The island nation of Indonesia straddles the equator between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and lies at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ - the epicentre of the world’s marine biodiversity. Nowhere on ...
Immerse yourself in clear blue waters, play on peaceful white sand beaches and spend your days discovering the abundant tropical wildlife and ecosystems of the Similan and Surin Islands. Located 65 kilometers off the coastline of the Phang Nga province in southwestern Thailand, and established as a National Park marine reserve in 1982, the Similans are a must for all visitors seeking the adventure and beauty of isolated island landscapes and a stunning underwater world teeming with diverse marine life.
The renowned dive sites of the Similan Islands, Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock have drawn divers from around the world for decades and are widely considered to be the best in Thailand. The variety of underwater landscapes, the rich marine life, the clear water, and of course the beautiful island landscapes, are ideal for anyone in search of an exhilarating dive holiday, from beginners to more experienced divers. The underwater landscape of both groups of islands consists of everything from rock formations, swim-throughs, steep walls, bommies, and towering rocky pinnacles, all covered in bright corals, sea fans and schooling fish. Around the Similans in particularly, the coral gardens and deep rocky gorges are perfect for exploration and offer even experienced divers plenty to discover. Famous sites such as Elephant Head, Christmas Point, East of Eden and Shark Fin Reef offer opportunities to see a wide variety of marine life such as turtles, anemone fish, moray eels, stingrays, pufferfish, lionfish, batfish and occasionally larger species such as barracuda, trevally, leopard sharks and Napoleon wrasse.
If it is big animals you are looking for, then the islands to the north of the Similans - Koh Bon, Koh Tachai, Richelieu Rock and the Surins - are the places to explore. Koh Bon is the site of one of the only wall dives in Thailand, and is well known for its manta rays that are frequently seen along the ridge that runs west from the island, or in the deep water to the south. A pinnacle to the north of the ridge is also great for encounters with rays and leopard sharks are also frequently seen in the deeper sections. Nearby Koh Tachai’s pinnacle is also a great spot for manta rays, and plenty of schooling fish. Both of these islands are quite exposed and can have strong currents so beginner divers have to be cautious.
However it is the famous Richelieu Rock that offers the best diving experience on the west coast of Thailand. This isolated pinnacle of rock emerges from the deep water, breaking the surface of the sea at low tide. The site has become famous for its rich biodiversity of coral, prolific marine life and for being one of the best locations in Thailand to spot whale sharks. Nutrient-rich from the deep water that surround Richelieu Rock create perfect conditions for plankton blooms that in turn attract plenty of fish, including the biggest of all. Whale sharks are most often seen at Richelieu towards the end of the season, from February through to the May, with April one of the best months for encounters. But even without the big sharks, Richelieu Rock is an exceptional dive site. The horseshoe-shaped site consists of a huge central pinnacle surrounded by smaller jutting rocks, every inch of which has been colonized by something - soft corals, anemones, barrel sponges and sea fans. Schools of reef fish surround the pinnacles, big groupers and barracuda cruise by and there are smaller creatures to be found in every nook and cranny of the site.
With so many shallow reefs and sheltered bays, the islands of the west coast of Thailand are perfect for snorkelers. The Similans in particular have so many different sites to explore and although some of the areas are busy, it is very simple to get away from the crowds and find your own slice of underwater paradise! Whilst you’re unlikely to spot a whale shark or manta ray, snorkelers can explore rocky reefs with plenty of marine life, spot turtles and schooling reef fish and even the occasional blacktip reef shark.
Named after the Malay word for nine - Sembilan- the Similans are a collection of nine rugged islands that are known by both their names and numbers. First designated as a National Park in 1982, the protected area was expanded in 1998 to encompass the two neighbouring islands of Koh Bon and Koh Tachai, famous for manta rays and other marine life. Further north towards Myanmar lies the world-famous Richelieu Rock and the Mu Ko Surin Island Marine Park, another protected area that is has become a magnet for divers who travel to the park in search of the biggest fish in the sea - the whale shark.
Both the Similans and Surins are prefect examples of Thailand’s beautiful islands, and are characterized by huge granite boulder formations that tumble down into the sea, gently sloping coral reefs, and a number of submerged pinnacles that form dramatic underwater seascapes. With their beautiful beaches, lush jungle hillsides and a huge array of both jungle and marine plant and animal species, the islands are a playground for those in search of an unforgettable adventure experience, both above and below the surface of the water.
As the gateway to liveaboards and day trips out to the Similans, visitors will need to get themselves to Khao Lak on Thailands west coast. Travel in Thailand is generally well organized and simple to navigate, and there are several different options depending on your budget.
From Bangkok there are daily flights to Phuket or Krabi Town with Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways and Air Asia. You will then need to arrange a taxi or bus to Khao Lak. Depending on your accommodation or dive centre, most can arrange these details as part of your package. There are also direct busses, or a combination of train and bus from Bangkok to Khao Lak. From both Phuket or Krabi you can arrange for a private taxi, mini-van or hourly local bus service to Khao Lak. Khao Lak is located about an hour drive from Phuket airport, and once in town, it’s 15-30 minutes to the pier at Thap Lamu although divers and snorkelers are usually picked up at their Khao Lak accommodation or meet at the dive centre for a group taxi ride to Thap Lamu.
There are no resorts on the Similan or Surin Islands. The park authorities previously offered small bungalows and tents for overnight stays on several of the Similan Islands, however they recently announced a ban on overnight stays to help protect the environment. That said, the best way to explore the Similans and Surins is by liveaboard boat out of Khao Lak, the closest port on the mainland. This small town has become a well-known tourist spot and gateway to the islands and there are plenty of different options for accommodation, ranging from budget backpackers to luxurious boutique hotels.
You’ll most likely need a night in Khao Lak if you are heading out to the Similan and Surin Islands, and ZuBlu can help you book both your liveaboard and a hotel prior to the trip.
The Similan National Park is open from mid-October through mid-May and the most popular time to visit is in December and early January during the holiday season. However, in late-February to mid-March there is very little rain and the water is typically very calm, so the diving can be fantastic. Temperatures start to rise, but the seas are very calm and the evenings are nearly perfect!
Weather is a major factor in the life of these islands. Afternoon thunderstorms and showers occur almost year-round but during the dry season - November through April - this is a welcome respite from the warm days. The Islands themselves receive only one third of the rainfall that the mainland gets and storms that can affect the conditions normally only occur at the beginning and end of the season as the weather patterns begin to change. The park is closed during the annual monsoon from May to October.