The Similan Islands are a group of nine islands located in southern Thailand, in the Andaman Sea. In 1982, this 128-square-kilometer area was declared a National Marine Park and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Departing from Kao Lak, on the coast, you will reach them after 1:30 hours of navigation by small, speedy boats.
Daily excursions (not recommended), or cruises of two or more days, can be booked at any diving in Phuket. I was in Karon Beach, at the Oceanic Dive Center, which arranges shuttles by small vans from the hotel, transfers and stay on cozy cruise boats stopping over around the islands.
I went in November, which is the beginning of the dry season, lasting until mid-May: the right time to visit the Similan Islands.
The temperature was perfect, with the water at 30 ° stable, while towards the last few months of the season it could be elevated.
Since the rainy season had just ended, the sea was not yet at its peak, but we are still talking about a paradise for divers! Just got on the South Siam Divers’ boat, the blackboard with daily programming and groups captures the attention, with a message that causes a smile: “Maximum four dives a day”.
Time passes with a pleasant, intense programming but relaxing: one dive in the morning before breakfast, one before lunch, one in the afternoon and finally the night dive. Everything takes place while the boat moves from one island to another, towards new diving spots.
Among the nine islands, you can land only on one, the no. 4, where there is also a small campground with fixed tents. For those coming back, the last day offers “only” three dives.
Due to lack of time, I could stay just for two days and therefore I only made seven dives among these spectacular islands. This clear and turquoise sea, among the most beautiful in the world, is home to a great variety of marine life and offers amazing opportunities to observe turtles, big tunas, big passing fish, trevally and jacks, as well as a teeming diversity of tiny marine life and a wealthy seabed covered with soft corals and giant sea fans.
Diving spots in Similan Islands are really many: those located in the eastern half usually offer peaceful coral gardens, while those in the western are more challenging and present structures that are more daring.
The tour depends on the assigned local guide, who generally leads groups of 3-4 divers choosing one of the many alternative routes that every dive offers.
Although I personally shot with the fish eye all the time, there are many opportunities also for macro. I made the first dive at Anita’s Reef, located at the south end of island no. 5 (Koh Ha), where the reef, from 5 meter deep, slowly sinks down up to about 30 meters out in the blue.
The bottom is dotted with coral formations and rocks, with a variety of hard and soft corals, and huge sea fans. Like in all the tropical seas, corals are a shelter for clownfish, angelfish, butterflyfish and damsels, which in turn attract schools of fusiliers and snappers. Moray eels, benthic fish and blue-spotted stingrays densely populate the sand and the small rocks among the coral formations.
We also met a large school of barracudas. A beautiful dive, spectacular and not demanding, as a splendid welcome to the Similan Islands.
I particularly enjoyed the relaxing dive at “Turtle Bay”, made at night in the island no.8. The bottom, at about 10 meters, was full of small rocks and corals teeming with life: lobsters, shrimps, moray eels and fishes focused on finding shelter for the night, like the beautiful parrotfish I photographed while trying to sleep horizontally, attached below a coral formation.
However, not all dives are exactly “relaxing”. On the morning of the second day, at the fascinating “Elephant Head”, between enormous and smooth granite boulders creating channels, valleys and breathtaking crossings at 25/30 meters deep, we encountered a strong current that made us prematurely burn out our air supply.
This didn’t allow us seeing the whitetip reef shark and the leopard shark, which (they say) are regular of that stretch of sea. To visit at least once every dive site it would take leastwise a week: West of Eden, Breakfast Bend, Deep Six, Donald Duck Bay, Christmas Point, Shark Fin Reef, just to name a few.
Unfortunately, my stay in this corner of paradise ends quickly: just when I started tasting the colors of the sea, the rich seabed and the ever-changing landscape of the small islands, uninhabited and full of vegetation, the speed-boat comes for taking me back to the coast. I will certainly return.
WORDS and PICTURES by Lorenzo Terraneo