The Similan Islands are a group of small islands in the Andaman Sea, 70 kms off the coast of Khao Lak. The islands gained National Park status in 1982. Boats going to the Similan Islands depart from Tap Lamu Pier (also spelt 'Thap Lamu') on Khao Lak beach.
The park consists of an archipelago of islands covering 128 sq kms. The word 'Similan' comes from the Sea Gypsy language (related to Malay) and means 'nine'. The islands are referred to by both Thai name and a number: Koh Huyong (1), Koh Payang (2), Koh Payan (3), Koh Miang (4), Koh Ha (5), Koh Payu (6), Koh Hin Pousar (7), Koh Similan (8), Koh Bangu (9).
More about the Similan Islands
It is widely acknowledged by divers that the waters around the Similan Islands offer some of the best diving in the world, better by far than found off the eastern Thai coast in the Gulf of Thailand. The National Geographic Society rates the Similan Islands in the top 10 best best dive destinations in the world. There is a great diversity of fish, corals, turtles, sharks, whales and other marine life to see. Visibility is up to 50 meters. There are dive sites suitable for beginners and others represent a challenge for experienced divers.
It is possible to do day trips both diving and snorkeling as well as longer trips to the Similan Islands. In a slow boat the journey out to the islands takes 3 hours; in a speedboat it takes 70 minutes. The most popular way to see the marine life of the Similan Islands is to do a 'liveaboard' trip. This is when you spend a few days and nights on a boat with professional dive instructors. The boat moves around covering the best dive spots in the area.
There are two distinct types of diving available in the Similan Islands: off the east coasts there are gently sloping coral reefs; and, off the west coasts there are huge underwater boulders with many swim-throughs.
The dive sites of the park cover a wide area. They are usually divided into 'north', 'central' 'southern' and outer islands. The most famous dive spots are 'East of Eden', 'Elephant Rock', 'North Point', 'Deep Six', 'Richelieu Rock' (Surin Islands) and the pinnacles off Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. There are, however, many more sites worth visiting.
The premier dive spot in the area is actually in the adjacent Surin National Park. It is called Richelieu Rock. Here you will find a stunning abundance of marine life including whale sharks.
Some dive sites are closed due to preservation programs. Also some of the islands are closed for the same reason. Fantasy Reef has been closed for several years. Locals blame the dive industry for the damage to the reef, while the dive industry blame the abundance of illegal fishing boats in the area. Below are a few notes about the best dive spots. To see pictures of the Similan Islands check out the galleries section.
For a 3 days and 2 nights liveaboard you can expect to pay 17,000 Thai Baht (diving) and 14,000 Thai Baht (snorkeling). There are over 30 dive schools in the Khao Lak area. If you are a group or plan to do several dives it is always worth doing some bargaining. Dive shops typically have multiple pricing systems, charging Japanese the most and Israelis the least. Before signing up be sure to find out what is included in the price.
When diving never touch the corals or disturb the marine life. Several of the corals have been deteriorating, especially the shallow ones due to coral bleaching from rising water temperatures.
Northern Dive Sites
Elephant Rock - Giant towers, deep gorges and swim throughs. This is exciting terrain for diving. Depth: 10 - 35 m
Christmas Point - Has giant rocks with gorgons. Excellent place to spot rare species of ray. Depth: 12 - 35m
Batfish Bend - less visited spot off Koh Payu (also called Koh Bayu). Wide range of corals including hibiscus coral, encrusting fire coral, staghorn coral and table coral. Here you might see batfish, dogtooth tuna, barracuda, leopard sharks and titan trigger fish. Depth: 0 - 30 m
North Point - large rocks with sand and corals. Here you can see gorgon fan corals. Lots of small swim throughs. There are reef sharks, barracuda, longfin batfish and hawksbill sea turtles to see. Depth: 10 - 35 m
Central Dive Sites
East of Eden - A reef that starts at 6 meters and drops to 28 meters. There are both soft and hard corals in a colorful array. Plenty of coral fish and snails. Depth: 6 - 28 m
Anita's Reef - Near Island No. 5. It is a coral without strong currents and also a shallow dive. There are soft and hard coral as well as patches of sand. You can see nudibranchs, stone fish, pipe fish, schools of glassfish, blue fin trevally and spotted garden eels. Depth: 0 to 10 m
Deep Six - Collection of boulders with swim throughs. Current stronger at northern end of dive site. Can sometimes spot white tip reef sharks, leopard sharks and Kuhl's stingrays. Depth 10 - 45 m
Fantasy Reef - Currently closed. This reef is situated in front of No.8 island. The reef starts off at 8 meters and offers swim throughs to a plateau of underwater rocks like a mountain range. The deepest gorges drop to 40 meters. Depth: 8 - 40 m
Southern Dive Sites
Boulder City - 3 km off Island No.1. Swim down to a castle like formation of rocks. Lots of gorgons and single hard coral. Exposed location in the open seas that attracts many varieties of fish, including big fish. Depth: 12 - 30 m
Shark Fin Reef - Less visited site involves a sloping reef and a dramatic drop-off. The site is divided into 2 by a swim through. Can see clown trigger fish, blue-face angle fish, sharks and larger rays.
Outer Islands Dive Sites
Koh Tachai - A plateau that starts at 12 meters. There are both soft and hard corals. Near the surface it is possible to see bat fish, barracudas and sometimes whale sharks. Depth: 12 - 35 m
Richelieu Rock - Starting near the surface this rock drops to 35 meters. Here you can see shoals of barracuda, sea horses anmd scorpion fish. In season (Jan. to April) this is the best place to see whale sharks. Depth: 6 - 35 m
Koh Bon Pinnacle - For experienced divers. Can only dive when there is little current. It is a steep vertical dive down a bizzare-looking pinnacle. Can often see rays and grey reef sharks. Depth: 16 - 48 m
Koh Bon Ridge - There is a narrow ridge around the island that drops steeply to 35 meters. Has a rich array of corals and fish, and is known for its good visibility. Can see mantas (end of Jan. to March) and white tip reef sharks. Depth: 18 - 35 m