live here in order to protect the islands and reefs. Other folks have been hired to run the government cafeteria as well as the bungalows and tents.
If you want to visit the Similan Islands you should contact a diving company as they will have all the latest information. There are many different companies available to choose from, but you want to make sure they’re TAT-certified, are insured and have experience with the islands. Money is no object when your safety is on the line. Don’t try saving Baht at this time
Although there are a number of establishments in Phuket promoting direct travel. What they mean is the price of the transfer from your hotel to the boat is included. Taplamu is the local pier for Khao Lak. We ask that you reach out to dive companies that run trips everyday. Many also run the snorkel and even dive day trips too. They tend to be less expensive and more knowledgeable about the local conditions. Thap Lamu Port is the main gateway to the Similans, as it is the closest point of land AND a deep water pier – home of the Thai Navy’s 3rd fleet. Island #4 is almost directly west of the port. It is approx 50km away. If you travel by speedboat, the journey is between 60 and 80 minutes. Larger boats and liveaboards take 3-5 hours to get there, so most of them depart in the afternoon or evening arriving at the first location before bed time so you still get a good nights sleep and will be fresh and already at the first dive site so you can be first in the water that day.
The cost varies wildly from 1000 baht for a space on the deck of a fishing boat to 5600 baht for guided diving trips. A speedboat is about 3,800 baht. This will include the national park fees, snorkeling gear and lunch. These speed boat trips will take you to four different islands for snorkeling. This is a better option as the speed boats will be taking to great snorkeling locations where the dive boats go to the best dive spots. These are not always the same places. There are several options for this. There is also a boat owned and operated by the national park that takes 4 hours and costs 1500 baht. It leaves each day at 09.00.
These services are not available after May 16th of each year, as the park shuts down for Monsoons. Taplamu is about 5km from the main North/South Route in Thailand, so getting there via bus is quite easy. The easiest way is to make your way to Khao Lak and get a taxi. If you have arranged a tour through a local company, they will offer transfer free of charge which is by far the best option as they collect you from your hotel and return you to where you want to go to afterwards too.
The Similan Islands are well-known for offering clear tropical waters, amazing marine life and white sandy beaches. Why else would you read this page? These tours can be set up in Phuket. The trip involves a 90 minute ride via air conditioned minibus from your hotel in Phuket to the pier IDon’t forget to pick companies that have been TAT-certified, have safety equipment on hand and are insured. You can pick from diving boats, snorkeling boats or boats that cater to either one. But the dive boats tend to be the safest option as they have more safety equipment, medical equipment and of course all the fully trained instructors on the boats too.
It’s not possible to use a bus to get to the Similan Islands. There are bus services that run from Bangkok to Khao Lak. It costs nearly 900 baht for the air-conditioned VIP bus, although there are cheaper options. The bus will leave Bangkok around 6 a.m. and again at 6 p.m. The VIP will take 12 hours to make the trip; regular buses will take between 14 to 15 hours. Your best option is to buy tickets from the Government Bus Station – Southern Terminal. If you buy them from a travel agent, your ticket will go to Surat Thani and then put you on a local bus. This means added hours to your trip. From Phuket: Almost all buses heading North (Bangkok, Surat Thani, Ranong, Chumphon, Takuapa) will pass through Khao Lak. The 1st class buses will take 90 minutes, the 2nd class can take three hours. They will depart about every hour. Just make your way to the Bus station at Phuket Town. The nearest airport to the Similan Islands is Phuket International Airport. It is about 70km south of the pier. There are buses, and a confusing system of Taxis. We recommend using Khao Lak Taxi Service. Reliable, safe and secure. They are also quite affordable. It is possible to get to Khao Lak/Tap Lamu via bus from the the airport. It is time consuming. Make your way to the main road (about 5km East). This can be done by taxi or a new public bus. The bus stop is on the opposite side of the road, heading North. It is about 600 Meters South of the crossroads. Every bus will stop there. Please ask the driver if they are heading to Khao Lak/Tap Lamu. The total trip should take about 3 1/2 hours. Phuket Airport is serviced by many international airlines and a great many regional airlines.
Speedboats, sailing vessels diving liveaboards and even luxury yachts can be chartered or individually booked from the better dive companies in Phuket or Khao Lak Only Similan Islands #4 and #8 allow you on land. There are trails and very beautiful viewpoints. Bring your shoes! The other islands are off limits to foot traffic. Transit between the islands can be very tricky. There are transfer boats available through the National Park. As the National Park service is a government agency, they are not always tightly organized. If you are short on time (and patience), we recommend using the services of a local dive shop or snorkeling company.
When on the islands, the National Park offers powerboat transit as follows. These are very basic and departure times are not scheduled. You will need to contact the park directly to find the times. Distance and prices for tansfer between the Similan Islands: Ko 4 to Ko 6 – distance 3 kilometres a 150 Baht/person (snorkel tour only) Ko 4 to Ko 8 – distance 11.5 kilometres a 200 Baht/person (transit only) Ko 4 to Ko 9 – distance 13.5 kilometres a 300 Baht/person (snorkeling and transit) Around Ko 8 and Ko 9 a 300 Baht/person (snorkeling only_ Only Similan Islands #4 and #8 allow you on land. There are trails and very beautiful viewpoints. Bring your shoes! The other islands are off limits to foot traffic.